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, September 26, 2013

UNECE Water Convention Discusses Best Practices for Transboundary Water Cooperation

23 September 2013: The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) held a workshop to inspire best practices in institutional and legal arrangements and procedures among joint bodies for transboundary water cooperation and river basin commissions.

The workshop was the first in a series of two workshops, organized during the International Year of Water Cooperation, to support discussions on institutional and legal arrangements for transboundary water management, as well as to highlight the importance of good water governance in the post-2015 development agenda.

The 'River Basin Commissions and other Joint Bodies for Transboundary Water Cooperation: Legal and Institutional Aspects' workshop showcased evolutions in transboundary water management. The International Commission for the Congo-Oubangui-Sangha Basin presented its transition from a body focused on navigation to a commission working on integrated water resources management (IWRM). The International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine shared its experience on the expansion of cooperation in the Rhine Basin. The binational Authority of Lake Titicaca described how it implemented a master plan to address resource use in its lakes and rivers. The Mekong River Commission presented its organizational reform experience.

Over 120 participants discussed the establishment of new agreements and institutions, to guide efforts in aquifers and basins not covered by agreements. One such example is the cooperation between Afghanistan and Tajikistan on environment and hydrology in the upper Amu Darya Basin. According to UNECE, 158 of the world's 263 international river basins lack a cooperative management framework.

Plenary sessions and working groups considered methods and tools for daily cooperation, such as coordinated or joint monitoring, exchange of information and formulation of joint action plans. A fourth topic focused on conflict prevention and dispute settlement.

The workshop, which took place in Geneva, Switzerland, from 23-24 September 2013, was co-organized by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) International Hydrological Programme (IHP), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Global Environmental Facility's (GEF) International Waters Learning Exchange and Resource Network (IW: LEARN), the Global Water Partnership (GWP), the International Network of Basin Organizations (INBO) and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR). The event was funded by the Governments of Estonia, Finland, Germany and Luxembourg.

A document with workshop reference material will be shared on the workshop website. [UNECE Press Release] [Workshop Website]

read more: http://water-l.iisd.org/news/unece-water-convention-discusses-best-practices-for-transboundary-water-cooperation/


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Pakistan tackles water crisis with rainwater harvesting

MORRY-JE-WANDH, Pakistan (AlertNet) – Wearing colourful traditional dresses with silver jewellery and bangles on their arms, the women of Tharparkar district look festive. But the empty earthen pots they carry tell a different story.

Women of Tharparkar district

“Walking for three miles and (hoisting) a ... bucket filled with water through a wooden pulley from a 130-feet-deep well twice a day is toilsome work,” says Marvi Bheel, who lives in isolated Morry-je-Wandh village in this arid district of Sindh province, some 450 km (280 miles) south-east of Karachi.

Increasing temperatures and lower rainfalls, believed to be associated with climate change, are creating intense water shortages in much of Pakistan, a situation which is likely to worsen if the country’s 170 million population doubles as projected in the next 25 years.

In response, non-governmental organizations are trying to improve water harvesting in rural areas. A pilot project in Morry-je-Wandh has seen the construction of a large covered pond with the capacity to supply the domestic and drinking water needs of 20 families (135 villagers) for more than eight months.

“The new rainwater harvesting facilities have transformed the lives of people, as we have now a safe source of clean water,” said Sobho Bheel, a farmer unrelated to Marvi Bheel.

The effects of having a good supply of drinking water at hand are far-reaching, he added: diseases have diminished, children can go to school and women have more time to spend on other economic activities.


Women in Tharparker district, as in many places around the world, are charged with the task of gathering water. But as water becomes scarcer, travelling long distances to collect it can be arduous.

“Women fall unconscious on their way to these dug wells, while others develop pregnancy related complications due to being malnourished,” Marvi Bheel said. On summer days temperatures hover around 48 to 50 degrees Celsius (118 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit), and the falling water table means that water sometimes has to be hauled from a depth of 200 to 250 feet (62 to 77 metres).

Dug wells are the major source of water for over 90 percent of the approximately 1.4 million people living in Tharparkar, Pakistan’s largest arid district, which spreads over nearly 20,000 square kilometres (7,600 square miles) and comprises some 2,350 villages.

Water is taken from the wells for domestic, agriculture and livestock needs. But because of the inadequate number of wells in the district and demand for water exceeding supply, wells often produce too little water or dry up within several months of being recharged by rain.

