Sinai crop production. Copyright Patrick Keys 2011, All Rights Reserved.

The QANAT: August 1 – 25

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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FOOD AND WATER SECURITY

This Qanat is going to focus on a few interesting articles from the last month that are related to food security in a time of global change.

This focus comes from the fact that I will be a Junior Rapporteur at the Stockholm World Water Week, focusing on “Good Governance of Water and Food.” To follow World Water Week posts on Twitter, search for #wwweek – and for the junior rapporteur feed add #Jrap to your search.

Farm in the Sinai peninsula, Copyright Pat Keys 2011, All Rights Reserved

“Amid a devastating drought, does it still make sense to use corn for fuel?” Washington Post (July 31, 2012)

Meat and poultry producers get hit especially hard when the price of corn and animal feed rises. Many livestock producers have to respond by culling their herds to stem losses. In the short term, that leads to a drop in meat prices, which squeezes the industry’s profits further. Only after a delay do meat and poultry prices start to leap upward.

    • Pat’s thoughts: It never made sense to me to make fuel out of food, and the subsidies that are in place that currently distort the market lead to both perverse consequences and incentives. I understand that the market is complicated, but given the overwhelming data suggesting that in the future there will be an inability to grow enough food for future populations, that using arable land and food crops for fuel seems like a mis-allocation of resources. Additionally, given the dubious affect of biofuels on reducing carbon emissions I fail to see the purpose of using corn for biofuels, aside from providing further artificial stability for corn farmers.

“Urbanization and Climate Change” Global Trends 2030 (August 24, 2012)

By 2030, six of out every ten people will live in cities; by 2050, this number will increase to roughly 70 percent of the global population (or 6 billion). By 2030, roughly 450 million people may be living in megacities. The pressures of population growth and urbanization on megacities and their infrastructure may prove quite problematic, particularly as competition for scarce natural resources becomes more intense. For instance, cities account for 70 percent of global energy use.

    • Pat’s thoughts: “Urban resource security” is going to be a buzz word of the coming decades, as urban populations, and their consumption patterns, swell. Understanding the types of food being consumed, and the origin of that food, will be absolutely critical to urban sustainability.

“One man’s future is another man’s present: Farms of the Future hits Tanzania” Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security – CGIAR (August 2, 2012)

…Rosalia got the chance to participate in the first farmer-to-farmer exchange visit to Mbinga and several other analogue learning sites en route to see exactly what she might expect from the future, and, better yet, to learn how farmers there are already coping with their climate.

    • Pat’s thoughts: This is an extraordinary example of ‘South-South’ knowledge transfer and climate change planning foresight. Furthermore, the inclusion of female farmers is critical to the longterm viability of any educational effort, given the demonstrated critical importance of women in sustainability efforts – especially in the developing world. It is ironic that they highlight female farmers, and yet the title is refers to “men.”

“Southeast Asia’s rice insulates region from food crisis” VOXXI (August 2, 2012)

But Thailand’s warehouses are practically bursting thanks to a fluke of populist politics. To secure votes in rice country, Thailand’s ruling party has vowed to buy every grain farmers can harvest for up to 50 percent above the market rate.

    • Pat’s thoughts: This article makes it sound like rice will be a valuable crop in the future and will provide some sort of regional immunity to food shortages. However, this quote makes it clear that the mitigating influence of rice on regional food shortage is more due to human influences (populist politics) than climatic influences (drought or flooding). I do think that rice will be an excellent buffer in the future against failures of other crops, in that rice is irrigated where the failed corn harvests are rainfed. Likewise, the fact that “rice baskets” are predominantly in a very different part of the world compared to “corn baskets” and “wheat baskets” (“breadbaskets” doesn’t really seem appropriate, given rice is used primarily for… rice – not bread).
Ganges-Brahmaputra Basin

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

TRANS-BOUNDARY WATER

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?

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 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.

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.
Rice paddy with desiccated soils

The QANAT: June 16-25, 2012

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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WATER SCARCITY & SECURITY

When the rivers run dry (by Fred Pearce) – David Zetland’s book review Aguanomics (June 18, 2012)

I give this book FIVE STARS for Pearce’s varied examples, clear analysis and accurate message: we cannot continue to dry out our rivers for special interests and traditional methods of mismanagement. We, the people, will benefit from restoring water flows into their traditional paths, borrowing and repaying water as it passes by.

