Showing posts with label water security. Show all posts
Showing posts with label water security. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Asia's Destabilizing Water Woes

The Asia Pacific region faces enormous freshwater challenges triggered by overpopulation, industrialization, and climate change.

What's coming is bad enough if only Asia wasn't starting so far in the hole.   A report from the Asia Development Bank finds that two-thirds of the region's huge population already has no clean, piped water at home.

Studies for the Asian Water Development Outlook report, prepared by the ADB and other research institutes, found that 37 out of 49 countries in the region had low levels of water security.

The percentage of Asia's population with access to proper toilets had risen from 36 percent in 1990 to 58 percent in 2010, according to the report.

But that left 1.74 billion people without regular access to proper toilets, with nearly half of those still suffering "the indignity of practicing open defecation".

It said most of those people were in South Asia.

In contrast, Southeast Asia and East Asia were described as "bright spots", where access to proper toilets had expanded to at least 64 percent of their populations, the report said.

"While the Asia-Pacific region has become an economic powerhouse, it is alarming that no developing country in the region can be considered water secure," ADB vice president for sustainable development Bindu Lohani said. 

A significant part of the population in many of these countries lives in coastal areas.   These are already dealing with the impact of sea level rise and the salination of essential groundwater reserves.   That, too, is a steadily worsening threat.

In Shanghai, government crews have now plucked over 6,000 dead pigs out of the Huang Pu river.   Still no word on what has triggered the pig die-off or whether the safety of the river water that supports the population of Shanghai will be impacted.

How serious a threat is climate change to the Asia Pacific area?  The top U.S. military commander there says it is the biggest long term security threat facing the region.

In an interview with the Boston Globe Admiral Samuel J Locklear III, commander, US Pacific Command said significant upheaval related to the warming planet “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.”
“Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.”

Locklear said his headquarters in Hawaii was working with Asian nations to stockpile supplies in strategic locations and planning a major exercise for May with nearly two dozen countries to practice the "what-ifs."

He said he was increasingly focussed on sea level rise.

“The ice is melting and sea is getting higher,” Locklear said.

“I'm into the consequence management side of it. I'm not a scientist, but the island of Tarawa in Kiribati, they're contemplating moving their entire population to another country because it is not going to exist anymore."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

China's Water Woes

China does not seem able to come to grips with the pollution that is inexorably poisoning the country.   While Beijing talks about green energy, including 5th generation reactor technology, it brings online a new coal-fired power plant almost daily.  The country imports truly massive quantities of coal from the Pacific Rim, especially from Australia, with Canada getting its share also.  And China is eager to receive regular shipments of Athabasca bitumen to process through its own refineries.

Just how bad is it?  Last year it was reported that some 40% of the country's productive farmland is too contaminated from airborne heavy metals to be safe enough for food production.   And when your river looks like this, you've got a serious problem.

"Finally this issue [water pollution] has aroused the attention of the general public," said Ma Jun, head of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. "Although it's going to take a long time [to fix], now we have seen a starting point."

...the government announced on Thursday that it will force heavily polluting industries to participate in a compulsory insurance programme to ensure they can adequately provide compensation for damage.

The mining and smelting industries must participate in the scheme, along with lead battery manufacturers, leather goods firms and chemical factories. Petrochemical companies and firms that make hazardous chemicals and hazardous waste would also be encouraged to participate.

China's water pollution woes are not a new story. The head of China's ministry of water resources said last year that up to 40% of the country's rivers are "seriously polluted", and an official report from last summer found that up to 200 million rural Chinese have no access to clean drinking water.

China's lakes are often affected by pollution-induced algae blooms, causing the surface of the water to turn a bright iridescent green. Yet even greater threats may lurk underground. A recent government study found that groundwater in 90% of China's cities is contaminated, most of it severely. Chinese media responded with surprising urgency – the Straits Times newspaper in southeastern Fujian province presented the findings in a full front-page spread.

"Groundwater is a key source of drinking water, industrial and agricultural use, especially in northern China," said Ma. "If this resource gets contaminated, it's far more difficult to restore than surface water or the air."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

We've Got Law of the Sea. Is It Time for Law of the River?

One of the great successes of the international community was the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea hammered out following negotiations that lasted from 1973 until 1982.

Now we are facing similar, perhaps even greater challenges with rivers and relations among the nations they pass through.   A classic case is the Nile where the upstream countries are constructing dams that could threaten Egypt's access to freshwater for irrigation needed to support the country's agriculture.

