news News

Water Shortages to affect Two-Thirds of World by 2025, UN Says
by AP / BBC / Bloomberg / Reuters
3:15pm 15th Feb, 2007
12 March 2007
Peru"s alarming water truth, by James Painter. (BBC News)
Oscar-winning Al Gore chose to call his film about global warming An Inconvenient Truth. But for Peru it is more like an alarming reality.
Government officials, water experts and environmentalists agree the rapid melting of the spectacular Andean glaciers featured in the film is threatening the long-term economic and human development of what is South America"s most "water-stressed" country.
"Global warming for us is not just about the environment," warns Julio Garcia of Peru"s National Council on the Environment, Conam. "It"s more about how on earth we can develop Peru in a sustainable way over the coming years."
Peru"s water problem lies in part in the peculiar geography of the country. Most of the Pacific coast would be desert if it were not for the water flowing down from the Andes.
Seventy per cent of the population live along the coast, where less than 2% of the country"s water resources are found. In contrast, the Atlantic side of the Andes has 98% of the water and about a quarter of the population.
"Much of our water supply is on the wrong side of the wall," says Mr Garcia.
Peru has the largest number of tropical glaciers in the world. These water towers are crucial for slowly releasing water, particularly in the dry season. And Peru desperately needs the water all year round.
Apart from the need for drinking water, 80% of the country"s power has traditionally come from hydro-electricity. And, the current boom sectors of the economy - agro-exports and mining - also absorb huge volumes of water.
Estimates by a team of Peruvian and international scientists say that Peru and Bolivia, which together account for more than 90% of the world"s tropical glaciers, have lost about a third of the surface area of their glaciers between the 1970s and 2006.
A lot of attention has been paid to the range known as Cordillera Blanca, home to Peru"s largest mountain, Huascaran, at 6,768 metres (22,200ft).
Water coming down from the range feeds an array of economic activities in the Rio Santa valley below it.
This includes a hydro-electric plant providing 5% of Peru"s electricity, drinking water for two cities, and commercial and small-scale agriculture.
"Water from glaciers is absolutely critical for the valley in the six or seven months of the dry season," says Gabriela Rosas, a researcher at the national weather institute, Senamhi.
Glacial melt is calculated to provide 10 to 20% of the total annual water run-off in the valley, but it can reach 40% in the dry season.
Ms Rosas is part of a team modelling future water availability in Peru. The models, based on moderate rises in temperature, predict annual water availability will increase slightly as more of the glaciers melt, but that there will be a dramatic decline after 2050 and possibly as early as 2030.
Seasonal variations will become more intense, with less water available in the dry season.
Lima, Peru"s capital, is a particular worry. It is built on a desert, supports a population of more than eight million, and receives hardly any rainfall.
The city gets most of its water from the Rio Rimac and two other rivers with sources high up in the Andes. The rivers are partly fed by glacial melt, although less than the Rio Santa valley.
"Lima already has a large deficit between supply and demand and official projections say it"s going to get a lot larger in the future," says Juan Carlos Barandiaran, former head of projects for the municipal water company, Sedapal.
Demand is set to increase as the city absorbs thousands of new arrivals every year. "We must have more reserves," says Mr Barandiaran.
The last major drought in 2004 pushed the city"s water supplies to the limit. "If we had droughts two years running our current reserves would not support it," he says.
President Alan Garcia"s government wants to give water connections to nearly a million more people in Lima, but experts say this will increase demand even more.
The project is known as "Agua para todos" or "Water for all". But, says Sedapal"s former president, Carlos Silvestri: "It will be very little water for all."
For several years, Mr Silvestri and other experts have been urging successive governments to build a range of multi-million-dollar infrastructure works, including a second tunnel through the Andes, in order to build up their reserves. Such works have become even more urgent with the prospect of reduced water in the dry season. They could capture and store more water during the wet season.
"We are only city in South America with so few reserves - less than a year"s supply. We are very vulnerable," says Mr Silvestri.
He also worries about the increased frequency and intensity of droughts due to El Nino, and Lima"s current reliance on just one 60-km (37-mile) tunnel fetching water from the other side of the Andes. And now there"s glacial melt.
"We really are on the edge of an abyss," he warns.
Scientists say it is hard to predict in how many years the effect of glacial melt will really bite. But it is remarkable how many experts in Peru take seriously the prediction that the time will come this century when a barrel of water will cost more than a barrel of oil.
Cairo. Egypt. March 11, 2007
World Bank urges action to manage water scarcity in Middle East and north Africa. (The Associated Press)
The World Bank on Sunday predicted a dramatic decline in water availability in the Middle East and north Africa and urged countries in the region to re-examine how they use the precious resource.
The World Bank estimated that per capita water availability in the region will fall by at least 50 percent by 2050 and warned of serious social and economic consequences if countries do not adapt their current water management practices, according to a new report released in Cairo.
"We need to redouble our efforts to make sure that enough water of good quality is available to all of society now and will be available to our children and grandchildren," said World Bank vice president, Daniela Gressani.
