This is the third and final part of the blog series "Drought and Urban Development. Click for Part I (on the U.S. Southwest) and Part II (North China Plain). Here we turn to Colombia, looking at the devastating drought that hit its Caribbean region last year.
[caption id="attachment_2626" align="alignnone" width="300"] Drought caused water shutoffs in Los Angeles (2009)[/caption]
2014 was the warmest year in recorded history and in some places, the driest. There are three major types of droughts—meteorological, hydrological, and agricultural—each with its own complex set of causes. Climate change plays a significant role in drought, through increased temperatures and disruptions to the hydrological cycle, but solely blaming climate change obscures the more tangible problem of water abuse and can become, according to activist Maude Barlow, “a catch-all for some governments to do nothing.” Unsustainable urban development and the productive processes that support it are contributing to and exacerbating the current droughts in the Southwestern United States, China’s Northern Plains, and Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
"Drought and Urban Development" is a three-part series that analyzes these three regions as case studies, focusing on one causal factor in each: residential sprawl, agriculture, and coal mining, respectively. In each, short-term profit-driven practices have caused the depletion and contamination of surface and groundwater. Unfortunately, the proposed solutions in each case are similarly myopic.
Part I: The U.S. Southwest
Detroit residents and civic groups protesting water shutoffs
(text by Philip Verma)
Sustainability is a buzzword in contemporary urban policy circles but the desire to remake cities can implicate authoritarian planning practices in which community needs are subjugated to desires of property developers. This confrontation of so-called sustainable development and community rights is currently playing out in Detroit, a city that is sometimes considered a “blank slate” for innovative urban sustainability projects. Since March of this year, more than 15,000 Detroit residents have had their water turned off by the city. The Detroit Water and Sewer Department (DWSD) claims these shutoffs are a necessary way to enforce collections on delinquent accounts. This is a charade, part of a larger pattern of privatization and gentrification in Detroit, as many community activists have pointed out. Furthermore, we should question what kind of sustainability demands mass displacement and the suspension of democratic rights as prerequisites. The shutoffs are not about financial or environmental sustainability; instead they are a way to get rid of long-time residents—predominantly poor and Black—so that the whiter, wealthier new wave can enjoy a greener, cleaner, smoother city.