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

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The water is running out in Gaza: Humanitarian catastrophe looms as territory’s only aquifer fails

The Gaza Strip, a tiny wedge of land jammed between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean sea, is heading inexorably into a water crisis that the United Nations says could make the Palestinian enclave uninhabitable in just a few years.

With 90 to 95 per cent of the territory's only aquifer contaminated by sewage, chemicals and seawater, neighbourhood desalination facilities and their public taps are a lifesaver for some of Gaza's 1.6 million residents. But these small-scale projects provide water for only about 20 per cent of the population, forcing many more residents in the impoverished territory to buy bottled water at a premium. The UN estimates that more than 80 per cent of Gazans buy their drinking water. "Families are paying as much as a third of their household income for water," said June Kunugi, a special representative of the UN children's fund Unicef.

The Gaza Strip, governed by the Islamist group Hamas and in a permanent state of tension with Israel, is not the only place in the Middle East facing water woes. A Nasa study of satellite data released this year showed that between 2003 and 2009 the region lost 144 cubic kilometres of stored freshwater – equivalent to the amount in the Dead Sea – making a bad situation much worse.

But the situation in Gaza is particularly acute, with the UN warning that its sole aquifer might be unusable by 2016, with the damage potentially irreversible by 2020. Between 5 and 10 per cent only of the aquifer's water is safe to drink, but even this can mix with poor-quality water during distribution, making it good only for washing.

"The tap water from the municipality is not fit to drink, and my husband is a kidney patient," said Sahar Moussa, a mother of three, who lives in a cramped, ramshackle house in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, near the Egyptian border. She spends 45 shekels (£8.20) each month – a large sum for most Palestinians in the area – to buy filtered water that she stores in a 500L plastic tank.

Further complicating the issue is Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, which activists say has prevented the import of materials needed for repairs on water and waste facilities. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent arms from reaching Hamas, which is opposed to the existence of the Jewish state.

With no streams or rivers to speak of, Gaza has historically relied almost exclusively on its coastal aquifer, which receives some 50 to 60 million cubic metres of refill each year thanks to rainfall and run-off from the Hebron hills to the east. But the needs of Gaza's rapidly growing population, as well as those of the nearby Israeli farmers, means an estimated 160 million cubic metres of water is drawn from the compromised aquifer each year. As the levels sink, seawater seeps in from the nearby Mediterranean. This saline pollution is made worse by untreated waste, with 90,000 cubic metres of raw sewage allowed to flow into the shallow sea waters each day from Gaza, according to UN data.

Even with the aquifer, regular running tap water is a luxury unknown to many Gazans. People living across the territory say that during the summer months water might spurt out of their taps every other day, and the pressure is often so low that those living on upper floors might see just a trickle.

Many families have opted to drill private wells drawing from water deep underground. Authorisation is required but rigid restrictions mean that most households dig their wells in secret. Hired labourers erect large plastic sheets to try to hide their work from prying neighbours. "As you can see, this is like a crime scene," said a 45-year-old father of six, who gave his name as Abu Mohammed. A clothes merchant from Gaza city, he paid his clandestine, seven-strong crew £2,300 to drill a well and came across water at a depth of 48 metres. "We begin the work after sunset and... cover the sound of digging with music," he said. A senior Israeli security official estimates that as many as 6,000 wells have been sunk in Gaza, many without authorisation.

While Israel shares the polluted aquifer, which stretches all the way to Caesarea, about 37 miles north of Tel Aviv, the problem is less acute than in Gaza which is downstream. In addition, Israel can access water from the Sea of Galilee and the mountain aquifer that also spans the West Bank.

As Gaza borders the sea, the obvious answer is desalination. Gaza already hosts 18 small plants, one treating seawater, the others water from brackish wells – most of them supplied by Unicef and Oxfam.

The Palestinian Water Authority has started work on two new seawater desalination plants and is planning a third, larger facility, which is designed to produce 55 million cubic metres of water a year. But with funding for the $450m (£295m) project still uncertain, construction is not due to start until 2017. By that time, cash-strapped Gaza may not have enough electricity available to power the energy-intensive plants. The UN estimates that Gaza needs an additional 100 megawatts of production capacity even before the big water facility is built.

Israel is trying to drum up aid for Gaza, the senior security official said, alarmed at the prospect of a looming water catastrophe and possible humanitarian crisis on its doorstep. "We have talked to everyone we know in the international community because 1.4 million people will be without water in a few years," he said, asking not to be named because of the issue's sensitivity. He said Israel, a leader in the desalination industry, was helping to train a few Gazans in the latest water technology, which the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) confirmed.

