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Tuesday, August 5

Drought Global: "We are standing on a precipice here" Water Crisis Gordian Knot, Part 15


An Egyptian farmer sitting on cracked soil to show the dryness of the land due to drought in a farm formerly irrigated by the River Nile. Photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Corbis

Snapshots From A Fast-Moving Train

12 Provinces Suffer from Severe Drought
New Tang Dynasty Television
While the south is experiencing severe floods, severest drought in decades is hitting 12 provinces in China such as Henan, Hebei and others.
Drought threatens vast swath of China with shortages, crop failure WantChinaTimes
Henan province faces worst drought in 63 years China Economic Net
Henan Suffers From Its Most Severe Drought In 63 Years Getty 

The above is from yesterday. Last week I took five minutes to grab headlines from Google on drought. If I'd taken 15 minutes I could have found many other countries experiencing drought or that were severely water-stressed in key regions; here are the headlines: 
   
Brazil prosecutors want water rationing plan
Yahoo News 

40,000 Families affected by drought in Guatemala
Fox News Latino
Some 40,000 families have been affected by the drought caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon in Guatemala ...

Continued lack of rainfall extends drought in Puerto Rico
Fox News Latino 
Drought conditions continue worse than usual in Puerto Rico due to the drastic lack of rainfall over most of the island, except for the eastern and ...

Serious drought hits Inner Mongolia and Henan
WantChinaTimes
Lingering drought in northern China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region and central China's Henan province has dried up rivers and ...
Henan ramps up emergency measures for worst drought in 63 years 
Drought hits China food production - Xinhua 
Thomson Reuters Foundation

Jamaica drought leads to $8 million in crop losses
Yahoo News
KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — A Jamaican official said Tuesday that a severe drought and brush fires on the Caribbean island have led to ...

Drought and misuse behind Lebanon's water scarcity
Middle East Eye
Over the years, drought or seasons of scarcity have become more frequent”. In his opinion, the current drought must be taken as a warning ... 

Iran's water crisis the product of decades of bad planning ...
The Washington Post 
Jul 2, 2014 ... TEHRAN — Iran is headed for a water shortage of epic proportions .

Drought in northern Kenya ...
The Guardian
Aside from drought, numerous factors are affecting access to food in Kenya's arid north, where the majority of people are pastoralists. Rapidly ...

Where Is Water For Sacramento County Housing Project Coming From?
CBS Local 
SACRAMENTO COUNTY (CSB13) — Why are new homes going up during a drought? Tony Lopez is getting answers. 

Major California reservoirs below 50% capacity as drought wears on
Los Angeles Times 
Dusk falls as a lone boater heads out on Lake Shasta, near the Lake Shasta Dam amid serious drought conditions. ...

Unprecedented California Drought Restrictions Go Into Effect
TIME
California implemented emergency water-conservation measures today as it struggles to cope with an ongoing drought ...

California curbs injection of toxic fracking waste into aquifers ...
RT - Jul 22, 2014
California is shutting down 11 oil and gas wastewater injection sites and reviewing over 100 others in the state's drought-ravaged Central Valley.

13 Oregon Counties, One Third Of Nation Experiencing Notable Drought
OPB News (blog)
Thirteen of Oregon's 36 counties are feeling the effects of extreme to severe drought as we enter August, arguably the hottest month of the year.

Don't Bank on Groundwater to Fight Off Western [U.S.] Drought—It's Drying Up
Smithsonian
A growing reliance on irrigation, a growing population and the ongoing drought have led to an overreliance on groundwater supplies ...

Drought Hastens Groundwater Depletion in the Texas Panhandle
National Geographic - 5 days ago
Persistent drought in northwest Texas is leading farmers to pump more water from the Ogallala Aquifer, hastening the depletion of this crucial ...

The Drought
Santa Fe Reporter 
There is a drought in Santa Fe. It is real and it is serious. It is so bad that city residents and businesses could face mandatory water rationing as ...

Klamath Basin cattle industry hit by drought
KOBI-TV NBC 5 / KOTI-TV NBC 2 - 12 hours ago
Beatty, Ore. - The Klamath Basin's cattle industry is drying up as the result of continued drought conditions. 

How Long Have We Got?


Developing world fast running out of water
(Asia Times) 

By Samanta Sen

LONDON - The developing world is running out of water at an alarming rate, a new study ["Running on Empty"] by the London-based agency Tearfund" shows.


Two out of three people around the world will live with a drinking water shortage by the year 2025 unless drastic changes are made quickly, the report says. And these two in three will be living in developing countries.

[...]
The crisis is upon us right now, the report says. Two thirds of China's cities are facing severe water shortages. In India, the capital New Delhi will run out of ground water by 2015 at present rates of loss.

Lake Chad in Africa has shrunk from 6,900 square miles to 1,500 square miles in the last 20 years. The number of people facing serious food shortages in eastern Africa has risen to nearly 20 million because of widespread drought.

[...]

