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

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

China's largest freshwater lake dries up

For visitors expecting to see China's largest freshwater lake, Poyang is a desolate spectacle. Under normal circumstances it covers 3,500 sq km, but last month only 200 sq km were underwater.

A dried-out plain stretches as far as the eye can see, leaving a pagoda perched on top of a hillock that is usually a little island. Wrapped in the mist characteristic of the lower reaches of the Yangtze river, the barges are moored close to the quayside beside a pitiful trickle of water. There is no work for the fisheries.

According to the state news agency Xinhua, the drought – the worst for 60 years – is due to the lack of rainfall in the area round Poyang and its tributaries. Poor weather conditions this year are partly responsible. But putting the blame on them overlooks the role played by the colossal Three Gorges reservoir, 500km upstream. The cause and effect is still not officially recognised, even if the government did admit last May that the planet's biggest dam had given rise to "problems that need to be solved very urgently".

"Every year, when the Three Gorges reservoir stores water – to power the dam's turbines during the winter – the flow rate in the Yangtze drops. This in turn increases the rate at which the level of Poyang lake falls, and the period of low water comes sooner," said Ye Xuchun, a researcher at China's Southwest University. In partnership with scientists at the Lake Science and Environment laboratory at Nanking University, he has published a comparative analysis of water levels in the Three Gorges basin and at the lake's northern extremity, near the city of Hukou, where the outflow from Poyang joins the Yangtze.

The authors conclude that the artificial regulation of the reservoir, which must be kept full to optimise electricity output, reduces the water level in the lower reaches of the Yangtze. This means that the big river no longer "plugs" the lake's northern outlet, so the other rivers feeding into Poyang simply pass through the dwindling lake and run on downstream. This was the case in 2006, a very dry year that coincided with the period when the Three Gorges reservoir was filling up. "When the depth of the reservoir was increased by 15 metres, to reach 155 metres in October, the lake dropped very low at Hukou," the scientists said.

The beginning of 2012 has proved even worse. The region's environmental balance was "seriously affected", said Dai Nianhua, deputy head of the Lake Poyang Research Centre in Nanchang, the provincial capital. When the water level is too low there are no fish, so there is no food for the migrating birds that usually break their journey at Poyang. The government has decided to drop fish and shellfish into the lake from helicopters.

The economic impact is just as disastrous. "Freighters can only cross the lake empty," said a worker at the shipyard in Xingzi, whereas usually the lake is a hive of activity in rural Jiangxi province. Some people are now suggesting that a dam should be built where the lake joins the Yangtze, but no one knows what side-effects that might have.

As for the fisheries, they have upturned their boats on the shore or abandoned them on the dried-out bed of Poyang. Guo Jintao, a resident of Yumincun, a village with about 100 fishers, has not been out on the water for over a year. He started fishing when he was 13 and in 50 years he has not seen the lake this dry. He and his wife have switched to casual labouring in the building trade.

"Next year we'll see. If there's enough water, we'll go fishing again, otherwise we'll carry on with our new work," Guo said. His wife, Zhang Jingzen, 55, finds stacking bricks hard work. "I prefer fishing. Our family's been fishing for four generations," she said.

The family used to earn $1,600 to $3,200 a year, but last year's earnings only amounted to $800. The local authorities offered them around $600 in compensation. Another fisherman, intrigued by our conversation, butted in to say that he only got $80 from the municipal council, whereas the province had allocated $160 for each member of the fishing community.

"The incomes in fishing villages are dropping as fast as the water in the lake. Some residents will have move on to other trades," said Xu Bin, the author of a thesis on the socio-economic consequences of the lake's environmental disorders. He warns: "The soil of China is dry, so the Yangtze is vital. Poyang is one of the key elements and its current predicament is a warning for the future." More


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Gulf states try to tackle water woes

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Plans are afoot to build what could become one of the world's longest pipelines, costing $10.5bn and stretching about 2,000 kilometres from Oman to Kuwait.

But instead of transporting the fossil fuels produced in this oil-rich corner of the Middle East, the pipes would be pumping something even more precious: water. With little groundwater - and, in some cases, just a few days' worth of fresh water in reserve - countries in the Gulf region fear they could face dire consequences if their water supply were to be disrupted.

This is an important project to secure water sustainability, because we are in a [water] scarce region.

- Rashid Bin Fahad, UAE's environment and water minister

Last week, the undersecretaries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries' water authorities met in Kuwait to discuss the proposed "water grid", which would shuttle the liquid from states with excess supply to those in need of a drink. Meetings on the mega-project are expected to resume in March at the ministerial level.

The GCC is a bloc of six oil-exporting monarchies including Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman.

"Water has always been the biggest challenge - not just for the UAE, but for the world," Rashid Bin Fahad, the UAE's environment and water minister, told Al Jazeera. "This is an important project to secure water sustainability, because we are in a [water] scarce region."

Water worries

Threats to the GCC countries' water supply, say some analysts, are magnified by the fact that they rely heavily on desalinating water from a single source: the Gulf.

Walid Khalil Zubari, a water scientist from Bahrain who participated in last week's meeting, said he sees five types of threats to the region's water supply: pollution caused by oil spills, red tides, or other factors; nuclear contamination; power outages or hackers disabling desalination plants; natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes; and acts of war.

