Reflections on World Water Week 2012

The 2012 Stockholm World Water Week is now over, and I’ve had a few short days to digest the week’s events. Before my reactions disappear behind my piled-up to-do list, I wanted to share some of my key reflections from the event. For efficiency, I’ve organized things in two categories, with a few bullet points in each. My longer ruminations appear after the summary… Feel free to comment at the bottom of the page. It would be great to see what others thought of the event!

What was missing

  • Clear distinction between “enough food” vs. “food security”
  • Discussion of the most effective inducers of behavioral change
  • Urban governance, and its role in shaping resource consumption

Watch these areas

  • Standardized water footprints
  • Governance of land acquisitions
  • Managing the terrestrial landscapes that sustain rainfall
If you want to read my full thoughts, proceed….
The “Good Governance of Water and Food” rapporteur group.
Copyright Patrick Keys, All Rights Reserved
Read on below…

What was missing

I probably shouldn’t be so presumptuous as to think that I know what was missing from a week-long conference on water and food security, wherein I couldn’t even attend all the sessions – but I’m going to try anyway 🙂

A better distinction between “enough food for billions” and “food security of billions”

The first is a technocratic issue ( which is more or less solved), and the second is a political economic issue ( which is for far from solved). It would be worthwhile to deploy additional energy on the second issue.

Johan Rockstrom talking about “feeding the billions.”
Copyright Patrick Keys, All Rights Reserved.

The headline of the week may have been (some variation of) “Food shortages could force world into vegetarianism.” Aside from me being frustrated that the article makes such a broad generalization about the scientific findings, its frustrating when an experienced journalist misspells the name of one of the world’s most prominent scientists on water issues (its Malin, not Malik, Falkenmark).

Professor Malin Falkenmark, Stockholm University

The problem with the headline about vegetarianism is that it suggests that the world is one unit, and that somehow resource constraints would affect the world in a more or less uniform way. Barring the emergence of some centralized global government, this won’t happen. Some people will always be able to afford meat and will consume it. In 50 years, some people will probably still eat as much as modern Americans. The question is how are we going to create a world that is food secure for billions. I’m very confident that we will go through multiple advances in crop science, etc. that will allow us to feasibly grow more than enough food for 9 billion people. Imagine 6-10 tonnes of harvest per hectare. I’m 100% a techno-optimist in that regard. I’m not, however, optimistic that we are guaranteed to sort out how to ensure that people are food secure, meaning that the food that is produced can reach people who have the purchasing power to acquire it. Ultimately, “food security of billions” will boil down to the ability of those billions to purchase  what they can’t grow themselves, and that is a complicated issue that was addressed by Malin Falkenmark in her talk(s), but by very few others.

Discussion of the most effective inducers of behavioral change.

There was a great deal of talk about the need for people to “understand the value of water” and for people to stop “over-consuming.” These comments are complicated because they involved the individual decisions of people, that unless compelled by governments, are not required to either value water or consume reasonable amounts of healthy calories. Ultimately, both of these issues require changes in entrenched behaviors – and yet are critical for addressing water scarcity, health issues, food waste, etc.
I really would have liked to see a special session, maybe all-day, on understanding how governments, private entities, etc. induce changes in human behavior. Governments tend to use the strong arm of the law, rather than creative incentives. Private companies on the other hand, have a very well-practiced and nuanced marketing sense, because they have to if they want consumers to purchase their products. Its surprising to me then that Nestle and PepsiCo the two mega-large corporate sponsors/ participants in this year’s World Water Week didn’t collaborate and host a special session on human behavior change, in a very applied practical sense. This is something I would definitely like to see  next year.

Urban governance, and the role it could take in shaping resource consumption.

By 2050, the Earth is projected to be 70% urban. This means that 70% of consumption will take place in the context of cities, with populations under the governing wing of city governments (as well as state/province/federal government). Given that cities are often the clearest provider of day-to-day service to citizens (e.g. water/power utilities are often city-based) and given that food will for the most part be trucked/shipped into cities to feed the populations, then cities have an interesting opportunity to help shape sustainable resource consumption in the future.
Open air market in Hue, Vietnam. Notice the meat consumption?
Copyright Patrick Keys 2012, All Rights Reserved
I would have liked to see a greater focus on the role that urban governments could play on influencing consumption habits (perhaps not in as draconian a fashion as Bloomberg in NYC), possibly by incentivizing the import of vegetables and legumes, and taxing  more heavily the import of unhealthy, heavily processed foods. I know “small-government” folks like to harp on about how the government is a bad chooser of “winners”, which I tend to agree with in the technology sector – but I’m pretty sure the jury is in. Vegetables are the winners, and potato chips are the losers.
Next year maybe a session could be convened on how cities could cooperate to share best practices on setting sustainable urban food policies?