    • Pat’s thoughts: I completely agree with Zetland about this book. If you are interested in water issues, and want a great overview of serious issues regarding water scarcity, read this. If you like Fred Pearce’s writing checkout some of his other work, including “With Speed and Violence”, “The Coming Population Crash”, and “The Land Grabbers”.
Water security GCC’s top priority. Arab News (June 21, 2012)

According to Assistant Secretary-General Abdullah Al-Shibli, the committee’s meeting discussed water coalition and water security in the Gulf countries and is a reflection of the GCC’s keenness on providing water at any cost and under any circumstances.

    • Pat’s thoughts: The whole “at any cost, and under any circumstances” makes me a little nervous, but since there isn’t really any water that they could take from others, I think it means “we’re going to desalinate, and the environmental impacts are a necessary side effect.”

TREATIES­ & GOVERNANCE

Water pacts re-examined amid Arab Spring. UPI (June 14, 2012)

In May, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned his neighbors, with Turkey and Syria his main targets, that the region faces conflict unless the issue of dwindling water resources is addressed by regional governments.

    • Pat’s thoughts: I think a key area to watch will be the Euphrates river, particularly between Turkey and Syria. Currently, Turkey broadly respects the flow allocation to Syria – but with increased Syrian military aggression towards Turkey, water cooperation may be among the items to be scuppered. Watch this area, as the weeks proceed.
India’s dam plans anger Pakistan, symbolize global water woes. Brimbank Weekly (May 19, 2012)

The Indus Water Treaty, signed in 1960, gives Pakistan rights over the Indus Valley’s three western rivers. India controls the three rivers to the east. The treaty is important, in particular to Pakistan, which is downstream from India, and relies on its neighbour’s adherence to it for survival. But the treaty is beginning to crack under new pressures, and Pakistan’s increasing anxiety about its neighbour’s activities on its watercourses.

    • Pat’s thoughts: Indian dam development in the Indus basin will increase as long as India needs additional hydropower, flood control, and/or irrigation water. Pakistan must respond like it is, but I doubt that any actual conflict will occur unless India actually harms Pakistan’s access to water.
African nations pioneer natural resource accounting with “Gaborone Declaration”. New Security Beat (June 20, 2012)

…the advantage of knowing that a hectare of mangrove trees in a certain region of Thailand has been calculated to provide approximately $16,000 of flood protection when considering whether to clear-cut and sell the raw wood (worth about $850), convert the region into a shrimp farm ($9,000), or preserve it.

    • Pat’s thoughts: I think that recognition of the value of ecosystem services is very important for conservation, but I think there are important unintended consequences of such valuation. Particularly, if the market is to judge the best use of an area, and wetland is valued at $100,000 of services per year, while a shopping mall is $150,000/yr, then the valuation process has encouraged (rather than discouraged) conservation. I think there need to be other components, including non-monetary valuations, if conservation is the end goal.
South Sudan will join Nile Basin Initiative. Ooska News (June 12, 2012)

Joining the inter-governmental initiative will allow the fledgling state to take part in making decisions and laws related to use of Nile water… However, South Sudanese Water Minister Paul Mayom stressed during a visit to Cairo last month that “we will not sign the Entebbe agreement, and we will not pose harm to Egypt’s water interests.”

    • Pat’s thoughts: South Sudan is hedging its bets by aligning itself with both the NBI and the downstream powers, Sudan and Egypt. As Ethiopia begins to exert its influence more and more, it will be interesting to see whether allegiances shift with changing power dynamics in the Nile basin.

NUCLEAR ENERGY

Is thorium a magic bullet for our energy problems? Science Friday (May 4, 2012)

As the search for cheap, safe and non-carbon emitting sources of energy continues, a band of scientists say the answer may be nuclear reactors fueled by thorium. Others caution that thorium reactors pose waste and proliferation risks. Ira Flatow and guests discuss the pros and cons of thorium reactors.

    • Pat’s thoughts: Fascinating, balanced discussion of thorium as a nuclear fuel. Must listen 🙂

FOOD SECURITY

Avoiding Future Famines: strengthening the ecological basis of security through sustainable food systems. UNEP (June 20, 2012)

Globally, an estimated one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, amounting to 1.3 billion tonnes per year.

