Newspaper Column #5: Have Greens, Will Rain! – Part II

As it appeared in the Sunday Standard, Botswana on  Sunday Nov 18, 2012 edition

Cycle?  What cycle?

In Part I last week, we were concluding that the water tables in the region were possibly declining.

This series of articles in November is a dedication to this subject.

It explores issues of primary industry (raw material) development to water consumption choices and their effects on families, the nature and the economies.  In short, it underscores the story of diversification of any economy.

All of this will be discussed as we take a trip around the water cycle in this series of the column.

Water tables even if they are underground are part of the water cycle, originating when part of the rain that falls on the Earth’s surface sinks through the soil and seeps downward to become groundwater.  Groundwater will eventually flow out of the ground, discharging into streams, springs, lakes, or the oceans, to complete the water cycle.  (See Picture 1)

When asked how high is the water table and how it has behaved over time, most of us picked Pattern C (refer to last week’s article.  See also red line here in Picture 1 below (refer to ‘Long-term depletion’, the line marked AB)).

That it has shown a general downward trend.

Such long-term trends become evident when we study past data spanning several decades.  They usually escape the best of us when our attention is on what’s happening today (refer to the lines CD).

Here’s the implication of seeing such patterns over time.

The long-term depletion worsens the position of each short-term variation.  We now have a persistent issue but is working its way to the levels of a crisis in the long-term.   Such issues usually resist change and defy our best planning and implementation efforts beyond the short-term.  It is a costly management process.

And if we imagined the water cycle, it would have begun to show signs of weakening intensity.  The local weather conditions could see the likes of droughts or even floods.  Of course, these conditions would reverse with long-term augmentation or increase.

In systemic thinking, we pay attention to these long-term positions rather than the short-term.  This is because of the following reasons:

  • It is these long-term positions that determine what happens in our day-to-day realities.  Ignore them and the realities get worse.  These will help us become more realistic in our planning and implementation efforts;
  • The reasons that cause the long-term position are often very different from those that cause short-term positions; and so,
  • When we find those reasons, they will present areas that will allow us to turn the situation around.  For good.  It saves our resources.

Boiled Frog

To get there, it helps that the country as a whole learns to see and understand such patterns together, with the disciplined eye of a hawk.  All of the time.  Should we not, then like a boiled frog, it would lead us to deeper crisis unawares.  We become the boiled frog instead.

And I left you with a question.  How do we know for sure, that the water tables are indeed declining?

I am sure you have figured this one out.

You might say, well it is when we notice farmers dig their bore-holes deeper.  And they do so, from time to time.  You are right!  This is an indication that the water table for his side of the land is behaving more like Pattern C and as the pattern continues to unfold the land becomes drier (a crisis is looming).

Does anyone know how deep some of the bore-holes in the Kgalagadi and possibly Namibia are?  They did not start that way.  They became that way.

The reverse, however, is true for the forests in the Amazon.  Both are happening at the same time each with its deliberate direction and goal.  This is what we, otherwise, call reality.

Uncovering the Cycle

However, most management concepts did not clarify that our straight-line goals are not designed to fight trends such as AB.  They are designed to fight the shorter-term trends like CD.  The latter, is an important view of the military and the fire-fighters.  Crisis management.

Now, if the long-term position is true, i.e. if the water tables are going down, then we have a circular causality in our hands.   This requires very different management tact.  We would need to uncover the elements of the cycle to address these long-term positions.

Therefore, rather than ask what we should do about it, the next question here is what is causing the water tables to go down?

Meaning to say, if we say the water table is going down (in the long term), what is causing that?  And in turn what is causing the cause?  And so on.  Think cycle.  Get the idea?

And remember, even when you think you have got to the “root cause”, in this work, we say, even the root cause has a cause.  Nothing exists without a reason.   It is whether we see the reason or we don’t.  In short, the 5Whys methodology does not work for persistent problems.

Do not forget to also go the other way in the cycle!  Should the water table go down, there are consequences.  Yes?  And then what are the consequences of the consequences?

Here’s a tip.  Should the circle not close in itself, then it is not the ‘right’ circle of causality.  Start again but with a different set of reasons.  This is a trick we use, before we understand more deeply the tools of this work.

Go ahead and try it!  There is something inherent about wanting to see vicious circles, as hard as it feels like to get there; it captures our curiosity and intrigue.

So, … what is the circle of causality that is causing the water table to go down?

Well, I am sure, you and your friends will keep trying and enjoy getting there!  This will be the subject of discussion next week in Part III of this series of the column on “Have Greens, Will Rain!”

Till then have a lovely week discovering and learning!

This is the 2nd of a five part series of this article.  Each part will build on the earlier article to an eventual conclusion.  We invite you to participate in the column as well as do your ‘own homework’ – searching and discussing the issue to build your own conclusions.