Bharumal Armani of Chelhar village recalls that during August 2010, rains in the Thar Desert recharged parched shallow wells, raised the water table in deep wells and filled household cisterns.

But after four months, local people were without sufficient water even for drinking. Many villagers had to walk miles to fetch supplies, while herdsmen were forced to take their livestock to reservoirs to water them.

According to a study by the Pakistan Council for Research on Water Resources (PCRWR), a government body, the entire Thar Desert receives between 260 and 280 mm (1.0-1.1 inches) of rainfall annually. The scanty precipitation, however, could suffice to meet the domestic water needs of the locals and their livestock for three years, according to the PCRWR.


But because of inadequate storage and rainwater harvesting facilities, more than 95 percent of the water is lost under sand dunes or evaporates in the summer heat.

“Hardly 0.06 percent of the total annual rainwater is harvested by the locals in their household cisterns or in other indigenous ways,” said A.D. Khan, director for groundwater management at the water council. Khan believes the water shortage problem can be addressed by scaling up rainwater harvesting to at least 0.25 percent of the annual rainfall.

In Morry-je-Wandh, a water storage pond with a cover to curb evaporation is part of that effort. The pond, constructed by the Sukkar Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, cost Rs. 125,000 (about $1,400) and relied on financial and technical support from WaterAid-UK’s Pakistan chapter.

“We lay a geo-membrane sheet under the floor of these (ponds) to check seepage, and cover them with roofs that help check evaporation of stored rainwater during the sizzling summer days,” said Abdul Hafeez, WaterAid’s national programme manager.

Using hand pumps connected to the storage ponds through pipes, women can fill their pitchers with water without any difficulty.

According to Qamar uz Zaman Chaudhry, Pakistan’s advisor on climate change affairs, the country is one of the world’s most arid. Most areas have little or no access to surface water. By international standards, Pakistan was already considered a water-scarce country in 1992 with an annual per capita availability of 1,700 cubic metres. This has now declined to fewer than 1,100 cubic metres, according to the government.

“The situation will grow tenser as rains are becoming more erratic and scarce due to climate change,” said Chaudhry, who is author of Pakistan’s national climate change policy.

Climate change and overuse of limited water is expected to create severe problems for the country in coming years, according to Simi Kamal, chairperson of the Hisar Foundation for Water, Food and Livelihood Security, promotes water conservation and management practices in Pakistan.

Annual per capita availability of water may fall to half its current level by 2020 if the depletion of water resources goes unchecked, she said. She believes much of the solution to growing water stress lies in planning and implementing workable rainwater harvesting programmes at medium and small levels.

Chaudhry agrees.

“More than adequate water can be made available for domestic, agriculture, industrial, livestock and other miscellaneous needs, provided that viable strategic plans are drawn up and implemented for rainwater harvesting at all levels,” he said. More

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are development reporters based in Karachi, Pakistan.


Monday, September 23, 2013

North African Countries Commit to Cooperative Management of Nubian Aquifer

18 September 2013: Chad, Egypt, Libya and Sudan signed a Strategic Action Programme to establish a long-term framework for managing the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System (NSAS), the world's largest known fossil water aquifer system.

The agreement establishes a Joint Authority for the NSAS, with the aim of strengthening regional coordination and optimizing equitable use among the four arid North African countries.

The Aquifer is the main water resource for humans, livestock, irrigation and industry in this region, and is under pressure from increasing populations, agricultural expansion and decreasing water availability from other sources. The agreement seeks to strengthen transboundary water cooperation among the four countries to ensure water removal does not threaten water quality, harm the surrounding desert ecosystem and its biodiversity, or accelerate land degradation. The agreement is based on an ecosystem-based management approach (EBMA) and integrated water resources management (IWRM), and includes transboundary actions and targets that individual countries are expected to translate into national actions.

The agreement resulted from a technical cooperation project among the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The project, which began in 2006, created an aquifer model to assist the countries in optimizing the aquifer's use for human needs and ecosystem protection. The project also improved understanding of the transboundary ecosystem threats and improved data sharing. The Programme will build upon this project by continuing to strengthen the countries' capacity to monitor groundwater quantity and quality, and providing a framework for transboundary cooperation.