Watch these areas

Standardized water footprints, instead of context-less water footprints 

I’m excited by a “new” effort to develop an international standard method (ISO) for water footprinting assessments. I was at first fascinated by the idea of looking at “embedded water” in products, also known as the virtual water content of a product. A popular quote is 1000 litres of water to make 1 litre of milk, or 16000 litres of water for 1 kilogram of beef. National Geographic has created posters, and World Water Week’s corridors had large displays showing us how much water was required to make various food items and beverages.
However, what does any of that mean? In what context was that beef grown? Are you assuming it was grain fed on a feedlot or grass fed in a country hillside? Are these beef cattle eating grain grown in tropical drylands (e.g. the Sahel in Africa), or temperate rainy areas (i.e. the Pacific Northwest of the USA)?
Those details can make the difference between completely unsustainable and completely sustainable methods of food production. If the ISO standard can serve to improve the transparency and usefulness of the concept of water footprinting, then that would be an important achievement.

Governance of land acquisitions

The disappointing responseby the Deputy Minister for food security from Sierra Leone, gave me pause about the sophistication of their regulatory systems in place for ensuring responsible and sustainable management of land and water resources.
Land grabs session with representatives from various sectors.
Copyright Patrick Keys 2012, All Rights Reserved
Personally I think that governments in land rich nations have an amazing opportunity to set terms for foreign land and water investors-require things such as the following:
1. Mandatory rehabilitation of landscapes post extractive activity (e.g. mine reclamation)
2. Mandatory ecosystem enhancement in lieu of the alterations to existing landscapes
3. Mandatory training of the local workforce so that they may be eligible for local employment opportunities
4. Mandatory investment in development, particularly long-term water, sanitation & hygiene (WaSH) facilities, schools, health clinics, etc.
Governments perhaps out of fear that they may lose the opportunity of investment, have historically not taken advantage of the chance to shape corporate activity in their countries. However it would be interesting if companies began demanding better regulation for themselves. This would help them insured positive returns on investments and demonstrate their genuine willingness to behave sustainably and responsibly.
It could be that companies are merely greenwashing, but I doubt it. The representative from the World Business Council on Sustainable Development given an impassioned plea for better engagement.
Peter Bakker, World Business Council on Sustainable Development
Copyright Patrick Keys 2012, All Rights Reserved
For future and expanded reading check out the new book land grabs, edited by Tony Allan, Keulertz, Suvi Sojamo, and Jeroen Warner.

Managing the terrestrial landscapes that sustain rainfall

A big dimension of the food security discussion at World Water Week was the fact that rainfed agriculture needs to be improved in low-yield regions, with the addition of supplemental irrigation, fertilizer inputs, and appropriate management.
However, the reliability of rainfall in the future is thrown into question by climate change, with increasing variability in the timing and quantity of rainfall. Additionally, since rainfall originates as evaporation, if that evaporation changes (e.g. if a forest is removed), then the rainfall that sustains a given cropped area may become less reliable.
Conceptual diagram of a precipitationshed.
Copyright Patrick Keys 2012, All Rights Reserved.
[Warning, blatant self promotion] This is my PhD work, so I should have an answer for you in about half a decade 🙂 If you’re interested, read my latest paper for more information: http://goo.gl/lMghb

Continue reading

Wednesday Re-cap – an Unexpected Presentation

Yesterday was a little different than the previous three days, because rather than only take notes of what others have been saying, I had the opportunity to present some of my own research

The work

In 2009-2010, I spent nine months at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (on a University of Washington sponsored fellowship) modeling the influence of small reservoirs in a small arid basin in the Upper Nakambe basin, on the Volta river, in Burkina Faso. Long story short, I thought I was going to update a model, and I ended up starting from scratch (with an “empty” WEAP model).

An excellent experience, since I learned about spatial averaging of climate data, land use and land cover datasets, how to incorporate small reservoirs into a water resources model, and the methods for how to calibrate and validate a hydrological model. Awesome experience, and I learned a ton. The title of this work was: “Small reservoirs in the Upper Nakambe, and potential trade offs with large water storage”

Dusting things off

Alas, after this process, the model went largely unused, and I moved onto other things. Then, earlier this year my supervisor on the project suggested I pick things up again and add a ‘climate change’ scenario – which was part of the original plan. I did this (using a warmer climate scenario, rather than climate change scenario, for lots of boring reasons that I won’t get into now), and again it sat for a bit, until a….

Surprise talk!

A few days ago, it was suggested that I present my work informally at the Stockholm Environment Institute’s booth at world water week…. So I put together a quick talk and prepared to present things yesterday at 1pm.

