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, December 11, 2014

Water woes in Lima: A glimpse of our future?

As UN negotiators meet in Lima to work out a plan for dealing with rising temperatures, Matt McGrath visited a community paying a high price for water supplies threatened by climate change and increasing demand. Is Peru's experience a sign of things to come?

Snarling and screeching, the bouncing water truck speeds backwards down the steep hill, in a cloud of coarse dust.

It halts with a judder and a wild eyed, sweaty man jumps from the cab, grabs a large plastic pipe on the back and starts to fill a series of plastic containers on the ground, with little care.

Dressed in bright pink, a woman looks on nonchalantly.

The man runs up to her and holds out his hand. She drops some coins and away he goes, jumping onto the running board of his vehicle, already snorting its way to the next stop.

This is daily routine for tens of thousands of people who live in this sprawling hillside settlement that looks down on the Pacific Ocean, less than an hour north of Lima, Peru.

Water in Nuevo Pachacutec is not just the vital substance for life, it is a measure of social status and progress.

People first came to these hazy hills in the 1980s, in response to politicians who promised them land in return for votes.

When they first arrived the women said their feet would just sink in the sand. That's all that was here.

The politicians allowed them to take the ground - but most of the 160,000 people here do not have legal title. They are "possessors of the land" but not the owners.

And land is too grand a word. This is really a desert. After Cairo, Lima is said to be the world's second biggest city built in one. Rainfall here amounts to just 50mm of water per year.

A river runs through it

A few kilometres south of Nuevo Pachacutec, a miserable, dirty stream meanders under a motorway.

Bags of rubbish sit alongside the ubiquitous tractor tyres.

This is the Chillon river, the sole water source for around two million people in northern Lima.

The waters of the Chillon are fed by glaciers in the Andes. And this is a source of concern.

"We are worried here in Peru because climate change is already having a huge impact on our access to water," says Armando Mendoza a research officer with Oxfam in the country.

"In the last 40 years, the glacial coverage has retreated by 40% more or less, because of the increase in global warming.

"The predictions are that in the future access to water will become even more difficult and the ones who are most vulnerable to this are the poor."

These longer term water issues with glaciers are not the immediate priority in Nuevo Pachacutec.

As well as the speeding tuktuks, the sandy roads are festooned with signs for car washes, even private schools.

Despite the fact that 80% of the homes are made of wood, incomes and aspirations are rising here.

Access to water is critical in this development, as it is in developing nations all over the world.

With funding from the German government, a green group called Alternativa has helped build networks of white water tanks, connected by underground tubes that bring water directly to the houses.

They have also installed 900 outside water points in this sprawling settlement.

Their efforts to date have brought the vital liquid to 9,000 households.

In this community, water is more than just a key ingredient for life, it is a reflection of harsh social divisions.

The blue barrels

Despite the fact that 80% of the homes are made of wood, incomes and aspirations are rising here.

Access to water is critical in this development, as it is in developing nations all over the world.

With funding from the German government, a green group called Alternativa has helped build networks of white water tanks, connected by underground tubes that bring water directly to the houses.

They have also installed 900 outside water points in this sprawling settlement.

Their efforts to date have brought the vital liquid to 9,000 households.

In this community, water is more than just a key ingredient for life, it is a reflection of harsh social divisions.

Radios and children play loudly on the street where Daniza Cruz Navarro lives.

The homes on this stretch are known as the "casas azules" - the blue houses.

Outside many sit blue plastic barrels, some with lids, some without, that hold the water residents get from the trucks that constantly career about the local roads.

Dogs lap from the open containers. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in the water.

"You can see the effects of the way the water is being stored in the kids' health," says Daniza.

"They often get sick, there is often misuse and mismanagement of the water here."

She has moved on from the blue barrel and is now the owner of a more effective and efficient water tank that she has bought through the efforts of Alternativa.

However, as she still gets water directly from the delivery trucks, she has to pay significantly more than her neighbours.

Daniza says she pays 120 Nuevo Soles (£26; $40) per month for the precious water. This is about 10% of her household income.

Those who are connected to the main water grid pay just 6-12 Soles per month.

These are big sums of money and the differences can be a source of friction between neighbours.

Despite these problems, those who work with the people in Nuevo Pachacutec say progress is being made. It's really a story of local self-empowerment.

"Even if they are not perfect, they have bettered considerably," says engineer Osvaldo Caceres who works with Alternativa.

"This infrastructure is managed by them, for them. The local population know what they want, but they know and understand they have to participate to get it.

Plug and pay

"When we first got here it was all desert - there were no roads, it was pure sand," says Ycella Bonilla a resident of Nuevo Pachacutec.

She stands proudly in the doorway of her recently built bathroom cum laundry room, completed with the help of microfinance.

Ycella calls it her "unit of dignity".

Despite this advance, Ycella and her family are still paying heavily for water. She has a hose and a key that allows her family to plug into a water point. For this she pays 80 Nuevo Soles a month (£18; $27) a month.

Despite the gripes over cost, Ycella recognises that water is the bedrock of development for the community.

"We have roads, we have schools, we have a lot of the basic necessities now, including water."

The struggle for development and the need to have resources like water to empower that development is not just on the minds of those in Nuevo Pachacutec.

An hour down the road in Lima itself, UN climate negotiators are struggling with that same dilemma. How to balance the burgeoning needs of a growing population, with the need to limit those same enriching activities because they threaten the future of the planet.

