Wa­ter: worth dy­ing for?

Fu­ture of our planet re­lies on how we man­age our wa­ter re­sources

Middle East Business (English) - - NEWS -

Wa­ter is THE es­sen­tial el­e­ment on earth. We need it for the con­tin­u­a­tion of life. In Septem­ber 2010, the United Na­tions Hu­man Rights Coun­cil adopted a bind­ing res­o­lu­tion af­firm­ing the 'hu­man right to both safe drink­ing wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion'. But as we know, hu­man rights are of­ten ig­nored in many parts of the world blighted by on­go­ing con­flict. In our re­gion, the West Bank and Gaza are par­tic­u­larly af­fected by en­forced re­stric­tions on wa­ter and the il­le­gal ap­pro­pri­a­tion of up­stream wa­ter. As our cli­mate be­gins to feel the in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of tem­per­a­tures across the globe, the long-term ef­fects of droughts that hit ma­jor cities are ex­pected to be more dam­ag­ing and costlier than floods. A re­cently re­leased World Bank re­port, Un­char­tered Wa­ters, pro­vides tan­gi­ble so­lu­tions and op­tions that will hope­fully help world lead­ers make the right de­ci­sions when it comes to pre­serv­ing our wa­ter sup­plies. A new re­port by the World Bank, Un­charted Wa­ters: The New Eco­nomics of Wa­ter Scarcity and Vari­abil­ity1, looks at how the in­creas­ing num­ber of droughts and floods im­pact farms, firms and fam­i­lies in ways that are far costlier and longer last­ing than known be­fore. New re­search shows that while the con­se­quences of drought are of­ten in­vis­i­ble, they are sig­nif­i­cant and cause “mis­ery in slow mo­tion”. With grow­ing pop­u­la­tions and greater af­flu­ence, the de­mand for wa­ter is grow­ing while the global sup­ply of wa­ter is con­stant, caus­ing in­creased wa­ter deficits es­pe­cially in ar­eas of par­tic­u­larly high pop­u­la­tion growth which are also of­ten poor, frag­ile or in con­flict, ex­ac­er­bat­ing ex­ist­ing prob­lems for vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions. To com­pound the prob­lem, with cli­mate change rain­fall will be­come more er­ratic, caus­ing more fre­quent and in­tense droughts and floods with even more dam­ag­ing im­pacts, as seen in 2017 across the United States, the Caribbean, in sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa and else­where.

This re­port shows how to­day’s ways of man­ag­ing wa­ter are out­dated and pro­poses so­lu­tions to help the world avoid a thirsty and un­cer­tain fu­ture. Since 2001, rain­fall shocks have caused a loss of pro­duce suf­fi­cient to feed about 81 mil­lion peo­ple every day, for the en­tire year. That’s equiv­a­lent to the pop­u­la­tion of Iran or Turkey. Be­cause droughts de­stroy crops, new data shows that farm­ers are forced to ex­pand their farm­land into nearby forests to grow more food. But cut­ting down trees de­stroys wa­ter­sheds, which causes rivers in the for­est to dry up, de­creas­ing the wa­ter sup­ply that the farm­ers de­pend on. De­for­esta­tion also de­stroys car­bon sinks, which wors­ens cli­mate change and sets in mo­tion a neg­a­tive spi­ral, caus­ing more droughts. Un­charted Wa­ters also shows that droughts in cities are costlier than floods. For firms in cities, the eco­nomic cost of droughts is four times greater than that of floods, with even more se­vere and longer­last­ing ef­fects. While the dam­age of floods is im­me­di­ate, se­vere and grab the head­lines, the ef­fects of droughts are silent, slow and hard to de­tect. Droughts mean wa­ter short­ages, power out­ages and stalled eco­nomic mo­men­tum. And with less wa­ter there is an in­crease in dis­eases such as di­ar­rhea. The im­pacts are par­tic­u­larly acute for firms in the in­for­mal sec­tor – their sales fall by around 35% and work­ers em­ployed by these firms see their in­comes fall. The re­port au­thor, Global Lead Econ­o­mist in the World Bank's Wa­ter Prac­tice, Richard Da­ma­nia ex­plains us­ing a metaphor: “A drought is like an un­di­ag­nosed and un­treated dis­ease be­cause it is less vis­i­ble. A flood is like a dis­ease that is vis­i­ble and so it gets treated. As a re­sult, the aid comes in, the re­con­struc­tion starts, and there­fore the city re­cov­ers rea­son­ably rapidly. We are not say­ing that floods don’t do dam­age; we are say­ing that be­cause it is much more vis­i­ble and we know what to do, we do the right thing so the fi­nal im­pact is of­ten not as great as with a drought.” The re­port also finds that for far too many fam­i­lies, rain­fall is destiny. A dry shock in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life shapes their fu­ture. Low rain­fall leads crop fail­ures and nu­tri­tional deficits among chil­dren. A child who suf­fers from mal­nu­tri­tion in in­fancy will typ­i­cally not de­velop to her full cog­ni­tive po­ten­tial and may end up also be­ing phys­i­cally stunted. As a re­sult, the child spends fewer years in school, mar­ries ear­lier and bears more chil­dren. And it means less earn­ing po­ten­tial be­cause of her re­duced hu­man cap­i­tal. These im­pacts rip­ple through gen­er­a­tions – the chil­dren of women who ex­pe­ri­enced drought in in­fancy are also less nour­ished and less healthy, per­pet­u­at­ing a vi­cious cy­cle of poverty.

