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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Future Is Evaporating: Climate Change Could Dry Out 30 Percent of the Earth

Scientists expect the changing climate to bring on more drought; there's going to be less rainfall in the already arid regions.

That alone would be bad news for denizens of the planet's dry zones—in some places in North Africa, the American Southwest, India, and the Middle East, water shortages could well become an existential threat to societies built there. But new research shows that in addition to less rain, the rate of evaporation is likely to rise, too. Combined, the two forces could dry out up to a third of the planet.

The study, published in the journal Climate Dynamics last month, estimates that climate change will cause reduced rainfall alone to dry out 12 percent of the Earth's land by 2100. But if evaporation is factored in, the study's authors say that it will "increase the percentage of global land area projected to experience at least moderate drying by the end of the 21st century from 12 to 30 percent."

“We know from basic physics that warmer temperatures will help to dry things out,” the study’s lead author, Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist with Columbia University and NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in a statement. “Even if precipitation changes in the future are uncertain, there are good reasons to be concerned about water resources.”

Writing in a 2011 literature review in the science journal Nature, the physicist Joe Romm elaborates on how increased heat and evaporation can lead to a vicious cycle: "Precipitation patterns are expected to shift, expanding the dry subtropics. What precipitation there is will probably come in extreme deluges, resulting in runoff rather than drought alleviation. Warming causes greater evaporation and, once the ground is dry, the Sun’s energy goes into baking the soil, leading to a further increase in air temperature."

Disappearing soil moisture is likely to be a greater problem than previously thought, and the occasional downpour won't sate year-round crops. As Columbia University notes, "An increase in evaporative drying means that even regions expected to get more rain, including important wheat, corn, and rice belts in the western United States and southeastern China, will be at risk of drought."

If it becomes too dry to cultivate crops on one-third of the planet's surface, there's little doubt that crisis will follow. For millions of people who depend on food grown in vulnerable regions, the future is literally evaporating. More


Monday, April 14, 2014

Quenching Kenya: Can New Water Discoveries Save East Africa?

Water scarcity is becoming the defining international crisis of the twenty-first century. Water conflicts rage across the world as communities struggle to secure a clean, reliable supply.

One of the world’s most water-stressed regions is East Africa. Overexploitation of water resources there has been compounded by declining snowpacks on Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, which have shrunk since the late 1980s due to global warming. Meanwhile, Lake Turkana -- the world’s largest perennial desert lake -- has largely disappeared from Ethiopian territory, retreating south into Kenya.

In this light, the discovery of two significant aquifers in mostly arid Kenya by a Japanese-financed UNESCO project has been hailed as a potential game changer. The first, the Lotikipi Basin Aquifer, is situated just west of Lake Turkana. The second, the smaller Lodwar Basin Aquifer, is near Lodwar, the capital of Turkana county. The aquifers were discovered by a French firm, Radar Technologies International (RTI), using a space-based exploration technology called WATEX that was originally designed to reveal mineral deposits. The company blended satellite and radar imagery with geographical surveys and seismic data to detect moisture. Subsequent drilling by UNESCO confirmed the presence of aquifers. Three other suspected aquifers in the region have yet to be verified through drilling.

For parched and economically backward Turkana, more than one-third of whose residents are malnourished, the discovery of major groundwater reserves is a godsend. Not only will the reserves provide lifesaving water, they will also spur the development of agricultural and hydrocarbon sectors and improve the lives of the impoverished residents in this conflict-ridden region, which extends from Kenya into the borderlands of Ethiopia and South Sudan. More [Subscription]


Sunday, April 13, 2014

IPCC Warns Of Greater Risk To Food & Water Security

AsianScientist (Apr. 11, 2014) – By T V Padma – The climate change-related risks from extreme events such as floods and heat waves will rise further with global warming, according to the second installment of the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. This will aggravate food and water insecurity, especially for some of the poorest communities.

The report of the second working group of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), dealing with impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, and offering new insights into key risks due to climate change, was released in Yokohama, Japan.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri warned.

Christopher Field, the co-chair of the second working group, added: “We are not in an era where climate change is some kind of a future hypothetical. We live in a world where the impacts of climate change that have already occurred are widespread and consequential. There is no question that we live in a world that is already altered by climate change.”

The report highlighted many global shifts that climate change has already caused. It said that changing rainfall and melting snow and ice have affected water resources in many regions. Glaciers have shrunk, affecting run-off and water resources downstream. Permafrost is thawing, and wheat and maize yields have fallen in many regions.

The report also repeated warnings about shifts in species’ migratory ranges and the threats this may pose to food security. It also raised concerns about increased human displacement and resulting conflicts.

Impacts in Asia

Asia will be particularly hard-hit by water scarcity, food insecurity, the redistribution of land species and an increased risk to coastal and marine ecosystems, the report said. It predicts that South Asia will be the region most impacted by global warming, due to more extreme weather events such as floods and droughts.

