Nicholas Kristof | When One Almond Gulps 3.2 Gallons of Water – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist


“When interviewing people in their homes here, I didn’t have the heart to ask them if I could use the bathroom. There’s no water to spare, so some families flush only once a day.

As for showers, they’re rationed and timed: “You get in, you soap up, you turn the water off, and then when you’re done, you turn the water on and wash it off, and then you’re out,” said Cody Reim, who works in construction.

All this is because water has become scarce here this year, after the city of Scottsdale cut off this area from water it had supplied; it said it needed to conserve water for its own residents. The resulting crisis in these foothills outside Phoenix offers a glimpse of what more Americans may face unless we reconfigure how we manage water.

This is a crisis across the West, for the West was built on cheap water that is now running out from underpricing and overuse just as climate change is amplifying droughts.

Arizona lures retirees with lush golf courses, sometimes requiring as much as 200 million gallons of water per 18-hole golf course over a year. But the big user of water isn’t households, sprawling lawns, fountains, industry or golf courses. It’s farming.

One study found that 88 percent of water in 17 Western states was used by agriculture. Only 7 percent was consumed by homes. Alfalfa fields single-handedly drank up almost three times as much as all households.


An orchard stretching into the distance, with the trees surrounded by shallow water.
Almond trees in California’s San Joaquin Valley reflected in irrigation water.Credit…David Gomez/E+, via Getty Images

California produces a bounty of almonds, which gulp about 3.2 gallons of water for each almond, according to a 2019 study.

Researchers say that the Southwest is experiencing a megadrought that is the worst in at least 1,200 years. Wells have been drying up as far north as Oregon, and the Great Salt Lake in Utah has shrunk by two-thirds.”

” . . . . The Biden administration has proposed saving what’s left of the river by evenly cutting allotments to California, Arizona and Nevada, by as much as one-quarter.

A central problem is that water isn’t allocated by market price but inefficiently through a muddle of irrigation rights that were mostly awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis. This water is so cheap that there is little attempt to conserve or develop technical innovations to use less water.

Many of the shortages would disappear if water were rationed the way goods normally are in a market economy, by price: Farmers would not irrigate almond orchards if they had to buy 3.2 gallons of water at market rates to produce each almond.

Mostly we’re a market economy, but water allocation resembles a 1970s Soviet system, with the same lack of price signals and consequently the same inefficiency. Any rationalization of the system and raising of irrigation costs would be wrenching — consider a farm family that has gone into debt to plant a large almond orchard — but there is no other sensible path forward.”

Nicholas Kristof | Can India Change the World? – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist


“NEW DELHI — Is India the world’s next tiger economy, poised to succeed a slowing China as a pillar of the global economy?

That wouldn’t be anything new, simply a recovery of its traditional position. One economic historian estimates that as recently as 1700, India accounted for about 24 percent of global G.D.P., similar to the share now of the United States or Europe. But today India makes up just 3 percent of global G.D.P., up from 1 percent in 1993.

As India overtakes China as the most populous country in the world, and as international companies seek new bases for manufacturing outside China, India has a historic opportunity to recover its mojo in a way that would change the world.

But can this lumbering giant of a nation actually pull that off?

Some experts are optimistic. “I fully believe this can be not just India’s decade, but also India’s century,” Bob Sternfels, the global managing partner of McKinsey & Company, told me — from Mumbai, which he was visiting. And Morgan Stanley, the investment bank, says that India is on track “for unprecedented economic growth” that will allow it to leapfrog Japan and Germany to become the world’s third-biggest economy by 2027.”

Nicholas Kristof | Human Trafficking May be Strong, but a Mother’s Love Is Stronger – The New York Times

KOLKATA, India — This is a story of human trafficking, but mostly it’s a story of a mother’s love, the adoring son she raised and the highest-return investment in the world today.

Nearly two decades ago, I interviewed a woman named Maya Gayen who had been trafficked at the age of 12 to a brothel here. She had not yet reached puberty then, but a man bought her virginity. She wept and pleaded, but the man raped her.

For the next few years, Maya was locked inside the brothel, beaten with sticks, threatened with death if she tried to escape, and raped constantly. She had her first period only after eight months of these rapes.

