Water Security is National Security

Water resources and how they are managed impact almost all aspects of society and the economy, in particular health, food production and security, domestic water supply and sanitation, energy, industry, and the functioning of ecosystems. Under present climate variability, water stress is already high, particularly in many developing countries, and climate change adds even more urgency for action. Without improved water resources management, the progress towards poverty reduction targets, the Millennium Development Goals, and sustainable development in all its economic, social and environ- mental dimensions, will be jeopardized. UN Water.Org

Monday, July 30, 2012

‘Dirty Snow’ Hastens Glacial Melt in Himalayas

KHUMBU, Nepal, Jul 21 2012 (IPS) - Every morning, as Gian Pietro Verza walks up the lateral moraine of the Khumbu Glacier in this Himalayan country’s north-east to take measurements, the wind makes colourful prayer flags flutter noisily. That same wind carries soot particles that are causing the snow on the mountains to melt faster.

The Italian scientist and mountaineer has been working at the Pyramid International Observatory below Mt Everest since 1987, and has seen the rapid retreat of the glaciers around him even in the last 25 years. “The ice used to come right up to there,” he says, pointing towards the jumble of boulders and gravel in the glacier. “Now it has retreated up beyond base camp.”

Agostino Da Polenza and the late professor Ardito Desio set up the Nepal Climate Observatory Pyramid (EvK2Cnr) in a unique collaboration between the Italian Research National Council and the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, at an altitude of 5,050 metres in Lobuje.

The EvK2Cnr has been doing research into the effect of global warming on the Himalayas, and recently turned its attention to the impact of ‘black carbon’ on accelerating the melting of ice and snow.

Black carbon is fine soot and ash produced by diesel exhausts, thermal power plants, brick kiln smokestacks, and forest fires, but is often confused with gaseous carbon dioxide.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), along with scientists and international research institutions, says there is evidence increased black carbon deposits on Himalayan glaciers make them absorb more sunlight, accelerating glacial and snow melt.

Historical emissions of greenhouse gases by industrialised nations have traditionally been blamed for melting of the world’s permafrost, leading to sea-level rise. Today India and China have overtaken the rich countries in total greenhouse-gas emissions, and there has been a big increase in their black-carbon generation.

India alone burns 25 million tonnes of coal annually just to fire its brick kilns. Brick kilns in the Nepali capital Kathmandu are responsible for half the air pollution, which in winter sits at ground level due to temperature inversion. The soot particles from these smokestacks mix with diesel exhaust to form a layer of soot over southern Asia that is thousands of kilometres long and up to 4,000 metres thick. Prevailing winds waft them over Himalayan glaciers, melting them faster.

“Although glacier melting is predominantly due to global temperature rise, the deposition of pollutant particles like black carbon can enhance this effect,” says Paolo Bonasoni of the Italy-based Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (ISAC).

Wind-blown ash from huge pre-monsoon forest fires and their deposit on glaciers may reduce the albedo effect (reflectivity) of the snows by about five percent, and deposits have grown three-fold in the past 40 years, researchers say. More


Is the Natural Gas Fracking Industry Paying Off Scientists?

Last week the University of Texas provost announced he would re-examine a report by a UT professor that said fracking was safe for groundwater after the revelation that the professor pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Texas natural gas developer. It’s the latest fusillade in the ongoing battle over the basic facts of fracking in America.

Texans aren’t the only ones having their fracking conversations shaped by industry-funded research. Ohioans got their first taste last week of the latest public-relations campaign by the energy policy wing of the US Chamber of Commerce. It’s called “Shale Works for US,” and it aims to spend millions on advertising and public events to sell Ohioans on the idea that fracking is a surefire way to yank the state out of recession.

The campaign is loaded with rosy employment statistics, which trace to an April report authored by professors at three major Ohio universities and funded by, you guessed it, the natural gas industry. The report paints a bright future for fracking in Ohio as a job-creator.

One co-author of the study, Robert Chase, is poised at such a high-traffic crossroads of that state’s natural gas universe that his case was recently taken up by the Ohio Ethics Commission, whose chairman called him “more than a passing participant in the operations of the Ohio oil and gas industry,” and questioned his potential conflicts of interest. As landowners in a suite of natural gas-rich states like Texas and Ohio struggle to to decipher conflicting reports about the safety of fracking, Chase is a piece in what environmental and academic watchdogs call a growing puzzle of industry-funded fracking research with poor disclosure and dubious objectivity.