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark congratulated the African countries on the agreement, saying cooperative management of their shared sub-surface waters “will help to ensure maintenance of livelihoods and ecosystems dependent upon the aquifer." The agreement was signed at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria. [UN Press Release] [UNDP Press Release] [GEF Press Release] [Strategic Action Programme Agreement] More:



Thursday, September 19, 2013

To deal with worsening drought, Pakistan turns to olives

BHAGWAL, Pakistan (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As Pakistan struggles with increasingly unpredictable weather patterns linked to climate change, farmers in arid regions are seizing on a drought-resilient crop better known from southern Europe and the Middle East: olives.

Ghulam Mustafa, 53, is one of the farmers in Chakwal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province who is experimenting with growing olives, alongside his normal wheat and peanut crops, to cope with worsening drought problems.

“I am expecting five times more production of olives than wheat,” Mustafa, who owns more than 50 acres of land, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview. He planted about 500 olive trees in June 2010, and expects his first harvest in 2016.

“Every two years there is a spell of drought in the area” that can last as much as a year or more, he said. Traditional crops, he said, increasingly cannot cope with the hot, dry weather conditions.

The olives, experts say, could not only help farmers like Mustafa protect their incomes and the country’s food security, but, if turned into olive oil, could save Pakistan some of the nearly half a billion dollars in foreign exchange it spends each year purchasing edible oils.

To cope with drying conditions on his farm, Mustafa has installed a drip irrigation system to save on irrigation water and expenses. Olive trees are drought-resilient and can also be irrigated with small amounts of water, he says. Plus, “the production of olive oil will help not only increase my income but also prestige in the society,” he said.

At least 70 percent of Pakistan’s land is arid, with rainfall insufficient in some areas to grow crops without irrigation. Increasingly erratic rainfall has reduced the yields of traditional crops such as wheat, peanuts, maize and millet in arid areas of the country.

With the help of the Italian government, Pakistan has identified potential olive cultivation areas in different parts of the country, including restive northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and southwestern Baluchistan province. The government of Punjab has declared Potohar region as “Olive Valley” for its suitability for olive growing.


The “Olive Valley” includes Attock, Rawalpindi, Jhelum and Khushab districts. The government of Punjab, with the help of Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC)and the Italian government, is planning to develop ten certified olive nurseries in these districts, spread through an area of 27,000 acres (10,900 hectares).

Muhammad Munir Goraya, director of the national olive project and senior director of crops at PARC, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that Pakistan, with the financial help of the Italian government, plans to plant olive saplings on 1,500 hectares of land in Potohar region and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan provinces in the next three years.

About 800,000 wild olive trees already grow in various parts of Pakistan, statistics show. These trees were grafted to make them fruit bearing but only a few thousand of them have successfully produced olive crops. “There were policy flaws in the grafting of wild olive trees; therefore the project could not yield desired results,” said Goraya.

With high global demand and rising prices for edible oils in the international market, Pakistan last year imported edible oil worth $2.5 billion. “The import of edible oil may jump to $4 billion by 2016 if Pakistan fails to increase yield of its own edible oil,” Goraya said.

At the moment, total domestic consumption of edible oil in Pakistan is around 1.9 million tonnes, out of which 1.3 million tonnes is imported from abroad. Goraya said that precious foreign exchange could be saved if olive cultivation is stepped up in Pakistan and the country begins processing its own olive oil to help reduce oil imports.

Currently the major olive oil producing countries in the world are Spain, Italy, Greece, Tunisia, Syria and Turkey.

Shehbaz Ahmed Warraich, dean of the faculty of crop and food sciences at the University of Arid Agriculture in Rawalpindi, said that Pakistan has more land available for cultivation of olive trees than the total cultivated land of major olive oil producing countries in the world. More


Friday, September 13, 2013

Never-Released Energy Department Report Predicts Increasing Domestic Conflicts over Water, Energy

Last summer, the United States experienced the worst drought since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.

At the same time, the country was experiencing one of the biggest onshore drilling booms in history, powered by one of the most water-intensive extraction technologies ever invented: hydraulic fracking.

The tension between these two realities could not be clearer.

This year, as the drilling industry drew millions of gallons of water per well in Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming, residents in these states struggled with severe droughts and some farmers opted to sell their water to the oil and gas industry rather than try to compete with them for limited resources.

Even the Atlantic coast's mighty Susquehanna River faced record lows last year, leading regulators to suspend dozens of withdrawal permits – the majority of which were for fracking Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale.

Researchers for the Federal Department of Energy saw problems like this coming, according to thousands of pages of documents about the topic provided to DeSmog, but their recommendations and warnings were consistently edited and downplayed and the final version of their report has yet to be released.