    • Pat’s thoughts: This is a great report from UNEP, and I really appreciate how they draw in some unconventional points, particularly around food waste. Check out the Executive Summary if you like, and then download the full report if you need more detail.
Shortages: Fish on the slide. BBC (June 17, 2012)

The year of Peak Ocean Fish was 1996. Crews hauled in 87.7 million tonnes of wriggling protein. The total sea catch has since fallen to about 80 million tonnes and stabilised.

    • Pat’s thoughts: This is a really important topic; also check out the animation for the expansion of fishing worldwide. Fish provide protein to millions of people globally, without which, we would have even more problems with land-based food production. Sustainable management of fisheries is critical to avoid collapse of fishing-based diets, leading to increased competition for land-based diets.


Looking down a qanat.

The QANAT: June 9-15, 2012

What is The QANAT? A weekly digest of highlights (from news websites, blogs, etc.) related to water security, broken up by topic.

The QANAT is named after an ancient water supply system comprised of a series of vertical shafts that drain into a long horizontal tunnel, connecting a mountain aquifer to a community, field, or livestock pond.  Check the wikipedia page for an excellent overview.

WATER SUPPLIES

Water Plan to take effect by 2012China Daily  (June 11, 2012)

 A policy featuring the principle of water rights is undergoing a test run in Zhangye, Gansu province. Farmers there are given a water quota based on the scale of the land they are cultivating and the types of plants they grow. If they use less water than they are given, they can trade the quota left for money.

    • Pat’s thoughts: Amazing. I can’t believe China is leading the charge on this. I’m very interested to see how well this works.
Smart hand pumps promise cleaner water in Africa. BBC News  (June 8, 2012)

…researchers at Oxford University have developed the idea of using the availability of mobile networks to signal when hand pumps are no longer working. They have built and tested the idea of implanting a mobile data transmitter into the handle of the pump.

    • Pat’s thoughts: Mechanical training of local community members should be an integral part of this; otherwise there’s (yet another) bottleneck with the external aid community.
Officials call for action as Bethlehem villages run dry. Ma’an News  (June 11, 2012)

Without water, and without… water rights, there can be no viable or sovereign Palestinian state,” Attili warned.

    • Pat’s thoughts: True. But there would be very little to stop Palestinians from drilling new wells, if Israel Defense forces were to withdraw from Palestinian lands and functionally eliminate their ability to monitor these activities.

CONFLICT

Dams and Politics in Turkey: Utilizing Water, Developing Conflict. Middle East Policy Council  (2012)

On July 11, 2009, the government of Turkey announced the construction of… eleven dams in the Hakkari and Sirnak provinces along the border with Iraq and Iran. These dams are not constructed for hydroelectric power purposes. Neither will they be used for irrigation, since the area is sparsely populated… These additional dams are being constructed as a wall of water, with the sole purpose of making it difficult for PKK guerrilla fighters to penetrate Turkey’s borders.

    • Pat’s thoughts: Very interesting. If this assertion is true, then this is a blatant use of water infrastructure as primarily a defensive measure. Can anyone think of instances where this is the primary use of the infrastructure?

ECONOMICS

As water bills rise, utilities struggle for funds. Reuters  (June 12, 2012)

About 85 percent of respondents said average water consumers had little to no understanding of the gap between what they pay and how much it costs to provide water and wastewater services.

    • Pat’s thoughts: Let prices rise to reflect costs and the consumers will realize how much water is worth.

AGRICULTURE & LAND

Land and Rio+20: Protecting an Irreplaceable Resource. IFPRI  (June 13, 2012)

Called land degradation and, in arid and semi-arid regions, desertification, this phenomenon leads to an annual loss of 75 billion tons of fertile soil. “About 24 percent of global land area has been affected by land degradation,” writes IFPRI Senior Researcher Ephraim Nkonya…

    • Pat’s thoughts: This is a sleeping dragon in terms of potential impact on global food supplies. Its definitely an awake dragon for the small-holder farmers throughout currently Africa dealing with this. For more on this, check out David Montgomery’s “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization
Squeezing Africa dry: behind every land grab is a water grab. GRAIN  (June 11, 2012)

Those who have been buying up vast stretches of farmland in recent years, whether they are based in Addis Ababa, Dubai or London, understand that the access to water they gain, often included for free and without restriction, may well be worth more over the long-term, than the land deals themselves.

    • Pat’s thoughts: Fantastic work here. Henk Hobbelink (GRAIN’s director) contacted me sometime ago about the issue of land grabs and since then has produced this great piece. I’ll be digging into this over the weekend and expect to share more detailed thoughts with you then.