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

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Yemen's Water Woes

During Yemen's rainy season, which stretches from August to October, the Silah, the cobbled road that intersects the capital Sanaa's ancient Old City, often floods becoming, for a few brief hours, a fast-running river. Over the years, the road has been gradually deepened, with steps built up the side and bridges spanning its width so that the rest of the area does not overflow with water from the surrounding mountains.

At such times it is hard for Sanaanis, the residents of the capital, to countenance the idea that their city is rapidly running out of water. But this may happen sooner rather than later: Sanaa province's water aquifers are being exhausted by rapid population growth, demand for the narcotic qat leaf, and the growing threat of climate change.

Although the country is probably best known abroad for the uprising that unseated former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, and as a haven for al Qaeda, it could soon hold the distinction of being one of the hardest places in the world to get a glass of water. In 2011, it looked like social order in Sanaa was on the verge of collapsing. But regardless of politics, it could soon become a ghost town -- a tourist attraction centered around the Old City as the real estate developments that sprouted up around the city's borders before 2011 are left to rot.

In a 2010 report commissioned by the Yemeni government, analysts at U.S. consultancy McKinsey forecast that if water use in the Sanaa basin was not controlled, the area could completely run out of water by about 2020. "Sanaa will almost certainly face a severe water crisis in the coming years," they wrote, "and might even run out of water in the coming decade." If this were allowed to happen, the analysts reckoned, the implications would be dire: "Scarcity of water resources can have staggering consequences on health, property, population migration and ultimately the very fabric of society."

Sanaanis already know what it feels like to run out of water. In 2011, protesters took to the streets across the country, to often brutal and murderous response from troops loyal to Saleh, and fighting broke out in Sanaa between the Republican Guard, run by Saleh's son, Ahmed Ali, and tribal militiamen associated with his rival, Hamid al-Ahmar. The economy came to a grinding halt. Just as importantly, tribesmen in the southern Marib province blew up a key pipeline connecting the area with the port of Ras Issa in the south, the main source of domestic fuel supplies. More


WB for international cooperation on river basins for food, water security

ISLAMABAD: Against a backdrop of increased volatility in international food prices and energy supply, due in part to water availability, a new World Bank report calls for greater international cooperation on 80% of the world's rivers that cross national boundaries.

"Overcoming barriers to international cooperation on river basins is critical for future food, energy and water security" says the new report released this week at World Water Week in Stockholm.

With water scarcity increasing in many parts of the world, governments must find ways to maximize the use of water for multiple, often competing uses: growing populations requiring food security; rapid urbanization increasing domestic and industrial demand; the ever-increasing need for clean electricity; tourism and recreation; and environmental management, the report says.

"Within a nation, any two of these multiple interests can be at odds," said World Bank Vice President for Middle East and North Africa Inger Andersen.

"Add international boundaries and the complexity grows substantially. The key challenge - and opportunity - for riparian nations is to manage perceptions of risk, and benefit from lessons of experience where cooperation has worked demonstrably, benefiting countries and supporting their efforts to reduce poverty and protect the environment."

The new World Bank report, Reaching Across the Waters: Facing the Risks of Cooperation in International Waters reviews the experience of cooperation in five international river basins (Eastern Nile, Ganges, Niger, Syr Darya, and Zambezi), focusing on the perceptions of risks and opportunities by decision makers as they consider prospects for cooperation on international waters.

Today, 40% of the world's population lives in international basins which account for 80% of global river flow. Despite this and the proven benefits of cooperation, such as reduced chances of conflict, improved river sustainability, and access to external markets, 166 of the world's 276 international basins have no treaty provisions covering them.

Moreover, many multilateral basins are subject to bilateral treaties that preclude participation by other riparian countries. More

The report Reaching Across the Waters: Facing the Risks of Cooperation in International Waters can be downloaded here


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Karez: Channeling the current

IUCN's Water and Nature initiative in Baluchistan, Pakistan

Karez in Iraqi Kurdistan Parts 1 & 2


Ancient water tunnels called karez in Iraqi Kurdistan are rapidly drying up, a clear sign that the recent regional droughts are hitting the villages hard. Climate change seems to be unfolding at a wider scale and the future for groundwater supply seems bleak. Dale Lightfoot, an american geographer, travels the northern provinces of Kurdistan to document the situation. It urges UNESCO to set up a major initiative to safe the karez tunnels of Kurdistan.


World Water Week - Earth Policy Institute

Every August, scientists gather in Stockholm to participate in World Water Week and discuss the various issues related to water.

Water is as necessary to life as breath. This year in the United States, the lack of rain has resulted in drought conditions throughout the Corn Belt that, combined with excessive heat, will drastically reduce the U.S. corn harvest. According to Lester Brown, the drop could be roughly 100 million tons or 30 percent of the expected harvest.

In some parts of the Midwest, homeowners are turning on their taps and getting nothing but air as the water tables have so precipitously dropped. More intense droughts and heat waves are likely as the Earth’s temperature rises.

With regard to agricultural water use, Lester Brown has long been talking about the need for a major push to raise the level of water productivity. Two decades ago, he said that a shortage of water was the most underreported threat to civilization.

Here is some of what he writes on the subject (from Chapter 2 of World on the Edge)

The global water deficit is a product of the tripling of water demand over the last half-century coupled with the worldwide spread of powerful diesel and electrically driven pumps. Only since the advent of these pumps have farmers had the pumping capacity to pull water out of aquifers faster than it is replaced by precipitation.

As the world demand for food has soared, millions of farmers have drilled irrigation wells to expand their harvests. In the absence of government controls, far too many wells have been drilled. As a result, water tables are falling and wells are going dry in some 20 countries, including China, India, and the United States—the three countries that together produce half the world’s grain.

