We’re heading for Herbert’s desert-planet future

One of the best scenes for me in Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, Dune, is also one of the least eventful, considering this is the same book that involves magic spice that gives you psychic powers, feudal politics that would make Game of Thrones weep, and the hero leading a siege while riding on the back of a giant worm.

A bunch of the main characters are gathered to listen to Gurney Halleck, a soldier for House Atreides, perform music for them. When he is finished, Stilgar, the chieftain of the titular planet’s indigenous population, stands up and spits on the table.

Naturally, the others take this as an insult and stand to attack him, but are stopped by Duke Leto Atreides who reminds them that the severe lack of water on the planet means that spitting, or “offering your water”, is one of the highest signs of respect you can give on Dune.

It’s a great piece of world-building because Herbert is able to immediately convey just how dire the water situation must be for such a mundane act to convey so much importance.

TRAGIC SIGHT: Animals graze at the empty dam in Adelaide
Picture: RANDELL ROSKRUGE

I’ve been thinking about this scene a lot as I continue to follow the ongoing water crisis in the Eastern Cape.

This week, we ran an article about the continued decline in dam levels across the province.

This may seem odd to East London residents given the torrential downpours last week, but the sad fact is that very little of that ended up in the catchment areas.

In 2019, Cape Town made international headlines when the threat of Day Zero loomed large. In contrast, many areas in the Eastern Cape have already hit their own Day Zero to considerably less fanfare.

One such place is the town of Adelaide, near Graaff-Reinet.

The drought has had a severe impact on both locals and livestock, with about 120 animals dying between July and September as reported by the Dispatch.

As the climate crisis continues to intensify and rainfall becomes even more scarce and erratic, scenes like Adelaide are only to become more common.

Unless something drastic is done soon, we might find our planet transformed into a real-life version of Herbert’s fictional desert planet where water is so scarce that even spitting is considered a luxury.

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