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).

The QANAT April 11 to April 18

CHINA & SE ASIA DROUGHT

“The situation has worsened with the severe drought plaguing northern Vietnam, which has driven many farmers to seek work in China, said Fan Qi, head of Fangchenggang City’s border police.” Illegal immigration from Vietnam surges, China Daily, April 12

“More than 250,000 people are short of drinking water in the sparsely populated Chifeng City of north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.” Drought affects 250,000 people in N China’s Chieng, China Daily, April 12

“…no bathing or tooth brushing for weeks; clouds of flies crawling on the bed sheets, along the edges of bowls, and over the latrines; green vegetables a rarity in their diet. These are the realities of daily life for more than 24,000 students and teachers.” Drought takes heavy toll on boarding schools, China Daily, April 15

The snowstorm on Monday and Tuesday hitting many parts of Heilongjiang Province, damaged more than 90,000 seedlings in the province. Direct economic losses were estimated at almost 600 million yuan…” China agriculture hammered by spring extreme weather, China Daily, April 14

“A peasant plows his farmland after welcome rains in Huangping county in drought-plagued Guizhou province on April 13.” Rainfall quenches thirsty land in SW China, China Daily, April 14

DESALINATION

“Systems using carbon-free energy are also being trialled: nuclear desalination in the United Arab Emirates, solar power in Australia, and biodiesel from plants — with cooking fats also slated as a future possibility — at a desalination plant built by Thames Water in London.” Global water crisis sparks surge in desalination, Mail & Guardian Online, March 31

“There is ample scientific evidence that the impact of the effluents from the desalination plants on the seawater environment increase the seawater temperature, salinity, water current and turbidity…” S.Africa looks to sea to meet growing water demand, Reuters, April 16

DAMS & INFRASTRUCTURE

“In coming years there will be extreme scarcity of water in Rawalpindi and Islamabad and the construction of new dams in the region is imperative to overcome this looming danger..” Water scarcity looms large: Construction of Dadocha Dam in doldrums, Daily Times, April 12

“The diversion won’t resolve the water supply problem of the most-at-need people in the sertao, because they are geographically so spread out,” argues Joao Suassuna, a long-time critic. Brazil’s huge river diversion program divides opinion, BBC News, April 12

“”The future of one of the world’s last great rainforests is at stake. The outcome of this fight could determine much beyond Borneo’s borders too, as environmental scientists become increasingly alarmed at the effect deforestation taking place here is having on the world’s weather.” Spears versus bulldozers in Borneo, Al Jazeerah, April 16

INDIAN MONSOON & FOOD

“…the dip in the Kharif output of rice might trigger an upward spiral of foodgrain prices and conveyed the Centre’s action plan to counter a rise in rates.” 246 districts in 10 states drought-hit: Peshawar, Times of India, April 18

“Monsoon forecasts for India are keenly watched by traders and analysts as the south Asian nation, one of the world’s top producers and consumers of sugar, wheat, rice and edible oils, depends on rains to irrigate 60 percent of its farms.…” Western forecasts signal good monsoon in India,
Reuters, April 14

POST-DISASTER RESPONSE

“The first of 50,000 earthquake victims that officials fear are most threatened by Haiti’s looming rainy season were relocated Saturday as nonprofit groups scrambled to receive them.”Haitians relocated to new camps as rains loom, AP, April 12

“…conclusion was made based on water sample tests from three underground water levels in Gyegu Town after the earthquake by a group of environmental experts from the China Environmental Monitoring Station.” Underground water in China’s quake zone safe; emergency wells to be drilled, http://english.people.com.cn/90001/90776/90882/6954746.html People’s Daily, April 18

The QANAT: April 5 to 11

“Statistics show that the recent drought that hit the whole river basin is attributable to the extreme dry weather, and the water level decline of the Mekong River has nothing to do with the hydropower development,” China dismisses Mekong dam criticism at regional meeting, Bangkok Post, April 5
“…the cooperation has already been good, while we expect further development and cooperation with four member countries and dialogue partners.” 1st Mekong River Commission Summit held in Thailand, China Daily, April 5
“Chinese officials … said last week that China’s dams are not responsible for the Mekong River’s falling water levels downstream, pointing instead to a region-wide drought …[and].. the MRC’s own analysis suggests that drought is the main culprit.”   Hun Sen attends summit, Phnom Penh Post,
April 5
“…The crisis has grounded cargo and tour boats on the so-called “mighty Mekong” and alarmed communities along what is the world’s largest inland fishery.”  Dam debate looms large over Mekong summit, AFP, April 3
“Authorities say the reservoirs impact fish habitats, jeopardising a resource that represents the Kingdom’s main source of protein.” Hun Sen orders destruction of reservoirs near Tonle Sap lake, The Phnom Penh Post, April 7
“Activists have recently claimed water shortages in northern Thailand and Lao PDR, are caused by Chinese dams on the mainstream of the Mekong. The MRC has said in earlier statements that there is no evidence to back up this claim, reiterating that current water shortages are due to the regional drought.” [PRESS RELEASE DOWNLOAD], MRC Summit, April 5