“It’s hard to find someone who’s truly independant and doesn’t have at least one iron in the fire,” said Ohio oil and gas lease attorney Mark F. Okey. “It’s a good ol’ boys network and they like to take care of their own.” More




Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Faced with drought, Peru's highlanders revive ancient water harvesting

PUNO, Peru (AlertNet) – From the air above the town of Puno, the Peruvian Altiplano appears an endless plain where only clumps of ichu grass withstand the harshness of the sun and lack of water.

But looks deceive: these parched lands in the country’s southeast, located at 4,000 metres altitude (13,000 feet), are home to thousands of poor farmers who for centuries have managed to grow potatoes and grain in this rugged environment.

Today, as droughts become longer, Puno’s inhabitants are relearning ancestral practices of cooperative farming and water harvesting to cope with the challenges associated with climate change.

“We cannot wait for the regional or national government to help us solve our problems,” says Zenon Gomel Apaza, an agronomist and farmer. “The consequences of climate change are occurring now. We have to cope with what we know and have.”

The agronomist won a Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2006 for helping 500 families in Pucara, 60 km (38 miles) north of Lake Titicaca, to widen the genetic variety of their crops to increase food security.

For the past two years, the Asociacion Savia Andina Pucara (ASAP), a nongovernmental organisation focused on agriculture and food security and founded by Gomel Apaza, also has been working to improve water security in Peru’s highlands. In April, the new venture garnered him an Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Conservation Fellowship from the US-based NGO Conservation International.


In the village of Quenauni Alto, 20 km (13 miles) from Pucara, Mario Arapa has constructed several cochas (small ponds) on his land under the guidance of ASAP.

Each cocha is no more than two metres by four metres in size (6.5 feet by 13 feet) and only one metre (3.25 feet) deep, but for Arapa and his eight children these traditional reservoirs make the difference between surviving in a harsh environment and capitulation to worsening conditions.

“Frosts are (now) more frequent and last longer. The sun burns harder,” says Arapa. “Before (washed) clothes took two days to dry, now just one day.”

Eddy Wilber Ramos, an agronomist and Gomel Apaza’s assistant, says tougher times mean “there are dozens of families who are migrating from these areas because they are no longer able to tolerate the climate conditions in which they must work.” More



The Battle for Water - Harvesting and conserving rainwater key to boosting crop yields

In its Rio+20 call for action, CGIAR urged Rio+20 actors to address the unequal sharing and unsustainable use of natural resources such as water and land, through improved governance and technology dissemination. World food production, hence food security depends on water but water availability per capita is drastically decreasing.

To sustainably ensure a steady food production especially in poor smallholdings in the (global) south, mainly practicing rain fed agriculture, one priority is to help local rural communities better manage “green water” – the rainwater captured by the soil and available for plants.

For decades the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has been working on successful local and farmer participatory water governance models.

Whether it's bread, meat, milk or bananas, whatever we eat demands water. But with a rapidly growing population (already more than 7 billion people), water availability gets more and more scarce.

There is a correlation between poverty, hunger and water stress. The UN Millennium Project has identified the "hot spot" countries in the world with the highest number of malnourished people.

These countries coincide closely with semi-arid and dry sub-humid hydroclimates, savannahs and steppe ecosystems, where rainfed agriculture is the dominating source of food, and where water constitutes a key limiting factor to crop growth.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that we need to increase agricultural production by 70% to feed the projected 9 billion people expected on the planet by 2050. But, given the current global food crisis, boosting agricultural production will certainly increase water stress.


We urgently need to increase water productivity. But how do we produce more cereals, milk and bananas with less water? And what type of water are we talking about?

At the last World Water Forum in Marseille in March, experts talked about the colour of water: blue water (irrigation), green water (rainwater captured by the soil and available for plants) and grey water (polluted water that could be treated and recycled). More

UN rights expert urges international community to not turn its back on Tuvalu

19 July 2012 – A United Nations independent expert today called on the international community to not turn its back on the small island State of Tuvalu, where communities are being seriously affected by climate change.

