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

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Image from Wikipedia


China Changes Plans for Trans-Boundary Brahmaputra RiverOoska 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?


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.


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.


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 EgyptEgypt 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.


“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.


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.


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.

Undesired Resilience: Common pitfalls in resilience thinking

By Patrick Keys

Let me start by saying that I think the concept of “resilience” is a very useful one, but that it has also sort of spun out of control.

Brief rant on “resilience” and its definition

As one of the many buzzwords that is getting a lot of air time (e.g. resilience to climate change, resilience to flooding, resilience to drought), resilience has started to conjure the same warm and fuzzy response as “sustainability”, “organic”, and “free beer”. All the while, I think  the meaning of resilience has become diluted. The definition that a water resource scientist may give is likely to be different from a rural health worker, which is likely to be different from a development economist.

Flooded stairs in Hue City, Vietnam (Copyright: Patrick Keys, 2012)

Resilience refers to the ability to remain in a stable state regardless of perturbations. Thus first and foremost, resilience must be used relative to something else, as in “resilience of X to Y”. For example, a farm (X) can be resilient to drought (Y).

However, what is often missing from discussions about resilience is that it is not always a good thing. For example, a farm (X) can be resilient to water management efforts (Y). This means that the farm is in a resilient and undesirable state. These twin concepts of resilience and desirability both need to be present when talking about whether or not a given project/development/whatever is on track to being a good thing or a bad thing.

To sum up: when someone talks about Resilience, remember to consider:

a) Resilience …of what (X)… to what (Y)

b) Is this resilience desirable?

Here is a figure from a recent book chapter entitled “Watershed management through a resilience lens”, by Barron and Keys (2011). Note that the “stability” axis can be considered a proxy for resilience.


The arrows in the figure indicate where a system moved after a “watershed managment” intervention was taken. The take home is that a system can occupy both a stable (resilient) or unstable (unresilient) state, while also being either undesirable or desirable. Are we on the same page? Great.

Talking about resilience and poor people – the big pitfall

If you thought I was going to mention the awesome 80’s Atari game, not that Pitfall! But, similar to the digital traps in the game, there are mental traps regarding resilience that are easy to fall into – particularly when thinking of communities in the developing world. Here are some important pitfalls:

The two phrases that make my skin crawl are:

“Poor people are the least resilient to climate change”

“Poor people are the most resilient to climate change”

Fisherman in Hue City, Vietnam (Copyright: Patrick Keys, 2012)

The problem here is that both are right and both are wrong. For example, imagine two families living along a river. The ‘poor’ family lives below the river bank, right along the river. The ‘rich’ family lives on the river bank, above the river. When the river floods, the poor family can move quickly and adapt to the changing conditions as the flood levels rise (because they don’t have anything!). The rich family is stuck in their concrete house as it gets flooded. When the flood recedes, the poor family goes back to the river, and the rich family mops up their house.

Both families return to their way of life pre-flood. Is the poor family more resilient than the rich family? Is the rich family more resilient than the poor family? [Discuss]

I’m not going to answer that question. My point is that the pitfall is thinking of this in purely “resilience” terms. The question isn’t weather the poor people are resilient or not, its whether they want to be or not. The desirability of the state is every bit as important as the resilience.

Moving forward – “Desirable Resilience”

I don’t really like that phrase, but right now its what I can think to write. The idea that resilience researchers (and everyone else that is working in this field – if only not in name) need to get into their heads is that without attaching the desires of the system they are looking at – which often happens to be poor people – then resilience is neither a good thing or a bad thing, its just a thing.

Does anyone have thoughts on a better way to phrase the idea of desirable resilience? Am I totally reinventing the wheel here?