The overpumping of aquifers for irrigation temporarily inflates food production, creating a food production bubble, one that bursts when the aquifer is depleted. Since 40 percent of the world grain harvest comes from irrigated land, the potential shrinkage of the supply of irrigation water is of great concern. Among the big three grain producers, roughly a fifth of the U.S. grain harvest comes from irrigated land. For India, the figure is three fifths and for China, roughly four fifths. … More


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Basic water, sanitation and hygiene essential for food security

At this year’s Stockholm World Water Week, much of the talk has been about the need to improve both food security and water management to meet the rapidly growing and increasingly diverse demand for resources.

Current estimates suggest the global population will reach nine billion by 2050. This will lead to a 70 percent increase in demand for food, with shifts towards a more complex diet placing yet more pressures on water supplies.

At WaterAid, we recognise that not only water but also sanitation and hygiene are intrinsically linked to food security. It is vital that we provide these services for basic human needs if we are to address large scale water and food security. This is laid out in the new water security framework we are launching at the global water event.

Clean water, sanitation and improved hygiene have a significant impact on livelihoods, the environment and agriculture. As a result, there is little hope of achieving food security and overall well-being without ensuring water security at a local level.

Dirty water and poor sanitation have serious implications on health, affecting people’s ability to farm and work, with a knock-on effect on both the availability of food and the ability to buy it.

Improved water sources close to the home can be used to water household kitchen gardens, providing additional nutrition in times of food shortages, while the bi-products of ecological sanitation can greatly enhance soil fertility and crop yields.

Water, sanitation and hygiene services generally focus on the use of groundwater, which is naturally more resilient to drought conditions. It is therefore more likely to be available for household food production and cattle watering, as well as for drinking, washing and cooking, when other surface sources dry up.


Monday, August 27, 2012

The quanats of Iran

A traveler flying over Iran can see plainly that the country has an arid climate. The Iranian plateau is largely desert. Most of Iran (excepting areas in the northwestern provinces and along the southern shores of the Caspian Sea) receives only six to 10 inches of rainfall a year.

Other regions of the world with so little rainfall (for example the dry heart of Australia) are barren of attempts at agriculture. Yet Iran is a farming country that not only grows its own food but also manages to produce crops for export, such as cotton, dried fruits, oilseeds and so on. It has achieved this remarkable accomplishment by developing an ingenious system for tapping underground water. The system, called qanat (from a Semitic word meaning “to dig”), was invented in Iran thousands of years ago, and it is so simple and effective that it was adopted in many other and regions of the Middle East and around the Mediterranean.

The qanat system consists of underground channels that convey water from aquifers in highlands to the surface at lower levels by gravity. The qanat works of Iran were built on a scale that rivaled the great aqueducts of the Roman Empire. Whereas the Roman aqueducts now are only a historical curiosity, the Iranian system is still in use after 3,000 years and has continually been expanded. There are some 22,000 qanat units in Iran, comprising more than 170,000 miles of underground channels. The system supplies 75 percent of all the water used in that country, providing water not only for irrigation but also for house-hold consumption. Until recently (before the building of the Karaj Dam) the million inhabitants of the city of Tehran depended on a qanat system tapping the foothills of the Elburz Mountains for their entire water supply.

Some 3,000 years ago the Persians learned how to dig underground aqueducts that would bring mountain ground water to the plains. Today (NB: = 1968!) the system provides 75 percent of the water used in Iran.

Discoveries of underground conduits in a number of ancient Roman sites led some modern archaeologists to suppose the Romans had invented the qanat system. Written records and recent excavations leave no doubt, however, that ancient Iran (Persia) was its actual birthplace. As early as the seventh century B.C. the Assyrian king Sargon II reported that during a campaign in Persia he had found an underground system for tapping water in operation near Lake Urmia. His son, King Sennacherib, applied the “secret” of using underground conduits in building an irrigation system around Nineveh, and he constructed a qanat on the Persian model to supply water for the city of Arbela. Egyptian inscriptions disclose that the Persians donated the idea to Egypt after Darius I conquered that country in 518 B.C. Scylax, a captain in Darius’ navy, built a qanat that brought water to the oasis of Karg, apparently from the underground water table of the Nile River 100 miles away. Remnants of the qanat are still in operation. This contribution may well have been partly responsible for the Egyptians’ friendliness to their conqueror and their bestowal of the title of Pharaoh on Darius.

References to qanat systems, known by various names, are fairly common in the literature of ancient and medieval times. The Greek historian Polybius in the second century B.C. described a qanat that had been built in an Iranian desert “during the Persian ascendancy.” It had been constructed underground, he remarked, “at infinite toil and expense … through a large tract of country” and brought water to the desert from sources that were mysterious to “the people who use the water now.” More


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Risk of water wars rises with scarcity

The author Mark Twain once remarked that "whisky is for drinking; water is for fighting over" and a series of reports from intelligence agencies and research groups indicate the prospect of a water war is becoming increasingly likely.

In March, a report from the office of the US Director of National Intelligence said the risk of conflict would grow as water demand is set to outstrip sustainable current supplies by 40 per cent by 2030.

"These threats are real and they do raise serious national security concerns," Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said after the report's release.

Internationally, 780 million people lack access to safe drinking water, according to the United Nations. By 2030, 47 per cent of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Environmental Outlook to 2030 report.

Some analysts worry that wars of the future will be fought over blue gold, as thirsty people, opportunistic politicians and powerful corporations battle for dwindling resources.

Dangerous warnings

Governments and military planners around the world are aware of the impending problem; with the US senate issuing reports with names like Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Central Asia’s growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With rapid population growth, and increased industrial demand, water withdrawls have tripled over the last 50 years, according to UN figures.

"Water scarcity is an issue exacerbated by demographic pressures, climate change and pollution," said Ignacio Saiz, director of Centre for Economic and Social Rights, a social justice group. "The world's water supplies should guarantee every member of the population to cover their personal and domestic needs."

"Fundamentally, these are issues of poverty and inequality, man-made problems," he told Al Jazeera.

Of all the water on earth, 97 per cent is salt water and the remaining three per cent is fresh, with less than one per cent of the planet's drinkable water readily accessible for direct human uses. Scarcity is defined as each person in an area having access to less than 1,000 cubic meters of water a year.