"Most of the Gulf countries have relatively little water storage," said Tom Pankratz, the editor of Water Desalination Report. "If there are operational problems with multiple plants in one area, you could jeopardise the water production for a fairly large number of people and industries."

The transnational grid would be the first of its kind, according to Zubari. The plan calls for building two giant desalination plants on Oman's Indian Sea coast that would together be able to produce 500 million cubic metres of water per year.

Desalination plants extract the salt found in seawater - either by heating the water and condensing the steam, or pushing the water through a membrane that filters out the salt. The process is energy-intensive, but the Gulf countries have no shortage of fuel - and plants are becoming more efficient.

The biggest beneficiaries of the grid, Zubari said, would likely be Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait, because their limited amounts of groundwater give them few options in case of emergency. More


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Egypt-Ethiopia Nile dam talks hit dead end

Technical negotiations among water ministers from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia have reached a dead end after all parties refused the proposals set forth to solve the crisis that revolves around the repercussions Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam have on Egypt’s water security. These repercussions were discussed during three rounds of negotiations in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

Security guards at Ethiopia's Great Renaissance Dam

The third round of negotiations held in Khartoum on Jan. 4 — and attended by technical delegations represented by water ministers from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia — did not yield any clear results. Egypt withdrew from the meeting, describing the Ethiopian stance as “intransigent,” as Ethiopia refused the Egyptian proposal that ensures Egyptian water security, as noted in a statement issued by the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation.

Al-Monitor secured a copy of the statement, which stated: “The dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia during the negotiations is related to two points. First, Ethiopia refused the participation of international experts in the new mechanism put in place to follow up on Ethiopian studies about the consequences of the Renaissance Dam. These studies will be conducted in accordance with the report of the international committee. Second, Ethiopia refused to discuss the document on 'principles of confidence-building' between the countries of the eastern Nile basin — namely Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Egypt proposed this document to provide guarantees for the downstream countries against any negative effects that may be generated from the construction of the dam.”

In a phone interview with Al-Monitor, Egypt’s Water Minister Mohammed Abdel Moteleb said: “We tried to set forth more than one initiative to build the trust Ethiopia always talks about when promising not to cause Egypt any harm. However, we will not attend or participate in any technical negotiations concerning theRenaissance Dam until we make sure Ethiopia is proposing genuine initiatives that are in line with the Egyptian view, so that these meetings will be meaningful.

“Egypt has concerns and reservations over the Renaissance Dam. It is not logical to build a dam that big without completing the technical and environmental studies required by the international committee. Ethiopia agreed to these studies and signed [the committee’s] final report.”

He went on: “Egypt agreed on attending the three rounds of negotiations, so that it could not be accused of rejecting cooperation. We are always striving [to hold] a dialogue that is based on the principles of not causing harm and creating benefits for all parties. Currently, we do not have the luxury of giving up any drop of water from Egypt’s share of Nile water.”

An informed Egyptian security source concerned with the issue of the Nile basin told Al-Monitor: “Egypt will follow new courses to solve its crisis with Ethiopia in regard to the Renaissance Dam. It will adopt measures to push the issue forward on the international level. Egypt will not accept for its historical share of the Nile water, which is preserved by agreements and provisions of international law, to be diminished.”

“We do not rule out [the possibility of adopting] any technical, political or security measures to solve this crisis. We are waiting for the referendum on the constitutionto be over. After that, we will launch a series of official and nonofficial movements,” the source affirmed. He pointed out the “possibility of referring to international courts and filing a claim with international institutions, such as the UN, to preserve Egypt’s rights.”

A diplomatic source, closely tied to the Egyptian Cabinet, told Al-Monitor, “Egypt has already launched diplomatic movements to convince donor countries to stop the financial aids serving the construction of the dam until it is assured that it will not harm Egypt.” The source affirmed, “This campaign will be put in focus after the completion of parliamentary and presidential elections, and once relative stability has been achieved.”

Interim President Adly Mansour held a closed meeting with the National Defense Council on Jan. 8. The meeting was attended by Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Prime Minister Hazem el-Biblawi, who discussed the crisis of the Renaissance Dam and the deadlock surrounding the technical negotiations. The council reiterated the importance of “not wasting the water rights of Egypt and not accepting any violation against Egyptian national security.”

Former Water Minister and Nile Basin Studies Unit head Mohammad Nasreddin Allam, told Al-Monitor, “We are currently drafting an international claim comprising five parts, which will be filed to donor countries, international institutions and organizations entitled to settle this dispute. Such a dispute can threaten peace and security in the East African region.”

“The memorandum will comprise a legal part documenting the historical rights of Egypt to the Nile water, and another part stating the Ethiopian violations of the law and international agreements, after it constructed a large dam without taking into consideration the safety of downstream countries. It will also include a call to form a fact-finding committee to prove the dangerous impact of the dam on Egyptian water security, as stipulated by the regional dispute settlement mechanisms, the UN pact and the African Union Peace and Security Council,” Allam added.

Allam also affirmed, “The memorandum will call for the immediate halt of all construction works at the site until the fact-finding committee fulfills its task.”