 

“The country may face a shortage of almost 1 billion kilowatt-hours as demand is expected to rise as much as 18 percent for the year, the government said.” Vietnam Face Power Shortage as Drought Hurts Hydroelectricity, Business Week, April 6
“Greenpeace China has built solar-powered water pumping stations for free in areas with power shortage to provide irrigation water for local peasants.” Solar power helps water supply, China Daily, April 7

 

“China condemns great power bullying of smaller countries, but a close look at China’s behavior in the Greater Mekong Sub-region indicates that it is Beijing (that is) acting like a hegemon,” Dams portend grim future for Mekong Delta: experts, Thanh Nien News, April 9
“Although some have been quick to blame this year’s drought on global warming, imperial records indicate that normally lush Shangri-La has, in fact, suffered severe droughts periodically throughout history (76 out of the 691 years from 1300 to 1991, to be precise).  Though rare or perhaps because they are so rare these periods can wreak havoc on the region’s fragile economy.” Here’s What You Need To Know About The Devastating Drought In China’s Shangri-La Region, Business Insider, April 10

 

“Working on a joint project with IBM, Saudi Arabia’s national research group King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology(KACST) has announced that it will open the world’s largest solar-powered desalination plant by 2012 in the city of Al-Khafji. The pilot plant will not just supply 30,000 cubic meters of clean water per day to 100,000 people, but will also reduce operating costs in the long run by harvesting energy from sunshine.” Saudi Arabia’s Big Bet on the Sun, CBS News Tech, April 9
“Despite the fall in rice yields, Tengchong aimed to raise annual production by adopting water-saving measures and growing less water-demanding crops… the so-called “dry soil bed breeding” required two thirds less water compared to “wet soil bed breeding”, where seedlings grow in water-soaked fields, Li Hongshun said..” New planting methods maintain farm output in drought-hit Yunnan, China Daily, April 10

Drought in the Mekong River Basin

The last week has seen an eruption of chatter and concern over the low flows in the Mekong River, and the impacts on downstream Riparian nations, specifically Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

First and foremost, the current drought conditions are not isolated to the Mekong Basin. The Southwestern Chinese provinces of Guizhou and Yunnan have experienced unprecedented drought (as I have been following on this blog). The drought has led to widespread crop-failure, and subsequent famine risk.   I find the amount of blame being placed on China surprising and perhaps inappropriate.  Admittedly, China’s dams are likely holding some of the water back that would normally flow down the Mekong as some of the articles point out below.  The Chinese officials in these (and other) articles continue to reference their use of water in terms of the “average flow” of the Mekong, but given that current conditions are not “average” the abstraction from the river should be compared to actual, current Mekong flow.

It is very promising to hear and read that the MRC is successfully convening a summit of all six riparians, something which has not happened for over a decade.  Certainly, the downstream riparians will need China to be a part of a coordinated Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) plan.  In a water scarce future, with increasing demands for agriculture, fisheries, electricity and transport, the downstream riparians comprising the current MRC members  .  This basin may serve as interesting basin in which downstream riparians will seek other key points of leverage with which to influence China’s hydrologic policy, possibly involving other regional or global actors to help provide pressure for China to cooperate.



A particular glitch in the current web-coverage of the Mekong situation is the number of Chinese dams on the Lancang, or upper Mekong River. Above, you can see a graphic originally provided by International Rivers. I have edited the colors used to indicate the dams (changing the three colors used to denote different categories of construction status from dark blue, black and white, to yellow, red and green). I also edited the inset map to clarify the location of this part of the Mekong.

Hopefully, this map will help to provide some clarity as Chinese hydroelectric projects move forward.

Here is a collection of articles from the region and beyond examining the current situation in the Mekong River basin:
“… the filling of the Xiaowan dam’s reservoir happens to coincide with the onset of the current drought and the subsequent drop in downstream flows.”  For whom the mighty Mekong flows, Bangkok Post, March 31

“…poverty in the GMS (Greater Mekong Subregion) remains high, with average GDP per capita of less than $2 per day.” Mekong countries working hard by slowly to lift regionBangkok Post, March 31

“…the growing crisis has spurred a diplomatic discussion and the first summit meeting of the six riparians in the 15-year history of the Mekong Commission.” The coming crisis over the Mekong — unconstrained development, natural droughts, and climate change, SF Gate, April 3

“Song said the runoff volume of Lancang River accounts for only 13.5 percent of that of the Mekong River.  The runoff of Mekong River mainly comes from the middle-and-lower Mekong basin, amounting to 86.5 percent.” China to boost co-op with downstream Mekong countries, China Daily, April 4

Chinese officials dismissed concerns that their waterwords had affected downstream countries… “At present, we only use a tiny part of the average flow of the Lancang…” China Dam Plans raise Mekong fears, Financial Times, March 31
NOTE:  I would like to point out that the Financial Times article seems somewhat misleading, because it gives the impression that the drought hit areas of SW China, including Yunnan and Guizhou, are hydrologically linked to the Mekong River basin.  Although these regions are experiencing the same climatological drought conditions, they are not hydrologically linked since they are within separate watersheds.