Serendipity

Right before the talk was about to start there were a grand total of zero attendants. No pressure! … But also a little disappointing.
Then, low and behold three very special guests serendipitously appeared:
1. Director of Waternet (which is among other things, a scholarship program for African graduate students) who is an expert on water resources … And happens to to be able to translate back and forth between English and French.
2. A representative from DGRE (Direction Générale des Ressources en Eau aka Directorate General of Water Resources; Burkina Faso), and
3. The Incoming administrator of the Nakambe River basin

So… Pretty much the best audience possible.

The director of Waternet translated huge chunks of the talk when the information was not clear from me, and I was able to answer and the specific, and direct questions of the most relevant stakeholder from the region’s management community.

Result

The outcome of this interaction was that my research advisor now has an invitation to get in touch when she is in Burkina this fall, and there is a strong possibility that the work will be incorporated or perhaps expanded to good effect in the region.

An outstanding result from an unexpected presentation.

Monday Re-cap @ World Water Week

After a day of meetings, Opening Plenary events, High Level panels, strategic framework launches, and a City Hall reception – I’m back home and writing a blog entry. To entice you to keep reading, I’ve included pictures 🙂

Summary for Policymakers

In the spirit of high level frameworks and so on, here are some of my reflections from the day:

1. Choosing to trust – At the opening plenary session this morning, one of the speakers was from PepsiCo. The gentlemen was speaking about his and PepsiCo’s enthusiasm for integrating water stewardship into their food production supply chain, particularly where it concerns communities that are around their production facilities. My knee jerk reaction in these situations is to be skeptical about the honesty of these statements, but today I decided to choose to trust their statements. As stated by honored speakers today (including Swedish Enviroment Minister Gunilla Carlsson and many others), engaging the private sector is critical to long-term sustainability; I agree with this in general, and I think in practice, people interested in advancing the responsible and just allocation of water among all users should open their minds to unconventional partners.

Opening Plenary speech by PepsiCo representative, Copyright Patrick Keys 2012, All Rights Reserved.

2. Leave the pre-conceived notions at the door – During a session launching the framework for Water Security and Climate Resilient Development, sponsored by AMCOW (African Ministers Conference on Water) and GWP (Global Water Partnership) and others (CDKN, ADA, etc.), I asked a question about how/why Egypt and Ethiopia were not a part of the program, and whether their conflict may spell a problem for regional cooperation and resilience. I was informed, in somewhat direct terms, by Bai-Mass Taal of AMCOW that ever since January 25th 2011, the whole perception of regional water conflict needs to change. Three key points illustrate this shift: 1. Sudan is engaging Egypt to grow rice in its lands; 2. the Egyptian water minister has made at least two trips to Ethiopia in the last month; and, 3. Egypt has declared that the Nile must be used equitably for development by all riparian states. This is a major shift in policy, and is reflective of a new, hopefully more fully engaged, policy. Lesson learned.

Framework for Water Security and Climate Resilient Development, Copyright Patrick Keys 2012, All Rights Reserved.

3. Disconcerting lack of foresight – During the high level panel on the global rush for land and water today, the Deputy Minister for Food Security (far left below, not pictured on the projector) from Sierra Leone had apparently not thought of including clauses for compulsory land rehabilitation and stewardship for companies to whom his country has signed leases. Though a convincing case was made for the at least somewhat thoughtful leasing process in Sierra Leone, if this Deputy Minister has indeed not heard of this concept of compulsory rehabilitation, then I am shocked. This is resource extraction contracts 101. I’m not comfortable saying that they are learning as they go, since this is their job to know. I hope that this glaring gap in contract creation is an anomaly, rather than the norm.

High level panel on water and land grabs, Copyright Patrick Keys 2012, All Rights Reserved.

If you’ve made it this far, then here are a few more pictures that characterize the day’s events…

My Junior Rapporteur group, “Good Governance for Water and Food” met at 9am this morning. Tomorrow its 8:30. Ouch…

At the opening plenary, I thought the stage looked pretty swanky…

…only then did the Swedish circus performers come out. Surprising? Yes. A little odd? Yes. Really cool? Absolutely.

Also, after the full day’s activities, there was a great reception at Stockholm City Hall. Here is a picture of the “Golden Room” with the “Queen of Lake Malaren” depicted.

I hope to keep this up tomorrow, with lots more information about the general information I’m learning and more pictures of the fun stuff. Till then!

The QANAT: June 26- July 2

What is The QANAT? A weekly digest of water security highlights. If you have suggestions for next week’s QANAT let me know! The QANAT is named after an ancient water supply system. 

– – – –

Image from Wikipedia

TRANS-BOUNDARY WATER

China Changes Plans for Trans-Boundary Brahmaputra River. Ooska News (June 26, 2012)

The Chinese government announced on June 23 that it plans to increase tourism and create a national park in Tibet near the Brahmaputra River, rather than pursue construction of a massive and controversial dam.