Despite the warning messages Egypt is conveying to affirm it will not give up on protecting its share of Nile water, the Egyptian prime minister was optimistic about the possibility of negotiating again and resolving the crisis. He said during a press conference on Jan. 9, attended by , “Negotiations do not end in one session. Things will continue to progress, and the issue of the dam remains until now open for discussion.”

A technical source who attended the latest negotiations commented on the prime minister’s statement, telling Al-Monitor, “Negotiations reached a deadlock. The Ethiopian water minister publicly refused during an official meeting the request of Egypt to host negotiations in Cairo, claiming that the security situation in Egypt was the reason for his refusal.”

“Egypt is now wasting its chance. Calling for more negotiations is time-consuming because Ethiopia is proceeding with the constructions as a de facto situation,” the source warned.

For his part, Ethiopian Water and Energy Minister Alemayehu Tegenu said in a statement on Jan. 13: “The construction of the Renaissance Dam is taking place without any hassles or difficulties. The project will be finalized according to the decided time frame,” reiterating that “the project is not facing technical or funding problems.” More


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Water security in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia … a far-fetched dream?

DAMMAM – Environmental and water experts have warned that water security might be a far-reaching dream for the Kingdom.
Limited water resources such as groundwater are being depleted by greedy farmers who care about nothing but profits, they said. The claimed nuclear energy can help desalinate seawater and save the country from a looming disaster that future generations will experience. Al-Riyadh daily asked the experts about the challenges the state faces in ensuring water security.

Precious resource

Dr. Asad Abu Ruzaizah, president of the Saudi Society for Environment Sciences, said the country is running out of groundwater at an alarming rate. He stressed the important role citizens can play to mitigate the enormity of the problem and conserve this valuable resource. “Some people are not really aware that we have a water security problem,” Ruzaizah said. “The government spends a huge amount of money on the desalination process but this causes a tremendous negative effect on the environment.
“Moreover, strategic water reserves are poor in the Kingdom and other GCC countries and this fact makes the water problem a huge challenge for these countries.
“We have a poor water authority and low awareness levels regarding the importance of saving water. “More funding should go into developing and managing water resources and searching constantly for new sources.
“The water authority and other water agencies should be developed to deal better with this issue and achieve sustainable development for the next generation.”

New regulations to manage current reserve

Dr. Muhammad Al-Ghamdi, professor of King Faisal University’s School of Agricultural Sciences, disagrees with Ruzaizah. “Everyone is saying let’s find new water resources instead of searching for regulations that can lead to the wise management of current resources,” Al-Ghamdi said. “Unfortunately, there are no clear plans, programs, or strategies to help us achieve water security.” He said he wondered how this problem would be solved while farmers, led by greed, continue to waste groundwater and mismanage limited water resources. “The sad thing is facts and statistics indicate that our groundwater problem is getting worse every year. “I’m worried the next generations will encounter insurmountable problems solving this issue.”
Dr. Ali Ishqi, ecology professor at King Abdulaziz University, said the Arabian Peninsula has a severe water shortage. Ninety percent of its area is barren desert land while green areas account for 2 percent of the total area. Ishqi believed that mismanagement of water resources has largely exacerbated groundwater shortages.
He said the only strategy that can end this looming crisis is to make use of nuclear energy.
“The use of nuclear reactors is the best choice for seawater desalination.
“Solar energy is not. “To meet the water needs of a small city population, you will need to have so many solar cells on a very large area.”

Rainwater harvesting is the solution

Abdullah Al-Rasheed, economist, said the only option available to solve this crisis is to set up a national authority for rainwater harvesting, where rainwater is collected and used for irrigation, drinking, and other purposes. The next upcoming war will be for water, Al-Rasheed claimed.
He quoted a feature that National Geographic carried a while ago on the water issue.
The Kingdom’s groundwater resources used to stand at 500 cubic kilometers 40 years ago, according to the feature. So far the country has used 400 cubic kilometers, which means that one generation has consumed 80 percent of the country’s resources. The feature said the Kingdom now has no choice but to use seawater because the remaining groundwater will probably be consumed in a few years. Al-Rasheed said he hoped that the statistics mentioned in the feature were not true. “One thing remains true: we have squandered our groundwater and used it for farming purposes. “There is no point now of crying over spilled milk. “It’s high time we utilized rainwater.”
Al-Rasheed said every year there is 150 billion to 250 billion cubic meters of rainfall in the Kingdom, while the amount of desalinated water the public consumes annually is 3 billion. “This is a small amount compared to the huge quantity of rainwater available for us.” More


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Speech by Mikhail Gorbachev to World Water Forum 6

Mar 12th 2012

Mr. Prime Minister, Ladies and gentlemen,

I thank the government of France for the invitation to come here and the organization for the great work that went into making this (World Water) Forum possible. I support the view of President Sarkozy when saying that water problems must be in the forefront of international politics.

The presence here of representatives of more than seventy countries and of prominent scientists and experts gives this Forum considerable global importance. Preparations for it proceeded under an apt slogan: Time for Solutions. Indeed, the time has come to move from discussions and declarations to concrete action.