The areas where water scarcity is the biggest problem are some of the same places where political conflicts are rife, leading to potentially explosive situations.

Some experts believe the only documented case of a "water war" happened about 4,500 years ago, when the city-states of Lagash and Umma went to war in the Tigris-Euphrates basin.

But Adel Darwish, a journalist and co-author of Water Wars: Coming Conflicts in the Middle East, says modern history has already seen at least two water wars.

"I have [former Israeli prime minister] Ariel Sharon speaking on record saying the reason for going to war [against Arab armies] in 1967 was for water," Darwish told Al Jazeera.

Some analysts believe Israel continues to occupy the Golan heights, seized from Syria in 1967, due to issues of water control, while others think the occupation is about maintaining high ground in case of future conflicts.

Senegal and Mauritania also fought a war starting in 1989 over grazing rights on the River Senegal. And Syria and Iraq have fought minor skirmishes over the Euphrates River.

Middle East hit hard

UN studies project that 30 nations will be water scarce in 2025, up from 20 in 1990. Eighteen of them are in the Middle East and North Africa, including Egypt, Israel, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.

"Water too often is treated as a commodity, as an instrument with which one population group can suppress another" -Ignacio Saiz, Centre for Economic and Social Rights

Darwish bets that a battle between south and north Yemen will probably be the scene of the next water conflict, with other countries in the region following suit if the situation is not improved.

Water shortages could cost the unstable country 750,000 jobs, slashing incomes in the poorest Arab country by as much as 25 per cent over the next decade, according to a report from the consulting firm McKinsey and Company produced for the Yemeni government in 2010. More


Jordan’s Crippled Water Resources Protected by Security

Jordan is dealing with an increase in water theft. Ironically, as I type, I am awaiting a water truck arrival to refill our new apartment’s tank: I’d jumped in the shower, turned the knobs, and was met with – nothing. Landlord says it’s been three weeks since the city pumped water to the roof tanks, and the situation seems to be city-wide.

Now it makes sense why people would be breaking into the system. Mark my words, water is the new oil.

Representatives of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, the Ministry of Interior and the Public Security Department (PSD) met last week to address the rising number of violations on water wells and pipelines. The water protection campaign was announced soon afterwards: start date unspecified due to security reasons.

Omar Salameh, speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, said the operation is directed at areas most vulnerable to theft of water and equipment: the Jordan Valley, south Amman, Mafraq and Zarqa.

“We are providing the PSD with a list of locations that require protection, either because of their importance or because they witness recurring theft and vandalism,” Salameh told The Jordan Times. “Scores of water resources from which around 1,870 cubic meters of water were pumped per hour remain shut down because of violations and theft,” he added.

“We will provide the police directorates with the list of locations that need protection and the names of suspected violators. The PSD will also coordinate with district governors to end violations,” said PSD spokesperson Lt. Col. Mohammad Khatib.

The Ministry will conduct a concurrent media campaign to raise public awareness about the impact of water violations on individuals.

Violations to the water network deprive people of their fair water share and magnifies the nation’s water crisis.

Minister of Water and Irrigation Mohammad Najjar told the media last month that theft and vandalism of water resources were dramatically rising, threatening an adequate public supply of clean water.

This year, by mid-May, that ministry recorded 28 violations on the Kingdom’s main water network, causing remedial actions exceeding $200,000. Pumping has been suspended at 50 points in the network until $600,000 in additional repair funds can be identified.

As comparison, there were 50 acts of vandalism recorded in 2011; and 52 registered in 2010. At this rate, Najjar anticipates 2012 repair costs to fall between $1.4 an $1.6 MIL.

Constant reinvestment in water infrastructure and associated environmental mitigation is money down the drain, but the real losses are in actual potable water supply. Mostly semi-arid Jordan is characterized bysevere water scarcity, receiving less than two feet of rainfall per year in most areas. The country shares its major surface water resources with Syria and Israel: its share from the Yarmouk and Jordan Rivers is a comparative trickle. Groundwater resources are over exploited and aquifers are vulnerable to contamination.

Jordan should be looking into water harvesting and storage methods such as those used in the country thousands of years ago. In the heart of the capital of Amman at the Jabal al-Qal'a one can see cistern dating back to the Roman occupation. Other examples can be found in Jerash and Petra. See photos left and below. Editor



Friday, August 24, 2012

Drought, food supply fears boost small-scale irrigation - study

LONDON, Aug 24 (Reuters) - Farmers in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are increasingly taking up small-scale irrigation schemes as drought threatens the security of food supplies, a report by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) said.

"With food security back on the international agricultural agenda, and climate change increasing the uncertainty of rainfall, it is an opportune time to reconsider investments related to irrigated agriculture," the study said on Friday.

Small-scale irrigation technology, such as motorized pumps and hosing to access groundwater, could cost a sub-Saharan African smallholder $250 or more but could improve crop yields by between 75 and 275 percent, the report said.

"Factors are working to potentially move the world into another food crisis like 2007-2008, triggered by a U.S. drought and the late onset and irregularity of the South Asian monsoon," Colin Chartres, IWMI director general, said in an interview.

"If there is more investment in small-scale irrigation, it means food supply in those countries is more secure. It won't replace the need for staple cereal crops, but it gives farmers more insurance against a food crisis."

Small-scale irrigation schemes usually cover areas less than 2 hectares. Farmers largely initiate and finance irrigation equipment individually or in small groups and use low-cost technologies such as buckets, watering cans and pumps.

In Ghana, around 185,000 hectares are under small-scale irrigation schemes, benefiting half a million smallholders, and some 170,000 farmers in Burkina Faso water vegetable crops in the dry season using small-scale irrigation, the IWMI estimates.

Vegetable production has nearly tripled in the Burkina Faso to 160,000 tonnes in 2005 from 60,000 tonnes in 1996 and is still growing, the report said.