This went on for years, but one of Maya’s regular customers was a taxi driver who felt badly for her when she wept. One day he helped her escape the brothel. “It may not have been love, but he was sympathetic,” she related.

Or perhaps it was love, for he married her even though his family despised her background and disowned him. The couple rented a one-room hovel in the Kalighat red-light district, and Maya reluctantly sold sex, but as her own boss, while her husband drove for a taxi company.


Maya at her old house in the red-light area of Kalighat in Kolkata.
Maya wears a pink sari with colorful stripes and stands in a doorway in front of a room. The walls are green, and clothes hang from the ceiling.

I will never forget their shack. It was the size of a walk-in closet on the bank of a sewage-laden river that periodically flooded their home. A bed took up most of the room, and Maya had nowhere else to take customers — so her four sons would try to sleep under the bed while she conducted her business.

I was impressed by her oldest son, Avijit, then a scrawny, shy boy of 12 who attended school through an outstanding local nonprofit called New Light. On subsequent trips to Kolkata over the years, I visited Maya and Avijit and witnessed their struggles. Maya always displayed a beatific smile and said she was just happy that she was no longer enslaved in the brothel.

I lost track of Maya and her family, and then on a visit to the Kalighat slum this month I was startled to be greeted by a strapping 29-year-old man who introduced himself in fluent English as Avijit.”

Nicholas Kristof | Can’t Read? Here’s a ‘Barefoot College’ for You. – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

TILONIA, India — It’s the Harvard of rural India, minus wingtips or heels: a 50-year-old institution called Barefoot College that offers lessons for empowering people worldwide. Maybe even in America.

Barefoot College does empowerment as well as any institution I’ve ever seen, and here’s what that looks like in the rural state of Rajasthan: An illiterate woman named Chota Devi who never attended a day of school is hunched over a circuit board, carefully using color-coded instructions to solder resistors and diodes into place.

Chota, who has no idea how old she is, is a Dalit, those at the bottom of the caste system once known as untouchables, and from a particularly low-ranking group called the Valmiki who often cleaned human waste.

But now Chota is learning how to be a solar power technician. Barefoot College trains illiterate, low-status villagers like her to make solar-powered lanterns and install solar lighting systems. After three to six months of training, they return to their communities and earn a decent living as they bring solar power to communities without reliable electricity — and in the process, they upend the social hierarchy.

Chota, who comes from a very low-status group in India, is learning how to be a solar power technician.
A dark haired Indian woman stands in a covered collanade outside a building, wearing a beige and black sari, golden bracelets, a pendant and head scarf.

“I will have more knowledge than my husband,” Chota noted slyly. When she goes home, villagers now call her “Madam.” It’s partly a joke, partly a show of respect.

With a new income of perhaps $80 a month, Chota plans to pay off debts, buy a simple cellphone and build an outhouse.”

Nicholas Kristof | Biden Should Give Ukraine What It Needs to Win – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“Russian Air Force pilots are scaredy-cats who have been surprisingly absent over Ukraine. Russian ground forces are being mowed down as cannon fodder, and one of the best known examples of Russian military discipline involves an officer using a sledgehammer to execute a fellow Russian.

But the Russian war effort does excel in some areas:

  • It stands out at committing atrocities. In my interviews in Ukraine, I was struck by how commonly Russian troops engaged in torture, rape and pillage.

  • Russia’s government has become a leader in child trafficking, transferring more than 6,000 Ukrainian children to Russia or Russian-controlled territory, with some put up for adoption.

  • Russia has manipulated Western fears that it might use nuclear weapons, thus deterring the United States from fully supporting Ukraine in this war. We give Ukraine enough to survive but, so far, not enough to win.

So a year after Vladimir Putin’s all-out invasion of Ukraine, it’s time for President Biden to reassess and give Ukraine what it needs to end this war and save Ukrainian and Russian lives alike.

