Water Security is National Security

Water resources and how they are managed impact almost all aspects of society and the economy, in particular health, food production and security, domestic water supply and sanitation, energy, industry, and the functioning of ecosystems. Under present climate variability, water stress is already high, particularly in many developing countries, and climate change adds even more urgency for action. Without improved water resources management, the progress towards poverty reduction targets, the Millennium Development Goals, and sustainable development in all its economic, social and environ- mental dimensions, will be jeopardized. UN Water.Org

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Himalayan Water Security: The Challenges for South and Southeast Asia

The scramble for control of natural resources to support economic and population growth, combined with the uncertain effects of climate change on the Tibetan Plateau, is raising tensions in Asia over Himalayan water resources.

Ten of the region’s largest and longest rivers (the Amu Darya, Brahmaputra, Ganges, Indus, Irrawaddy, Mekong, Salween, Tarim, Yangtze, and Yellow) originate in the Himalayas. These rivers help provide water, food, and energy for nearly 4 billion people in China and across South and Southeast Asia—nearly half of the world’s population. However, depletion and diversion of these transborder resources to meet growing industrial, agricultural, and urban demands have the potential to trigger far-reaching economic, social, and environmental challenges.

The lack of comprehensive and effective regional frameworks for cooperation hinders sustainable management of these waterways. China, which controls the headwaters of these rivers, has an enormous need for Himalayan water to satisfy economic and energy demands but has little incentive to participate in formal water-sharing and water-management agreements with its neighbors. China’s dam-building and water-diversion projects are a source of major concern to the countries downstream, which often complain about Beijing’s lack of transparency and reluctance to share information. Although managing water-sharing relations with China might be the most prominent challenge, cooperation is not much easier at the middle and lower reaches of the rivers. Collaboration in South and Southeast Asia is frequently frustrated by competing national interests, economic priorities, political disputes, and weak regional organizations. In addition to the environmental impacts of man-made diversion projects and unsustainable freshwater usage, there is also inadequate cooperation on scientific research to understand and prepare for the effects of climate change on the region’s water supplies.

This Asia Policy roundtable contains seven essays that discuss the challenges and implications of water security in Asia and recommend steps that both upstream and downstream countries could take to better manage the region’s shared water resources.

Asia’s Unstable Water Tower: The Politics, Economics, and Ecology of Himalayan Water Projects
Kenneth Pomeranz

China’s Upstream Advantage in the Great Himalayan Watershed
Jennifer L. Turner, Susan Chan Shifflett, and Robert Batten

Melting the Geopolitical Ice in South Asia
Robert G. Wirsing

Himalayan Water Security: A South Asian Perspective
Tushaar Shah and Mark Giordano

Hydropower Dams on the Mekong: Old Dreams, New Dangers
Richard P. Cronin

Climate Change and Water Security in the Himalayan Region
Richard Matthew

Securing the Himalayas as the Water Tower of Asia: An Environmental Perspective
Jayanta Bandyopadhyay

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As I have been arguing for a number of years South Asia needs to re-negotiate the Indus Water Treaty to encompass Afghainstan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan before the region starts to suffer from water insecurity and the effects of climate change. Editor




Thursday, June 26, 2014

Rains Failing Over India:

Feeble 2014 Monsoon Heightens Concerns That Climate Change is Turning A Once-Green Land into Desert

El Nino has yet to be declared. Though signs of the Pacific Ocean warming event abound, they are still in the early stages. But for all the impact on the current Indian Monsoon — the rains this vast sub-continent depends on each year for a majority of its crops — the current pre-El Nino may as well be a monster event comparable to 1998.

For the rains that have come so far have been feeble. By June 18, precipitation totals were more than 50% below the typical amount by this time of year for northern and central India and 45% below average for the country as a whole. A stunted Monsoon that many are saying is about as weak as the devastatingly feeble 2009 summer rains. And with Pacific Ocean conditions continuing to trend toward El Nino, there is concern that this year’s already diminished rains will snuff out entirely by mid-to-late summer, leaving an already drought-wracked India with even less water than before.