Stalled Report Cost Taxpayers $2 Million

“On multiple occasions, the editors asked for changes within the document because certain assertions would likely lead to rejection by OMB,” concluded the Civil Society Institute, which obtained the documents through Freedom of Information requests and provided them to DeSmog.

OMB stands for the Office of Management and Budget, the White House agency responsible for ensuring new reports and regulations are consistent with the current administration's policies. The revisions to the Department of Energy report were made, the Civil Society Institute concluded in their internal assessment of the drafts, “regardless of whether or not the assertions were true, and regardless of whether or not OMB’s response would be ‘a fair critique.’”

An early draft of the Department of Energy’s “Energy Water Challenges” report warned of increasing competition between the energy industry and other sectors, but this language was cut from later versions. Input about water use and the energy industry from stakeholders nationwide was dropped. The problems highlighted in the report drafts have only intensified drilling has increased more recently.

The 2005 Energy Policy Act required the Department of Energy to provide Congress with a report on the connection between supply and demand for water and the energy industry, and to offer “recommendations for future actions.” It would be the first major federal effort in three decades to assess the nation’s current and expected water supply.

This first half of the report, which described how water and energy were being used at the time, was submitted to Congress in January 2007. The second half, however, which deals with future projected water supply issues, has hit a series of internal roadblocks. Its first draft was finished in 2007, but it was sent back to be re-written and the head author removed from the project. A 2011 draft still has yet to be revised or officially released, and those familiar with the process say that it is presently undergoing review by White House staff.

These delays have water planners and community advocates wondering what happened. “The short answer is that despite a $2 million investment by the public, the Department of Energy has failed to produce an Energy and Water Roadmap,” the Civil Society Institute wrote.

Water Shortages Coming

Early drafts of the DOE report show that there are growing serious concerns about water availability in the U.S. “Groundwater, though, is generally declining, with falling groundwater levels and historically low water levels in storage reservoirs,” the 2011 report, the most recent draft of the report available, states.

“The most easily accessible groundwater has already been tapped; accessing deeper groundwater requires more expensive wells and increased pumping costs,” it adds.

The 2007 draft of the report acknowledged these issues and predicted that these shortages could have repercussions for the nation’s energy sector.

“As future societal demands for both energy and water continue to increase,” it said, “there will be increasing competition for limited fresh-water supplies for the domestic, agricultural, industrial, and environmental sectors. This increased competition for water could negatively impact future energy development.”

The 2007 draft repeatedly emphasized the need for research to improve water efficiency and to develop ways that the energy industry can get by using less fresh water.

In the 2011 draft, the tone of urgency has largely been removed. It asserts that technology can provide solutions to the problems emerging, describing the potential solutions that as-yet-undeveloped technologies could theoretically provide. It also says that the challenges identified are “surmountable”. Mention of the need for further research has been scrubbed. More


I must admit that I find the fact that this report was withheld from publication rather suspicious. As mentioned above 'as the drilling industry drew millions of gallons of water per well in Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming, residents in these states struggled with severe droughts and some farmers opted to sell their water to the oil and gas industry rather than try to compete with them for limited resources', one has to question possible undue influence by the energy industry. Editor



Thursday, September 12, 2013

Drought Called a Factor in Syria’s Uprising

Two-and-a-half years ago, a group of children in the Syrian city of Dara’a triggered one of the bloodiest conflicts in the 21st century when they painted some anti-government graffiti on a school wall in the ancient farming community.

The children were quickly detained and tortured, leading to widespread protests in the city that were met with harsh repression. The government’s brutal response led to a nationwide revolt that has now stagnated into a bloody stalemate with no end in sight. Dara’a is a mostly agricultural community in a region that has suffered an unrelenting drought since 2001.

Some experts say it’s no accident that Syria’s civil war began there. In 2009, the United Nations and other international agencies found that more than 800,000 Syrian farmers and herdsmen had been forced off their lands because of drought, with many crowding into cities like Dara’a. Additionally, thousands of illegal wells were drilled, drastically lowering the nation’s ground water supply.

The effects of drought and water-mismanagement in the region were highlighted recently by the publication of U.S. National Aeronautic and Space Administration satellite photographs of Syria, Turkey and Iraq. Faced with drought, Syrians crowding these farm towns started drilling deeper for fresh water in the aquifer beneath them. Experts estimated that 60 percent of the aquifer has been lost due to illegal drilling, and a total of 177 million-acre feet of water disappeared, the second-largest aquifer loss in the world.