The QANAT: March 29 – April 4

[For extensive coverage of the drought in Guizhou and Yunnan go to the China Daily’s SW Drought HQ]

“In the past several decades, the State has been giving priority to water projects on major rivers and in major grain producing areas, but has neglected building water facilities in mountain and hill areas that do not grow grain.” State should get their feet wet, China Daily, March 29

Villagers work to construct a water tank in the drought-plagued Hechi city of Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region…” Villagers work around the clock for water, China Daily, March 29

“It was the first rain I have seen since last October, but it only lasted for about three hours from 3 am to 6 am this morning…” Rain falls on drought plagued Yunnan, China Daily, March 29

” In the worst-case scenario, there would be no water supply. A dry spell will also emerge in North China, where spring drought occurs in nine out of every 10 years…[senior drought relief official]”Warning of worst case scenario, China Daily, March 29

“About one-tenth of Mongolia’s livestock, an estimated 4.5 million animals, have perished leaving herders desperate for food and other emergency relief.” Red Cross appeals for Mongolia aid, Al Jazeerah, March 29

“Shares in state-owned Chongqing Water jumped 74 percent in Shanghai on Monday, well ahead of market predictions for a gain of around 25 percent …” Chongqing Goes Kaching in its Shanghai Debut, New York Times, March 29

“”Normal” has little meaning in Sakai today. Kenya is struggling to emerge from a drought that put 4 million on food aid last year and saw at least 10 million facing starvation, the highest levels in two decades…” The Struggle of Farming a Land Where ‘Normal’ Has Lost Its Meaning, New York Times, March 29

“… The drought has lingered in southwest China for months, affecting 61.3 million residents and five million hectares of crops …” Aerial view of drought-hit areas in SW China, People’s Daily, March 31

“The central government allocated drought-relief funds totaling more than 4.1 billion yuan ($600 million) to Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi, Chongqing and Sichuan province in southwestern China …” Southwest China in Drought Emergency, People’s Daily SW Drought HQ, March 31

“…the green-plant coverage in Gaosha town area has exceeded 3 million square acres, turning the previous 1.2 million-acre desert area into a green one…” “Green wall” helps curb desertification, People’s Daily, March 31

“Nazarbayev for the first time fully endorsed the position of Uzbek leader Islam Karimov’s administration, which maintains that no hydropower facilities should be built in so-called upstream countries until international feasibility studies are completed.” Nazarbayev makes diplomatic trade-off with Karimov, Eurasianet.org, March 18

The QANAT: March 22-28

The QANAT

World Water Day: Why business needs to worry “…industrial use of water will almost double by 2030. It currently accounts for 16% of total usage – more than half of it for energy production – and this will grow to a projected 22% by 2030 with China alone accounting for 40% of the additional demand.” BBC News, March 22

Delhi water table falling by 2m/yr “Delhi will soon push up the demand for water even further. That may lead to an unprecedented crisis, with no relief of surplus availability,” said NCRPB member secretary Noor Mohammad. ” Times of India, March 22

Polluted Water Killing, Sickening Millions “…3.7 percent of all deaths are attributed to water-related diseases, translating into millions of deaths. More than half of the world’s hospital beds are filled by people suffering from water-related illnesses, it said.” NY Times, March 22, 2010

Besieged Gaza denied water “The head of Gaza’s water authority says he has plans and the means to import water from other countries until self-dependency is reached, but Israel’s blockade is the only thing in the way.” Al Jazeera, March 22

With War And Neglect, Afghans Face Water Shortage “Only 1.5 million hectares of agricultural land were irrigated in 2002 and an additional 300,000 hectares rehabilitated since — less than half the area irrigated in 1979, when the war began — said the East West Institute think tank in a report last year.” March 24, 2010

Hillary douses Pak’s ire on water; says it’s a bilateral issue “We’re well aware that there is a 50-year-old agreement between Pakistan and India concerning water,” Clinton told a Pakistani interviewer” Times of India, March 24

CHINESE DROUGHT
Although global media has been rather light on the drought in China, the China Daily news website has consistently had excellent coverage. Here is a list of headlines & links:

March 24
Drought paralyzes power supply

Flowers fail to bloom as drought worsens

18M emergency loans for drough-hit Yunnan

March 25
Safe water project fails to quench countryside thirst

Drought affects China’s largest waterfall

Villagers pleading for road to water

China drills more wells, seeds clouds amid drought

Drought challenges grain harvest: Premier

March 26
Yunan’s flower industry wilting

Livelihoods suffer without water

Drought causes severe forest losses in China

Drought-stricken southwest China moves to curb food hikes

HK offers aid to drought victims in mainland

Armed forces help with drought relief in SW China

Climate change threatens Qinghai-Tibet plateau

Artificial rain to ease drought in SW China

China drought to test policymakers on inflation management

March 27
Drought may force villagers to leave homes

Living life by the bucketful

China starts building canal to replenish Yangtze River tributary