Da­ma­nia ex­plains why tack­ling these chal­lenges is so cru­cial.

“Given the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem, coun­tries might grow, but they will not de­velop, ex­ac­er­bat­ing poverty and mis­ery. If gov­ern­ment poli­cies don’t change and ac­tion is not taken, we will not reach our de­vel­op­ment goals. We will see wasted lives that don’t achieve their full po­ten­tial, with far reach­ing hu­man and eco­nomic im­pli­ca­tions.” The re­port of­fers tan­gi­ble so­lu­tions to face this enor­mous chal­lenge:

• For farms, the right eco­nomic sig­nals are needed to con­trol de­mand for wa­ter by in­cen­tivis­ing and en­cour­ag­ing farm­ers to cul­ti­vate less thirsty crops in wa­ter-scarce re­gions. For ex­am­ple, in­stead of sub­si­dis­ing key in­puts such as wa­ter, which en­cour­ages farm­ers to grow pro­duce like rice and cot­ton in wa­ter-scarce ar­eas, farm­ers can grow drought-re­sis­tant crops, which means that when a drought in­evitably hits, the farm­ers are more re­silient. • Safety nets such as con­di­tional cash trans­fers and in­surance trig­gered by droughts can help pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble fam­i­lies so rain­fall shocks do not plunge house­holds into star­va­tion.

• Im­proved ur­ban wa­ter sup­ply in­fra­struc­ture and bet­ter reg­u­lated wa­ter util­i­ties can in­crease re­silience and lead to bet­ter ac­cess to re­li­able and safe wa­ter for both for­mal and in­for­mal firms in cities. This means plug­ging leaks and pric­ing wa­ter right, so it is not wasted, and pos­si­bly sub­si­dis­ing wa­ter for the poor­est con­sumers. Such so­lu­tions need to be in­ter­con­nected and mu­tu­ally re­in­forc­ing, says Da­ma­nia: “These poli­cies are es­sen­tially links in a chain. Each one must sup­port and strengthen the oth­ers to be truly ef­fec­tive. Af­ter all, a chain is only as strong as its weak­est link.” By learn­ing from the lessons of the past and im­ple­ment­ing these so­lu­tions to­day, pol­icy-mak­ers can help shape a fu­ture which avoids a parched path and in­stead charts a new course when it comes to wa­ter.

Re­gional wa­ter ten­sions

Wa­ter se­cu­rity is not a fu­ture is­sue, but is a prob­lem now. We have al­ready wit­nessed many lo­calised dis­putes over the con­trol of re­sources - not just oil, but now wa­ter. The Pa­cific In­sti­tute, which stud­ies is­sues of wa­ter and global se­cu­rity, 2found a four­fold in­crease in vi­o­lent con­fronta­tions over wa­ter over the last decade. "I think the risk of con­flicts over wa­ter is grow­ing – not shrink­ing – be­cause of in­creased com­pe­ti­tion, be­cause of bad man­age­ment and, ul­ti­mately, be­cause of the im­pacts of cli­mate change," said Peter Gle­ick, pres­i­dent of the Pa­cific In­sti­tute. Gle­ick pre­dicted such con­flicts would take other tra­jec­to­ries, with wa­ter ten­sions erupt­ing at a more lo­cal scale. "I think the big­gest worry to­day is sub-na­tional con­flicts – con­flicts be­tween farm­ers and cities, be­tween eth­nic groups, be­tween pas­toral­ists and farm­ers in Africa, be­tween up­stream users and down­stream users on the same river," said Gle­ick. "We have more tools at the in­ter­na­tional level to re­solve dis­putes be­tween na­tions. We have diplo­mats. We have treaties. We have in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions that re­duce the risk that In­dia and Pak­istan will go to war over wa­ter but we have far fewer tools at the sub-na­tional level."