“Climate change is an everyday reality for people in Tuvalu, and is slowly but steadily impacting their human rights to water and sanitation,” warned the Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water, Catarina de Albuquerque, at the end of her first mission to the country. “Climate change will exacerbate water scarcity, saltwater intrusions, sea level rise and frequency of extreme weather events.”

As of 2010, 98 per cent of the population in Tuvalu had access to an improved source of water and 85 per cent had access to improved sanitation facilities, according to a joint report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

However, Ms. de Albuquerque noted, “these figures do not portray an accurate picture of the country’s situation and mask severe challenges currently faced by its population.” She noted that people cannot actually drink directly from the water storage tanks and have to boil it, despite previous efforts to improve the situation.

“People are still suffering from a lack of water in sufficient quantities on a continuous basis. Several people told me that they have no confidence in the sustainability of the water supply,” she said.

The Special Rapporteur called on authorities to ensure that the country’s water harvesting system is used to its maximum potential in old and new buildings, and urged the Government to immediately adopt and implement a national water strategy and plan of action covering the entire population.

“Access to water and sanitation must be affordable to all, in particular to those who have a lower income. The price paid for water, sanitation and hygiene must not compromise access to other human rights such as food, housing or education,” Ms. de Albuquerque said. “I call on the Government to bear this in mind when discussing and adopting new water tariffs or when advancing the use of composting toilets.” More



Monday, July 23, 2012

Food security needs systemic change

I don’t know about you, but the closest I ever got to a Rubik’s Cube, shortly after it was first launched in 1974, was to handle one in a toy store. For me, it seemed insoluble – and many assumed it was, until persistent cubers discovered not just one way to crack the puzzle, but many. And the cube came to mind as I thought recently about the astonishingly complex global security challenge we now face.

Back in the seventies we were challenged by a series of energy (or at least oil) crises, but now we see the energy security issue linking ever more tightly to food security, water security, climate security and so on. Indeed, when I sat down with Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington DC recently, he argued that the biggest mistake the founders of the sustainability movement made was framing the agenda as one for future generations. That was true enough then, he suggested, but today we are living through the early stages of the potential system crash theBrundtland Commission warned us about.

And all of this came to mind as I trawled through Appetite for Change, a new report from SustainAbility, backed by NestlĂ©, IBM and Sodexo. Apart from suggesting the title some time back, I was not part of the project team, so came to the analysis as an outsider. But the conclusions generally resonated powerfully with Lester Brown’s – and indeed my own – in terms of the growing need for system change.

By way of an aperitif, SustainAbility notes that “in just the past couple of weeks, one of the worst E coli outbreaks in history has killed 37 people and made more than 2,600 ill, academics concluded that climate change will have more negative consequences for agriculture than expected, and the UN’s Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation released a guide warning world farming needs a major shift to more sustainable practices as intensive crop production since the 1960s has degraded soils, depleted ground water and caused pest outbreaks.”

Industry and food system experts interviewed for the report conclude that the food industry is failing to address the true scale of the problem, warning that there is “a startling lack of consensus on the path forward.” The sector may be at an inflection point, but it isn’t at all clear that it knows what to do next.

One thing I found surprising is just how unprofitable much of the food industry can be. Sector executives often settle for lower margins than those in other sectors, while most producers “literally find farming a ticket to poverty – half of the world’s malnourished are themselves farmers.”

Growing unease about food futures is driving some dramatic trends. Until 2008, for example, investment in farmland globally had been running at around 4 million hectares a year, whereas by the end of 2009 it had soared to over 56 million hectares. Seventy per cent of those land acquisitions took place in Africa, generally with little or no links to local markets or interests.

By contrast, SustainAbility concludes, a sustainable food system would be “reliable, resilient and transparent,” producing food within ecological limits, empowering food producers, and ensuring accessible, nutritious food for all. On the evidence presented, however, this looks like pie in the sky for most people on this small planet of ours.