Through June 25th, the trend of abnormally frail monsoonal rains continued unabated:

India cloud cover on June 25, 2013 [Left Lower image] compared to India cloud cover on June 25 of 2014 [right upper image].

Note the almost complete lack of storms over India for this year compared to 2013 when almost the entire country was blanketed by rains. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

India’s Rain Pattern Has Changed

It’s not just that 2014 is a bad year for India. It’s that the current weakened monsoon comes at the tail end of a long period in which the rains have increasingly failed. Where in the past it took a strong El Nino to stall the rains, ever-increasing human atmospheric and ocean warming have pushed the threshold for Monsoonal failure ever lower. Now even the hint of El Nino is enough to set off a dry spell. A growing trend of moisture loss that is bound to have more and more severe consequences.

A new study by Stanford University bears out these observations in stark detail. For the yearly monsoon that delivers fully 80 percent of India’s rains has fallen in intensity by more than 10% since 1951. And though a 10% loss may seem relatively minor, year on year, the effects are cumulative. Overall, the prevalence of dry years increased from 1981 to 2011 by 27% and the number of years experiencing 3 or more dry spells doubled.

Meanwhile, though a general drying trend has taken hold, rain that does occur happens in more intense bursts, with more rain falling over shorter periods. These newly intensified storms are more damaging to lands and homes, resulting in both increasing destruction of property while also greatly degrading the land through more intense erosion.

25 Percent of India’s Land is Turning to Desert

Loss of annual monsoonal rains is coming along with a dwindling of water flows from the melting Himalayan glaciers. These two climate change induced drying effects are already having stark impacts.

For according to the Indian Government’s Fifth National Report on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought, a quarter of India’s land mass is now experiencing desertification even as 32 percent is suffering significant degradation due to heightening dryness and erosion. This amounts to more than 80 million hectares of land facing desertification while more than 100 million hectares are steadily degrading. The report also noted that areas vulnerable to drought had expanded to cover 68% of the Indian subcontinent.

From the report: (India Monsoon.)

Desertification and loss of biological potential will restrict the transformation of dry lands into productive ecosystems. Climate change will further challenge the livelihood of those living in these sensitive ecosystems and may result in higher levels of resource scarcity.

Monsoonal Delay, Weakening Continues

By today, June 26, the long disrupted and weakened monsoon continues to sputter. Moisture flow remains delayed by 1-2 weeks even as the overall volume of rainfall is greatly reduced.

Though storms have exploded over some provinces, resulting in flash flooding, much of the country remained abnormally dry.

Overall, preliminary negative rainfall departures remained at greater than 40% below average for most of the nation with only five provinces receiving normal rainfall and the remaining 31 receiving either deficient or scant totals. More




Is the UN turning its back on the human right to water?

One of the biggest threats to economic and social development is that the world's freshwater supplies are rapidly becoming scarce and polluted. A new set of actors are now engaging in the global development arena to define and write the rules ofaccess to water to ensure people's needs are protected.

It is alarming to see that the human right to water and sanitation continues to be marginalised in UN policy discussions. The exclusion of this right to water in the most recent draft of the sustainable development goals reveals policy more conducive to promoting water security for economic growth than ensuring the preservation of watersheds and the equitable distribution of scarce water supplies.

When the UN general assembly passed a resolution in 2010 affirming water and sanitation as a human right, it was celebrated as a victory for communities dealing with the health impacts of polluted water, the indignity of not having access to clean drinking water and sanitation or the inability to produce food owing to water shortages. Social movements saw the human right to water and sanitation as a tool in the fight against a global water crisis produced by inequality, social exclusion and abuse of the water commons.

The global water crisis is also a big concern for industries seeking secure access to water supplies to sustain and expand operations in a never-ending quest for economic growth. The extractive industries, large drinks companies, big banks investing in water stocks, and companies involved in providing water and sanitation services have positioned themselves as stakeholders within global water policy discussions and as being able to provide solutions to the crisis.