In Asia, the iconic Mekong River stretches 2,700 miles from China’s Ti­betan Plateau to Viet­nam’s Mekong Delta. Along the way it snakes through Myan­mar, Thai­land, Laos, and Cam­bo­dia, and for many of these coun­tries the river is an eco­nomic life­line, ir­ri­gat­ing crops, re­plen­ish­ing fish stocks, and pro­vid­ing an abun­dance of fresh drink­ing wa­ter, lo­cal trade chan­nels, and hy­dro­elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion. A dry­ing Mekong in­creases the risk of var­i­ous neg­a­tive eco­nomic and hu­man­i­tar­ian ef­fects: re­duced agri­cul­tural out­put, drink­ing wa­ter short­ages, and elec­tric­ity short­falls to name a few. It also rep­re­sents a wa­ter con­flict with wider geopo­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions since China can in­flu­ence the hy­dro­log­i­cal fate of down­stream states by ad­just­ing the fill lev­els of dams in its own ter­ri­tory. 3

Eastern Africa

Egypt has de­manded Ethiopia stop con­struc­tion of a mega-dam on the Nile, vow­ing to pro­tect its his­tor­i­cal rights to the river at "any cost". The Nile River Delta is a low-ly­ing re­gion fan­ning out from Cairo roughly a hun­dred miles from the sea. About 45 or 50 mil­lion peo­ple live in the delta, which rep­re­sents just 2.5% of Egypt’s land area. The rest live in the Nile River val­ley it­self, a rib­bon of green wind­ing through hun­dreds of miles of desert sand, rep­re­sent­ing an­other 1% of the na­tion’s to­tal land area. Though the delta and the river to­gether were long the source of Egypt’s wealth and great­ness, they now face re­lent­less as­sault from both land and sea.

The dam, which is sched­uled to be com­pleted soon on the head­wa­ters of the Blue Nile, sup­plies 59% of Egypt’s wa­ter. Ethiopia’s na­tional gov­ern­ment has largely self-fi­nanced the $5 bil­lion Grand Ethiopian Re­nais­sance Dam (GERD), with the prom­ise that it will gen­er­ate 6,000 megawatts of power. That’s a big deal for Ethiopi­ans, three-quar­ters of whom now lack ac­cess to elec­tric­ity. The sale of ex­cess elec­tric­ity to other coun­tries in the re­gion could also bring in $1 bil­lion a year in badly needed for­eign ex­change rev­enue. “Dur­ing this pe­riod of fill,” a new study in the Ge­o­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of Amer­ica’s jour­nal GSA To­day4 re­ports, “the Nile’s fresh wa­ter flow to Egypt may be cut by 25%, with a loss of a third of the elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated by the Aswan High Dam.” That is of course Egypt’s own mas­sive dam on the Nile, com­pleted in 1965, roughly 1,500 miles down­stream. The GSA study, led by Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion ge­ol­o­gist Jean-Daniel Stan­ley, says Egypt faces “se­ri­ous coun­try-wide fresh­wa­ter and en­ergy short­age by 2025.” Agri­cul­ture in the delta, which pro­duces up to 60% of Egypt’s food, could also suf­fer from short­ages of ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter.

Western Africa

The Lake Chad Basin is cen­tred around the rapidly shrink­ing Lake Chad, and the area is home to some 30 mil­lion peo­ple across four coun­tries. Food in­se­cu­rity is al­ready com­mon­place, and it’s pre­dicted to worsen as wa­ter lev­els con­tinue to drop due to cli­mate change. This in­sta­bil­ity has been a ma­jor fac­tor in the rise of Boko Haram, the ter­ror­ist group in­volved with a vi­o­lent in­sur­gency since 2009. Flee­ing vi­o­lence and hunger, large num­bers of civil­ians caught up in the cri­sis have been dis­placed, fur­ther adding to the re­gion’s in­sta­bil­ity. With­out sig­nif­i­cant as­sis­tance from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, the cri­sis will cer­tainly worsen. 5


http://www.world­bank.org/en/events/201717/10// un­charted-wa­ter Down­load the Re­port Un­charted Wa­ters: The New Eco­nomics of Wa­ter Scarcity and Vari­abil­ity 1. http://www.world­bank.org/en/events/201717/10// un­charted-wa­ters 2. http://pacinst.org/is­sues/wa­ter-and-con­flict/ 3. https://www.geopo­lit­i­cal­moni­tor.com/ wa­ter-con­flict-the-mekong-river-and-chi­nas-wa­ter-diplomacy/ 4. http://www.geoso­ci­ety.org/gsato­day/ar­chive/275//ab­stract/ GSATG312A.1.htm 5. https://www.geopo­lit­i­cal­moni­tor.com/ cli­mate-change-hunger-and-ter­ror­ism-in-the-lake-chad-basin/

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