“We are well past the point of trying to measure this a few systems at a time,” said James Stavridis, a retired four-star admiral and supreme allied commander at NATO. “Putin is all in, and we should be as well. That means fighter aircraft, ATACMS, high-end anti-ship cruise missiles — the kitchen sink.” “

Nicholas Kristof | A Smarter Way to Reduce Gun Deaths – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist


Nathaniel Lash and 

This essay has been updated to reflect news developments.

“Once again the United States is seared by screams, shots, blood, sirens and politicians’ calls for thoughts and prayers. A gunman at Michigan State University killed three students late Monday and badly injured five others, leaving Americans asking once again: What can be done to break the political stalemate on gun policy so that we can save lives?

This essay originally was published in January after two mass shootings in California claimed 18 lives. But the issue remains tragically relevant, and it will continue to be until America adopts smarter policies for firearms. This toll from our guns — by our inaction, we make it our choice.

For decades, we’ve treated gun violence as a battle to be won rather than a problem to be solved — and this has gotten us worse than nowhere. In 2021 a record 48,000 Americans were killed by firearms, including suicides, homicides and accidents. So let’s try to bypass the culture wars and try a harm-reduction model familiar from public health efforts to reduce deaths from other dangerous products such as cars and cigarettes.

Harm reduction for guns would start by acknowledging the blunt reality that we’re not going to eliminate guns any more than we have eliminated vehicles or tobacco, not in a country that already has more guns than people. We are destined to live in a sea of guns. And just as some kids will always sneak cigarettes or people will inevitably drive drunk, some criminals will get firearms — but one lesson learned is that if we can’t eliminate a dangerous product, we can reduce the toll by regulating who gets access to it.”

Nicholas Kristof | Spy Cams Show What the Pork Industry Tries to Hide – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“The hog industry hails the gas chambers in which pigs are prepared for slaughter as “animal friendly,” “stress free” and “painless.” That would be a good thing, since on average, four pigs are slaughtered each second in the United States.

But a California activist recently sneaked into a slaughterhouse at night and installed spy cams inside a gas chamber to record this supposedly humane process. The resulting videos are horrifying: They show the pigs squealing desperately, thrashing about and gasping for air before eventually succumbing.

“Everyone’s been lied to,” the activist, Raven Deerbrook, said. “It’s a massive consumer fraud.”

She may have a point. These gas chambers, which use carbon dioxide to render pigs unconscious, are how “animal friendly” modern meat plants across North America and Europe often prepare hogs to have their throats slit.”

Nicholas Kristof | Inclusive or Alienating? The Language Wars Go On – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“Before the millions of views, the subsequent ridicule and finally the earnest apology, The Associated Press Stylebook practically oozed good intentions in its tweet last week:

“We recommend avoiding general and often dehumanizing ‘the’ labels such as the poor, the mentally ill, the French, the disabled, the college educated.”

“The French”?

Zut alors! The result was a wave of mocking conjecture of how to refer sensitively to, er, people of French persuasion. The French Embassy in the United States proposed changing its name to “the Embassy of Frenchness.” “

Nicholas Kristof | This Kenyan Slum Has Something to Teach the World – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

NAIROBI, Kenya — Here in the Kibera slum, life sometimes seems a free-for-all. Residents steal electricity by tapping into overhead lines, children walk barefoot through alleys trickling with sewage, and people occasionally must dodge “flying toilets” — plastic bags that residents use as toilets and then dispose of by hurling them in one direction or another.

Yet this is an uplifting slum. Against all odds, Kibera is also a place of hope, and it offers a lesson in bottom-up development that the world should learn from.

Nicholas Kristof | Are We in the West Weaker Than Ukrainians? – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

” “We will beat the Ukrainian out of you so that you love Russia,” a Russian interrogator told one torture survivor I spoke to in Ukraine, before he whipped her and raped her. That seems a pretty good summation of Vladimir Putin’s strategy.

It isn’t working in Ukraine, where Putin’s atrocities seem to be bolstering the will to fight back. That brave woman triumphed over her interrogators, albeit at horrific personal cost.

But I worry that we in the West are made of weaker stuff. Some of the most momentous decisions the United States will make in the coming months involve the level of support we will provide Ukraine, and I’ve had pushback from some readers who think President Biden is making a terrible mistake by resolutely helping Ukraine repel Russia.”