It has “rung warning bells for Asia” and has “very serious implications” for South Asia in particular, said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director at the Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based NGO.

A major reason for the greater impact in the region is its large population of impoverished people, said Bhushan. Bangladesh, India and Pakistan together account for almost half the world’s poor people, he said.

Purnamita Dasgupta, coordinating lead author of the report’s chapter on rural areas, and professor at the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi, said that the impacts of climate change “will add to the existing vulnerabilities of people in rural areas, such as lack of access to water and infrastructure”.

“We could have more poverty shocks because the poor are already disadvantaged,” she said, adding that climate change acts as a “threat multiplier”.

With 70 percent of people in developing countries living in rural areas, the “rural poor would be impacted through reduced access to water” and “stand to lose whatever assets they have” with a rise in extreme events such as floods and drought, she said.

The report provides scientific evidence on how adaptation could reduce the risks that climate change will pose and how to manage those risks. “We now have enough evidence to show that adaptation is important,” Dasgupta said.

However, it is difficult at this stage to work out the costs of adaptation measures, as few countries are yet to practice it. Nonetheless, Pachauri agreed that the report highlights the urgent need for adaptation and “hopefully restores the balance between the need for both mitigation and adaptation measures” by countries.

He added that there is a huge dearth of local knowledge on the kinds of adaptation needed in particular locations, and on which local institutions could be fully engaged in adaptation policies, practices and corresponding cost estimates. “That is a real gap” in knowledge that experts need to work on, Pachauri said.

Some positive messages

Yet the report said that “adaptation is already occurring” to an extent, as some governments are beginning to embed it in some planning processes.

“One thing that we have come up with is the importance of adaptation and mitigation choices because this is the only way we might be able to reduce the risks of climate change,” Pachauri said at a press briefing.

Camilla Toulmin, director of UK-based research organization the International Institute for Environment and Development, said in a statement: “Some of the world’s least developed countries are already forging ahead. Ethiopia has committed to carbon-neutral development. Bangladesh has invested US$10 billion of its own money to adapt to extreme climatic events. Nepal is the first country to develop adaptation plans at the community level.” More


Friday, April 11, 2014

Water Crisis: 2020 Statement by Mikhail Gorbachev on 20th Anniversary of Green Cross

Water crisis – clear and present danger

We live in urgent times. The sum of the concurrent crises that have been engulfing everything from climate to energy, to the economy, is creating a spiral of need for change. But the water crisis sticks out of this list in terms of being an explicitly clear and present danger with deadly implications.

Mikhail Gorbachev

The mounting water crisis and its geography make it clear that without resolute counteraction, it will overstretch many societies’ adaptive capacities within the coming decades. This could result in massive migration, severe socio-economic stress, destabilization and violence, jeopardizing national and international security to a new degree.

By 2025, a predicted 1.8 billion people will live in regions suffering from absolute water scarcity. Two-thirds of the world population could be under hydric stress conditions. Demand for water will rise: water withdrawals in developing countries will increase by 50%, and 18% in developed countries by 2025.

Despite these demands, what state is the world’s water in? Despite the fact that we use slightly more than half the world’s (54%) accessible water, more than 50% of the 3.5 billion people living in urban circumstances around the world already do not have access to adequate water and sanitation.

But the really bad news is that the water use is growing even faster than the population: the 20th century water consumption grew twice as fast as the world population. As a result, a third of the world's population lives in water-stressed countries now. By 2025, this is expected to rise to two-thirds.

In addition to unsustainable water use we are polluting our lakes, rivers and streams to death. Most wastewater (about 80%) from residential and industrial sources enters the environment untreated.

The growing human need for water, to sustain life and wellbeing, plus the pressures on the resource itself, from mismanagement, pollution and a general lack of foresight, make for the most telling case for improved global water conservation and consumption.

But too little is being done on these fronts. We have been waiting since 1997 for just 35 countries to sign the UN Watercourses Convention, to promote the management and sharing of the world’s 276 cross-border rivers and connected underground water sources, and we are still a handful short.

The lack of a global framework to manage water sources that cross national borders endangers the world in many ways, not least of all in terms of the risk of conflict between countries over who controls the same river that runs through their respective frontiers.

Then there is the Right to Water and Sanitation, which Green Cross was a loud advocate of before it finally came into being in 2010. While this recognition itself, that access to safe drinking water and sanitation are basic human rights, is a success, what must be happening at breakneck speed now is the realization of this right. This means creation of national legislation enshrining the right (alongside education, health and others) and investing in the infrastructure needed to make safe water and sanitation services available to all.

Despite UN adoption of this vital principle, the deficit of fresh water is becoming increasingly severe and large-scale – whereas, unlike other resources, there is no substitute for water.