Ms Sheila Damodaran, an international Strategy Development Consultant in the use of systemic thinking for managing persistent issues at regional and sectoral levels, welcomes comments at  For upcoming programmes, refer to

Newspaper Column #4: Have Greens, Will Rain! – Part I

As it appeared in the Sunday Standard, Botswana on  Sunday Nov 11, 2012 edition.

How high is the Water Table?

One of my favorite subjects of the work that I do here is working with the water cycle.

Well, all of us learned about it in school.  In Grade 5.

Evaporation leads to rainfall.  Rainfall leads to seepage and runoffs.  Runoffs into rivers and lakes lead to evaporation, and so on.

Except the one difference in a systemic approach is it recognizes that this cycle is not a static process.

This means they do not remain active at the same levels of intensity over time.  The intensities are dynamic.  We did not learn about this fact in school.

And therefore, the cycle has the potential to either cause the rainfall levels to increase or decrease over time.  These trends are not clear in the short-term.  The patterns become distinct over longer periods of time, usually in years.  But the shift is definitely happening.

We call it by different names including the likes of global warming today or periods of draughts or seeing unreliable rainfalls or when we have periods of more than average rainfalls.  Their persistent behaviour over time is in effect the consequence of the water cycle in silent action.

It is silent because we do not see the water cycle directly as it is unfolding before our eyes.

Cycles can go two ways.  They can either reinforce positively or negatively.

The next four articles in November is a dedication to this subject and it explores a range of issues from primary industry production to crop or raw material production to dairy and cattle production, water availability, water consumption choices and their effects on families, the nature and the economies.  All of this will be discussed as we take a trip around the water cycle.

Where I came from, in Singapore, we typically have quite a bit of rainfall and so; it was not as much an issue in my mind, until of course when we experience floods there.

Singapore sits right on the equator and so year round, it enjoys a hot and humid tropical weather.

The nature of water is to flow

The inherent nature of water is to flow.   The more it flows out naturally, the more it comes back to us.  Naturally.  When it is trapped, it dries up.

This is a subject that has become dear to my heart as I spent more time in the country.

And then something struck me.  That the excess of or lack of rainfall is not only as a result of the terrain.  There was also the inter-play of the reinforcing nature of these water cycles.  Its intensity to reinforce positively or negatively will vary with its surroundings.

A case in point is the spread of the forests in the Amazons of South America.  These span to the same latitude as that of Botswana.

[Insert picture of world map here – see Picture I below]

Chicken and egg

Question.  Is the Amazon green because it has more rainfall?  Or does having more greens cause more rainfall in the Amazons?  Or does it happen because both exist together?  Like the chicken and egg.  Both would need to be there for them to reinforce their continued growth.

One way to appreciate the existence of the cycle as a causality of rainfall levels is to take an issue that is related to it and watch its behaviour for persistence.

If it is persistent, we would see the peaks peaking higher or the troughs digging deeper each time.  This requires us to plot the past behaviour of the issue on an x-y axis.  The X-axis is always time.  The Y-axis plots the levels of its behaviour.

Should there be a persistent decline or incline on these graphs, then we know that these cycles or circles of causality are definitely at play.

So for the purpose of this exercise, we will take a factor.  Let us say the level of the water table.

What would you say has been the behaviour of this factor, in this part of the world over a forty-year period?  The further into time we plot these behaviours, the more it becomes clearer to us the persistent nature of these issues.

Would you say the water table levels have remained constant for the past forty years (Refer to Picture 2, Pattern A)?  Or would you say it has increased during the same period (Pattern B) or would you say, it looks more like Pattern C, i.e. the water table has declined over the years?

Which pattern would you pick?

[Insert Graphic 2 here]

Did you pick Pattern C?  Most of us do so, resoundedly.  I have not had a dissenting view to that choice since I had been doing these programmes.

Now, if pattern C is true, then we have a circle of causality in our hands and it is causing problems to recur right here on this land.  To take care of the problem of water shortages, we would have to take care of the water cycle.  The whole cycle.

But before that.  How can we say for sure that it is Pattern C?

Keep wondering.  This will be the subject of discussion in Part II of this series of the column on “Have Greens, Will Rain!”.  I am sure you will be listening to what we see and hear around us every day as you figure this question out.

Till then have a lovely week of discovery and learning!

This is the 1st of a four part series of this article.  Each part will build on the earlier article to an eventual conclusion.  We invite you to participate in the column as well as do your ‘own homework’ – searching and discussing the issue to build your own conclusions.

Ms Sheila Damodaran, an international Strategy Development Consultant in the use of systemic thinking for dealing with persistent issues at regional or sectoral levels, welcomes comments at  For more information, refer to