By 2025, 25 countries in Africa will be subject to water stress measured at an availability of 1,700 cubic meters per person per year. Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, India and Pakistan will have levels well below 1,000 cubic meters per person per year. These levels have been described by the United Nations as "catastrophic", the report points out.
[...]

China is facing "devastating water shortages which can no longer be blamed on unusual weather patterns". The Yellow River, one of the biggest northern rivers, now regularly runs dry; in 1997 it ran dry for 226 days of the year. "This is the result of the large number of unmanaged demands made on it by households, industry and agriculture," the report says.

"The drought in the North has forced the government to take drastic action by diverting the Yangtze from the South, but this action could cause the river to run dry by 2020."
The crisis is hitting Chinese cities in unexpected ways. "Shanghai is sinking because of the amount of ground water being extracted from beneath it," the report says.[emphasis mine] 

"Altogether, two thirds of China's cities are facing severe water shortages."
[...]
Water tables are falling by as much as a meter a year in parts of Mexico, India, Yemen and China.

The heaviest human claim on water is agriculture. It uses 70 percent of fresh water across the world. In Asia and Africa the proportion rises to 90 percent, the report says. This raises difficult questions about the distribution of water.
[...]
[END REPORT]

If you don't recall seeing Sen's report at AToL -- it, and the Tearfund study, were published in March 2001. A few months later worries about global drought were relegated to the world's back burner -- except, of course, in regions that were experiencing severe drought. Then, just as the furor from the war on terrorism was cooling down, the 2008 financial crash happened. Once again the issue of global drought got lost in shuffle.

Fast forward to 2014.

Now The U.S. Military Really Has Something To Worry About   

Why global water shortages pose threat of terror and war
By Suzanne Goldenberg 
February 8, 2014
The Guardian Observer


From California to the Middle East, huge areas of the world are drying up and a billion people have no access to safe drinking water. US intelligence is warning of the dangers of shrinking resources and experts say the world is 'standing on a precipice'

On 17 January, scientists downloaded fresh data from a pair of Nasa satellites and distributed the findings among the small group of researchers who track the world's water reserves. At the University of California, Irvine, hydrologist James Famiglietti looked over the data from the gravity-sensing Grace satellites with a rising sense of dread.

The data, released last week, showed California on the verge of an epic drought, with its backup systems of groundwater reserves so run down that the losses could be picked up by satellites orbiting 400km above the Earth's surface.

"It was definitely an 'oh my gosh moment'," Famiglietti said. "The groundwater is our strategic reserve. It's our backup, and so where do you go when the backup is gone?"

That same day, the state governor, Jerry Brown, declared a drought emergency and appealed to Californians to cut their water use by 20%. "Every day this drought goes on we are going to have to tighten the screws on what people are doing," he said.

Seventeen rural communities are in danger of running out of water within 60 days and that number is expected to rise, after the main municipal water distribution system announced it did not have enough supplies and would have to turn off the taps to local agencies.

There are other shock moments ahead – and not just for California – in a world where water is increasingly in short supply because of growing demands from agriculture, an expanding population, energy production and climate change.

Already a billion people, or one in seven people on the planet, lack access to safe drinking water. Britain, of course, is currently at the other extreme. Great swaths of the country are drowning in misery, after a series of Atlantic storms off the south-western coast. But that too is part of the picture that has been coming into sharper focus over 12 years of the Grace satellite record. Countries at northern latitudes and in the tropics are getting wetter. But those countries at mid-latitude are running increasingly low on water.

"What we see is very much a picture of the wet areas of the Earth getting wetter," Famiglietti said. "Those would be the high latitudes like the Arctic and the lower latitudes like the tropics. The middle latitudes in between, those are already the arid and semi-arid parts of the world and they are getting drier."

On the satellite images the biggest losses were denoted by red hotspots, he said. And those red spots largely matched the locations of groundwater reserves.

"Almost all of those red hotspots correspond to major aquifers of the world. What Grace shows us is that groundwater depletion is happening at a very rapid rate in almost all of the major aquifers in the arid and semi-arid parts of the world."

The Middle East, north Africa and south Asia are all projected to experience water shortages over the coming years because of decades of bad management and overuse.

Watering crops, slaking thirst in expanding cities, cooling power plants, fracking oil and gas wells – all take water from the same diminishing supply. Add to that climate change – which is projected to intensify dry spells in the coming years – and the world is going to be forced to think a lot more about water than it ever did before.

The losses of water reserves are staggering. In seven years, beginning in 2003, parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers lost 144 cubic kilometres of stored freshwater – or about the same amount of water in the Dead Sea, according to data compiled by the Grace mission and released last year.

A small portion of the water loss was due to soil drying up because of a 2007 drought and to a poor snowpack. Another share was lost to evaporation from lakes and reservoirs. But the majority of thewater lost, 90km3, or about 60%, was due to reductions in groundwater.

Farmers, facing drought, resorted to pumping out groundwater – at times on a massive scale. The Iraqi government drilled about 1,000 wells to weather the 2007 drought, all drawing from the same stressed supply.

