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Humanity really seems to be on its heels.
Just months ago we were reading reports of the resilience of Afghan girls. “They want to push our generation into the dark,” a girl in Kabul told Thomson Reuters, vowing to keep studying after a Taliban attack. Yesterday her country fell into Taliban control.
This month we covered Haiti’s capacity for weathering the blows that seem disproportionally aimed its way, including a president’s assassination last month. Over the weekend the Caribbean nation was hit by an earthquake more powerful than the devastating temblor of 2010, but farther from its crowded capital. Now a tropical storm bears down.
Our journalists have reported from Haiti over the decades – in my case, more than 25 years ago – recording both the unrelenting hardship and the irrepressible heart. Haiti’s story, as we reported recently, is more textured than is often depicted, and about more than just victimhood.
Monitor journalists have regularly covered Afghanistan, too, looking for light and forging ties. They continue to support those who have supported us there over the past 20 years.
Canada has announced plans to resettle vulnerable Afghans. Other help will come. Strength will also emerge from within.
“What I can say about Afghans is that they are resilient, they are resourceful, and they will cope with the return of the Taliban and the sense of heartbreak at feeling abandoned” after the hope and progress that the U.S. presence brought, the Monitor’s Scott Peterson told me overnight as he was reporting today’s story.
Scott sees Afghanistan as being a different place than it was 20 years ago.
“Many more Afghans want much more than the Taliban can give them,” he says, “and this struggle will now likely play itself out for years to come – though now on Afghan terms.”
The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has caused many Afghans to flee to the airport, go into hiding, or stay at home. Our reporters talk to people in three cities about how they’re managing in a deeply uncertain moment.
Before Sunday’s stunning capture of Kabul, the capital had been a magnet for Afghans fleeing the Taliban’s rapid military advance. Now that Afghan political leaders have given up the fight, citizens who fear Taliban retribution are desperately seeking ways to escape the country. The Taliban control Afghan border crossings, and road travel is increasingly risky.
For Afghans, the only certainty is the scale of American defeat amid fears that the archconservative Taliban will reverse two decades of gains in women’s and human rights. Some are asking if the Taliban, who held power in Kabul before the U.S. invasion in 2001, might moderate their ideology and seek an accommodation with Western powers.
But many see little reason to believe the Taliban’s propaganda about serving the Afghan people. And the messaging on the battlefield tells another story: Taliban fighters are told they are fighting to expel foreign invaders and their “puppets” in Kabul.
“All the residents of Kabul are scared and live a few steps away from death,” says Zarghona Alakozai, a female judge who has been living under police protection. “We really feel like we are dying because once I lived under the Taliban. ... What will my life be like now?”
The shock realization of Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban crystallized for Zarghona Alakozai as she raced home Sunday from the law courts in Kabul.
Her ears were ringing with the panicked cries of Afghans that the Taliban had arrived in the capital. On the way she found Afghan police officers begging their superiors to let them strip off their uniforms and give up their guns to the Taliban, so as to save themselves.
The female judge confronted the men, pleading.
“Why are you surrendering? ... Fight the Taliban!” Ms. Alakozai says she shouted. One officer replied, adding an apology: “Our [political] leaders are traitors; they don’t allow us to fight and they fled. We have to surrender. We are sorry, we can’t defend you.”
The episode – repeated countless times in recent weeks, as U.S.-trained Afghan security forces collapsed in the face of a Taliban juggernaut, often without a shot being fired – is emblematic of how the 20-year American project to build a functional Afghan state imploded.
Images of bearded, black-turbaned Taliban fighters taking down the Afghan flag yesterday in the abandoned offices of President Ashraf Ghani, hours after he fled the country, illustrate how the arc of Afghanistan’s history has now come full circle since the U.S. invasion in 2001.
For Afghans, the only certainty is the scale of American defeat amid fears that the archconservative Taliban will reverse two decades of gains in women’s and human rights, and expectations that had been raised of a more hopeful future.
Now Afghans face living under the self-declared Islamic Emirate imposed by a Taliban that is arguably stronger than it was in the 1990s and can claim a propaganda victory in defeating a superpower.
Since Sunday, the unopposed arrival of the militants in Kabul has prompted panic, with banks, passport, and visa offices overwhelmed, and a mob of thousands at the airport swarming planes to escape, as U.S. troops fired their guns to disperse crowds. Several Afghans died as they fell from the undercarriages of U.S. military evacuation planes during takeoff, videos show.
Some changes in Kabul were immediately evident Monday. Women were barely seen on the streets, and most shops were closed. Armed Taliban fighters – many of them teenagers – patrolled the streets in open-back trucks.
Afternoon prayers at the large Abdul Rahman mosque were packed with hundreds of Taliban fighters, many of whom had slept inside overnight. They included several former inmates – two of them Islamic State militants – freshly freed from an Afghan prison at Bagram Airfield.
The newly installed Taliban prayer leader at the mosque praised the jihadis for bringing an Islamic government that he said will ensure a “very peaceful situation.” He called on Afghans to “help our fighters for better security,” and said everyone should come to prayers on time.
For months, as U.S. forces began their rapid drawdown, Taliban representatives have attempted a charm offensive on Afghans, including those in Kabul whom they had castigated as infidels for their Westernized ways and cooperation with foreign forces.
In a video statement from Doha, Qatar, where Taliban leaders have held talks with U.S. diplomats that spanned the Trump and Biden administrations, lead negotiator Abdul Ghani Baradar said the group’s victory was unexpected and that it “should show humility in front of Allah. ... Now it’s about how we serve and secure our people and ensure their future to the best of our ability.”