Osvaldo Caceres says that as in solving the water stresses of Nuevo Pachacutec, the climate battle can be won, by everyone playing their part now. It's no use passing the buck down the generations.

"Every actor in this chain must take responsibility for what they have to do," he says.

"The governments, the authorities, and obviously the people, they all need to act." "There is no other way." More



Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Drought Management Experts Examine Tools to Address Water Scarcity

21 November 2014: The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Centre for Natural Resources and Development (CRND), the Climate Services Partnership, the International Centre for Integrated Water Resources Management (ICIWaRM) and the government of Flanders, Belgium, organized an international symposium on ‘Building a Community of Practice on Drought Management Tools'.

The meeting aimed to: develop project proposals and solutions to promote international cooperation on drought; and establish a community of practice to share information and develop drought management tools. The community of practice will be integrated into existing regional networks, including: Aridas-Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC); CNRD; the UNESCO Global Network for Water and Development Information in Arid Lands (G-WADI); and Columbia University Global Centres.

The meeting took place from 19-21 November 2014, in Santiago, Chile. [UNESCO Press Release] [Symposium Website] More


Monday, December 1, 2014

Drought-hit Sao Paulo may 'get water from mud'

RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - São Paulo, Brazil's drought-hit megacity of 20 million, has about two months of guaranteed water supply remaining as it taps into the second of three emergency reserves, officials say.

The city began using its second so-called "technical reserve" 10 days ago to prevent a water crisis after reservoirs reached critically low levels last month.

This is the first time the state has resorted to using the reserves, experts say.

"If we take into account the same pattern of water extraction and rainfall that we've seen so far this month - and it's been raining less than half of the average - we can say the (reserve) will last up to 60 days," said Marussia Whately, a water resources specialist at environmental NGO Instituto Socioambiental.

But an expected increase in water usage during the upcoming Christmas and New Year's holidays could easily reduce the time the reserve will last, she added.

After that period, there is no certainty over the water supply available to Brazil's wealthiest city and financial center, Whately said.

If rain doesn't replenish the Cantareira system - the main group of reservoirs that supply São Paulo - the city could run dry, she said.


A third and final technical reserve might be used, but it is difficult to access and mixed with silt that could make pumping it to users difficult, according to Vicente Andreu, the president of the water regulatory agency ANA.

"I believe that, technically, it would be unviable. But if it doesn't rain, we won't have an alternative but to get water from the mud," Andreu said at a hearing about the water crisis in Brasilia's Lower House of Congress on Nov. 13.

Brazil's southeast region is suffering its worst drought in at least 80 years after an unusually dry year left rivers and reservoirs at critically low levels.

Antonio Nobre, a leading climate scientist at INPE, Brazil's National Space Research Institute, has linked Brazil's worsening drought to global warming and deforestation in the Amazon. Both are drastically reducing the release of billions of liters of water by rainforest trees, which reduces rainfall further south, he said.


Poor planning and a lack of investment to boost reservoir capacity also have left São Paulo teetering on the brink of disaster, experts say.

A presidential election in October, which pitted the governing Workers Party (PT) against the opposition Social Democracy Party (PSDB), led São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin of the PSDB to delay taking action on the water shortage - such as ordering mandatory rationing - for fear of losing votes during his reelection campaign, experts say.

Now some fear changes are coming too late for São Paulo. Alckmin has pledged to invest 3.5 billion reais ($1.4 billion) to build new reservoirs and improve distribution - but most of the work won't be completed for at least a year.

Brazil's government has treated the crisis as a temporary problem that would likely go away with the first heavy rains of the summer, rather than a sign of potentially longer-term problems with water security, Andreu said.

He has criticized the government's response to the crisis and its inaction when scientists last year started to warn about a potentially devastating drought in 2014.

Now politicians admit there is a crisis, and they are finally taking action.

The states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, where more than half of Brazil's GDP is produced, on Nov. 27 agreed on works to divert water from the main river that supplies Rio de Janeiro to reservoirs in São Paulo.

Civil society organisations are pressing the government to take more radical action, such as mandatory rationing.


The Alliance for Water, a growing group of NGOs that includes Greenpeace, The Nature Conservancy and WWF, is demanding a plan to prepare for next year's dry season, which starts in April.

"We are starting 2015 with a serious deficit that won't be resolved this summer, so we must start thinking about what to do in April, when the dry season begins and we won't have any more technical reserves to use," said Whately, who is coordinating the Alliance for Water.

Sabesp, the water utility that serves São Paulo, accessed a first emergency water reserve in May totaling 480 billion liters.

That reserve started to run out in the second half of October, and reservoirs reached just 3 percent of their capacity on Oct. 21.

State-owned Sabesp was then allowed to tap a second emergency reserve, of 106 billion liters, lifting reservoir capacity above 10 percent.

But now, just weeks after this second emergency supply started to be used, water levels at the Cantareira reservoirs are once again below 10 percent, according to the company.

The third reserve, with 200 billion liters of water, is the deepest, and is located in smaller reservoirs and in passageways that connect reservoirs, which are harder to tap. Unlike the water in the reservoirs, which are drawn by gravity, the reserves water must be pumped out, according to ANA's Andreu. (Reporting by Adriana Brasileiro, editing by Laurie Goering) More