Food and water security are high on the world's agenda as the United States experiences its driest summer since the 1930s, sending grain prices to all-time highs and raising the spectre of a food crisis such as in 2008.

Climate change is also increasing the uncertainty of rainfall, meaning that groundwater supplies are not being replenished and rainwater is difficult to collect to feed crops.

The majority of the world's poor live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and most of these people live in rural areas and work in agriculture. More


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Our Oversized Groundwater Footprint

We don’t see it, smell it or hear it, but the tragedy unfolding underground is nonetheless real – and it spells big trouble.

A dried up well

I’m talking about the depletion of groundwater, the stores of H2O contained in geologic formations called aquifers, which billions of people depend upon to supply their drinking water and grow their food.

For a long time, we had only a vague sense of the scale of this depletion, mostly through anecdotal evidence and selected country studies. While researching my 1999 book Pillar of Sand, I gathered the best data I could find at the time, and with all the necessary caveats, estimated that about 8-10 percent of the world’s food supply depended upon the draining of underground aquifers.

About a decade later, modeling work by Marc Bierkens of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and his colleagues arrived at a global depletion estimate that produced a similar figure: their estimated 283 billion cubic meters of groundwater depleted in 2000 is sufficient to produce 188.6 million tons of grain, equal to 10 percent of that year’s global grain production. While not all groundwater pumped from the earth is used to produce grain, the vast majority of it is.

In recent years a number of other studies, along with NASA’s GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) mission, have corroborated the dangerous trend. From the Arabian deserts to the North China Plain, and from the breadbasket of India to the fruit and vegetable bowl of the United States, we are increasingly dependent on the unsustainable use of groundwater.

In effect, we’re robbing the Peters of the future to feed the Pauls of today.

Now a new study, led by Tom Gleeson of McGill University in Montreal and published last week in the journal Nature, provides perhaps the most compelling and informative assessment to date of what’s happening with groundwater globally.

Gleeson and his team build upon the concept of our “ecological footprint,” which expresses humanity’s consumption as the area of biomass needed to support that consumption sustainably. Today, according to the Global Footprint Network, humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planet Earths. In other words, we’ve overshot sustainable levels by half an Earth.

In a creative adaptation, Gleeson’s team applied a similar approach to assessing humanity’s groundwater footprint. They estimate that the size of the global groundwater footprint – defined as the area required to sustain groundwater use and groundwater-dependent ecosystem services — is about 3.5 times the actual area of aquifers tapped for water supplies. More


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Troubled Waters: Can a Bridge Be Built over the Indus?

Whereas once the Indus Waters Treaty could correctly be described as a beacon of light in an otherwise gloomy relationship between India and Pakistan, this is no longer so.

The odds now are that the crumbling IWT will be a cause for further tension and conflict between India and Pakistan. It is also true that with far-sighted political leadership, especially in India but also in Pakistan, a bridge could be built over these troubled waters and the Indus could, again, become a catalyst for cooperation.


t has been one of the great privileges of my life to work for almost 40 years on the challenges of water management in the south Asian subcontinent. Starting with a Harvard University/Government of India collaborative programme on planning of the Ganga and Narmada rivers in the early 1970s. I lived in Bangladesh (in the 1970s) and Delhi (from 2002 to 2005 when I was senior water advisor at the World Bank). In 2006 I published, with Indian colleagues a book titled India’s Water Economy: Facing a Turbulent Future and with Pakistani col- leagues, one titled Pakistan’s Water Economy: Running Dry.

Writing on a subject as fraught with mis- trust as the Indus requires a level of “personal declaration” that is not necessary in most other contexts. So whose views do I represent? America? No, I am not American but South African. The World Bank? No, but this requires a bit more explanation. I worked for 20 years for the World Bank, the last 10 as Senior Water Advisor and then as the country director for Brazil until the end of 2008 when I accepted a faculty position at Harvard University.

Institutions like the World Bank necessarily have to craft institutional positions on complex issues. Healthy institutions ensure that there is space for the expression of a wide variety of views in coming to decisions. As is described in detail in Chapter 13 of Sebastian Mallaby’s (2005) landmark history of the World Bank, my views were frequently different from the views of management of the Bank. Furthermore, I have not been involved in any internal discussion in the World Bank on Indian and Pakistan water issues since 2005. The interpretations in this article do not depend on any confidential information but are based entirely on my own reading of documents and reports that are in the public domain. So this paper represents the personal views of a mere university professor, who speaks in the name of no one else or no other institution. Over these 40 years I have acquired a deep affection for the people of both India and Pakistan, and am dismayed by what I see as a looming trainwreck on the Indus, with potentially disastrous consequences for both countries. Whereas once the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) could correctly be described as a beacon of light in an other- wise gloomy relationship, the situation has changed: because of the growing invest- ment in hydropower in Indian-held Kashmir; because of the declining water availability in Pakistan; because the Baglihar verdict of the Neutral Expert has gutted the IWT of its essential balance, because the World Bank has withdrawn from its once-heroic en- gagement with the Indus and because of the appropriation of the water dialogue by extremists on both sides. The purpose of this article is to delve into some of these questions, and to suggest how to find a way out before it is too late.

The Indus Waters Treaty

In the 19th century, the British constructed most of what is today the world’s largest contiguous irrigation system in the Indus Basin. However, the boundaries between the two states drawn in 1947 paid no attention to hydrology. Eighty per cent of the irrigated area was in Pakistan, but after Partition a large portion of the headwaters for the rivers which serviced most of this immense area were in Indian-held Kashmir.

Seeing that India and Pakistan were un- able to resolve this issue, the World Bank offered its help. After 10 years of intense negotiation, in 1960 the IWT was signed by then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Pakistani President Ayub Khan and the World Bank.

There are four essential elements to the treaty. The first relates to the division of the waters. The waters of the three western rivers (the Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab) were allocated to Pakistan, and the waters of the three eastern rivers (the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej) were allocated to India. More


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Climate models that predict more droughts win further scientific support

The United States will suffer a series of severe droughts in the next two decades, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Moreover, global warming will play an increasingly important role in their abundance and severity, claims Aiguo Dai, the study’s author.