One of the most striking aspects of the global food market is that while almost one billion people are undernourished, another billion are what the industry likes to call over-nourished – or obese. I recently heard the Mayor of Arlington, Texas, a city of some 400,000 people, explain that 20 years ago 20 per cent of young people there were obese, a proportion that has now grown to 40 per cent, with no solutions obvious – except, though he didn’t say this, getting Arlingtonians out of their cars, away from their TVs and back to more traditional, healthier diets. More


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Converting Ethiopian desert into hyper-productive land

Excerpts from Hope in a Changing Climate (www.open.edu Part I: Loess Plateau, China - youtu.be Part II: Ethiopia - youtu.be Part III: Rwanda - youtu.be Once the scene of devastating droughts in 1984, a few visionaries in Ethiopia have used Agroecological Natural Technology Solutions and Permaculture Design principles to begin bringing areas of arid land back to productivity and ecological balance. Restoring the huge vast degradaded landscape of Ethiopia... critical for the entire region to support life. The impact is regional, national, and international. We can rehabilitate damaged ecosystems. We can transfer technology and capital to empower the local people to restore their own environment to ensure food security for people who are chronically hungry, while at the same time sequestering carbon, reducing biodiversity loss, mitigate against flooding, drought and famine. This can be done on a global scale. We can do this with the simple application of Agricultural Natural Technology Solutions and Permaculture Design principles, such as earthworks, water harvesting, soil building, creating biodiversity.

Korean Drought Worst In A Century For North And South Korea

KOHYON-RI, North Korea — North Korea dispatched soldiers to pour buckets of water on parched fields and South Korean officials scrambled to save a rare mollusk threatened by the heat as the worst dry spell in a century gripped the Korean Peninsula.

Parts of both countries are experiencing the most severe drought since record-keeping began nearly 105 years ago, meteorological officials in Pyongyang and Seoul said Tuesday.

The protracted drought is heightening worries about North Korea's ability to feed its people. Two-thirds of North Korea's 24 million people faced chronic food shortages, the United Nations said earlier this month while asking donors for $198 million in humanitarian aid for the country.

Even in South Phyongan and North and South Hwanghae provinces, which are traditionally North Korea's "breadbasket," thousands of hectares (acres) of crops are withering away despite good irrigation systems, local officials said.

Reservoirs are drying up, creating irrigation problems for farmers, said Ri Sun Pom, chairman of the Rural Economy Committee of Hwangju County.

A group of female soldiers with yellow towels tied around their heads fanned out across a farm in Kohyon-ri, Hwangju county, North Hwanghae province, with buckets to help water the fields. An ox pulled a cart loaded with a barrel of water while fire engines and oil tankers were mobilized to help transport water.

The North Korean villages of Kohyon-ri and Ryongchon-ri were among several areas that journalists from The Associated Press visited in recent days.

Pak Tok Gwan, management board chairman of the Ryongchon Cooperative Farm in North Korea, said late last week that the farm could lose half its corn without early rain. More


Friday, July 13, 2012

Senegal begins planting the Great Green Wall against climate change

Africa's proposed 4,000-mile wall of trees stretching from Senegal to Djibouti is designed to stop encroaching desertification.

Senegal's capitol city Dakar sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean on a peninsula. It's at least a thousand miles to the Sahara desert yet the air today is so thick with sand that the tops of buildings disappear in a sandy haze.

It's the worst sand storm in a year and people here are worried thatclimate change will cause these events to be more common. Seasons are shifting across the region. In Senegal the rainy season used to start in July or August but now it doesn't start until September. Decreased rain - along with over grazing of land - is causing an increase in deserts across the Sahel. Roughly 40 per cent of Africa is now affected by desertificationand according to the UN, two-thirds of Africa's arable land could be lost by 2025 if this trend continues.

Senegal is one of 11 countries in the Sahel region of Africa looking towards the same solution to the desertification problem: The Great Green Wall. The goal of the project is to plant a wall of trees, 4,300 miles long and 9 miles wide, across the African continent, from Senegal to Djibouti. African leaders hope the trees will trap the sands of the Sahara and halt the advance of the desert.

Papa Sarr is Technical Director for the Great Green Wall in Senegal: "We are convinced that once we start to plant the wall of trees dust will decrease in Dakar," he says.