But many Afghans won’t be convinced by a Taliban leadership that has reneged repeatedly on promises after signing a withdrawal agreement in Doha in February 2020 with the Trump administration. Those broken promises include a reduction in violence and commitments not to attack urban centers; the U.S. also extracted a pledge, which the Taliban didn’t break, not to attack retreating U.S. troops.
On the battlefield, the consistent message to Taliban fighters has been of military victory over foreign invaders and their “puppets” in Kabul.
“We will expel foreigners from this Islamic land, including the U.S. and its other occupying partners, including its dissidents,” a Taliban commander in northwestern Faryab province told The Christian Science Monitor Friday.
“The United States will flee with the infidel countries in disgrace,” the commander, known as Mullah Aleem, predicted. There would be no room, either, for Afghans who consider the Taliban terrorists, he said. “They have to either flee and we’ll kill them, or they accept the laws of the Mujahideen,” he said.
As a female judge for nine years, Ms. Alakozai had received frequent Taliban death threats because of her gender and her official role. Before Sunday’s takeover, she hadn’t slept for three nights, haunted by the possibility of the Taliban return – and fear that she would be killed and her 5-month-old daughter would become an orphan.
“All the residents of Kabul are scared and live a few steps away from death,” says Ms. Alakozai. “We really feel like we are dying because once I lived under the Taliban. ... What will my life be like now?”
The Taliban have spoken of giving “amnesty” to members of the government or Afghans who have helped foreign security forces. But this rings hollow after several months of targeted killings of officials, civil society activists, and journalists that have raised fears of a bloody purge.
Before taking Kabul, the Taliban had captured more than half of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals over the past week alone – from Kandahar in the south to Mazar-e-Sharif in the north and Jalalabad in the east. This strategy isolated the Afghan capital and made its surrender seem inevitable.
In city after city, Taliban insurgents used a combination of threats and political inducements to convince local leaders to surrender and Afghan National Army (ANA) and police forces to lay down their arms. By capturing stocks of weapons, ammunition, vehicles, and other supplies, the Taliban accelerated their advance on Kabul, according to phone interviews with Afghan commanders and officials in contested areas.
In Kandahar, for example, one Afghan paramilitary commander recalled an intense battle last week on the city’s outskirts near the compound of former Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
“Suddenly they [the Taliban] were at our front door. It was almost hand-to-hand fighting,” he said, requesting anonymity due to security concerns.
Then he received an unexpected phone call from the governor of Kandahar province, who ordered him to stop fighting. At first, he refused to comply. But without the possibility of resupply of ammunition, food, and water, he eventually negotiated his retreat before Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city, fell Thursday.
In recent weeks the Taliban have made public displays of leniency toward captured ANA soldiers, says one Afghan official in the eastern province of Konar.
“They put flowers on their heads and give them clothes and money and let them go home,” he says. “So everyone thinks, ‘If I fight, I’m going to die. But if I don’t fight, they’re not going to kill me,’” says the official, who asked not to be named for his safety. “That’s why the ANA ... is letting everything go.”
In Jalalabad, a major trading hub on Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, a swift surrender unfolded Sunday when the provincial governor allowed the Taliban to take over the city in return for sparing it from destruction.
“I am happy that the Taliban were given power in Nangarhar to prevent theft and peacefully enter the ... districts without bloodshed,” tweeted Gov. Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, hours after the Taliban shadow governor for the province of Nangarhar took control.
Yet while many Afghan political leaders, from the president on down, have chosen capitulation, the question of how the Taliban will treat ordinary citizens looms large.
When the Taliban ruled in the 1990s, men were forced to pray five times a day and to grow their beards long. Similar measures, including forbidding smartphones and television, and closing and burning schools for girls, are already being instilled in parts of Afghanistan now under Taliban control.
“When the Taliban start taking these places, people don’t want to support them. But in fear, they don’t have any other option because they [Taliban] are terrorists,” said the Afghan official in Konar province. “They don’t have any mercy.”
Hundreds of thousands of Afghans have fled the advancing Taliban, many seeking refuge in Kabul before it fell on Sunday. Others are desperately looking for ways to leave the country, knowing that the Taliban control the main highways and border crossings, making road travel increasingly precarious.
As options to leave are dwindling, some Afghans are going into hiding locally. In Jalalabad, for example, one large family bought a two-month supply of food, divided into groups, left their house, and scattered into the city to hide. A relative in the U.S. says the family fears Taliban retribution because some of its members served as interpreters for the U.S. military.
“They are afraid,” the relative says. “Many are young – in their 20s and teens – and they’ve never seen anything like this.”
Staff writers Scott Peterson and Ann Scott Tyson reported from Seattle.
The searing images of the U.S. retreats from Saigon and Kabul inevitably spark comparisons. But our columnist notes that it’s a deeper connection between these wars that may influence how the U.S. addresses overseas commitments in the future.
If Vietnam was the beginning of the end of the old unifying principle for U.S. foreign policy, the pullout from Afghanistan looks like its final punctuation mark. More significantly, it seems to signal a new vision of America’s role in the world.
The defeat in Vietnam disrupted America’s post-World War II national consensus about its identity as an indispensable defender of democracy, uniquely placed to champion that cause politically, economically, diplomatically – and, if necessary, militarily. Now, Afghanistan signals a key shift: Barring a direct threat like 9/11, the prospect of American “boots on the ground” overseas appears increasingly remote.
Under former President Donald Trump, this was framed as “America First.” President Joe Biden calls it “a foreign policy for the middle class.” The underlying assumption is similar: America’s overseas commitments, especially militarily, must ultimately benefit ordinary Americans. The key question now will be how the new test will affect other potential conflict areas. One clue: the degree to which the Biden administration frames the threats faced by smaller allies like Ukraine and Taiwan as a matter of ordinary Americans’ national interest, especially given the importance of the U.S. rivalry with Moscow and Beijing.