Iraq is another country facing imminent and potentially devastating problems by the interception of upstream waters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers by Turkey and Syria.

The greatest and potentially most dangerously volatile riverine threat relates to the Himalayan headwaters of the great rivers upon which nuclear-armed Pakistan, India and China are totally dependent.   Any guesses why China invaded, conquered and insists on controlling Tibet?

Even the United States is having serious internal problems, particularly in the southwest, concerning sharing of river waters among competing states.

"More than 40 percent of the world’s people live in 263 river basins that straddle international borders. The Danube, Rhine, Congo, Nile, Niger, and Zambezi rivers all pass through nine or more countries. Transboundary rivers contain 60 percent of the world’s river flows — for two-thirds of them, there are no agreements on water sharing.

"This is dangerous. Guinea threatens to barricade the River Niger, which could dry out the inner Niger delta, a wetland jewel on the edge of the Sahara in neighboring Mali. In September, Vladimir Putin visited the mountain states of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, where he announced financial backing for more dams on the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers to generate hydropower in those countries. But he ignored opposition from downstream Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan who fear the dams will deprive them of summer flows to irrigate their cotton crops.

"Water is today the most important global resource that does not have any international agreement, says World Bank lawyer Salman M.A. Salman. Abstractions of water from rivers have tripled in the past 50 years, mostly for irrigation. The entire flows of some rivers are now being taken for human use. And the natural flows of many others are disrupted by hydroelectric dams that only allow water to pass when the dam owners want electricity.

"Back in 1997, the UN adopted the Convention on the Non-Navigable Uses of International Watercourses. It did not lay down hard and fast rules for sharing waters, but it was a statement of principle that nations should
In refusing to sign a UN treaty, China asserted its sovereignty over waterways flowing through its territory.
ensure the “sustainable and equitable use of shared rivers.”

"Only three countries voted against: China, Turkey and Burundi — all of them upstream countries on major rivers. China is the water tower of Asia. Its Tibetan plateau is the source of the Indus, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, and Mekong rivers. But in refusing to sign the treaty, China asserted that it had “indisputable territorial sovereignty over those parts of international watercourses that flow through its territory.”

"To come into force, the treaty required 35 nations to ratify it in their legislatures. To date only 28 countries have done so. Other refuseniks include the U.S. and Britain, an original sponsor of the treaty. But the momentum for ratification is picking up. Eight of the 28 ratifiers did so in the last three years. France has become a cheerleader for the convention.

"Meanwhile the treaty has a counterpart: the Helsinki convention. This began as a 1992 deal on river cooperation between European nations under the UN Economic Commission for Europe. But at a meeting in Rome set for Nov. 28-30, its members are likely to vote to allow any nation to join. Early potential signatories include Iraq and Tunisia.

"France’s Thebault says the two treaties could complement each other. For while the 1992 treaty is a statement of principle about water sharing, the Helsinki convention is “bolder,” with formal arrangements for drawing up deals.

Also on the agenda for the Rome meeting of the Helsinki Convention is the devilish problem of sharing groundwater resources.   This is a powerful issue that, barring international pressure, could prevent Israel from ever yielding the West Bank to the Palestinian people.

One of the most potentially devastating impacts of climate change is the wild alteration of our planet's hydrological cycle.   A warming atmosphere carries more water vapour, and the energy that goes with it.   That results in more storms of greater intensity and destructiveness and radically altered precipitation patterns leading to more droughts in some places and more floods in others.

This is already well progressed which means we need to talk quickly and to find an equitable way for sharing the Earth's water resources.    And, yes, that's going to mean what the radical Right loathes - the notion of treating a fundamental natural resource as a Commons.   And, yes, that could well set a precedent for treating other resources and assets as Commons.   And, yes, we may not be able to survive without it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Asia's Water Woes

When you've got 60% of the world's population but just 36% of global freshwater resources and a rapidly growing population and industrialization, you've got some serious problems.   When you add wastage and massive contamination to the mix, you're heading into nightmare territory.

Such is the dilemma facing the South Asia/Asia region.

“A key source of water wastage in cities of developing countries in South and Southeast Asia is the high levels of water loss from leaking water pipes and in other parts of the water distribution system,” said Tan Cheon Kheong, a research associate at the Institute of Water Policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. “By fixing water leakages and addressing water pilferage, it is possible for water utilities in the region to cut the amount of water lost to less than 20 percent of their water supply.”

