Blue sparks arc between the grounding plates attached to the outside of most buildings in Archibald, the extreme low humidity making static buildup and discharge a real hazard to those who walk the dusty streets here. Even though the atmosphere on Yar is technically breathable, you see few inhabitants these day who go outside without protection. The air is so dry that even a short walk can result in cracked lips, nose bleeds, itchy eyes and irritated throats. Sweat evaporates as quickly as it can form. It seems almost like an act of defiance that Captain Jemma Viernes of the Archibald Protection Force talks to the reporters assembled outside the main headquarters without a mask. She is here to tout the results of a sting operation that culminated in the arrest of three suspected smugglers. The latest in an ongoing effort to curtail a growing and problematic black market on Yar, the sting resulted in the single largest seizure of contraband to date, ninety-six thousand kiloliters of clean, potable water.
Now in its seventh year, the current drought on Yar is by far the longest on record for the planet. Already an arid world covered in deserts, the effects of the drought have been devastating for the small towns and settlements that dot the surface. The planet’s infamous Red Desert is estimated to have expanded by 23% since 2940. What was already considered a hard life has become all the more difficult as available water supplies dwindle. One local resident, Frosino ‘Sunny’ Vogan, who runs a ‘Carry-All’ shop near Hester Flats, summed up the situation by saying, “No one who chooses to live here’s expecting an easy life, but this? This is no kind of life at all.” Like many though, even with these harsh conditions, Vogan has no plans on leaving the planet. “You pour as much blood and sweat into the land as I have, you start to feel a part of it.”
In response to the ongoing problem, the leadership council declared a State of Emergency in 2941 and enacted several strict regulations for water use and reclamation. These regulations not only affected the population, but the mining industry as well, which depends on water for many common extraction practices. Despite these measures and humanitarian aid provided by the Empire, the water reserves on Yar continue to fall well below the standards set by the UEE for per-person water consumption with regards to drinking and sanitation. The moisture collectors and grey water processors just have not been able to keep up with even the reduced demand owing to the severity of the drought.
To make up the difference in supply, the government began to significantly increase its procurement of off-world water resources. However, as the private sector began to compete for those same shipments in the water markets, prices soon skyrocketed. With its budget already stretched, the government could not compete and soon the majority of the water making its way to the world was sold directly to wealthier individuals or corporations. A majority of the inhabitants found themselves unable to afford the high market prices and unable to depend on the government to provide for them. Though there were rules which limited how much water people could consume, the booming private market made exact usage statistics extremely difficult to track. As the drought continued and conditions worsened, prices and demand only increased. Even though the number of water haulers making deliveries to the planet quadrupled by 2944, it was not enough to tame the runaway market.
Desperate to restore balance and curtail the growing drought-related death toll, the council passed a new ordinance outlawing the private sale of water on Yar. Announcing the new measures, council member Keisha Redd said, “the good of all people must come before any one individual. If we are to survive this, we must do so together.” Despite protests, at 00:00 SET on May 25th, 2946, Executive Council Order B-14-26 went into effect. Selling water had now become illegal on Yar.
Unfortunately, the new regulations have not had the desired effect. As the council locked in a new lower price at which it was willing to purchase water, many of the haulers and traders left the marketplace, unsatisfied with slimmer profit margins. With less water coming to the planet, the authorities enacted tighter consumption restrictions at the start of 2947 and use was capped at the bare minimum. Companies who rely on water for their operations are forced to compete for limited water-use licenses with only sparse amounts available every quarter. Many struggle to subsist on the resources the council can provide, while those with the means to do so have turned to a new fount — the water black market.
An anonymous source who operates a mine near the southern Prosolo border says, “about eight months ago I was contacted by a broker who said she could get my tanks back up to the levels they were before Order 26 went into effect. Costs twice as much as it did before they passed the damn law, but what else can you do? To get one of those official licenses you have to be extremely lucky or know the right people. Or better yet, both.” Recent estimates from the Archibald Protection Force state that nearly a third of the total current water on Yar has been transported there illegally. In an attempt to curtail the growing black market, the last few months have seen heightened scans at all orbital weigh stations, multiple raids, and dozens of arrests. The council has even been looking to add a tracer to its water supplies to help identify illegal sources. Despite the time and effort spent shutting down the trade, it seems like there is no end in sight. Illegal water is still pouring into Yar as smugglers seek to take advantage of the situation. If the current trends continue, the council could be on the verge of waging open war against its population as the need for water continues to make outlaws out of everyday people.
However, a new wrinkle has emerged. One of the alleged smugglers arrested this week, Kira Henderson, is contesting the charges placed against her by claiming that water is a basic Human right under the UEE’s Common Laws and that the officials on Yar did not have the legal standing to outlaw its sale to the public in the first place. Many across the world have embraced Henderson’s interpretation and organized formal protests in Archibald and beyond to support her. A hearing has been scheduled for later this month and its outcome could have major ramifications, not only for Yar, but the Empire as a whole.