Rebhi El Sheikh, deputy chairman of the PWA, has called on international donors to help fund energy, water and sewage projects, warning of disaster if nothing happens. "A small investment is needed to avoid a bigger one, and it is a humanitarian issue that has nothing to do with politics or security," he said.

Water wars

Water scarcity has become a growing problem in the Middle East, East Africa and the US.

Although the Middle East has experienced water scarcity for quite some time, Jay Famiglietti, principal investigator of a recently published Nasa study, has said that there was an "alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which currently has the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India". With tensions already high in this region, water scarcity could become another cause of conflict.

Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the driest regions in the world. East Africa, in particular the Nile River basin, has seen conflict rise over who controls fresh water supplies. Due to limited resources, the Sudanese civil war between 1983 and 2005 became a struggle over territory which in turn led to conflicts over water supplies. The impact on the population and irrigation of the country would be substantial. After 22 years of fighting, 400,000 people were killed and 2.5 million were displaced from their homes.

Water cleanliness is an issue that is having considerable impact on sub-Saharan Africa. According to the charity WaterAid, 16.4 million people in Kenya and 43.4 million people in Ethiopia don't have access to safe water.

The US is also facing significant strain on fresh-water supplies. According to WaterSense, a partnership program of the US Environmental Protection Agency: "Nearly every region of the country has experienced water shortages. At least 36 states are anticipating local, regional, or state-wide water shortages" this year, "even under non-drought conditions". More



Friday, June 21, 2013

Water: the Connecting Link to Climate Change Adaptation

The global climate community is addressing adaptation to climate change under entities such as the Nairobi Work Programme, the Green Climate Fund, the Adaptation Committee, and others. The Adaptation Committee is working to ensure coherence on adaptation in the various negotiation streams in the climate change process.

Another message from the side event was that until the world puts water security at the centre of adaptation as part of national development, gains made in economic growth and development will continue to be undermined by water-related disasters such as droughts and floods, threatening food security, energy security, and livelihood security worldwide. “Water is as important for adaptation as energy for mitigation,” said Dr. Schaefer-Preuss.

“We have to realize that droughts are here to stay and floods are here to stay,” said Alex Simalabwi, GWP’s Global Coordinator for the Water and Climate Programme. “The world needs to prepare for this new reality,” he said.

Mr. Simalabwi said governments need to ensure investments for climate resilient development. But he recognized that there are several challenges, such as low absorption capacity in national planning systems, inadequate institutional capacity, and lack of policy coherence across various economic sectors.

Capitalizing on the National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) was acknowledged as key, but it was also pointed out that water resources do not respect national borders so transboundary solutions are essential.

GWP and AMCOW (the Africa Ministers’ Council on Water) are supporting climate change adaptation from the global to the local level through their joint Water and Climate Programme. For example, in Africa the Programme is working in five transboundary river basins such as the Bugasera, shared by Rwanda and Burundi. Through a partnership approach, the Programme is bridging the divide between the climate, development, and water communities.

At a press briefing the next day, the following statements were made:

Dr Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, GWP Chair: “Adaptation has received more focus in the climate change negotiation process which means a greater importance for water. Water and climate are two sides of one coin, and we need to reduce silo thinking when talking about adaptation measures”.

Bai Mass Taal, AMCOW Executive Secretary, outlined the joint AMCOW-GWP Water, Climate and Development Programme for Africa, and commented: “Africa is all about water security, because without water Africa cannot achieve economic growth”.

Lovisa Selander, Communications Manager at the Stockholm International Water Institute: “There can be no successful adaptation measures without taking water into account. Water runs across all sectors so whatever issue you address, you have to talk about water”.

Sabina Bokal, Project Manager of the Integrated Drought Management Programme (IDMP) for GWP Central and Eastern Europe: “Although the Central and Eastern European region is currently facing major floods, drought is a very serious issue in the region. GWP runs a programme together with the region and countries to make them more proactive instead of being reactive to the impact of drought.”

Pervais Amir, representing GWP South Asia, said: “South Asia has one-fourth of the world’s population and faces challenges such as melting glaciers, floods, droughts, and coastal sea rise. In a region which is vulnerable to conflict - there is already a war on terror - we don’t want one on water”. More


Monday, June 17, 2013

Let's Quit This Most Dangerous Game with Drought

On a recent visit to Niger, I met a woman in Batodi village with some very bold claims. Fifteen years ago, she and her fellow women would travel a day's journey to fetch water.

Today, they fetch it from a local well, having turned the situation around by rehabilitating their badly degraded land using traditional practices. In that period, the water level has “jumped up” by 14 meters. Moreover, the village had withstood the severe food and water challenges others in many parts of Niger suffered during recent droughts.