His findings bolster conclusions from climate models used by researchers around the globe that have predicted severe and widespread droughts in coming decades over many land areas. Those models had been questioned because they did not fully reflect actual drought patterns when they were applied to conditions in the past. However, using a statistical method with data about sea surface temperatures, Dai, a climate researcher at the federally funded National Center for Atmospheric Research, found that the model accurately portrayed historic climate events.

“We can now be more confident that the models are correct,” Dai said, “but unfortunately, their predictions are dire.”

In the United States, the main culprit currently is a cold cycle in the surface temperature of the eastern Pacific Ocean. It decreases precipitation, especially over the western part of the country. “We had a similar situation in the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s,” said Dai, who works at the research center’s headquarters in Boulder, Colo.

While current models cannot predict the severity of a drought in a given year, they can assess its probability. “Considering the current trend, I was not surprised by the 2012 drought,” Dai said. More


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Climate change and the Syrian uprising

Two days short of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak's resignation, Al Jazeera published anarticle, headlined "A Kingdom of Silence," that contended an uprising was unlikely in Syria. The article cited the country's "popular president, dreaded security forces, and religious diversity" as reasons that the regime of Bashar al-Assad would not be challenged, despite the chaos and leadership changes already wrought by the so-called Arab Spring. Less than one month later, security forces arrested a group of schoolchildren in the Syrian city of Dara'a, the country's southern agricultural hub, for scrawling anti-government slogans on city walls. Subsequent protests illustrated the chasm between the regime's public image -- encapsulated in the slogan "Unity, Freedom and Socialism" -- and a reality of widespread public disillusion with Assad and his economic policies.

Among the many historical, political, and economic factors contributing to the Syrian uprising, one has been devastating to Syria, yet remains largely unnoticed by the outside world. That factor is the complex and subtle, yet powerful role that climate change has played in affecting the stability and longevity of the state.

The land now encompassed by Syria is widely credited as being the place where humans first experimented with agriculture and cattle herding, some 12,000 years ago. Today, the World Bank predicts the area will experience alarming effects of climate change, with the annual precipitation level shifting toward a permanently drier condition, increasing the severity and frequency of drought.

From 1900 until 2005, there were six droughts of significance in Syria; the average monthly level of winter precipitation during these dry periods was approximately one-third of normal. All but one of these droughts lasted only one season; the exception lasted two. Farming communities were thus able to withstand dry periods by falling back on government subsidies and secondary water resources. This most recent, the seventh drought, however, lasted from 2006 to 2010, an astounding four seasons -- a true anomaly in the past century. Furthermore, the average level of precipitation in these four years was the lowest of any drought-ridden period in the last century.

While impossible to deem one instance of drought as a direct result of anthropogenic climate change, a 2011 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration regarding this recent Syrian drought states: "Climate change from greenhouse gases explained roughly half the increased dryness of 1902-2010." Martin Hoerling, the lead researcher of the study, explains: "The magnitude and frequency of the drying that has occurred is too great to be explained by natural variability alone. This is not encouraging news for a region that already experiences water stress, because it implies natural variability alone is unlikely to return the region's climate to normal." The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that global warming will induce droughts even more severe in this region in the coming decades.

It is estimated that the Syrian drought has displaced more than 1.5 million people; entire families of agricultural workers and small-scale farmers moved from the country's breadbasket region in the northeast to urban peripheries of the south. The drought tipped the scale of an unbalanced agricultural system that was already feeling the weight of policy mismanagement and unsustainable environmental practices. Further, lack of contingency planning contributed to the inability of the system to cope with the aftermath of the drought. Decades of poorly planned agricultural policies now haunt Syria's al-Assad regime. More


Saudi Arabia & Iran Are Overexploiting Their Groundwater Supplies

In the Middle East, water shortages are a widely accepted reality which many countries are trying to fight head on. Worldwide, however, the issue is not so pressing with environmental issues such as energy and emissions taking centre stage. Despite this, new research from McGill University in Montreal and Utrecht University in the Netherlands indicates that the world is increasingly dependent on an unsustainable supply of groundwater. They estimate that the world’s ‘water footprint’, which is defined as the area above ground required to sustain groundwater use, is about 3.5 times the actual area of the available aquifers. And this has huge implications not only on water supplies but for food and political security too.

Combining data from around the world, the research team has been able to measure the amount of water available and the water usage. The result which Tom Gleeson from McGill called ‘sobering’ indicate global overexploitation of groundwater in a number of regions across Asia and North America. The study suggests that around 1.7 billion people – mostly in Asia – are living in areas where underground water reserves are under threat. That means that we humans as well as the vast ecosystems that water supports, are blindly walking into crisis.

The areas that the research showed were under most stress include Saudi Arabia, Iran, northern India and parts of northern China. In the US, the areas included western Mexico, the High Plains and California’s Central Valley. The overexploitation of groundwater supplies in countries such as China, the US and India is linked to their global scale production of food.

“The relatively few aquifers that are being heavily exploited are unfortunately critical to agriculture in a number of different countries,” Tom Gleeson told Reuters. “So even though the number is relatively small, these are critical resources that need better management.”

The study found that Saudi Arabia had substantially depleted its own aquifers (as has Iran), which is why the country is buying up land in Africa to help ensure food security. However, it is not all bad news. According to the data gathered, groundwater depletion isn’t a worldwide problem and 80 percent of aquifers around the world aren’t being depleted. For example, some of the largest reserves of groundwater are under North African countries like Libya, Algeria, Egypt and Sudan and these haven’t been over-exploited yet.

The biggest scheme to get to this water was Libya’s $25 billion Great Manmade River project, built by the dictator Muammar Gaddafi to supply cities including Tripoli, Benghazi and Sirte with an estimated 6.5 million cubic meters of water a day. The problem is that once this water is taken out of these aquifers, it is not replenished and so the need to control our consumption of water is still a pressing issue.

