Dying for water

10.01.29: THE MISSING English wildlife cameraman Cosmo Cooper has been murdered while working in central Africa, according to unconfirmed reports.

He had been making a film for WorldWeb Five celebrating the life of the legendary naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

Famine relief workers claim Cooper was shot in his camp on the Ugandan border by a group carrying 30-year-old assault rifles. They had crossed a tribal boundary in search of water and fuel. Cooper was shot for his portable stove and kettle of boiling water.

Local tribesmen retaliated with raids of their own, leading to an escalation of violence in which thousands of men, women and children were killed. Thousands more joined the northward migration of environmental refugees.

"People are calling this the War of Cooper's Kettle," said Mary-Ann Hargreaves of Friends of the Future International, "which makes it sound like a joke. But it was no joke for Cosmo Cooper and it's no joke for the people of central Africa. I'm old enough to remember the Rwandan massacres in the 1990s, and it's as though I've been watching the same scenes ever since. The only things we have more of now are deserts and people. It's not wealth they're fighting for, it's survival."

The inconveniences of climate change in England are trifling compared with Africa's catastrophe. "When we cry 'drought'," says Hargreaves, "it's our lawns that have cracked, not our tongues."

More than two-thirds of the world's population still relies on wood for cooking and heating; 20% does not have access to clean drinking water. After decades of deforestation, firewood has run out and millions have nothing to burn but dried dung and nothing to drink but infested water that substitutes cholera and dengue for the agonies of thirst.

"There could have been no more powerful symbol," says Hargreaves, "than Cosmo Cooper's kettle of water - the most unaffordable luxury of 21st-century Africa."

Despite having most of their debts written off 20 years ago, many African governments are again too deeply in the red to afford even the most basic needs of their people. RG