The researcher who had invited me backed the claims that the water table had risen from a depth of below 18 meters to about 4 meters below the ground. That was precisely why he had invited me to the field; to witness – contrary to claims otherwise – that it is possible to restore the health of even badly degraded land.

On 17 June, we unveil the winners of the 2013 Land for Life Award from 137 submissions worldwide. At the national level, Eritrea, Hungary, Kenya, Portugal and Thailand unveil their first Drylands Champions to recognize the local heroes making laudable steps in the fight against desertification and drought.

These kinds of stories, from the ground, inspire me to advocate unceasingly for policies in favor of investments to strengthen both sustainable land use practices and drought resilience. Grabbing more fragile lands to meet growing food demand is neither the answer nor is improving relief delivery the ultimate solution.

Rather, we must boldly move to a land-degradation neutral world where clearing new land is not an option, and, where it is inevitable, our collective target becomes offsetting such action by rehabilitating degraded land at the same pace and in the same ecosystem.

Political contestations over whether a land-degradation neutral world is possible should not prevail for lack of generalizable scientific claims to demonstrate it. Until massive investments in small pilot projects such as these by communities fail, their viability is not in question; the status quo is.

The achievements in Batodi, the submissions to the Land for Life Award and the work of the Drylands Champions affirm the claims of the recent report, A Dangerous Delay – The cost of late response to early warning in the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa, that “the response to drought was too little too late, representing a systemic failure of the international system.”

Indeed, the international community has been here before; in the mid-1970s, with the Sahel drought disaster, in the mid-1980s with the drought and famine disaster in Ethiopia and, most recently, in 2011, with the tragedy in the Horn of Africa.

But the best evidence that we, as an international community, are playing the world's most dangerous game with drought lies in the fact that only one country in the world – Australia – has a comprehensive national drought policy.

There are more reasons for concern.

Drought affects more lives than any other disaster, yet unlike most disasters, it has a slow onset. And not only has every region in the world experienced more severe droughts in recent times, but droughts are set to increase in intensity, in spread and in frequency due to climate change.

About a billion people, among them people living in the arid and semi-arid parts of the world, have access to little or no renewable water resources. With the climate change scenarios, that estimate shoots to about half the world's population living in areas of high water stress by 2030.

Neither desertification nor droughts are fated, but the path to change is through a radical transformation in our view of the land and attitude towards drought.

Land is a strategic natural asset for our future sustainability. So let us give life to the aspiration of a land-degradation neutral world by setting a target date for its achievement as part of the Sustainable Development Goals to be agreed by 2015. We should follow in the steps of Africa. At its Summit last month it declared this part of its future agenda and called on the global community to do the same.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Why a 'water war' over the Nile River won't happen

Is northeastern Africa heading for a bloody "water war" between its two most important countries, Egypt and Ethiopia? Judging by the rhetoric of the past two weeks, one could be forgiven for thinking so.

Ethiopia's plans to build a multibillion dollar dam on the Nile River spurred Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi - whose country lies downstream from Ethiopia - to vow to protect Egypt's water security at all costs. "As president of the republic, I confirm to you that all options are open," he said on Monday. "If Egypt is the Nile's gift, then the Nile is a gift to Egypt… If it diminishes by one drop, then our blood is the alternative."

The following day Dina Mufti, Ethiopia's foreign ministry spokesman, said that Ethiopia was "not intimidated by Egypt's psychological warfare and won't halt the dam's construction, even for seconds".

Morsi's bellicose warnings followed the suggestions of leading Egyptian politicians on television last week that Cairo should prepare airstrikes and send special forces to uphold its God-given right to the lion's share of Nile waters. The Ethiopian government of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has signalled that it is not impressed and that it will carry on with work on the multibillion dollar Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam - a move seen by some as raising temperatures further, possibly triggering the "water wars" that pessimists have long predicted will characterise the geopolitics of the 21st century.

The war of words between Cairo and Addis Ababa is only the latest episode in a long history of confrontation between the two. About three-quarters of the Nile's waters flow downstream from Lake Tana in Ethiopia, through Sudan, to Egypt. The building of the modern Egyptian state in the 19th century was closely connected to the idea of an Egyptian agricultural and industrial revolution; the Nile was to be controlled and harnessed for economic development through large-scale irrigation works, canals and dams so that Egypt could export cotton and other strategic crops to global markets. The notion of establishing maximum control over the Nile and consolidating regional hegemony more broadly pushed Egypt to invade Sudan in 1821 and to occupy eastern Ethiopia in 1875.

Zero-sum mentality

The zero-sum mentality of that era - that others cannot be trusted with the waters of the Nile, and Cairo must at all times control its own water destiny directly - endures to this day. Both the construction of the controversial High Dam at Aswan and the 1929 and 1959 Nile Waters Agreements were guided by the same paradigm.