The stark images of America’s final dash for the exit in Afghanistan, with Taliban forces streaming into the capital, have made the comparisons inevitable: Kabul 2021, Saigon 1975. But there’s a deeper connection between these two long, finally abandoned, wars, with potentially major implications for the future role of the United States in the world.
The defeat in Vietnam marked the beginning of the end of America’s post-World War II national consensus about its political identity and place in the world: as an indispensable supporter and defender of democracy, uniquely placed to champion that cause politically, economically, diplomatically, and, if necessary, by force of arms.
In the intervening decades, successive presidents have made occasional efforts to revive it, most recently, and disastrously, in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Yet if Vietnam was the beginning of the end of the old unifying principle for U.S. foreign policy, the pullout from Afghanistan looks like its final punctuation mark. And more significantly, it seems to signal a new and different vision of America’s role in the world. The key shift: Barring a direct threat to homeland security, like a Pearl Harbor or a 9/11, the prospect of American “boots on the ground” overseas now appears increasingly remote.
Under former President Donald Trump, this new mindset was framed as “America First.” President Joe Biden’s phrase of choice has become “a foreign policy for the middle class.” But the underlying assumption is broadly the same: America’s overseas commitments, especially military commitments, must ultimately benefit – and, for domestic political reasons, be shown to benefit – ordinary Americans.
Or, in the Afghanistan context: Less tangible, old-style achievements, such as the historic empowerment of girls and women, which is now under stark threat from the Taliban, are not sufficient grounds for a lasting U.S. commitment. If Afghanistan is going to protect those advances, it’s up to the Afghans.
Committing U.S. troops to go after the Taliban for hosting Al Qaeda might still pass muster, as it did in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Yet when it comes to promoting democracy, that’s a job for American diplomats, not soldiers.
The nature of the retreat from Afghanistan has dramatized this shift for American allies.
Mr. Biden entered the White House pledging to reengage on the international stage, repairing key alliances which Mr. Trump had openly disdained. The message of “America is back” was warmly welcomed by U.S. allies. But the message from Afghanistan is that it’s a different America that is back.
Mr. Biden is keen to emphasize real, and important differences from the Trump years: Washington is reengaging diplomatically with allies. It has moved to reclaim a leadership role on major international issues, especially climate change. And in one aspect of the old postwar consensus that does still seem to survive, Washington is again consistently raising its voice on human rights issues worldwide.
When it comes to the most difficult foreign-policy decision any government must make – committing military force – America’s political calculus has changed.
And with it, American allies will be reassessing the degree to which they can rely on their security ties with Washington going forward.
Until the final Afghan withdrawal, and the Taliban advances, the rumblings were largely private. European members of the NATO military alliance – especially Britain, which committed, and lost, more troops to the 20-year war than any other country except the U.S. – let it be known they were surprised, and disappointed, at being barely consulted over Mr. Biden’s decision to pull out all American forces within a matter of weeks.
But as the situation on the ground worsened, Britain’s secretary of defense took the extraordinary step of publicly denouncing the U.S. decision. Though careful to lay the ultimate blame with Mr. Trump, criticizing the “rotten deal” he did with Taliban negotiators last year as part of an initial, even earlier withdrawal plan, Ben Wallace didn’t hide his displeasure at what Mr. Biden did with that inheritance.
“I’ve been pretty blunt about it publicly,” he told a TV interviewer last weekend, “and that’s quite a rare thing when it comes to United States decisions. But strategically, it causes a lot of problems. And as an international community, it’s very difficult for what we’re seeing today.”
The key question now for U.S. allies is how the new test for overseas military commitment will affect other potential conflict areas in the world. That’s especially critical for smaller allies who could find themselves militarily threatened by Washington’s main geopolitical rivals: Ukraine, on Russia’s border; and the island democracy of Taiwan, which China has vowed ultimately to reabsorb into the mainland, by force if necessary.
Diplomatically, the Biden administration has been unequivocal in its support for both, and in warning against any encroachment on their territory. But how far would Washington be willing to commit militarily if these warnings are ignored or tested?
The answer is likely to become clearer over the months ahead. And one clue: the degree to which the Biden administration frames the challenges and pressures faced by Ukraine and Taiwan, especially given the importance of the U.S. rivalry with Moscow and Beijing, as a matter of ordinary Americans’ own national interest.
In other words, as an issue that chimes with a “foreign policy for the middle class.”
When shared resources grow scarce, the result is often competition. But with today’s declaration of a Lake Mead shortage that will affect the entire Colorado River Basin – seven states and Mexico – a plan of cooperation begins.
For the first time, low levels of water in Arizona’s Lake Mead are triggering a federally declared water shortage under which some Western states will need to reduce their use of Colorado River water. It’s a sign of severe pressure on a water source that’s vital to both the U.S. and Mexico. And amid the second worst megadrought in 1,200 years, some say it portends the need for new water management policies due to climate change.
But the declaration reflects something else – success at a collaborative model that can help pave the way forward. The cutbacks are based on states’ past ability to agree on plans to cope with precisely this kind of scenario. A bilateral U.S.-Mexico deal is also in place. And significant conservation actions are already happening.
Southern California has reduced water use by 40% since 1990. Phoenix has cut water use 30% in two decades and diversified its supplies.
“It’s going to require us to spend more money than we want to, and change more ways than we want to,” says Felicia Marcus, the former chair of the California State Water Resources Control Board. “But we can do it. It’s all doable.”