The deficit of fresh water is becoming increasingly severe and large-scale – whereas, unlike other resources, there is no substitute for water. Looking for traces of organic life on other celestial bodies we start by seeking signs of the presence of water. On our planet Earth we do have water, but accessible resources of fresh water are limited, and water use for human needs keeps rising. Continuation of water consumption at 20th century rates is no longer possible.

Thinking about ways of countering the global water crisis, we must first of all recognize its true causes.

• the growth of the world’s population and of agricultural, industrial and energy production, which are the main consumers of water;

• wasteful use of water and other natural resources in an economy driven by hyperprofits and excessive consumption;

• mass poverty and backwardness in countries where authorities are not able, and often have no desire, to organize effective water management;

• and, finally, the arms race and the senseless waste of enormous amounts of wealth and resources in wars and conflicts.

It is therefore clear that the water problem should not be considered in isolation from other global challenges and from the overall international context. Green Cross International, of which I am the founding president and which I have the honor of representing here, has been working for twenty years at the nexus of problems of security, poverty and the environment. Some time ago, GCI launched the Water for Life initiative. We proposed developing an international convention on the right to water. In 2010 the United Nations decided to include the right to water among fundamental human rights. It was not easy for the international community to take such an important step – but it has been taken.

What’s needed now is the practical implementation of this principle. Until now, only a few countries have included the right to water in their national legislation. Among those countries is France, which is also allocating significant resources to ensure access to water in developing countries. Green Cross International is taking active part in the development of measures aimed at preserving and rationally managing water resources.GCI is working to speed the entry into force of the United Nations Convention on non-navigational uses of international waterways; we also implement specific projects to assure the right to water.

Even simple solutions that do not require enormous investments save many human lives. Thanks to just one pilot GCI project in Ghana, 40,000 people living in the basin of the Volta have now been given access to clean drinking water and sanitation.

Another important area in which we deploy our efforts is the prevention of conflicts related to access to water resources or resulting from their use as an instrument of pressure or diktat. As someone who has more than fifty years of experience in politics, I am convinced that the water crisis is closely related to the flaws of contemporary economics and politics. Let me make two points in this regard.We have met at a time when the world is still reeling from the consequences of a severe, global economic crisis.

The emerging signs of recovery in the world economy should not deceive us. The crisis has shown that the currently dominant model of economic growth is unsustainable. This model engenders crises, social injustice and the danger of environmental catastrophe.There is a clear need for an evolutionary but sufficiently rapid transition to a different model. It should be based on a combination of markets and private initiative with the principles of social and environmental responsibility of business and effective government regulation.

We therefore need to rethink the goals of economic development. Consumption must not remain the only or the principal driver of growth. The economy needs to be reoriented to goals that include public goods such as a sustainable environment, people’s health in the broadest sense of the word, education, culture and social cohesion, including absence of glaring gaps between the rich and the poor. Major water projects, both national and international, could become one of the engines in a qualitatively new stage of the development of global economy.

My second point: the world needs a new political architecture, a new architecture of security, global governance and sustainable development.It should be based on the rejection of confrontational thinking or any attempts to dominate international relations and on demilitarization of international politics. It is only on such a basis that we will be able to respond to the main challenges of this century – the challenge of security, the challenge of poverty and backwardness, and the challenge of the global environmental crisis.

During the fifteen years of its existence, the World Water Forum has helped to put water problems on the international political agenda. Unfortunately, however, it has still not gone beyond general discussion between representatives of governments and the business community, nor has it produced breakthrough solutions to the water crisis. That is why, parallel to the forum, alternative discussion platforms are emerging as a result of civil society initiatives. The voice of the public must be heard at this Forum.

Therefore, let me convey to you the position formulated by our civil society partners: “We believe that good governance of water and sanitation will only be brought about through human rights-based approaches and adequate investment in informed and effective civil society participation. We greatly welcomed the 2010 UN recognition of the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation and now urge all actors to support national governments to implement these rights for all people in accordance with human rights law and to recognize and effectively support local knowledge and community management as important to implement this right.”

Let us unite our efforts! Let us think and act on the basis of common principles: Peace for all. Water for all. Dignity and the life worthy of a human being, for all. We should not settle for less. More


TV report: How water scarcity sparks conflict

This informative Russia Today TV report, and story, sheds light on the global water crisis, and, in particular, how water scarcity is a cause for conflicts between countries, surpassing oil as a source of tension. Between 1951-2013, Russia Today reports that around 170 water-related conflicts have been recorded around the world. The report examines water tensions in the Middle East and Africa.

Green Cross advocates for the coming into force of the United Nations Watercourses Convention, which is the sole legal framework that exists for the fair and equitable sharing of cross-border water sources, like rivers and underground reservoirs.

Mikhail Gorbachev, founded of Green Cross International, has long urged action to ensure access to water for all, and warned against the potential of water being a source of wars, such as in this keynote statement he made to the opening of the 2012 World Water Forum. More



Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity - Lester Brown

Peak Water and Food Scarcity

Although many analysts are concerned about the depletion of oil resources, the depletion of underground water resources poses a far greater threat to our future. While there are substitutes for oil, there are none for water. Indeed, modern humans lived a long time without oil, but we would live for only a matter of days without water.