The latter allocated 55.5 billion cubic metres of water to Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt and 18.5 billion cubic metres to Sudan, while the government of Haile Selassie was shut out of the negotiations: all water was essentially given to the downstream states at the expense of Ethiopia and other upstream countries including Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. While Aswan ended Egypt's dependence on the erratic Nile flood and the 1959 treaty locked in Egyptian hydro-hegemony, it infuriated Addis Ababa.

Thus, rather than definitively resolving Cairo's existential angst about its extreme dependency on the river (97 percent of renewable water resources in Egypt come from the Nile), Aswan and the 1959 agreement created permanent tensions between upstream and downstream riparians that have destabilised the basin for decades. Proxy wars (pp 104-107), which claimed the lives of millions of people between the 1960s and 2000s in and around Sudan and Ethiopia had several complex causes, but the struggle between Cairo and Addis Ababa for primacy in the Nile Basin was an important one.

In the last 15 years, however, Egypt's hydro-hegemony has progressively unravelled due to a combination of factors. First, Cairo's neglect of Africa in its foreign policy under Hosni Mubarak cost it dearly. Its alliance with Khartoum has turned into a permanently uncomfortable relationship since Sudan's military-Islamist revolution in 1989; Egypt was historically the greatest opponent of self-determination for Southern Sudanese, but was unable to get the referendum clause removed from the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that allowed South Sudan to become an independent state in July 2011. Once respected and admired around the continent, Mubarak's systematic disinterest in the African Union diminished Egyptian influence in the Nile Basin and outside it.

Second, while unemployment, inequality and corruption have soared in Egypt in the last 15 years - ultimately culminating in the 2011 revolution that ousted Mubarak - upstream countries have transformed themselves. The late Meles Zenawi turned Ethiopia from an international object of pity into a regional power to be reckoned with through spectacular economic growth and a masterful foreign policy. More



Saturday, June 8, 2013

Greece suffers critical water shortages

Uploaded on Jun 8, 2013

Water shortages are reaching critical levels for farmers in central Greece.

A million people's livelihoods and two ecosystems hang in the balance.

Al Jazeera's John Psaropoulos reports from the Thessaly plain of central Greece

Colorado cattle ranchers preparing to face third year of drought

Colorado cattle producers are preparing to face down a third year of drought.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Water Wars in Asia?

The battles of yesterday were fought over land. Those of today are over energy. And the battles of tomorrow may be over water.

Nowhere is the danger greater than in Asia. Drought, urbanization, pollution, and inadequate infrastructure have made Asia the world’s most water-scarce continent on a per-capita basis. Many of its water sources cross national boundaries, creating the potential for international conflict as supplies dwindle. Now global warming is raising the stakes further, causing rising sea levels, more severe floods and droughts, and the melting of the glaciers in the Tibetan plateau.

The water security challenges facing China and India in particular have consequences not just for the two rising powers, but for Asia as a whole. They threaten to reduce economic growth across the region, exacerbate ongoing territorial disputes, and impose further hardships on Asia’s poor. Asia Society Northern California is pleased to host national security expertBrahma Chellaney, water expert Peter Gleick, and futurist Peter Schwartz to discuss what is becoming Asia’s defining crisis of the 21st century.

Brahma Chellaney is Professor of Strategic Studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Dehli. He has written six books on international relations and geopolitics, including Water: Asia’s New Battleground, which won the Asia Society’s Bernard Schwartz Book Award in 2012. His newest book, Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Crisis, has just been released.

Peter Gleick is Co-founder and President of the Pacific Institute. Dr. Gleick is the author of many scientific papers and nine books on water, including The World’s Water and Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water. He is the recipient of the MacArthur “genius” Fellowship, among other awards.

Peter Schwartz (moderator), a renowned futurist, is Senior Vice President for Global Government Relations and Strategic Planning at Salesforce.com. He was Co-founder and Chairman of Global Business Network (GBN).

Copies of Water: Asia's New Battleground and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis will be available for purchase and signing!

Promotional co-sponsors: The Asia Foundation, East Meets West, Institute of East Asian Studies, UC Berkeley, Japan Policy Research Institute, Pacific Institute, Sierra Club, US China Green Energy Council, World Affairs Council

Program Agenda:

5:30-6:00 pm: Registration
6:00-7:30 pm: Discussion and Audience Q&A
7:30-8:00 pm: Reception and Book Signing


5 June 2013

6:00pm - 7:30pm

Asia Society
Bechtel Conference Room
500 Washington St.
San Francisco

Click for Directions

$10 Asia Society/Co-sponsor members/students; $15 non-members