Satellite images reveal depth of drought

“I actually don’t think the aquifer will recover,” said , a hydrologist and leader of a study of seven years of NASA satellite data that show the Tigris-Euphrates region second only to India in the speed of its groundwater loss. “The Middle East is the dry part of the world and now that climate change is expressing itself very clearly, one of the things that we will see is that the dry parts of the world will get drier,” Famiglietti said. “Think of it as a persistent prolonged drought.” Because of climate change, the Tigris-Euphrates basin and the underground reservoirs of fresh water that once nurtured this fragile desert climate may not be able to sustain future populations in Syria.

It all started in Dara’a

The Syrian uprising was unlike political uprisings in Egypt, Yemen and other Middle East states, all of which started in the major cities. Dara’a was a regional agricultural hub with a pre-war population of 90,000. “Dara’a is the capital of an agricultural province, one of the most significant agricultural areas,” said Syria scholar Ayel Zisser of the Tel Aviv University. Their protests spread from Dara’s at Syria’s southern border to communities north of Aleppo and across the vast al-Jazira plain that stretches from the banks of the Euphrates to the banks of the Tigris. The pattern of the protests followed the rural path of the drought. “Even until today it’s been a peasant revolt isolated to the rural areas,” Zisser said. Assad’s economic reforms focused on global trade that benefitted the urban middle classes, thereby worsening the plight of Syria’s farmers, according to Zisser. The reforms were implemented “at the expense of the population in the rural areas, where they abolished agricultural subsidies,” Zisser said. “The regime turned its back to the rural population and the result was the revolt.” Like other Middle Eastern countries, Syria’s population has increased dramatically in recent years. “This is the first time in history that in less than 30 years, the Middle East doubled its population. It was between 1950 and 1980,” said Arnon Soffer, a demographer and the head of research at the University of Haifa and Israel’s National Defense College. “If that’s not tragic enough, from 1980 to 2010 – another 30 years – this crazy area doubled itself again,” Soffer added. Even before climate change threatened less rainfall in the region, water was a hot-button issue. In 1973, Iraq rushed troops to Syria’s eastern border as upstream, Syria began filling its Tagba Dam with Euphrates water to create Lake Assad.

The real water power in basin is Turkey.

Syria and Iraq depend on the waters of the Euphrates and the Tigris, which flow from southern Turkey, for most of their agricultural irrigation. Farmers on both sides of the border also rely on traditional irrigation techniques that waste water resources. “Turks use most of the water of the Euphrates,” said Bogochan Benli, a water expert who worked in the Aleppo labs of the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas during the years of the drought. Aleppo and many northern Syrian communities traditionally also depended on the Euphrates for their drinking water, he said. In Turkey, Benli said since the 1970’s the Southeastern Anatolia project has created employment for a poor and arid region of Turkey. It’s the main income-generator for the region and their water policy “will never change.” The project is an ambitious development of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power plants to irrigate and provide electrical power in nine Turkish provinces. The centerpiece is the massive Ataturk Dam and hydroelectric power plant that opened in 1990. According Arnon Soffer of Haifa University a few months before the dam was completed, then-Turkish president Turgut Ozal told Syria’s president, Hafez al-Assad, “Now you can wash yourself for the next two months, but I will close the Ataturk Dam and I will dry the Euphrates River.” He said Ozal’s abrupt pronouncement to Hafez Assad was devastating to Syria. “The Euphrates became a wadi, a dry valley,” said Soffer. Assad Dam closed for a month. “The dam was empty and there was no electricity. Even up to today, I could not imagine how they could recover.” Though Turkey and its downstream neighbors have discussed sharing their waters, Turkey has not signed away any rights. With little or no regional cooperation on water issues, experts fear that the turmoil now wrecking Syria could be a prelude to other conflicts in the region. More

While there is still no regional conflict in the region there is a compelling need for an international organization to start a regional conversation on trans-boundary rivers. Rivers, although they may, as in this case originate in Turkey, are a critical element of the global commons, and must be fairly shared by all riverine states. We are no longer in colonial times where for instance Egypt got the lions share of the Nile, leaving very little for Ethiopia. Syria is already in turmoil, Turkey is simmering with protests, Jordan is being blown to and froe and Israel may go off on a tangent at any time. Let us therefore address this issue immediately.