Not only are there no substitutes for water, but the world needs vast amounts of it to produce food. As adults, each of us drinks nearly 4 liters of water a day in one form or another. But it takes 2,000 liters of water—500 times as much—to produce the food we consume each day. 1

Since food is such an extraordinarily water-intensive product, it comes as no surprise that 70 percent of world water use is for irrigation. Although it is now widely accepted that the world is facing severe water shortages, not everyone realizes that a future of water shortages will also be a future of food shortages. 2

The use of irrigation to expand food production goes back some 6,000 years. Indeed, the development of irrigation using water from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers set the stage for the emergence of the Sumerian civilization, and it was the Nile that gave birth to ancient Egypt. 3

Throughout most of history, irrigation spread rather slowly. But in the latter half of the twentieth century it underwent a rapid expansion. In 1950, there were some 250 million acres of irrigated land in the world. By 2000, the figure had nearly tripled to roughly 700 million acres. After these several decades of rapid increase, however, the growth in irrigated area has slowed dramatically since the turn of the century, expanding only 9 percent from 2000 to 2009. Given that governments are much more likely to report increases than decreases, the recent net growth in irrigated area may be even smaller. This dramatic loss of momentum in irrigation expansion, coupled with the aquifer depletion that is already reducing irrigated area in some countries, suggests that peak water may now be on our doorstep. 4

The trend in irrigated land area per person is even less promising. For the last half-century, the irrigated area has been expanding—but not as fast as population. As a result, the irrigated area per person today is 10 percent less than it was in 1960. With so many aquifers being depleted and more and more irrigation wells going dry, this shrinkage in irrigated area per person is likely not only to continue but to accelerate in the years ahead. 5

Roughly 40 percent of the world grain harvest is grown on irrigated land. The rest is rainfed. Among the big three grain producers—China, India, and the United States—the role of irrigation varies widely. In China, four fifths of the grain harvest comes from irrigated land. For India it is three fifths, and for the United States, only one fifth. Asia, where rice is the staple food, totally dominates the world irrigated area. 6

Farmers use both surface and underground water for irrigation. Surface water is typically stored behind dams on rivers and then channeled onto the land through a network of irrigation canals. Historically, and notably from 1950 until 1975, when most of the world’s large dams were built, this was the main source of growth in world irrigated area. During the 1970s, however, as the sites for new dams diminished, attention shifted from building dams to drilling wells for access to underground water. 7

Most underground water comes from aquifers that are regularly replenished with rainfall; these can be pumped indefinitely as long as water extraction does not exceed recharge. A small minority of aquifers are fossil aquifers, however, containing water put there eons ago. Since these do not recharge, irrigation ends once they are pumped dry. Among the more prominent fossil aquifers are the Ogallala underlying the U.S. Great Plains, the deep aquifer under the North China Plain, and the Saudi aquifers. 8

Given a choice, farmers generally prefer having their own wells because it enables them to control the timing and amount of water delivered with a precision that is not possible with large, centrally managed canal irrigation systems. Pumps let them apply water precisely when the crop needs it, thus achieving higher yields than with large-scale, river-based irrigation systems. Forty percent of world irrigated area is now dependent on underground water. As world demand for grain has climbed, farmers have drilled more and more irrigation wells with little concern for how many the local aquifers could support. As a result, water tables are falling and millions of irrigation wells are either going dry or are on the verge of doing so. 9

As groundwater use for irrigation expands, so does the grain harvest. But if the pumping surpasses the sustainable yield of the aquifer, aquifers are depleted. When this happens, the rate of irrigation pumping is necessarily reduced to the aquifer’s natural rate of recharge. At this point, grain production declines too.

The resulting water-based “food bubbles,” which create a short-term false sense of security, can now be found in some 18 countries that contain more than half the world’s people. In these countries, food is being produced by drawing down water reserves. This group includes China, India, and the United States. 10 (See Table 6–1.) More


Thursday, January 9, 2014

What the New York Times misses about the Colorado River

When the New York Times features an alarming story about water in the West, people pay attention. This week’s story, “Colorado River Drought Forces a Painful Reckoning for States” by Michael Wines, trended as the Times’ most emailed piece for much of Monday. The article helped to elevate the reach and understanding of Western water issues, but for those of us in Colorado and other basin states, this reality is one we must face every day.

Colorado River

Ongoing drought

Drought has gripped the Colorado River basin for fourteen years, and reservoir operation rules that address dwindling water supply are being triggered. For the first time since the 1922 Colorado River Compact was signed, this year’s water delivery from the Upper Basin states (CO, NM, UT, and WY) to the Lower Basin states (AZ, CA, and NV) will be reduced. Barring an epic snow year in the Rockies – since the Colorado’s supply relies heavily on snowfall – water shortages may be imposed on Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico as soon as 2016. Drought, whether or not influenced by climate change, is dealing a tough hand to this arid-leaning region of North America.

The good news, as reported by the Times, is that many water managers understand the dire circumstance of reduced snowfall, as well as the options available to avoid water rationing. Water conservation – already widely employed across the region – is an imperative moving forward, whether or not the drought persists.The Great Recession temporarily slowed the region’s meteoric rise in population, but its cities are growing again. In some cities where people bathe, drink, water lawns, and wash cars with Colorado River water, historic tightening of supplies has successfully and dramatically reduced per capita use, extending supplies. Many cities use less water now than they did a decade ago, despite population growth.