In Bangladesh, up to
50 percent of Dhaka’s water is lost due to substandard connections and leaking pipes, resulting in supply interruptions during peak demand hours, according to ADB.

New Delhi
in India, a city of some 12 million, faces similar water shortages with long water cuts during summer when demand is high. Data from the Delhi Jal Board, which is responsible for water supply and treatment in the region, indicate that more than half of Delhi’s water is wasted because of leakages in the distribution pipeline, theft and poor revenue collection.

In Pakistan, data from
Karachi Water and Sewage Board show that the city loses more than one-third of its water to pipe leakages and pilferage. 

In Indonesia, the
Jakarta Water Supply Regulation Body estimates that 39 percent of the capital city’s water is wasted as a result of pipe leaks in the distribution network and theft, while 40 percent of the 10 million residents have no piped water.

...According to the 2012 UN World Water Development Report (WWDR4), 480 million people in Asia lack access to improved water resources, while around two billion do not have access to improved sanitation. “In many Asian cities the poor have inadequate access to water supplies. Leaks reduce the prospect of extending services as they increase the costs of water supply compared to revenue from water user fees,” Jamie Pittock, a leading expert on water governance at the Australia National University, explained.
Urban water is also lost as a result of a lack of appreciation of its economic and environmental value.

“Parts of South Asia are extremely water scarce, in part due to poor policies that encourage misuse - for example, electricity subsidies that contribute to excessive pumping of groundwater that is dramatically depleting aquifers,” says Pittock .

If you've spent time in the Third World you're apt to be familiar with the sight of fresh water bubbling up through broken pavement and pouring along gutters into storm sewers.   Often there's simply no money to repair aging and broken infrastructure.    Authorities try to offset some of the losses by rotating water outages that can last for several hours or even days with the predictable impacts on sanitation and health. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Britain - Difficult Dry Days Ahead

It's the 21st century's double-whammy - population growth coupled with global warming - and even soggy old Britain isn't immune.

Britain's Environment Agency has released a study on what lies in stores for rivers in England and Wales by 2050.   It warns that some rivers could see summer river levels drop as much as 80%, transformed into "puddles of warm, stagnant mud."

The Guardian article cites a government White Paper, "Water for Life", that explores a wide range of possible actions, including some such as desalination plants and re-cycling of effluent water that would have seemed unimaginable for Britain only a decade ago.

The UN calculates that the absolute minimum daily requirement for clean, freshwater for drinking, cooking and hygiene is 20-litres per person.   Britain's average consumption now stands at 160-litres per person per day.   The government hopes to get that down to 130-litres per day.   To give you an idea of what that means, in 2004 Canadian daily per capita freshwater consumption (residential) was 329 litres.   Now imagine your water consumption cut by two-thirds.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Five Billion People Face Water Security Threats

It's not just the Third World this time.   The U.S. and Europe are in the same boat.   A global study has found the world's rivers are so badly affected by human activity to threaten the water security of almost five billion people.   That's five billion out of the 6.7-billion people currently on the planet.   From The Guardian:

The study, conducted by institutions across the globe, is the first to simultaneously look at all types of human intervention on freshwater – from dams and reservoirs to irrigation and pollution. It paints a devastating picture of a world whose rivers are in serious decline.

While developing countries are suffering from threats to both water security and biodiversity, particularly in Africa and central Asia, the authors were surprised by the level of threat posed to wildlife in rich countries.

"What made our jaws drop is that some of the highest threat levels in the world are in the United States and Europe," said Prof Peter McIntyre, one of the lead authors, who began the project as a Smith Fellow at the University of Michigan.

Canada is much better off than most countries but we don't deserve any credit for our good fortune.  As Maude Barlow points out in Blue Covenant:

"A leaked 2005 Environment Canada assessment of the state of Canada's water for then environment minister Stephane Dion was a scathing indictment of the government's water policies.  'Clean, Safe and Secure Water: The Need for Federal Leadership,' meant only for the minister's eyes, said that a water crisis in Canada was looming, but that no one is in charge."

Unfortunately, we've entrusted the security of our own fresh water to the petro-pols of Parliament Hill, a gaggle of misfits, morons and slackers.   The hard part is that the Tories are only marginally worse than the Liberals in protecting the country and our people.