Heart of Dryness How the Last Bushmen Can Help Us Endure the Coming Age of Permanent Drought


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Walker & Company


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0802715583

9780802715586

336 Pages

$26.00

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“We don’t govern water. Water governs us,” writes James G. Workman. In Heart of Dryness, he chronicles the memorable saga of the famed Bushmen of the Kalahari—remnants of one of the world’s most successful civilizations, today at the exact epicenter of Africa’s drought—in their widely publicized recent battle with the government of Botswana, in the process of exploring the larger story of what many feel has become the primary resource battleground of the twenty-first century: the supply of water.

The Bushmen’s story could well prefigure our own. In the United States, even the most upbeat optimists concede we now face an unprecedented water crisis. Reservoirs behind large dams on the Colorado River, which serve thirty million in many states, will be dry in thirteen years. Southeastern drought recently cut Tennessee Valley Authority hydropower in half, exposed Lake Okeechobee’s floor, dried up thousands of acres of Georgia’s crops, and left Atlanta with sixty days of water. Cities east and west are drying up. As reservoirs and aquifers fail, officials ration water, neighbors snitch on one another, corporations move in, and states fight states to control shared rivers.

Each year, around the world, inadequate water kills more humans than AIDS, malaria, and all wars combined. Global leaders pray for rain. Bushmen tap more pragmatic solutions. James G . Workman illuminates the present and coming tensions we will all face over water and shows how, from the remoteness of the Kalahari, an ancient and resilient people is showing the world a viable path through the encroaching Dry Age.

REVIEWS

Praise for Heart of Dryness

“A fascinating read and great adventure story.  The water challenge of this century must be informed by looking back in time to traditional desert cultures like that of the Bushmen.”—Bruce Babbitt, Chairman, World Wildlife Fund, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior

“What separates Workman's research from the field is his ability to unpack the complex dynamics and politics surrounding the water conflict in the Kalahari and provide insights into how this situation sheds light on wider sector challenges across the globe. This is critical reading for those who are rightly concerned about the sustainability of our planet where water resources are under considerable and growing stress.”—Ned Breslin, CEO, Water For People

“Here are the universal politics of water uncovered by a storyteller who, from despair and tragedy in the Kalahari, opens our eyes to the planetary struggle underway to secure water for life on Earth. To win that struggle with water crisis looming, we will have to urgently learn from the water wisdom in Heart of Dryness.”—Mark Smith, Head, Water Programme, World Conservation Union

“An astonishing synthesis of human and natural history, folly, scarcity, beauty, dignity and power . . . A must-read for anyone invested in the future of life on earth”—Rick Bass, author of The Wild Marsh

“An investigative and story-telling triumph. Workman's near-death experience upon entering the Kalahari [desert] places him, and us, in a position so primal that compassion suffuses every ensuing perception of the Bushmen. This remarkable book speaks to every neglected water user and water source on earth, showing a way back to accountability, sustainability, abundant life, and hope.”—David James Duncan, author of The River Why and The Brothers K

“In a highly original and very realistic manner, Heart of Dryness addresses one of the most important issues of our time. Workman's experiences and insights are fascinating, involving the Botswana Bushmen, who are perhaps the most knowledgeable people in the world about water, and the result is a real page-turner.”—Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Harmless People

"An impassioned yet clearheaded look at how we are squandering our most precious natural resource. As much as this is an exploration of resource recklessness, it is also a thoughtful examination of how Kalahari Bushmen contend with water scarcity. Water consultant Workman's guide to the ways of the Bushmen is the elder woman Qoroxloo, a storehouse of received wisdom from her ancestors who actively challenges the government of Botswana, which is trying to drive the Bushmen from their territory for reasons of greed and self-entitled superiority. Though Workman refrains from painting Qoroxloo in an overly romantic light, readers will find it difficult not to admire her elemental decency and respectfulness. As such, it seems natural that, when in doubt about water use, many ask, 'What would Bushmen do?' Workman delineates Qoroxloo's hunting-and-gathering lifestyle, cooling strategies, pharmacopoeia, modes of sanitation and lessons about breaking up into smaller groups and thinning out. The author also highlights her courageous battle with a thuggish government while living precariously during drought time. From Qoroxloo's lessons, Workman draws insights into productivity, crop diversification and adaptation to rainfall, the geography of production and consumption and global water politics. So what would the Bushmen do in the United States? 'Based on my reading of the evidence,' writes Workman, 'they'd organize around the measurable contours of the hydrological unit where we live: water known to exist within an aquifer or river basin. Then, within that unit, their code would secure the fundamental and minimal amount of freshwater required to keep each human healthy and alive.' Individual responsibility toward water is critical, Workman says, and it's important to remember that '[w]e don't govern water. Water governs us.' A persuasive appeal for hydrosustainability and hydrodemocracy."—Kirkus Reviews

"Passing references to water woes along the Colorado River and rainfall shortages in the Southeast that have cut hydropower pepper this dramatic report on the looming American (and global) water crisis. Workman filters his apocalyptic forecast through a slice of micro history: the (almost genocidal) 2002 decision of Botswana to force a minute population of Bushmen—inhabitants of the arid Kalahari Desert for tens of thousands of years—off their ancestral lands by sealing the only borehole that provided water to 1,000 desert dwellers and then dumping stored water into the dry sand. The heart of this numbing report on the government's use of water as weapon is Bushman matriarch Qoroxloo, whose ability to wring precious liquid from deep roots and animal carcasses is testament to a wise elder's gritty determination to help her band survive against formidable political and geographic odds . . . [Workman's] journalistic depiction of a tribal David's triumph over a governmental Goliath is riveting."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads

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James G. Workman began his career as a journalist in Washington, D.C., for the New Republic, Washington Monthly, Utne Reader, Orion, and other publications. H e was a speechwriter in the Clinton administration, working closely with Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, and steering the “dambuster” campaign to tear down river-killing dams. He helped edit and launch the report of the World Commission on Dams, and spent two years filing monthly dispatches on water scarcity in Africa, work which formed the basis of a National Public Radio show and documentary. He is now a water consultant to

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


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  • James G. Workman began his career as a journalist in Washington, D.C., for the New Republic, Washington Monthly, Utne Reader, Orion, and other publications. He was a speechwriter in the Clinton administration, working closely with Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, and steering the “dambuster” campaign to tear down river-killing dams. He helped edit and launch the report of the World Commission on Dams, and spent two years filing monthly dispatches on water scarcity in Africa, work which formed the basis of a National Public Radio show and documentary. He is now a water consultant to politicians, businesses, aid agencies, development institutions, and conservation organizations on four continents. He lives with his wife and children in San Francisco.
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