For decades, Lake Mead has represented a vibrant life in the desert for people in both the U.S. and Mexico. From farmers in both countries to the millions who call cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix home, the massive reservoir has anchored family and commercial life, watering a long-term population bloom in the desert Southwest. Now, the lake is shrinking in the face of a 22-year drought – the driest years on record.
Monday, for the first time, the federal government declared an official water shortage in Lake Mead. To stand atop the Hoover Dam, looking at the “bathtub ring” of chalky calcium deposits marking the dropping water level, and to gaze down, down, down to the lake’s emerald-blue surface, is to get the message – viscerally.
But it may come as a surprise that this is not a situation for which people in charge are unprepared. Colby Pellegrino, deputy general manager of resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, recalls a neighbor telling her that it feels like there’s no plan, and there needs to be one. “I said …. ‘There is a plan. The plan works. But the future is hotter and drier, and we know we have to do more.’ ”
For years the seven states, tribes, and Mexico that make up the vast Colorado River Basin have been preparing for this moment, as well as two more tiers of potential shortage. In 2007, they agreed on guidelines for use of the river water, the single most important water resource in the West serving 40 million people. But the guidelines were insufficient in the face of this megadrought – the second driest period in 1,200 years.
So in 2019, after six years of very tough negotiations, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming signed a Drought Contingency Plan in which they agreed to lower their water take and to share reductions during shortage. It’s not easy to give up water, but Mexico led the way for the states with a bilateral contingency plan with the U.S. in 2017.
“We knew it was the correct thing to do,” says Roberto Salmon, who last year stepped down as the Mexican commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission. “We are all trying to save the [Colorado River] basin. The livelihood of millions of people depends on it, including Mexico.”
This cooperative spirit, as well as significant progress in water conservation, gives water managers in the Southwest hope that they can face what’s coming – including a possible sharp acceleration of dropping levels due to climate change. It’s entirely possible that rapidly changing conditions will require the Drought Contingency Plan to be renegotiated before it expires at the end of 2026, even as the parties begin difficult negotiations next year on a post-2026 agreement.
“We haven’t had litigation. If you look at any other river basin, they have litigation going like crazy,” says Patricia Aaron, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which today forecast that Lake Mead is expected to drop to a level below 1,075 feet by the start of next year. This will trigger the first ever water delivery reductions to Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico on Jan. 1, totaling 613,000 acre-feet. (That’s the equivalent of about 7 to 8 feet of depth in Lake Mead.) At 1,045 feet, it would be California’s turn. “Everybody is in this together. It gives me a lot of hope and a lot of confidence. There are a lot of dedicated, smart people working on this problem,” she says.
As agreed, states in the Upper Basin of the Colorado River are now releasing water from reservoirs to Lake Powell – the nation’s second biggest reservoir – which feeds into Lake Mead. Lake Powell, too, is at a historic low, disrupting tourism and boating just as at Lake Mead. And hydroelectric power produced by dams at both lakes is down significantly – by about 25% since 2000 at the Hoover Dam.
Because of tremendous strides in water planning and conservation since the start of this century, Southern Nevada – which includes Las Vegas – will not even feel its reduced water allocation in this “first tier” of shortage. Since 2000, it has cut its per capita use of Colorado River water by more than 50%, and it is already using less water than the reduced allotment coming in January.
Water that drains down sewer pipes in homes and businesses is recycled and returned to Lake Mead, so the focus now is on turf removal and evaporative cooling. Offering cash incentives, the water district has made huge progress in replacing grass with desert-scape. To finish the job, a new law bans ornamental turf in the Las Vegas metro area by 2027, a national first.
In The Lakes neighborhood in western Las Vegas, Perry Kaye is winding his way through a neighborhood of single-family homes in his “Water Patrol” SUV, yellow lights flashing. He is a water-waste investigator for the Las Vegas Valley Water District – colloquially, a water cop.
Early on an August morning, he spots a stream coursing down a street gutter. He follows it to the end of a cul-de-sac. The sprinkler head along the driveway is watering the concrete; tall grass is pushing back spray, and water flowing onto the sidewalk is a clear sign of overwatering. Mr. Kaye fills out a warning for water waste and tucks it into the garage door. Failure to permanently fix the problem will result in an $80 fine.
“I love my job,” he says. “More than anything else I love helping people fix the problem.” He’ll even do video chats to show customers how to set their sprinkler clocks. With new metering technology, the water authority will be able to detect leaks in real time.
Yet Nevada is a small player in the Lower Basin – currently allotted only 300,000 acre feet a year, compared with its neighbors Arizona (2.8 million) and California (4.4 million). Unlike Nevada, both have big agricultural sectors, and that’s where roughly 75% of the water goes.
In California, the governor has called for a voluntary 15% reduction in water use statewide, but Southern California – which has access to Colorado River water from Lake Mead – is in better shape than the rest of the state, which does not have that access. It’s able to make up for less water from the California State Water Project partly by relying more on Colorado River water.
The region has also made significant investments in water storage, building up water in the wet years of 2017 and 2019, and in diversifying its supply with water recycling, storm-water capture, and groundwater recovery. The 19 million people who live in Southern California are now using 40%less water than they did in 1990.
All of that has made it possible for Southern California to store three years’ worth of potential cuts in Lake Mead – pre-delivering 1 million acre-feet over the last decade, says William Hasencamp, Colorado River programs manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
“We’ve been ramping up our local conservation and water recycling for the last 30 years,” Mr. Hasencamp says. They’re also paying farmers to not grow crops (it hasn’t affected the food supply) and to help them switch from alfalfa to vegetables, which drink less water but are also more labor intensive. “Right now, we’re in relatively good shape.”
