When most Westerners think of East Africa, the initial images that come to mind may be of civil war-torn Somalia, starving families in Ethiopia, and exotic safaris in Kenya. These representations can be traced to various elements in our information and communication streams — such as the last time you looked at a map of the region and saw a mysterious dotted line between Ethiopia and Somalia instead of a typical solid border. Or perhaps you recall the extensive media coverage from a couple of decades ago of Ethiopia’s tragic famine during the 1980s. You may even have a positive impression of East Africa thanks to the 1985 adventure drama, Out of Africa, starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep (the film gathered seven Academy Awards and did wonders for Kenya’s tourism industry). Add the more recent developments of domestic rebellions in Africa’s interior (largely ignored by Western media, as they choose to solely focus on Libya and Egypt) and the spectacle of Somali pirates taking hostages at sea, and we have quite a dramatic impression that only partially conveys the reality of the region.
Africa is an utterly gigantic continent — much, much larger than most maps depict (surely something to think about). I recently had the opportunity to travel to Tanzania conducting cultural and humanitarian research and investigations. Given the vast and sprawling nature of the country, I had to compartmentalize highly divergent subject matters based on my locations. During my stay in Zanzibar, a small and developing island just off the Tanzanian coastline, access to water was an especially compelling issue to examine.
Despite the undeniable indigenous beauty of this Indian Ocean-bordering Muslim nation, Tanzania’s issue with fresh water access is an increasingly dangerous problem for the local population. Regional droughts during the past several years have undeniably caught up to the land. Even worse, on an island as compact as Zanzibar, tourist resort development has skyrocketed. This means that the limited amount of fresh water flowing through the island’s underground system is being steadily prioritized away from the local villages, instead to the resorts that support the island’s important tourism industry. With few resources of its own, as is the norm for most islands in general, tourism is a vital sector for Zanzibar’s growth …
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