Still, even the most water-thrifty cities in the basin have a long way to go before they achieve conservation levels seen in other cities across the globe, such as those in Australia and Israel.

Incentives for saving water

Where water has been plentiful, by dint of geography or law, investments in water conservation are less common. John Fleck makes this point nicely in a recent Albuquerque Journal post: “When there is more water, people use more water. When there is less, they use less. The trick is making the transition from one to the other. New data from state water managers suggest New Mexicans are doing better at this task than I expected.”

Santa Fe is a terrific example of a city that has adapted to and thrived in dry conditions, as are Tucson, Long Beach, and other Western cities. This should be a call to action for the rest of the Basin: the time to increase incentives that promote water saving is now – before regulations and requirements become necessities.

Water conservation in agriculture will be more of a challenge. While the Timescites laser-leveling of fields as a practice to reduce farm run-off, this practice may not actually save water. Much of the water that leaves farms is already going back into our water supply where it is used over and over again. Limited but promising options for conserving water in agriculture are technologies that reduce evaporation, such as drip irrigation of high-value crops. These technologies can also add resilience to farming operations. But to make such technologies effective at saving water, farmers will need financial incentives to reduce water use and changes to law and regulation that allow them to profit from the savings.

Historically in the West, water has been permanently taken out of agriculture to feed the thirst of our growing cities, and the acreage of irrigated fields has declined. That’s something to consider as Western communities make choices about water supply: do we want lawns if it means we have to buy-up and dry-up our irrigated open spaces and our culture of farming and ranching?

The lifeline of the American West

Another important point is one Wines failed to capture in his story: what all of this – the problem of extended drought and the solutions we employ – means for the Colorado River itself. The mighty Colorado is not simply infrastructure for water delivery. It is the lifeline of the American West. It is a river of legends, with awe-inspiring canyons that have for centuries seduced people to explore their depths. Citizens of the West and the rest of the globe alike love the Colorado River for the thrill of its rapids, the shade of its riverside forests that make for epic fishing, and the serene calm of a morning view from a houseboat on one of its large reservoirs. Colorado River recreation adds some $26 billion to the economy every year.

Those with the power to affect Colorado River water management – our elected leaders and the officials they appoint – have the power to preserve the natural wonders of the American West. Persistent drought presents these leaders with a significant challenge, and how they respond will have an enduring impact, not only on the economic viability of our cities and rural counties, but also on the health of the Colorado River.

In the words of Anne Castle, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at the Department of Interior, “we can’t simply sacrifice recreational and environmental flows when times get tough. We know that outdoor recreation is an important driver of the Southwestern economy, just like agriculture, so we’ve got to consider all of those things together. It’s essential to our economy. It’s essential to our way of life.” More


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Conflict over water in cross-border river basins – the need for peaceful cooperation by Peter Brabeck-Letmathe

In January 2005, I organised the first discussion on water at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Avishay Braverman, a leading Israeli politician, and then President of Ben Gurion University of the Negev, was one of the invited panelists. He spoke about the battle over water – some were even seeing the risks of war over water – in the Middle East and elsewhere.

But he made it very clear: “Water is not the reason for war; it is only an excuse for war." Another quote from Malidoma Somé, an initiated Elder into the Dagara Tribe of West Central Africa and holder of a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Sorbonne: “The Dagara tribe of West Central Africa successfully categorize their people into five different categories: fire, water, mineral, earth and nature. The "water" people are usually considered the peacemakers. They are the ones with the ability to reconcile differences, both differences within the self and differences with one another.”

Recently the rivalries between Egypt and Ethiopia have drawn worldwide attention. The two nations’ dispute over the construction of the Ethiopian giant dam is escalating.

Ethiopia announced its Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam project in 2011. The project is located in the Benishangul-Gumuz Region of Ethiopia, about 40km east of the border with Sudan. When completed, it will be one of the largest dams in Africa, with a capacity of 63 billion cubic meters, and since it was announced the project has caused a battle between Egypt and Ethiopia over water resources.

Ethiopian officials claim that the project is “win-win”, whereas Egyptians disagree, and some Egyptian politicians were even reported as saying that “it might be better to bomb the dam or to arm Ethiopian guerrillas to pressure the government in Addis Ababa” (Financial Times article, ‘Water: Battle of the Nile’).

The Nile, as one of the longest rivers in the world, passes through 11 countries: Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and Egypt. Two main tributaries, the White Nile and the Blue Nile, meet at Khartoum and flow northwards through the Sahara desert. Between 80-90%of the Nile’s flow comes from the Blue Nile and the other rivers (such as Atbara) which originate in the Ethiopian Highlands, while the White Nile contributes 10-20 % of the annual Nile discharge (State of the Nile Basin 2012).

In the northern part of the Nile basin, where Egypt, Sudan and South Sudan lie, there is virtually no rainfall in the summer. In contrast, the southern portion, which encompasses the Ethiopian Highlands, has heavy rains during the summer months. Evaporation is averagely high in the basin, but also varies from country to country. In the desert area, evaporation is low, as there is little available water despite higher temperatures. In contrast, the Ethiopian Highlands experience lower temperatures. Therefore, less rainfall is evaporated and more appears as run off. This link, to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, highlights the natural water balance across each country around the Nile Basin. (See Table 1.)