Similarly, Arizona has “banked” water in Lake Mead even as it’s been conserving. Water use in Phoenix, for instance, dropped 30% over the past two decades, and the fast-growing desert metropolis also re-piped in order to diversify its water source by tapping the Salt and Verde Rivers, explains Kathryn Sorensen, the former director of Phoenix Water Services.
Because of a water-use seniority system, the cut will be borne by the Central Arizona Project, which basically runs from Phoenix to Tucson. It will spare urban and tribal areas and affect mainly farmers. Officials say they will weather the cut by drawing on stored water in Lake Mead and by pumping from groundwater. “We have the resources and tools,” says Chuck Cullom, Colorado River programs manager for the Central Arizona Project. But “there is pain; there is sacrifice.”
Farmers in the region were prepared to meet a shortage in 2030 – not 2022, says Chelsea McGuire, the Arizona Farm Bureau’s director of government relations. They are counting on a $50 million groundwater pumping and infrastructure project that is just getting started and still not fully funded.
“The day they lose the water, they do not have the infrastructure to make up for it,” says Ms. McGuire, adding that a patchwork of other measures will “get them over the hump” until they can figure out what the groundwater infrastructure will look like. In the meantime, some farmers are going out of business, and others are having to rethink what crops they plant. Alfalfa, a thirsty crop, is a major player in the region.
By the time the Colorado River weaves its way across the Mexican border, it becomes little more than a trickle. The river once flowed to the Sea of Cortez, but today is heavily regulated by both the Mexican government, which diverts water to land irrigation, industry, and growing border cities, and by the binational water treaty with the U.S., which, starting in 1944, allocates Mexico 1.5 million acre-feet of water, or about 10% of the river, annually.
Mexico voluntarily stored around 40,000 extra acre feet of water in Lake Mead in 2020, and next year, due to this month’s shortage announcement, is expected to refrain from drawing 80,000-acre feet from the Colorado River. Half of that water will, in theory, be retrievable in the future if reservoir levels improve.
Thanks in large part to updates to the water agreement, Mexico has seen more investment from the U.S. in irrigation upgrades in the Mexicali Valley in recent years – including upgrading infrastructure, repairing earthquake damage, and helping modernize canal linings to prevent loss through seepage.
Although the binational agreement has been held up as an example of international water cooperation worldwide – even translated into Russian – some in Mexico feel the announcement of a shortage could still be met with anger. Nationwide, Mexico is suffering multiple droughts, and although officials are prepared for the Lake Mead shortage announcement, local farmers and citizens may not be.
“There will be social problems, that’s for sure,” says Mario López Pérez, a water resources consultant and former manager of binational water affairs with Mexico’s national water commission. He feels that local and state governments haven’t done the needed work in informing local populations about the framework to cope with drought, nor have they laid forward-looking plans.
Mexican officials have “a solid roadmap to deal with drought. They have the tools, they have the instruments, they should know the way. But the political will isn’t there,” Mr. López says. Desalination plants have stalled due to corruption allegations against former government officials in Baja California, for example, he says.
Hovering over all of this preparation for a shortage is what stakeholders have known from the beginning – that even under the current Drought Contingency Plan, the Colorado River is over-allocated by at least 1.2 million acre feet per year. This will make the post-2026 negotiations particularly tough.
And then there is climate change.
“I’m concerned that the impacts of climate change are being felt in the Colorado River basin more quickly than we’re adapting to them,” says Anne Castle, former assistant secretary for water and science at the U.S. Interior Department during the Obama administration. In particular, she says the Upper Basin states are “lagging” in steps to address “this very critical decrease in the overall flows in the system.”
The great fear is that Lakes Powell and Mead will reach “dead pool,” with water so low it can no longer be released past the dams. Instead, it would have to be pumped out in order to flow further down river. In Lake Mead, that level would be 895 ft. and below.
“I think we’re prepared for everything except a dead pool,” says Dr. Sorensen.
Going forward, water experts such as Felicia Marcus at Stanford University urge acceleration of everything from reducing lawns and plugging leaks to big adjustments in agriculture. Southern California is already developing one of the largest water recycling plants in the world.
“It’s going to require us to spend more money than we want to, and change more ways than we want to,” says Ms. Marcus, the former chair of the California State Water Resources Control Board. “But we can do it. It’s all doable.”
Many of the shows African children grow up watching come from the U.S. and Europe. But that’s poised to change. African animators are making their mark, bringing Black superheroes on screen and giving kids ways to relate.
Ridwan Moshood grew up in Lagos, obsessed with cartoons. But with no formal training programs for animators in Nigeria at the time, he wondered if he’d ever be able to make a living doing the thing he loved.
Then, in 2018, Mr. Moshood saw an advertisement for Cartoon Network Africa’s Creative Lab contest, calling for African animators to pitch new show ideas. He suggested a show chronicling the adventures of a Nigerian schoolboy who wants to save the world, but is always getting himself into trouble, and his friend, an extraterrestrial trash can with superpowers who is forever sweeping in to save him.
He won. A season of “Garbage Boy and Trash Can” will air in 2022, Cartoon Network’s first superhero show from Africa. And beyond “Garbage Boy,” international streaming services are making a broader push to diversify their content, and in particular to add original animated shows from across Africa.
“Historically the flow of entertainment and information has been so much from Europe and the U.S. to Africa, so to have it go the other way is so beautiful and important,” says Gloria Huwiler, a writer on the show “Mama K’s Team 4,” which is set in Zambia. “To see yourself on screen, especially as a superhero, changes what you can aspire to be.”