In south Asia, the losses of groundwater over the last decade were even higher. About 600 million people live on the 2,000km swath that extends from eastern Pakistan, across the hot dry plains of northern India and into Bangladesh, and the land is the most intensely irrigated in the world. Up to 75% of farmers rely on pumped groundwater to water their crops, and water use is intensifying.

Over the last decade, groundwater was pumped out 70% faster than in the 1990s. Satellite measurements showed a staggering loss of 54km3 of groundwater a year. Indian farmers were pumping their way into a water crisis.

The US security establishment is already warning of potential conflicts – including terror attacks – over water. In a 2012 report, the US director of national intelligence warned that overuse of water – as in India and other countries – was a source of conflict that could potentially compromise US national security.

The report focused on water basins critical to the US security regime – the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Mekong, Jordan, Indus, Brahmaputra and Amu Darya. It concluded: "During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems – shortages, poor water quality, or floods – that will risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States."

Water, on its own, was unlikely to bring down governments. But the report warned that shortages could threaten food production and energy supply and put additional stress on governments struggling with poverty and social tensions.

Some of those tensions are already apparent on the ground. The Pacific Institute, which studies issues of water and global security, found 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.

There are dozens of potential flashpoints, spanning the globe. In the Middle East, Iranian officials are making contingency plans for water rationing in the greater Tehran area, home to 22 million people.

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 Egyptian authorities have called for a study into whether the project would reduce the river's flow.

Jordan, which has the third lowest reserves in the region, is struggling with an influx of Syrian refugees. The country is undergoing power cuts because of water shortages. Last week, Prince Hassan, the uncle of King Abdullah, warned that a war over water and energy could be even bloodier than the Arab spring.

The United Arab Emirates, faced with a growing population, has invested in desalination projects and is harvesting rainwater. At an international water conference in Abu Dhabi last year, Crown Prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan said: "For us, water is [now] more important than oil."

The chances of countries going to war over water were slim – at least over the next decade, the national intelligence report said. But it warned ominously: "As water shortages become more acute beyond the next 10 years, water in shared basins will increasingly be used as leverage; the use of water as a weapon or to further terrorist objectives will become more likely beyond 10 years."

Gleick predicted such conflicts would take other trajectories. He expected water tensions would erupt on 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."

And new fault lines are emerging with energy production. America's oil and gas rush is putting growing demands on a water supply already under pressure from drought and growing populations.

More than half the nearly 40,000 wells drilled since 2011 were in drought-stricken areas, a report from the Ceres green investment network found last week. About 36% of those wells were in areas already experiencing groundwater depletion.

How governments manage those water problems – and protect their groundwater reserves – will be critical. When California emerged from its last prolonged dry spell, in 2010, the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins were badly depleted. The two river basins lost 10km3 of freshwater each year in 2012 and 2013, dropping the total volume of snow, surface water, soil moisture and groundwater to the lowest levels in nearly a decade.

Without rain, those reservoirs are projected to drop even further during this drought. State officials are already preparing to drill additional wells to draw on groundwater. Famiglietti said that would be a mistake.

"We are standing on a cliff looking over the edge and we have to decide what we are going to do," he said.

"Are we just going to plunge into this next epic drought and tremendous, never-before-seen rates of groundwater depletion, or are we going to buckle down and start thinking of managing critical reserve for the long term? We are standing on a precipice here."


REGIONS AT RISK

1 CALIFORNIA 

The state's water resources are at critically low levels and a drought emergency has been declared. The health department says 17 rural areas are dangerously parched.

2 BRAZIL

São Paulo, the country's largest city, is on the verge of water rationing because of a severe drought and shortages are possible when the country hosts the football World Cup in the summer. January was the hottest month on record in the city and water in its main reservoir has fallen to 20.9% of its capacity, the lowest level in a decade.

3 MIDDLE EAST

Tehran, the capital of Iran, is facing a shortage so serious that officials are making contingency plans for rationing in an area where 22 million live as well as in other big cities. President Hassan Rouhani has identified water as a national security issue. Shortages are so severe in the United Arab Emirates that the country is using non-conventional resources, including desalination, treated wastewater, rainwater harvesting and cloud seeding. At a a water conference,Crown Prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan said: "For us, water is [now] more important than oil." With the third lowest water reserves in the region, Jordan is struggling to cope with an influx of Syrian refugees. The country is undergoing power cuts because of water shortages. Prince Hassan, uncle of King Abdullah, warned last week that a war over water and energy could be bloodier than the Arab spring.

4 NORTH AFRICA


Egypt has demanded that Ethiopia stop construction of a mega-dam on the Nile, vowing to protect its historical rights to the river at "any cost". The Egyptian authorities have called for a study into whether the project would reduce the river's flow.

5 SOUTH ASIA 

About 600 million people live on the 2,000km swath that extends from eastern Pakistan, across the hot dry plains of northern India and into Bangladesh and the land is the world's most intensely irrigated. Up to 75% of farmers rely on pumped groundwater.

6 CHINA

There is increasing competition for water. More than half the proposed coal-fired power stations are expected to be built in areas of high water stress, thus threatening water insecurity for farms, other industry and the public.

[END REPORT]

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