    • Pat’s thoughts: The positive tone between China and India is very welcome – and perhaps an additional sign of regional hydro-cohesion. The concept of China diverting any significant tributaries of the Brahmaputra would be potentially devastating for India and Bangladesh – and likely protested aggressively – so this is a very positive development.
PA says in talks with Israel over water shortages. Ma’an News Agency (June 28, 2012)

The head of the Palestinian water authority said Wednesday that discussions with the Israeli side were ongoing to increase quantities of drinking water without raising prices. Israel seeks to increase the price of one cubic liter of water from 2.60 shekels to 3.70 shekels, which will cost the Palestinian treasury around 700 million shekels, Shadad al-Ateli said. 

    • Pat’s thoughts: I must be missing something, because this price is crazy. 3.7 shekels is equal to 94 US cents. That is nearly 1 dollar per liter of water! Is the article wrong? Is my exchange calculation off? Can this other article have just all quoted the same wrong source? If not, this is an insane price for water provision (especially if the numbers in this 2009 article are even close to the mark… Israeli’s were paying approximately 8 shekels per cubic meter, or $2 USD per cubic meter. At the quoted rate above, Palestinians would pay 3700 shekels per cubic meter…). I’ve now convinced myself that something must be wrong, but what?

DAMS

Government officials, athletes call on public to further strengthen support for Grand Dam construction. News Dire – Ethiopian News Source (June 1, 2012)

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on the occasion said construction of the Dam will be completed due schedule if Ethiopians at home and in the Diaspora further strengthen the ongoing support for construction of the Dam. Hailemariam, who is also Chairperson of the Public Coordination National Council for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project, said construction of the Dam will be finalized if the ongoing participation of the public further continues.

    • Pat’s thoughts: I’m uncomfortable with the large amount of emphasis being placed on voluntary contributions for the completion of this dam. It is the government’s responsibility to levy fair taxes to cover the initial costs, as well as secure private financing to help fund the dam. Given the lack of full transparency in this whole process, I am skeptical that the money being raised is actually being used for the dam – but I do hope I’m wrong.


DESALINATION & WATER SECURITY

Ensuring the security of water, ‘a strategic commodity on par with oil.’ The National  (June 30, 2012)

The creation of a strategic reserve of 26 million cubic metres of fresh water in the Empty Quarter is part of a major drive to ensure that the UAE always has enough to meet its needs.

and

Unlike other countries which don’t have the finances to solve the problems, here money isn’t a problem,” he said. “They have a physical scarcity which they can solve by an expensive solution. Looking at the bigger picture, food and water security are important.

    • Pat’s thoughts: The fact that the UAE is pumping enough desalinated water into an aquifer to supply drinking needs for 90 days is pretty astonishing. It shows wealth, foresight, and pragmatism. Although the environmental impacts of desalination are significant, countries like the UAE are stuck with it as a means for providing water to its rapidly modernizing population. Experiments such as the UAE’s artificial recharge of artificial freshwater may be a surprising window into our collective future.
Desalinated water could help quench a thirsty Egypt. Egypt Independent (June 26, 2012)

Over 40 percent of Egypt’s desalinated water is used by the tourism sector, and roughly 20 percent is utilized by the industrial sector, according to a 2010 report by the Center for Future Studies (CSF), a think-tank at the Cabinet’s Information Decision Support Center.

and

“We need to try to localize different technology, which would reduce the cost, allow us to enhance the Egyptian industry, and have complete control over water resources [in terms of producing water],” said Shakweer.

    • Pat’s thoughts: Aside from the obviously cool fact that Egypt has a “Center for Future Studies”, I think this is an interesting idea for improving economic competitiveness regionally as well as improving water security. This could be a tremendous point of collaboration and partnership with Israel, if the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood leadership were interested in stabilizing the region.

FLOODS

Seventy dead, 200 000 stranded in Bangladesh. AlertNet (June 27, 2012)

Days of rain in Bangladesh, some of the heaviest in years, have set off flash floods and landslides, killing at least 70 people and stranding about 200,000, police and officials said on Wednesday.

and

Agriculture officials said it was too early to estimate crop damage. “In flash floods, water recedes soon after the rain stops, So we don’t anticipate any major damage to rice and other crops,” one official said.

    • Pat’s thoughts: This is a devastating flood, and it looks as though other areas have been hit in the region (e.g. India). I appreciate Reuter’s non-inflammatory tone when it comes to whether food crops will be affected. As this is the beginning of the region’s monsoon, I hope this event is recovered from quickly, and serves as an opportunity to identify weaknesses the emergency response system.