When Ridwan Moshood was 12, a group of bullies from his middle school in Lagos, Nigeria, chased him down and tipped a full trash can onto his head.
“Garbage boy,” they taunted, laughing.
The experience haunted Mr. Moshood, and to cope, he began to sketch a cartoon character he named Garbage Boy. Over the years, he scribbled Garbage Boy’s crime-fighting adventures into flipbooks that he used to make short animations. Later, after teaching himself to animate on YouTube, he began making flash-based cartoons about his scrappy teenage hero as well. And later still, as Mr. Moshood prepared to enter the story into an animation contest, he added a sidekick – a trash can with superpowers named ... Trash Can.
Now, the story that began as Mr. Moshood’s real-life teenage nightmare is becoming a Cartoon Network original series, “Garbage Boy and Trash Can,” which will be the network’s first superhero show from Africa when it debuts next year.
“I want kids watching to understand that it doesn’t matter what people call you – you can be called garbage boy and still become a doctor or a nurse or a superhero,” he says. Or in his case, a professional animator. “I’m turning what happened to me into something positive.”
“Garbage Boy and Trash Can” is also part of a broader push by international streaming services to diversify their content, and especially to add original animated shows from across Africa. After the success of the Marvel film “Black Panther,” superhero shows in particular seem to have struck a chord with international distributors, observers say.
The universal appeal of animated kids fighting crime doesn’t hurt, either. Earlier this year, YouTube debuted a Kenyan-made show called “Super Sema,” about a math and science whiz kid called to save her village from a robot villain. Next year, Netflix will premiere its own superhero cartoon, “Mama K’s Team 4,” which follows a group of high school girls in a futuristic version of Lusaka, the Zambian capital, as they outsmart bad guys and save the world. And Disney’s streaming services have multiple African superhero shows and films in the works, including “Kiya and the Kimoja Heroes,” about a ballet- and martial arts-loving young girl whose magic headband turns her into a superhero.
“Historically the flow of entertainment and information has been so much from Europe and the U.S. to Africa, so to have it go the other way is so beautiful and important,” says Gloria Huwiler, a writer on “Mama K’s Team 4” who grew up in Lusaka. “To see yourself on screen, especially as a superhero, changes what you can aspire to be.”
Like the creator of “Mama K,” Malenga Mulendema, Mr. Moshood grew up obsessed with cartoons. He spent hours watching Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, imagining himself as the protagonists of his favorite shows, like the boy-genius inventor from “Dexter’s Laboratory.” He rarely stopped to consider, he says, why none of his favorite superheroes looked like him.
“I was just busy wondering how those shows were made,” he says. Eventually, he started spending long hours at a local internet cafe, where the sympathetic owner would often comp his bill, he says, as he streamed video after video on how to animate. But with no formal training programs for animators in Nigeria at the time, he wondered if he’d ever be able to make a living doing the thing he loved.
Then, in 2018, Mr. Moshood saw an advertisement for Cartoon Network Africa’s Creative Lab contest, calling for African animators to pitch the network new show ideas.
He suggested a show chronicling the adventures of a Nigerian schoolboy who wants to save the world, but is always getting himself into trouble, and his friend, an extraterrestrial trash can with superpowers who is forever sweeping in to save him.
Mr. Moshood won the contest, which gave him the chance to create the pilot of his show. In June, Cartoon Network Africa announced that it had commissioned a 10-episode season of “Garbage Boy and Trash Can” to air in 2022.
Meanwhile, after a similar African talent search contest, the South African animation studio Triggerfish developed Ms. Mulendema’s show, “Mama K’s Team 4.” It was then picked up by Netflix, which will debut the first 16-episode season in 2022.
“I expect viewers to fall in love with Zambia through these girls,” says Omotunde Akiode, a Nigerian TV writer who is part of the show’s all-African-women writers room. “I want them to learn Zambian English phrases the way we all learned American English phrases from TV. I hope it’ll open up the continent to kids from all over the world.”
Stuart Forrest, the CEO of Triggerfish, has noticed a pronounced opening of space in recent years for African shows on international television. He traces it in part to the success of “Black Panther,” which – although it was American – introduced the world to an all-African superhero universe.
“There’s been traditional wisdom among distributors and people in the TV business that you can have a few secondary characters or even a primary character who’s Black if they’re Samuel Jackson,” he says. “But if you want to go with an all-Black cast you’re catering to an all-Black audience. That was blown out of the water by the success of ‘Black Panther.’”
The pandemic has also accelerated the creation of animated content more generally, since its supply chain is less tangled up in restrictions on gathering and movement.
And in those fortuitous circumstances, up-and-coming African animators like Mr. Moshood, who is now in his mid-20s, have found a space to thrive. In addition to “Garbage Boy and Trash Can,” he also recently co-founded a studio called Pure Garbage, where he hopes to incubate other young African animators.
“Now that ‘Garbage Boy and Trash Can’ has been picked up by an international network, I hope other networks out there will see what Africans can do,” he says.
Here’s another path to progress: Britain loves its hedgehogs, but encroaching development has diminished their habitat, and their numbers. We look at some of the ways people are finding to help.
There are few native animals in the United Kingdom more iconic than the hedgehog. But last year, hedgehogs were officially classified in Britain as vulnerable to extinction. Hedgehog numbers in cities and towns have dropped by 30%, and by 50% in rural areas, since 2000.
To reverse the trend, activists and organizations across the country are working to help preserve the British garden dweller. Some, like Jo Wilkinson, have launched efforts to promote awareness of and protections for hedgehogs at universities: Her Hedgehog Friendly Campus accreditation program has now certified 110 campuses across the country as “hedgehog-friendly.”