Authors of the study suggest that limits on water extraction, more efficient irrigation and the promotion of diets with less meat (or no meat at all) could make water resources more sustainable. More


Rift on the Nile: Challenges lie ahead for Nile water sharing

"Egypt, the gift of the Nile” is a phrase coined by the Greek historian Herodotus 3,000 years ago in his book about Egypt. His description continues to be true today, as Egypt is the only place in the world where a river cuts across a thousand miles of desert, creating a civilization along with it.

The Nile is the lifeline of Egypt, with people crowded on its sides, cities located along its banks, and roads shaped along its bends. But what Egyptians have long taken for granted, the abundant Nile always flowing through their lands, may be facing a dramatic shift.

Although the post-revolutionary atmosphere gave rise to many gestures of goodwill that have eased differences over the distribution of Nile water, Egypt is still facing serious pressure from irritated Nile Basin countries to agree on a new water-sharing package.

The Cooperative Framework Agreement that was signed in 2010, which reduces Egypt’s quota of the Nile water, has become even more pressing since Burundi joined five other Nile Basin states in the agreement last year, giving it the necessary majority to begin implementation.

Although Egypt and Sudan have firmly refused the agreement, it has become obvious that this rigid stance will not resolve the issue. This realization has pushed Egypt to shift its diplomacy regarding the issue, trading a harsh tone for attempts at exercising soft power, calling for more cooperation and joint projects.

"Egypt must first realize that it faces a major threat to its national security; water is vital to a major agricultural country like Egypt, and the Nile provides the country with 86 percent of its water needs and about 92 percent of the water used in agriculture,” explains Mohamed Ibrahim, an assistant professor of agricultural economics at Alexandria University.

Ibrahim adds that in order to resolve this crisis, Egypt has to adopt a multi-dimensional strategy. Diplomatically, Egypt must show more flexibility toward the terms of the new Nile Basin cooperative agreement and more openness to negotiate. Economically, Egypt has to help fund agricultural and development projects in the other Nile Basin countries as well as work on finding better ways to reduce wasted water that results from inefficient, old-fashioned practices of rolling out threats of military actions.” More


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rural irrigation canals are afflicted by water shortages and contaminated water

Cairo, Egypt - 13 August 2012: After a month of severe water cuts, with little to no water running through the canals of Abu Sir and Saqqara, the water finally returned at the end of last week.

However, while the water had been away, large quantities of garbage had piled up in the canals, causing the canals to become even more blocked and polluted than usual, leading to dead and dying crops and serious health hazards.

Dumping garbage in the canals has long been commonplace due to the lack of waste management facilities in the areas. Usually, the canal water would at least push the garbage along a bit, but the severe cuts have allowed garbage to accumulate in the canals.

Between water cuts, mounting garbage, and blocked irrigation the situation is quickly becoming a very serious problem in Abu Sir and Saqqara, and these areas are not alone.

“The ever-increasing challenges of access to water for farmers are not unique to Abu Sir and Saqqara. It’s an epidemic that is affecting all of Egypt’s countryside, and they require an immediate sustainable solution,” says Ahmed El Droubi, the sustainable agriculture campaigner for the Greenpeace Arab World project.

Egypt has long relied on a vast network of canals designed to bring water from the Nile and expand arable land east and west into the desert.

Water shortages and dumping is not a new concern for Egypt’s canals. However, in the past few months, the severity of the situation has significantly increased, turning the canals into thick, barely moist, garbage pits.

“For a couple of years the water in the canals had been cut alongside increased garbage dumping, but lately there is something very wrong,” says Hesham al-Seefy, a lawyer and lifetime resident of Abu Sir.

Seefy adds that five years ago it was possible to grow a variety of crops with the canal water, but now only resilient crops can survive. More


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The disappearing water of Delhi. More serious than you think

New Delhi: In a country where a woman's 'suhaag', her husband, is seen as central to her existence, imagine a song where a woman, driven to desperation, says it's easier to lose him than her precious pitcher of water. This was a song we filmed in Banda, Bundelkhand, 16 years ago, when we travelled to Uttar Pradesh. The water shortage appeared apocalyptic then, even for this under-developed part of India. But since then, Banda's thirst has become starker.

In 1997, the Centre for Science and Environment, published 'Dying Wisdom: The Rise, Fall and Potential of Traditional Water Harvesting Systems'. It beautifully mapped the acumen with which communities across the country once conserved their water resources. At the book's launch, when we interviewed the CSE director at the time, the late Anil Agarwal, he emphasized how urgent the need was for us to revert to our older water-harvesting techniques as well as develop newer ones. The book was widely-read and for a while, it seemed that policy-makers would take note. Yet, 15 years passed before some laws were put into place to make rainwater harvesting mandatory. The Delhi government, for instance, constantly reiterates its commitment to do rainwater harvesting but when we set out to do a water profiling of the city, we found a disturbing mismatch between intention and reality.

Dhiraj Ahuja runs a company called Delhi Tubewells Limited. In 1994 when his company dug a tubewell for a house they had to go down approximately 60 feet to get water. By 2011, for the same home, they had to go as deep as 250 feet to hit water. "In some places we only had to dig 30 feet and we would hit water, today when we are called to bore wells, even after going down 300 feet we don't get any water." It's a candid confession from a man who has profited greatly from a dangerous water policy which allowed unchecked tubewell-boring for decades.

From the mid-sixties, both the government and home owners have bored their own water supplies, deep into the earth, sucking out Delhi's ground water in massive quantities. "See those are tubewell pipes pulled out of the ground as the wells have dried up,' Dhiraj Ahuja points to piles of dug up borewell pipes, now lying unused and rusting.