Even today, the region, which is 85 percent desert, is one of the most arid on earth. It contains 5 percent of the world"s population, but only 1 percent of the world"s water. According to the report, inefficient water management currently costs economies in the region approximately 1 to 3 percent of gross domestic product every year.
To produce sustainable water management, the report advocates increasing the accountability of government agencies and water service providers. Better accountability means bringing more of those who have a stake in water management policies into the decision making process.
The report also emphasizes the importance of considering the effects of policies not directly related to water on its availability. Policies that deal with agriculture, trade often have a greater affect water management than policies implemented by water-related ministries, it notes.
World Bank officials believe these steps will help improve the efficiency of existing water management efforts in the region and make them financially sustainable.
Julie Bucknall, a leading natural resources specialist for the World Bank, said Wednesday that governments in the region actually spend a considerable amount of money on the water sector, but not in the most efficient manner. In some countries, this spending amounts to 25 percent of all public investment.
"The analysis in the report indicates that we could do a lot better," she said. Bucknall believes comments from those affected by the investments is critical to improving the efficiency of existing spending.
To follow up on the recommendations in the report, Dr. Mahmoud Abu Zeid, the president of the Arab Water Council and the Egyptian minister of water resources and irrigation, announced plans by the Arab Water Council and the World Bank to create a new regional center of excellence. The center will be funded with a US$300,000 grant from the World Bank.
Beijing. 28 Feb 2007
Six million Chinese face water shortages. (Reuters)
A severe drought in southwestern China is threatening the water supplies of six million people in the crowded metropolis of Chongqing, Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday.
The city faces an acute water shortage in early March due to a continuing drought along the Yangtze River, the agency said citing a local meteorological expert.
"The city will be lacking at least 500 million cubic metres of drinking and irrigation water and about six million people will be thirsty," Xinhua quoted the local meteorologist as saying.
Official figures show that the amount of water stored in Chongqing"s reservoirs is around 1.17 billion cubic meters, less than half the normal storage, it said.
The southern province of Guangdong said it was considering rationing water to industry, farms and residents to ease a drought there.
Last summer"s drought was the worst to hit southwest China in more than a century, when temperatures topped 40 degrees Celsius (104F) and about 18 million people faced water shortages.
Some parts of Chongqing -- home to some 30 million people -- had started limiting water supplies to residents and were drilling new wells to find underground sources, Xinhua reported earlier.
Feb. 2007
Water Shortages to affect Two-Thirds of World by 2025, UN Says, by Alex Morales. (Bloomberg)
Two-thirds of the world"s population may be living in areas where there are water shortages by 2025, the United Nations" Food and Agriculture Organization said.
At present, 1.1 billion people don"t have access to adequate clean water to meet basic daily needs, the FAO said today in an e-mailed statement. By 2025, 1.8 billion will be living in areas with "absolute water scarcity," and two-thirds of the population may face "water stress conditions," it said.
"Water has a major impact on the capacity of people everywhere to improve their lives," Pasquale Steduto, chief of FAO"s Water, Development and Management Unit, said in the statement. "In many regions, farmers trying to produce enough food and income face the added challenges of repeated droughts and competition for water."
Sustainable and efficient use of water has become a key challenge; water use last century grew at more than twice the rate of the population, Steduto said.
With about 70 percent of all fresh water drawn from lakes, waters and aquifers dedicated to agriculture, improving farming techniques is necessary to solve scarcity problems, he said. Methods to be developed include trapping rainwater for use on farms, cutting down on leakage from irrigation systems, increasing productivity and changing crops, the FAO said. The UN estimates the current population, of about 6.5 billion people, will increase to almost 8 billion by 2025. Two thirds of that would be about 5.3 billion people.
New Delhi. January 23, 2007
China and India warned their water is running out, by Randeep Ramesh.
The world is running out of water and needs a radical plan to tackle shortages that threaten humanity"s ability to feed itself, said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the UN"s Millennium Project.
Professor Sachs, told an environment conference in Delhi that the world had "no more rivers to take water from".
India and China were facing severe water shortages and neither could use the same strategies for raising food output which has fed millions in recent times. "In 2050 we will have 9 billion people and average income will be four times what it is today," he said. "India and China have been able to feed their populations because they use water in an unsustainable way. That is no longer possible."
Since Asia"s agricultural revolution, the amount of land under irrigation has tripled. But many parts of the continent have reached the limits of water supplies. "The Ganges [in India] and the Yellow river [in China] no longer flow. There is so much silting up and water extraction upstream they are pretty stagnant."
Professor Sachs said the mechanisms of shrinking water resources are not well understood. "We need to do for water what we did for climate change. How do we recharge aquifers? ... There"s no policy anywhere in place at the moment."
Prof Sachs said that the rise of Asia was altering the world"s resources in an unprecedented way; that for the first time humans, rather than nature, were shaping the environment.
"China is on course to be the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide by 2010 in the world. India is building eight 4,000Mw power plants. Are they ready for carbon capture? I don"t think so."
The UK has been trying to persuade India to embrace green technology. But New Delhi still talks about the need for accelerating growth and views tackling climate change as a brake on the economy.

Next (more recent) news item
Next (older) news item