Others, like self-dubbed hedgehog connoisseur Hugh Warwick, are using public and political pressure to encourage towns and businesses to consider the well-being of hedgehogs in their development of land. That means creating “hedgehog highways” so the animals can travel freely and safely along their usual paths even as humans build around them.
For many advocates, hedgehog conservation is also a chance to connect with bigger environmental issues.
“Everybody has an anecdote about a hedgehog. That can provide a springboard into the most serious ecological conversations,” says Mr. Warwick. “There’s that capacity to bring people together because it’s an animal that doesn’t provoke a negative response.”
Jo Wilkinson realized she was losing her students’ attention, so she turned to an old friend: the hedgehog.
As a sustainability and engagement officer at Britain’s University of Sheffield, she wanted to rally students around sustainable foods and energy conservation. But it could be hard to hold students’ interest. That was until she proposed building a “hedgehog safari” trail on campus. Soon, her fun distraction became a campuswide campaign.
“I recognized straightaway that hedgehogs captured everyone’s imagination,” says Ms. Wilkinson. “There’s something about them that does that to people.”
Her effort to expand hedgehog habitats at Sheffield earned British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) funding in 2019. That’s when she started thinking about how she could help hedgehogs thrive at university campuses across the United Kingdom. Within 18 months, she had a fully funded national project that has certified 110 “hedgehog-friendly” campuses across the country.
“I’ve always dreamt of a job where I’m passionate about what I’m doing. There’s nothing in the world I’m more passionate about,” says Ms. Wilkinson. “Campaigns to save hedgehogs are all about the joy volunteers are getting.”
Britain’s hedgehogs need all the help they can get. The country’s “red lists” categorize species based on how threatened they are. Hedgehogs joined the lists in 2020, officially classified as vulnerable to extinction. But advocates and organizations like Ms. Wilkinson and BHPS, which maintains her Hedgehog Friendly Campus accreditation program, are working to save the iconic British garden dweller.
Researchers estimate there were about 1.5 million hedgehogs across England, Scotland, and Wales collectively in the mid-1990s. The population size is difficult to keep track of, but studies show that British hedgehog numbers in rural areas have declined by 50% since 2000, though in cities and towns the decline is closer to 30%.
“It’s almost as if hedgehogs are moving out and doing the opposite of humans,” says Ms. Wilkinson. “They’re moving into towns and cities because perhaps those places are providing them a bit of a refuge.”
Hedgehogs tend to follow people, she says, and have found that they can scavenge on cat and dog food in gardens. Compared with the countryside, urban areas can offer “places of refuge where they’re less exposed,” she says.
That’s become more valuable as rural areas have lost wildflowers, bramble patches, and leaf and log piles in the countryside. Pesticides from intensive, modern farming practices and “habitat fragmentation” – the “chopping up” of Britain’s landscape into smaller pieces – have added to the rural challenges facing hedgehogs, says Hugh Warwick, author of four books dedicated to the spiky critters.
The self-dubbed hedgehog connoisseur leads the fight in finding solutions to the destruction of hedgehog habitats due to “manicured gardens.” From his garden shed in Oxford, Mr. Warwick has drummed up over a million signatures for a petition calling for British planning law requiring all new developments to include “hedgehog highways”: holes to allow hedgehogs to move freely between gardens.
Mr. Warwick – once described by a British politician as the “Lorax of hedgehogs” in reference to Dr. Seuss’ literary character who “speaks for the trees” and fights suburban development – has managed to convince the government to change planning law guidance through his petition and online campaigning. “But I want more. I want it to be set in stone, to be not just a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must have.’”
Bovis Homes and Taylor Wimpey, two of Britain’s biggest house-building companies, have already signed onto the idea of incorporating hedgehog highways because of its popularity.
“Businesses are ignoring what’s coming from the government; they’re doing it themselves because it’s the right thing to do,” says Mr. Warwick.
The nearby hamlet of Kirtlington has already devised a hedgehog highway featuring eccentric holes, miniature stairs, and knocked-down walls that knit gardens together. Villagers took a map of the hamlet and spent time working out the minimum number of holes to connect a maximum number of gardens. A map of the hedgehog highway helps tourists trace the paths of the tiny inhabitants.
“The communities have banded together to connect it to hedgehogs, and each other,” says Mr. Warwick.
Recognizing the threat toward one of the U.K.’s favorite creatures is an opportunity for people to reconnect with their surroundings.
For Ryan Wallace, sustainability officer at the University of London, which is part of the Hedgehog Friendly Campus initiative, that means ensuring hedgehogs thrive in the most unlikely of places: central London. Though surrounded by Regency-era houses and within walking distance of busy tourist attractions, the public squares of Bloomsbury offer overgrown bushes and ample foliage. That makes them – and the neighboring university – fertile ground for hedgehogs, though none were seen last year.
“They can travel up to 2 miles through the streets of London,” says Mr. Wallace, pointing to the thin, black Victorian-era fences that they scuttle through at night. “Hedgehogs have loads of benefits people don’t realize. They keep the slug population down, and they’re natural pest killers,” he says. They’re also a good indicator of how well the natural environment is doing.
Rewilding green spaces can give hedgehogs a better chance of thriving. “If there’s a space in your garden where you can let the weeds grow, do that and stop cutting the grass,” says Ms. Wilkinson. “Let nature be nature.” Convincing university gardeners and grounds staff to avoid pulling brambles or mowing grass can be tricky. “The easiest sell for them is that it’s less work!” she says.