Up to now, most of the water withdrawal from the Nile River has been used for irrigation in Egypt, Sudan and South Sudan, while upstream countries such as Ethiopia were barely using Nile waters. The latter are increasingly looking into the potential of Nile as a source of water and power supply, in order to develop their domestic economy including agricultural activities.

Fighting for water resources in the shared river basin is not something new. As a typical example, the uneven distribution of water resources in the Nile Basin, due to geological, historical, economic and political reasons, has caused tension between downstream countries (Egypt, Sudan and South Sudan) and those sitting upstream. In recent decades, rivalry between nations and threat for political security in the basin has escalated, with increasing water resource scarcity under the pressure of fast growing populations, economic development, and climate change.

A consensus among all involved stakeholders is key to settling the issue in the long term, and it should be based on a holistic understanding of the challenges and with a focus on sustainable development across the whole basin. This has technical, economic and political aspects. One is the loss of water from the river due to evaporation: for instance, less than half of the water entering the Sudd region, a vast swamp in South Sudan, flows out of it into the White Nile. The rest disappears through evaporation and evapotranspiration. More water is lost between Sudd and Assuan, and then, in particular, in Lake Assuan. Research therefore suggests that from a water economy view it would be better to withdraw water for irrigation upstream than downstream before large parts of it are lost through evaporation (Whittington et al., 2004). Goods with the water embedded in food grown further upstream could then be traded to supply downstream consumers (see my previous post on virtual water trade).

Another aspect to be considered is irrigation efficiencies. Let me illustrate this with FAO data on irrigation water requirement and agricultural water withdrawal between 1993 and 2007 in the countries in the basin. The country with the highest irrigation efficiency among these 11 countries is Egypt, at 76.5%, following by Uganda at 52.2%. The irrigation efficiency in the rest of the countries is only around 20%. Agricultural water withdrawal accounts for 93.6% of total water withdrawal. That makes 3.7 billion cubic meters of water loss from irrigation every year in the nation, accounting for 6% of the capacity of the reservoir under construction. Given the large percentage that agricultural water withdrawal represents of total water withdrawal - 73.4% on average in all of these countries - we know that a total of nearly 42 billion cubic meters of water withdrawn for irrigation every year from the river basin is lost.

Just by looking at this data, it is clear that establishing effective common cross-border water strategies and management schemes, and adopting tools such as the water cost curve strategy proposed by 2030 Water Resource Group to improve the efficiency in local water use (especially irrigation), are essential for relieving water shortage stress in the Basin and ultimately, avoid conflict.

A consensus, involving technical, economic, and political measures, will be the way out of the current situation that threatens peace and development in this region.

No doubt, the issue requires further discussion; I would welcome any thoughts and comments. More

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Nile River and who’s giving a “dam” over its future

Egypt has been in danger of losing a part of its water lifeline the Nile River. Ethiopia is dead set on constructing a giant dam over their part of the mighty river. And both parties still don’t see eye to eye.

Renaissance Dam

This project, which was planned for the Blue Nile by Ethiopia, is just a part the water problems of population dense Egypt; which also loses a significant part of Nile River water from other sources: evaporation, leaky water pipe infrastructure, and from vegetation growing on the banks of the Nile and on river islands.

Talks between water resource ministers of three of the countries that share the Nile’s water resources, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, ended inconclusively this week in Khartoum, with the participants agreeing to meet meet again next month.

The ‘successful’ Egypt-Ethiopia talks failed to end differences over Nile water. A number of unresolved issues still remain to be solved. They revolve around Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam project on Ethipia’s upstream portion of the Nile, called the Blue Nile. Many water experts say this project could ”damn Egypt’s development future”. Bur Ethiopia feels that this water is their energy right.

Ethiopia is an energy-poor country that is also plagued by drought and famine. Constructing the massive dam will provide it with both increased water supplies and with hydro-electric power. According to Middle East Online, Ethiopia began diverting the Blue Nile in May to build the 6,000 MW dam, which will be the largest dam built in Africa when completed in 2017.

Although Ethiopian water experts claim that Egypt’s water loss from the project will be “minimal”, Egypt claims that it has ‘historic rights’ to the use of Nile water. These rights stem from two treaties made in 1929 and 1959 that allow it 87 percent of the Nile’s flow and gives it veto power over upstream water projects.

Egypt itself constructed a large dam on the Nile at Aswan (see above photo), which was completed in 1970 during the presidency of Gamal Abdel Nasser.

This ten-year project caused much controversy and resulted in many historic archeological sites having to be relocated due to subsequent flooding by what is now known as Lake Nasser.

A dam on the Blue Nile by Ethiopia would obviously have an affect on both neighboring Sudan and Egypt.

Sudan, which like Egypt has still not signed Nile water use treaties with Ethiopia, has said that it will not be so much affected by the Renaissance Dam project. Sudan, Egypt’s long time ally, has apparently switched sides in favor of Ethiopia in regards to this project.