Frantic laws are now being formulated to try and reverse the damage. In neighbouring Gurgaon, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has barred the Haryana government and its agencies from allowing any construction till real estate developers commit that they will use water tankers for building their projects. Ground water will be off-limits. The construction lobby has been badly hit by this. According to the Central Groundwater Authority (CGA), Gurgaon was illegally extracting as much as 50 million gallons of water per day - taking out from the ground three times the amount of water it replenished. The CGWA warned that by if this was not stopped Gurgaon would have no groundwater left by 2017. More


Global Water Sustainability Flows Through Natural and Human Challenges

ScienceDaily (Aug. 9, 2012) — Water's fate in China mirrors problems across the world: fouled, pushed far from its natural origins, squandered and exploited.

In this week's Science magazine, Jianguo "Jack" Liu, director of Michigan State University's Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, and doctoral student Wu Yang look at lessons learned in China and management strategies that hold solutions for China -- and across the world.

In their article "Water Sustainability for China and Beyond," Liu and Yang outline China's water crisis and recent leapfrog investment in water conservancy, and suggest addressing complex human-nature interactions for long-term water supply and quality.

China's crisis is daunting, though not unique: Two-thirds of China's 669 cities have water shortages, more than 40 percent of its rivers are severely polluted, 80 percent of its lakes suffer from eutrophication -- an over abundance of nutrients -- and about 300 million rural residents lack access to safe drinking water.

Water can unleash fury. Floods in Beijing on July 21 overwhelmed drainage systems, resulting in scores of deaths. Water shortages also may have contributed to recent massive power outages in India as rural farmers stressed a fragile grid by pumping water for irrigation during drought.

China has dedicated enormous resources -- some $635 billion worth -- which represents a quadrupling of investment in the next decade, mainly for engineering measures.

There needs to be, Liu and Yang say, a big picture view of water beyond engineering measures.

"There is an inescapable complexity with water," Liu said. "When you generate energy, you need water; when you produce food, you need water. However, to provide more water, more energy and more land are needed, thus creating more challenges for energy and food production, which in turn use more water and pollute more water.

"In the end, goals are often contradictory to each other. Everybody wants something, but doesn't take a systems approach that is essential for us to see the whole picture." More


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Revolutionizing Water Management and Governance

Water Commons. Water Citizenship. Water Security.

In Cebu City, the Philippines, public sector workers like Zosimo Salcedo at the Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD) opposed Asian Development Bank financing that would purportedly increase the burgeoning city’s water supply. The financing sounded like a water workers dream – more infrastructure funds spells more jobs. So why was Zosimo Salcedo opposing the funds?

Contrary to common perceptions that workers are only concerned with preserving jobs and receiving higher pay, the union acted as stewards of the water commons. You might call them water citizens. They understood their responsibility as ‘carers’ of water, from catchment to storage to distribution. They didn’t measure their effectiveness simply in numbers of households connected to the grid but in conservation, watershed protection and raising questions about what increased debt would mean for the water system’s long-term financial and resource sustainability. They asked the hard question as to whether, in fact, the new infrastructure meant to extract more water would, in the long run, actually ensure continuous and increased water supply. Rather than tap new surface and groundwater sources, they concluded that it made more economic and ecological sense to conserve water through cheaper system repair and watershed protection.

“[The] water crisis is largely our own making. It has resulted not from the natural limitations of the water supply or lack of financing and appropriate technologies, even though these are important factors, but rather from profound failures in water governance.” – United Nations Development Program report on water governance

What is extraordinary about this change in mindset is the emergence of a new consciousness that workers have an important role to play in tending, caring and nurturing water, even though their own daily work involved a minimalist technical role with water distribution alone. In effect, Salcedo and his colleagues in the MCWD workers union symbolized a fundamental restructuring of the relationship between the water workers, the water utility, the community and water itself. In this new consciousness and practice, which we call water citizenship, they sought to secure water for all, for all times.

The Challenge of Safeguarding Water

One of the wonders of the Earth is the pristine waters that give life to an astonishing diversity of ecosystems and human societies. Climate change has made it painfully clear that although ecological regions are distinct, natural systems and human societies are intimately intertwined. Deforestation for agricultural expansion in one eco-zone can alter monsoon events in another. We all have a stake – and ought to have a voice – in making decisions about transformations of nature, even if they occur a continent away.

You can think of our entire planetary natural resource base as one giant global commons or alternatively, as a series of inter-connected, localized commonses. Either expression presents formidable governance, management and sovereignty challenges. The term “commons” turns current water planning topsy-turvy. A water commons means that water is available for all people and ecosystems, and that the resource be passed on undiminished and intact for future generations’ enjoyment. You don’t have to look far to see that current water planning often fails to uphold those principles and embrace the views of commons champions like Salcedo.

“What we do to water, we do to ourselves and the ones we love.” – From Popol Vuh , an ancient Mayan text , from: Future Generations at the Table: Governing and Managing Our Water Commons

Garret Hardin, in the “Tragedy of the Commons”, was pessimistic about the commons. He argued that shared ownership of a common resource is likely to lead to unequal use, pilfering and degradation. There is certainly much evidence, including in the Lempa River case examined here, that an unmanaged commons can be disastrous. Hardin’s work is often cited to justify the break-up of the commons into private parts.

The 2010 Nobel Prizewinner for Economics, Elinor Ostrom, has a more optimistic view. She waded into communities’ commonses and did not find tragedy. She did find resource conflicts – they are inevitable – but also sufficient intelligence and altruism to manage skirmishes and develop binding rules for equitable sharing. As in the case of the semi-arid region of Minas Gerais, Brazil described in this collection, these rules can be far-sighted enough to ensure that nature itself receives her fair share of the water commons. Ostrom discovers resource users exercising choice – to pursue an unequal and unsustainable resource management regime or attempt something more cooperative. Managing the water commons for the common good is a creative endeavor that provides a true test of good governance2 practices. Imagine a debate among political candidates on how best to steward our shared water resources – instead of demagogic discrediting of public services!