The latest trend in global and national water policy is for corporations to participate in decision-making bodies and promote corporate-driven solutions through public-private partnerships. Over the past decade or so, the efforts of corporations such as Nestlé and Unilever to engage in global water policy discussions has shifted the debate from one of injustice and inequality to a depoliticised discussion of scarcity solved by technological fixes. These are offered by multinational corporations and market mechanisms that further deregulate water resource allocation.

When global policymakers – including the working group on sustainable development goals (SDGs) – focus simply on improving "water efficiency" for these ever-expanding industries without anchoring discussions of access to water as a right, they are ignoring communities that are challenging the very presence of the industries that are destroying watersheds.

The human right to water and sanitation holds promise for these communities. It has been invoked in Plachimada, in south India, to challenge Coca Cola's accessto aquifers; by anti-mining activists throughout Latin America; and, more recently, by the Kalahari Bushmen in a struggle to access traditional water sources on land coveted by industries such as tourism, diamond mining and fracking.

It has also been used to democratise water and sanitation services. In Uruguay, recognition of the human right to water led to the ban of private water services. When a recent ruling by a top Greek court blocked the privatisation of the country's largest water utility, in Athens, it was a victory for activists across Europe who had condemned forced privatisation through loan conditions in bailout packages for Greece, Portugal and Italy.

So it is deeply troubling that the human right to water continues to be contested at the UN. For those living without access to adequate drinking water and sanitation, the SDG on water focuses on universal access. As special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque arguesthat an emphasis on universality alone fails to eliminate inequality.

At the very minimum, the human right to water calls for the elimination of discrimination and the adoption of special measures for marginalised communities. Social movements pursuing public control over water supplies, and democratic and participatory governance models, are also drawn to the elements of public participation in decision-making, accountability and access to justice underscored by the human right to water.

While this right is hardly the silver bullet for all global water woes, it goes a long way towards balancing unequal power relationships. More


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Drought in Syria: a Major Cause of the Civil War?

Syria's devastating civil war that began in March 2011 has killed over 200,000 people, displaced at least 4.5 million, and created 3 million refugees.

Figure 1. The highest level of drought,
"Exceptional", was affecting much of
Western Syria in April 2014, as measured
by the one-year Standardized Precipitation
Index (SPI).
Image credit: NOAA's Global Drought Portal

While the causes of the war are complex, a key contributing factor was the nation's devastating 2006 - 2011 drought, one of the worst in the nation's history, according to new research accepted for publication in the journal Weather, Climate, and Society by water resources expert Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute. The drought brought the Fertile Crescent's lowest 4-year rainfall amounts since 1940, and Syria's most severe set of crop failures in recorded history. The worst drought-affected regions were eastern Syria, northern Iraq, and Iran, the major grain-growing areas of the northern Fertile Crescent. In a press release that accompanied the release of the new paper, Dr. Gleick said that as a result of the drought, "the decrease in water availability, water mismanagement, agricultural failures, and related economic deterioration contributed to population dislocations and the migration of rural communities to nearby cities. These factors further contributed to urban unemployment, economic dislocations, food insecurity for more than a million people, and subsequent social unrest."


Vanishing Water Landscapes in the Middle East

On 11 June 2014 Francesca de Châtel successfully defended her PhD thesis on water in Syria. The Jordan River has been reduced to 2% of its historic size and is heavily polluted. Across Syria, rivers are shrinking, springs have dried up, and the desert is spreading. The water crisis in the Middle East, the most water-scarce region in the world, is rapidly worsening, yet decision-makers appear unwilling to acknowledge its severity and water remains low on the political agenda. How can this gap between the reality of growing scarcity on the ground and the continued illusion of plenty be explained?

2014.06.11 De Chatel

This is one of the key questions Francesca de Châtel explores in «Vanishing Water Landscapes in the Middle East», a study that combines extensive study on the ground in pre-conflict Syria and across the region with historic data to show how high population growth, overambitious agricultural development projects and uncontrolled water use over the last 60 years have irreversibly disrupted the Middle East’s fragile ecological balance.

acrobat icon Vanishing Water Landscapes in the Middle East

» Article (in German) in Neue Zürcher Zeitung: Die Rache der Verelendeten

» Article (in French) in Le Monde: La thèse qui associait sécheresse et guerre syrienne More