Sarr sits in the passenger seat of a four-wheel drive on his way to Widou, a village he hopes will serve as a model for the Great Green Wall in Senegal. The paved roads of Dakar give way to red sand paths of the Shahel; a dry savanna transition zone between the equatorial jungles in the south and the Sahara to the north. Black and white goats meander in front of the truck and flat-topped acacia trees dot the sandy landscape. They are virtually the only vegetation in a region where the dry season can last up to 10 months.

Four hours northwest of Dakar, the village of Widou sits next to one section of Senegal's Great Green Wall. The acacia trees here are just four years old, waist high and thorny. The trees are surrounded by a firewall and a metal fence to keep out tree-eating goats. All of the trees were chosen carefully. Sarr says, "When we design a parcel we look at the local trees and see what can best grow there, we try to copy Nature."

Two million trees are planted in Senegal each year; but all of them must be planted during the short rainy season. Labourers plant acacia saplings in the sand along with animal manure for fertiliser. Sarr points to a three feet tall tree. "This one is Acacia nilotica. It produces Arabic gum used in local medicine and a fruit that can be eaten by animals." More


Solar distillation and purification system

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Solar powered water purifier

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Pennies from heaven: Arizona Rebate set for rainwater harvesting

Call it the rainfall rebate.

Tucson Water is offering its single-family-residential customers a rebate of up to $2,000 for harvesting and storing rainwater.

"Rainfall is a resource available to everybody," and the rebate program helps people take advantage of that liquid asset at a reduced cost, said Fernando Molina, a spokesman for Tucson Water.


Water customers may choose from a two-tiered plan.

"The basic rebate covers what is essentially a very simple system," Molina said. "It could be a passive system where they just put in a gutter and dig some trenches to direct water toward trees.

"That's sort of the entry level," he said. "For that, the rebate would cover the cost of eligible labor and materials up to $300."

Customers using such a system aren't required to meet performance criteria for harvesting or storing water, Molina said.

He said the Level 2 option involves more complex systems and meeting performance criteria.

"For that one, you have to be able to retain at least a 1-inch rainfall and you have to have storage," Molina said. "It's looking not only at developing the supply but balancing that against demand. So if would be a bigger system with tanks for storage."

The rebate for a Level 2 system is half the cost of eligible labor and materials up to a maximum of $2,000, Molina said. He estimated that $2,000 would cover about half the cost of a "substantial system" for water harvesting and storage.

"For people who are growing a vegetable garden and have a higher water demand, it's an opportunity to store some water in the summer to use later when things dry out," Molina said.


Participants in the rebate program must attend a free three-hour workshop on rainwater harvesting.

Call 626-5161 to register for a workshop. Workshops will be held from 9 a.m. to noon at Pima County Cooperative Extension, 4210 N. Campbell Ave.

Participants are encouraged to bring a basic site plan - a sketch or bird's-eye view - of their property. More


Burning Rivers : How Coal And Nuclear Are Sucking Up Our Fresh Water

The 20th century was characterized by the frenzied acquisition, storage, and use of oil. But many experts believe that the 21st century will be remembered as the century of water.

One of the most alarming emerging issues is the symbiotic — and often conflicting — relationship between electricity generation and water.

A new report called “Burning Our Rivers: The Water Footprint of Electricity” details this relationship, illustrating the massive amounts of water resources used for electricity generation — particularly from fossil fuels and nuclear.

An average U.S. household’s monthly energy use (weighted by cooling technology and fuel mix) requires 39,829 gallons of water, or five times more than the direct residential water use of that same household…. Electricity—as we generate it today—depends heavily on access to free water. The impact to our freshwater resources is an external cost of electrical production. What the market considers ‘least cost’ electricity is often the most water intensive.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 53 percent of all the fresh surface water withdrawn for human consumption in 2005 was used for electricity generation.

While consumption in the U.S. is falling, coal is still the most dominant source of power in the country. It is also the single largest consumer of water resources:

A MWh of electricity generated by coal withdraws approximately 16,052 gallons and consumes approximately 692 gallons of water…. On average (a weighted average taking into account the current mix of cooling technologies being used at coal plants in the U.S.), coal-fired electricity requires the withdrawal of approximately 13,515 gallons and the consumption of 482 gallons of water per MWh for cooling purposes.

The water not used directly for power generation is used in mining coal and other treatment before burning, creating millions of gallons of “sludge” that can potentially pollute freshwater supplies. More