Joe Beasley’s latest efforts: Drinking water in Somaliland, human rights in Columbia

By David Pendered

Atlanta human rights activist Joe Beasley’s latest projects involve helping provide water to the people of drought-stricken Somaliland and advancing the human rights of black folks in some countries in South America.

Joe Beasley, Somaliland woman, child

Atlanta human rights advocate Joe Beasley visited Somaliland in April and May to investigate possible contributors to a water shortage spurred by a three-year drought. Credit: Joe Beasley Foundation

“The common thread is that I think it’s the right thing to do,” Beasley said of the efforts backed by the Joe Beasley Foundation.

“The average African is not wealthy, in fact is very poor, and is treated just as shabbily by blacks as whites,” Beasley said. “We have 250 million Africans living outside of Africa. We were brought out of Africa at the same time and dropped at different points. The civil rights movement that King started, we should use the model for moving people ahead.”

Beasley departed for Somaliland in April on a trip lasting about 17 days. The country, located on the Horn of Africa, is not recognized by the United Nations or any country as independent of Somalia. Somaliland was formed in 1991 when regional leaders in the former British Somaliland declared independence after Somali’s president was ousted, according to a report by the BBC.

Beasley’s purpose was to investigate reports about water usage by a Coca-Cola bottler. The country’s lack of rain has led to dire conditions.

A three-year drought has Somaliland on the brink of devastation, according to a report by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

  • “The humanitarian situation in Somalia is rapidly deteriorating and famine is a strong possibility in 2017. This comes only six years after a devastating famine led to the death of more than a quarter of a million people – half of them children. The severe drought is a result of two consecutive seasons of poor rainfall, more in some areas. In the worst affected areas, large-scale crop failure and high levels of livestock deaths are occurring….

    Somaliland is an unrecognized, semi-desert country on the Horn of Africa. A drought that began in 2015 threatens to lead to famine this year, according to a report from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Credit: economist.com

  • “Malnutrition and drought-related diseases are on the rise, so are displacements, including to Ethiopia. Increasing competition for resources such as water is already increasing local tensions and could trigger further inter-communal conflict. Over 6.2 million people – half the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance. The situation of children of Somalia is particularly grave.”

Against this backdrop, a board member of Beasley’s foundation who had visited Somaliland returned to Atlanta with a troubling report.

“I had heard that Coke was hogging water,” Beasley said.

It wasn’t Beasley’s first run-in with Coke and its affiliates. In 2013, Beasley led a call for the company to extend Coke’s social responsibility practices to Afro-descendants in Brazil. In 2014, Coca-Cola Brazil and the Coca-Cola Foundation announced a $2.1 million investment to provide 100,000 Afro-descendants in Brazil with programs focused on education, culture and community.

In Somaliland, Beasley discovered that the bottler wasn’t hogging water. The bottler had built in the desert atop an aquifer that is forecast to meet demand for 200 years, he said.

“A group wanted to shake Coke down and get a $5 million contract,” Beasley said. “I found out I was in the middle of something and quickly made my host, the government, aware of the situation.”

somaliland, current conditions

A three-year drought has led to famine and displacement in Somaliland, according to a U.N. agency. Credit: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Beasley issued a joint statement with Moustapha Osman Guelleh, managing director of Somaliland Beverage Industries, the local bottler for Coca-Cola beverages. The statement reads:

  • “Thanks to the first two interventions through its Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation and Somaliland Beverage Industries (SBI) have ensured that 220,000 Somailanders have already gained improved access to clean water since 2013; the drinking water supply in Burco has been increased by 81 percent; and safe water has been provided to the settlements for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) for the first time.
  • “In addition, SBI has already supplied over 3 million liters of water to vulnerable communities in Central Somaliland, with a further 2 million liters to be supplied to drought ravaged areas of the country.
  • “’Coca-Cola is a true leader in water stewardship and proves the power of collaboration between the private sector, government and civil society’, said Mr. Beasley, who applauded the partnership of the Ministries of National Planning and Water Resources, the Hargeisa Water Agency, Terre Solidali and others. ‘They share a long-term commitment to Somaliland and will extend the RAIN initiative in Somaliland through 2020,’ he continued.”
Joe Beasley, Somalilanders

Some of the Somalilanders who met with Joe Beasley this spring are internally displaced people who walked up to 50 miles to reach a camp where they could get water. The U.N. reported in May that an estimated 739,000 drought displaced have occurred since November 2016. Credit: Joe Beasley Foundation

Beasley said Somaliland has plenty of water. But it’s in underground aquifers that are expensive to tap. Beasley said he’s in discussions with Georgia Tech officials to see about the possibility of Tech helping to provide lower-cost engineering solutions to draw water from aquifers.

Beasley is slated to travel in August to Columbia, South America. Beasley said he’ll attend the Black Communities’ Process in Columbia at its meeting Buenaventura.

The invitation describes the purpose of the meeting as setting the group’s political agenda:

  • “On this days of peace rhetoric, right wing regeneration and global oppressed uprisings, this gathering is particularly important as venue for, together as Africans in Diaspora, analyze and respond in a organized and effective way to the local and global challenges coming ahead.”

Beasley has a long track record in Atlanta on human rights issues. He’s advanced civil rights causes as southeast regional director of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. He’s advocated for the homeless shelter at the intersection of Peachtree and Pine streets, the one that’s to be shuttered next month.

Beasley’s international efforts include registering voters in the 1995 election in which the late Nelson Mandela won the South Africa presidency. He’s helped arrange the provision of $1.5 million of medical supplies and equipment from Northside Hospital to hospitals in Haiti.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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