Ostrom articulated principles and practices that can guide good governance of the water commons – for example, defining the universe of users, mapping the physical boundaries of the common resource, ensuring governance rights to all stakeholders, designing low-cost conflict resolution and sanctioning mechanisms and nesting/linking management rules and institutions from the local to the international, from upstream to downstream. These principles and practices aren’t water engineering feats – they’re largely intuitive institutional arrangements and all too often ignored. The cases here apply one or more of these practices and together with Maude Barlow’s water commons principles, they provide much of the analytical lens we use to offer lessons from these case studies.

The authors of these cases are public sector water operators and policy analysts, community activists and academics. The editors of this compilation are colleagues in the Reclaiming Public Water Network who have been working for some time to bring about greater democratization of water. We offer these cases to shine light on new ways forward as well as to invite your contributions to a growing understanding of how to govern and manage our shared water commons.

A New IWRM 2.0 to Tackle the Deepening Water Crisis

Twenty years ago, at the Rio Summit in 1992, commons-based water governance and management took steps both backwards and forward. That’s not surprising; the Rio discussions were a battle ground for opposing development models. The millennia-old philosophical ethic that water belongs to all and is to be safeguarded for future generations, was called into question by Dublin Principles adopted in the first Earth Summit in Rio Declaration (1992): “Water is a public good and has a social and economic value in all its competing uses”.

Public and private institutions seized on the opportunity to place water in a market framework and as a society we seemed to lose sight of the water commons. There’s no question that pricing is essential to operate a water system but it must be fair. That means that higher volume, wealthier users pay more per unit and the poorest households receive a free or subsidized lifeline. But that has not generally been the guiding principle. Instead, policy makers and private operators seem to have become enamoured with full cost recovery4 from all users, even when it means denying basic rights to water. The prospect of turning a profit from water also began to seem possible to entrepreneurial operators – both politicians and CEOs. This new economic interpretation was to profoundly change the entire system of water management worldwide. More


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Wasting [water] Resources

New study cites Pakistan among seven countries dangerously exploiting groundwater aquifers.

Heavily populated regions of Asia, the arid Middle East and parts of the U.S. corn-belt are dangerously over-exploiting their underground water supplies, according to a study published on Wednesday in scientific journal Nature.


“The countries that are overusing groundwater most significantly are the United States, India, China, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, and the highest number of people that are impacted by this live in India and China,” Canadian hydrologist Tom Gleeson told AFP.


“Over a quarter of the world’s population live in these regions where groundwater is being overused,” he said in a phone interview. Many places are rapidly pumping out “fossil” water, or water that was laid down sometimes thousands of years ago and cannot be replaced on a human timescale.


Seeking a yardstick of sustainability, the study creates a measure called the groundwater footprint. It calculates the area of land sustained by extracted water and compares this to the size of the aquifer beneath. The global groundwater footprint is a whopping 3.5 times the size of the world’s aquifers, the study found.


However, this stress is accounted for by a small number of countries. For instance, in the South Caspian region of northern Iran, the footprint is 98 times the size of the aquifer; in the Upper Ganges in India and Pakistan, it is 54; while in the U.S. High Plains, the figure is nine.


“Humans are over-exploiting groundwater in many large aquifers that are crucial to agriculture, especially in North America and Asia,” said Gleeson. “Irrigation for agriculture is largely causing the problem but it is already impacting in some regions the ability to use groundwater for irrigation, so it is almost like a self-reinforcing problem.”


The study aims at adding a new analytical tool to help policymakers cope with the world’s intensifying water problems. In March, the U.N. warned in its Fourth World Water Report that water problems in many parts of the world were chronic, and without a crackdown on wastage would worsen as demand for food rises and climate change intensifies.


By 2050, agricultural use of water will rise by nearly 20 percent, on the basis of current farming methods, to meet food demands from a population set to rise from seven billion today to more than nine billion.


Gleeson, a specialist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, used a computer model in collaboration with scientists at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and crunched national statistics on water use. The next step will be to use satellite data, which should be a more reliable source, he said. More


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Climate change is wild card in water security – SEI analysts

We can think creatively about water management, but unknown large global threats could cause a fundamental reorganisation of life on Earth, according to a water expert with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).

“A doomsday scenario would be that if the Greenland ice sheet melts, and then there’s six metres of sea-level rise — all bets are off,” said David Purkey, a senior scientist who heads SEI’s Northern California office. “I think we’ve got bigger problems than water scarcity at that moment.”

“What happens when L.A. has to evacuate, when New York has to evacuate? At that point, I wonder whether rational conversations about water management will be what we’re having.”

In a separate interview, Arno Rosemarin, senior research fellow at SEI’s EcoSanRes (ecological sanitation research) programme, told AlertNet that water security problems will be compounded by global population growth, expected to hit 9 billion by 2050.

Rosemarin cautioned that climate change could also have an unknown impact on vulnerable urban populations in ever-expanding cities.

“We aren’t going to have enough water,” Rosemarin said. When you add factors like weather changes, drought and flooding — you can’t manage — it’s like a monster and that’s not water supply that’s a disaster.”

Treating greywater and sewage to be re-used in urban agriculture — using less water, more efficient taps and appliances — even choosing to eat fried food instead of boiled, are just a few water-management tactics Rosemarin recommends.

To read the interviews, please visit AlertNet, and for more stories about water, visit the Battle for Water page.

Picture caption: Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers place sandbags to block a breaching dyke after heavy rainfalls hit the Fangshan district of Beijing, July 25, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How will the battle for water reshape our world?

By 2025, two-thirds of people worldwide are expected to face water shortages as businesses, agriculture and growing populations compete for the ever more precious commodity.

How will the battle for water reshape our world?
American environmental analyst Lester Brown -- founder of the Worldwatch Institute and the Earth Policy Institute, talks about the issue with for AlertNet: trust.org/alertnet, the global humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation trust.org.
The battle for water: trust.org/alertnet/news/special-coverage/battle-for-water/
A special multimedia report explores the future of water against a backdrop of climate change, urbanisation, increased irrigation and growing demand for greener power such as hydroelectricity.
Multimedia producer: Amelia Wong
Multimedia director: Claudine Boeglin