The unresolved issues dealing with the project will be further discussed when the water ministers meet again on January 4. After being weakened following the political turmoil of the Arab Spring uprisings, Egypt appears to be less able to exert its influence over Ethiopia on this important issue. More


All states need to resolve their riverine / water sharing issues in a equitable manner via treaty as soon as possible. This needs to be acomplished in the near term, before climate change progresses any further. Water is, unfortunatly, the new oil and as we all realise oil has caused conflicts, and water, given its necessity to sustaining life has a much higher potential to trigger conflict. Editor


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Amazon forest loss risks water security across South America

The continued destruction of the Amazon to exploit its resources for mining, agriculture and hydro-power is threatening the future of the South American continent, according to a report by campaigning groups using the latest scientific data.

Five countries - Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru - share the Amazon, and for all of them the forest area occupies more than 40% of their territory. All face threats to their water supply, energy production, food and health.

Declining rainfall

In addition, the report says, because of the over-exploitation of the region rainfall will fall by 20% over a heavily-populated area far to the south of Amazonia known as the La Plata basin, covering parts of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Last month it was reported that deforestation in Amazonia had increased by almost a third in the past year, with an area equal to 50 football pitches destroyed every minute since 2000.

The report, the Amazonia Security Agenda, authored by the Global Canopy Programme and CIAT, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, says the prosperity of the region is based on the abundance of water.

"Amazonia's abundant natural resources underpin water, food, energy, and health security for the economy and people of the region and far beyond", the report states.

"At the heart of this nexus of securities is water. So abundant in the region, but now under increasing threat as industrial pollution increases, and unprecedented droughts reveal a once unthinkable water vulnerability."

The forest maintains its own rainfall

Key to the problem is the role of the forest in recycling water deep into the interior of the South American continent, as rainfall onto the forest is transpired by trees back into the atmosphere, regenerating atmospheric humidity and clouds, and creating powerful thermal updraughts:

"The loss of ecosystem services through deforestation undermines the securities and particularly water security that is so pivotal. The forest recycles 20-25% of the rainfall it receives, and air travelling over
extensive forest cover may generate twice as much rainfall as air over deforested land."

As forest is cut down this process is disrupted - leaving both people and ecosystems at increasing risk.

Pollution - a growing problem

Another problem that comes with Amazonia's increasing industrialisation is pollution of both air and water, with toxic contaminants including mercury from gold-mining.

"Large-scale deforestation is predicted to reduce rainfall by up to 21% by 2050, although the science is still uncertain. Furthermore, deforestation is likely to affect water quality through increasing soil erosion and leaching of nutrients and heavy metals including mercury."

And most people depend on the rainforest and the rain it brings to keep their water clean: "Water purification ecosystem services are important for the provision of clean drinking water. However, limited access to a proper water supply, treatment and basic sanitation infrastructure across Amazonia, particularly in rural areas, makes water security of Amazonian populations extremely vulnerable to pollution.

"This has knock on effects on food security (fisheries) and health security. In Ecuador 30,000 Amazonian citizens are seeking compensation through the courts at the billion US dollar scale over claims of toxic pollution by oil companies in the region."

Profits siphoned off

The huge wealth being generated from the forests comes with large-scale environmental and social costs. Local people do not benefit, and the profits from minerals, mining and agriculture are siphoned out of the region.

The large-scale economic development of the region causes deforestation. That in turn is threatening not only the wellbeing of the local people but the economic stability of the industries themselves.

Climate change is adding to both the uncertainty and the instability. Increasing temperatures, as much as 3.5°C in the near future, changing rainfall patterns and more intense and frequent extreme weather events will have further impacts on the health and well-being of the population.

Hydroelectricity at risk

Energy supply from hydro-electric dams will also decline, according to the report:"Hydropower generation, especially for run of river dams, will be more vulnerable in the dry season, challenging future energy security across the region, especially given plans to invest heavily in new Amazonian hydropower."

The biggest such example is the highly controversial Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon, which is projected to supply 40% of Brazil's additional electricity needs by 2019.

Belo Monte "will have a significantly lower power output than expected due to regional deforestation - up to 13% lower than under a fully-forested scenario, and up to 36% lower by 2050 if current deforestation rates continue."

Big bill coming

Among those welcoming the report is Manuel Pulgar, Peru's environment minister. He will play a leading part when the country's capital, Lima, hosts the 20th summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2014.

He said: "Climate change is a global problem, but one that will multiply local and regional problems in unforeseeable ways. In Latin America, we have taken Amazonia and its seemingly limitless water and forests as a given. But recent unprecedented droughts have shown us just what happens when that water security falters ..."

According to the report, the impacts of environmental degradation that have so far been felt in other parts of the world are now likely to be felt in Amazonia, threatening economic development and security.

Governments in the region, it says, need to recognize that development cannot continue without recognising the damage caused to the water supply and the climate both globally and locally. Policy makers need scientists to monitor changes to conditions and the economic risks they pose.

Trillions of tons of water

These findings must be shared between academic institutions and governments so that they can decide how to remedy the problem. Annual reviews of dangerous hotspots are also needed, and cross-border groups of experts who could help both national and regional development plans to be worked out. More