While the Millennium Development Goal for access to drinking water and sanitation was announced met in 2012, almost 800 million people still have no access to safe water today, and three times that number lack adequate sanitation. Thousands of children die daily in the developing world due to related waterborne diseases.

The scale and global nature of the water crisis demand stronger statesmanship, vision and international action. To master the water crisis, we must address its effects and causes. The economic, social, water and environmental aspects must be properly coordinated in any response.

A comprehensive “water goal” must be injected into the post-2015 development agenda, linking development and environment in analyses and in governance policies. Such a goal would address the three interdependent dimensions of water: water, sanitation and hygiene; water management; and wastewater management and water quality.

This goal must be based on principles of equity, solidarity, recognition of limits of planet and rights approach, coupled with effective means to check and demand the accountability of all stakeholders.

We live in volatile and transformative times, faced with the awe-inspiring global challenge of climate change, the devastation of civil wars, and the hope-crushing scourge of extreme poverty. But one thing is constant: our need for water. Whole regions are languishing in poverty and conflict, effectively held hostage by their hydrology: we must break this cycle and give people a chance for their future. Benjamin Franklin said that "when the well's dry, we know the worth of water." The alarm clock has been ringing on deaf ears for far too long, it is time to wake-up before it is too late, before the wells of the world have run dry. More


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Pakistan has only 30 days of water reserves - researchers

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Inadequate planning is exposing Pakistan to water-related threats from climate change and putting the country’s agriculture, industry and hydropower at risk, water experts say.

Speaking at a water summit in Pakistan recently, they said the country desperately needs more reservoirs to increase its water storage capacity, and they called for conservation awareness campaigns, the introduction of drought-tolerant crop varieties and more economical irrigation.

“The country is gravely vulnerable to water-related (effects) of the changing weather patterns,” said Pakistan’s minister for planning, development and reform, Ahsan Iqbal, in a keynote address at the summit in the nation’s capital.

In December, the World Resources Institute ranked Pakistan among the 36 most water-stressed countries in the world.

Iqbal said that Pakistan needs a minimum storage capacity of 40 percent of the around 115 million acre-feet of water available in the Indus river system throughout the year. But the country’s storage capacity is only 7 percent and is decreasing due to sediment build-up in reservoirs.

This gives Pakistan a stored water supply, adequate to meet its needs, of just 30 days. By contrast, “carryover capacity” in other countries ranges from 200 days in India to 1,000 days in Egypt, he said.

“In Pakistan, planners and policy makers across different sectors, including agriculture and industry, energy and health now have ... a daunting challenge before them of increasing the country’s water storage capacity,” Iqbal said.

The minister urged the finance ministry to explore funding avenues for new water storage projects to boost storage capacity. Many of these are hydroelectric dams, which would also produce power.


But Pakistan Water Partnership’s country director, Pervaiz Amir, warned that if climate change leads to lower water flows in the northwest of the country, it would cut the amount of hydroelectricity that can be produced.

More variable rainfall and glacier melt in the face of climate change also means that agriculture, which he said accounts for over 96 percent of the country’s water consumption, will be affected, Amir said.

Without more facilities to divert and store water, heavy rainfall and flooding in some parts of the country will continue to damage crops, increase soil erosion and delay planting and harvesting, he said.

Pakistan ranks ninth among countries most affected by floods, according to UN-Water’s World Water Development Report.

Arun Shrestha, a senior climate change specialist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), said that many South Asian countries lack preparedness for water-related hazards, including flood, droughts and glacial lake outburst floods, and instead focus mainly on post-disaster relief.

What is “more appalling,” he said, is that climate change is dealt with as a separate problem rather than integrated into planning for water-related areas of the government and economy including agriculture, industry, health and energy.

Shrestha urged South Asian countries to include disasters attributable to climate change in their respective water-related planning and policies.

He called for them to analyse their vulnerabilities to increasingly frequent flooding, droughts and glacial lake outburst floods, and to share the findings with each other to develop a regional action plan for dealing with climate-related disasters.

Shrestha underlined the need for regional coordination between government agencies so that river basins can be managed more efficiently, for example by sharing data about river flows.

Stephen Davies, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, said that water, food and energy are closely interconnected, yet energy models do not properly address water constraints in South Asia and other regions.

Industrial growth and accelerating urbanisation are creating greater demand for energy, he said, but efforts to expand hydropower generation are being hampered by the shrinking availability of water.

Limitations on water availability also are impacting food production to meet the country’s galloping population growth, he added.

Chief executive of LEAD Pakistan and climate policy expert Tauqeer Ali Sheikh urged policymakers to incorporate the interdependence of water, food and energy into their planning.

In South Asia, “energy planning is often made without taking into account possible changes in water availability due to climate change or other water competing uses,” he pointed out. More

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are climate change and development reporters based in Islamabad, Pakistan.