Greenery isn’t so hard to come by 125 miles away, in the green spaces of Nottingham Trent University, a “bronze-winning” Hedgehog Friendly Campus. Wildflowers, ponds that collect rainwater that washes off of student housing, and a nature trail surround the Clifton campus, 4 miles from Nottingham city center.
Sarah Robertson, the school’s sustainable development projects officer, has plans to add special hedgehog accommodations like ramps to provide safe exit from ponds. “They can swim really well, but they get tired,” she says. “If they can’t climb out, they’ll get into trouble.”
She wants to get individuals thinking “beyond their comfort zones” by asking construction services to incorporate the right plants and convincing sports teams to lift netting to ensure hedgehogs don’t get caught up.
For many advocates, hedgehog conservation isn’t just about the survival of a species. It’s a chance to connect with bigger environmental issues such as climate change.
“You can start with hedgehogs, because that doesn’t scare people off. Everybody has an anecdote about a hedgehog. That can provide a springboard into the most serious ecological conversations,” says Mr. Warwick. “There’s that capacity to bring people together because it’s an animal that doesn’t provoke a negative response.”
Ms. Wilkinson agrees, pulled not just by the science, but by the emotional lure of hedgehogs.
“They are ridiculously cute. That’s the basis of it.”
Just ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Americans are again shocked at an event originating in distant Afghanistan. The Taliban have not only retaken power but have done so with unexpected speed. Much of the shock lies in a fear that history will repeat itself. Might the Taliban again allow a safe haven for terrorist groups to plot attacks on the West?
The problem with such a fear, as the world has only slowly learned, is that it gives power to terrorist groups. Fear is their goal. And their dream is for an overreaction that feeds a narrative of an anti-Islam conspiracy that might unite the Muslim world – under their rule.
The hard part is not to react out of revenge or fear. “If you really [want] to weaken them, you have to take away their relevance. You have to take away their following,” says Gina Bennett, a senior analyst at the National Counterterrorism Center.
Jihadi fighters are most vulnerable from their own Muslim communities. The Taliban must know this and might decide to keep foreign jihadis out of Afghanistan. An avenue of hope is for the world to encourage Afghan Muslims to practice their faith by rejecting a violent ideology.
Just ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Americans are again shocked at an event originating in distant Afghanistan. The Taliban have not only retaken power after being ousted in 2001 by the United States for harboring Al Qaeda but have done so with unexpected speed. The jihadi group easily overpowered the forces of a democracy that had weak roots in Afghan tribal culture.
Much of the shock lies in a fear that history will repeat itself. Might the Taliban again allow a safe haven for terrorist groups to plot attacks on the West?
In June, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin predicted that Al Qaeda, while now weak and dispersed, could develop the capability within two years to carry out attacks from a Taliban-run Afghanistan. By many estimates, there are far more Sunni Islamic extremists today than in 2001. Many are eager to operate in the sanctuary of a strict Islamic emirate like the kind the Taliban promises.
The problem with such a fear, as the world has only slowly learned, is that it gives power to terrorist groups. Fear is their goal. And their dream is for an overreaction that feeds a narrative of an anti-Islam conspiracy that might unite the Muslim world – under their rule.
The hard part is not to react out of revenge or fear. “If you really [want]to weaken them, you have to take away their relevance. You have to take away their following,” says Gina Bennett, a senior analyst at the National Counterterrorism Center.
The Taliban know how unpopular they are among Afghans, especially women. “You do not see Muslims flocking to become part of these very antiquated and rigid and idiosyncratic versions of a caliphate,” says Ms. Bennett. In 2019, it was in large part the low support among Muslims living under the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that helped lead to the demise of ISIS.
In many Muslim countries, from Tunisia to Indonesia, the people have rejected violent jihadis, often quietly if not overtly. The peaceful intent of most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims remains a powerful force. The U.S. and its partners must continue to harness it. One example is the Abraham Accords in 2020 that established formal ties between Israel and several Arab nations. In the past six years, deaths from terrorist attacks of any kind have declined year by year, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace. The largest decreases were in Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria.
Jihadi fighters are most vulnerable from their own Muslim communities. The Taliban must know this and might decide to keep foreign jihadis out of Afghanistan. An avenue of hope is for the world to encourage Afghan Muslims to practice their faith by rejecting a violent ideology.
The best reaction to the Taliban takeover is not fear. Then the U.S. efforts in that country – including building up education and women’s rights over 20 years – were not in vain.
Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.
Sometimes the world may seem a dark place. But as this hymn poetically conveys, even when the “storms of life assail,” the “undaunted” light of God, good, is here to reveal the path to help, hope, and progress.
This poem from the 1932 “Christian Science Hymnal” uses the word “man” to signify all of us, male and female.
Lift up thy light, O man, arise and shine,
Steadfast while loud the storms of life assail; Immortal ray of that great Light divine,
’Gainst whose all-power no tempest shall prevail.
Hold high thy lamp above earth’s restless tides,
Beacon of hope to those who watch afar.
Falsehood and fear shall pass, but Truth abides;
Thine be the splendor of her deathless star.
Should the world’s sin and sorrow round thee rave,
Pierce thou the dark with Truth’s undaunted ray,
Send out its light of joy to help and save,
That more and more shines to the perfect day.
– Celia Thaxter, No. 172, adapt. © CSBD
Thanks for starting your week with us, and please come back tomorrow. We’re working on a story about how, for all the talk about looking forward, the next U.S. election cycle looks likely to find the “stolen” 2020 election a defining rearview issue for Republicans – and the former president’s litmus test for GOP candidates.
Also: Don’t miss this newly updated version of Scott Peterson and Hidayatullah Noorzai’s magazine cover story, “Under Taliban rule, Afghans warn of going ‘back to the darkness.’”