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The news we share: water in Darfur

It’s rare to see Africa news getting widespread blogosphere attention, and rarer to see good news from Africa get major online attention. But the top headline from BBC currently amplified is an optimistic story about a discovery of water in Darfur and the possibility that this massive underground lake could lead towards a reduction of conflict in western Sudan.

I’ve been tracking what headlines the BBC and New York Times publish via RSS over the past two years and analysing the tendency of bloggers to amplify some stories and ignore others. In very general strokes, people are more likely to amplify:
– Stories about information technology and science (geek bias)
– Stories about health (information that may be personally applicable to the reader)
– Stories about US politics
– Stories about terrorism

(Talking with danah boyd this morning, I started wondering whether there was a bias towards stories about income and class – the explosive response to danah’s early research on Facebook, MySpace and class suggests that discussion of class is a hot topic. And a set of headlines at the top of amplified results from the New York Times echoes that observation, with a great deal of amplification of stories on great wealth, economic separation in US schools and taxation topping the current rankings.)

So why the enthusiasm for water in Darfur? Well, it’s a science story, and the Darfur conflict has gotten a tremendous amount of attention from activists around the world. But I wonder whether there’s an optimism to this story – a sense that scientific discovery can transform an otherwise intractable political conflict – that has a particular appeal for bloggers. It’s greatly appealing to conclude that there’s a deux ex machina solution to a conflict like Darfur – just add water (found through the miracle of science) and conflict disappears.

It’s not that scientific discovery can’t have dramatic, transformative impact on serious problems. To a certain extent, this is the organizing idea behind sites like Worldchanging, which look for environmental transformation through technological innovation. But historically, resource discovery can be damaging for nations under stress. While water is not oil, it’s still possible that conflict over this newly discovered resource might increase, not lessen, and that water might be subject to a resource curse. I wonder if there’s a form of technical utopianism we’re seeing in amplification of this story, a hope that science and technology – which we’re good at – can help address political problems – which we’re bad at. I hope this optimism is warranted, and I’m interested to see if it appears in the rest of my blog amplification data…

2 thoughts on “The news we share: water in Darfur”

  1. People see water as guaranteed. But water is very important for life. Is not guaranteed. I had seen the important of water in my life. In the refuge camp I was living in Kenya– the UN open the water tub three time a day -One in the morning, one in the afternoon and one at night. God knows how clean the water it was. Some time used to be a big line as result some people had to go back to their house with out water or they had to wait until the next shift to come.

    I am glad water is funded in Darfur.. For place like Darfur water is gold. They will save their life and soul. They will save a lot of time, they will have more food, children will got a chance to school since they did not have to go to find water. A lot of trees in the neighborhood.

    The question is how they will manage to get out the water for the ground to the people. I love technology but the most important thing for Africa is to have food and water first.

    Thank Ethan.

  2. I agree the story’s popped up in a few places because it’s a technology story and a hope story amidst all the bleak and complex and frustrating politics. But it’s also news because Reuters found an expert at a US university to talk about it. Africa, it seems so often, can only be understood through authoritative western eyes. One of the reasons I’m a fan of Global Voices is that it gets beyond that.

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