Is Water the Future of War?

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor-At-Large

There is no consensus among water analysts on whether there will be global wars over water ownership, but all factors point to a likely explosion of both intra and inter-state conflict of the precious liquid.

A US.intelligence assessment released Thursday painted a grim picture of the future of water in the world.

“Fresh-water shortages and more droughts and floods will increase the likelihood that water will be used as a weapon between states or to further terrorist aims in key strategic areas, including the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa,” reported the Washington Post.

According to UNESCO, globally there are 262 international river basins: 59 in Africa, 52 in Asia, 73 in Europe, 61 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 17 in North America, and overall, 145 countries have territories that include at least one shared river basin.

UNESCO states that between 1948 and 1999, there have been 1,831 “international interactions” recorded, including 507 conflicts, 96 neutral or non-significant events, and most importantly, 1,228 instances of cooperation around water-related issues.

As a result, some experts argue that the idea of water wars is rather far fetched given the precedent of water cooperation that has been exhibited by many of the countries around the world.

“Despite the potential problem, history has demonstrated that cooperation, rather than conflict, is likely in shared basins,” says UNESCO.

However, the fact remains that throughout the world, water supplies are running dry, and the situation is being compounded by inappropriate management of water resources which will unravel previous international cooperation around water.

“Water has four primary characteristics of political importance: extreme importance, scarcity, maldistribution, and being shared. These make internecine conflict over water more likely than similar conflicts over other resources,” says Frederick Frey, of the University of Pennsylvania.

“Moreover, tendencies towards water conflicts are exacerbated by rampant population growth and water-wasteful economic development. A national and international ‘power shortage,’ in the sense of an inability to control these two trends, makes the problem even more alarming,” he adds.

Already, a third of the global population is said to be short of water, sparking fears of social fallout and violence, especially among the world’s poorest and most malnourished people.

Water is perhaps one of the most important yet overlooked elements to earthly life. That’s why the depletion of this precious resource portents serious clashes between communities and nations.

Water, that special liquid which is essential for the survival of all living things, could become a bombshell that will rip apart communities and nations if not managed properly in today’s world.

As global water sources become depleted due to a combination of factors including overpopulation and overuse, it is inevitable that there will be an increase in competition for the special liquid.

Both climatic and human-induced changes are having a negative impact on the world’s water resources. The increasing variability caused by climate change will have numerous consequences on human life.

According to the World Water Council, population growth – coupled with industrialization and urbanization – will result in an increasing demand for water and will have serious consequences on the environment.

Potential social and political division and unrest over access to water will hit hard marginalized populations in developing countries.

As water resources run dry, there will be a reluctance to share the resource in a peaceful and equitable manner. According to US military analysts, “global-warming water problems will make poor, unstable parts of the world – the Middle East, Africa and South Asia – even more prone to wars, terrorism and the need for international intervention.”

It is predicted that sea-level rise floods will potentially destabilize South Asia countries such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam. The Middle East and North Africa is also faced with acute water shortages, a situation that will pit the countries in the region against each other.

“The only matter that could take Egypt to war against is water,” the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat tellingly said in 1979.

Water security is increasingly becoming a military priority for many of the countries in the Middle East, and the threat of wars between countries is real.

In Africa, the scarcity of water will result in food insecurity for already marginalized communities, especially in the rural areas where the majority of the people live. And this will form the basis for internal extremism as people will be forced to migrate and compete for resources.

In all corners of the globe, the animal kingdom will suffer immensely as human beings fight each other over access to water.

“Water is connected to everything we care about – energy, human health, food production and politics,” said Peter Glieck, president of the Pacific Institute, a global think tank, “And that fact alone means we better pay more attention to the security connections. Climate will effect all of those things. Water resources are especially vulnerable to climate change.”

Connected Agriculture: An Opportunity for Smallholder Farmers

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Smallholder farmers’ lives and livelihoods can potentially be transformed by mobile telephony and wireless technology services such as weather forecasts, agricultural extension services, commodity market information and mobile banking.

Through mobile telephony, new business models can be developed that offer greater opportunities and reduce risks for smallholders and  help to meet the challenge of feeding an estimated 9.2 billion people by 2050.

According a new analysis conducted by Accenture for Vodafone, many farming communities in emerging markets are economically excluded with little or no access to capital or banking services. The report titled, Connected Agriculture, states that smallholder farmers lack the means to trade (beyond basic barter arrangements), borrow to acquire new assets or invest to provide their businesses with sufficient resilience to withstand macro-economic changes.

Against this background, the ubuquitous mobile telephone has potential to help the poorest farmers towards greater food and income security. The greatest potential benefits can be generated by enabling mobile financial payments and mobile information provision, each delivering almost 40% of the total estimated increase in agricultural income, according to the report.

“Mobile networks are now more widely established in emerging markets than traditional fixed networks and have the potential to transform market-led agricultural practices,” said Peter Lacy, Managing Director, Accenture Sustainability Services, Europe, Africa and Latin America.

Given that global population is expected to reach more than 9 billion by 2050, requiring a 70% increase in food production above 2006 levels, there will be need for increased yields, particulalrly in emerging economies. In remote and rural regions, mobile telephony is expected to play a greater role in improving the productivity and sustainability of agricultaral systems.

According to the report, mobile telecommunications can connect farmers to markets, finance and education, making it possible to monitor resources and track products. This will unlock productivity potential while helping to manage the impacts of increased production, such as increased water use and greenhouse gas emissions.

“One third of humanity is fed through an estimated 500 million smallholder farms with less than two hectares of land. In Asia and sub-Saharan Africa the dependence is even higher, where small farms produce about 80% of the food consumed. These holdings are typically managed by families with limited technical and mechanical support and with poor access to finance. It is often difficult for them to make ends meet, let alone grow their business,” says Vittorio Colao, Vodafone Group Chief Executive Officer, in the foreword to the report.

“Looking ahead, the impact of climate change, water scarcity and increasing land scarcity will make this even more difficult. With the world’s population expected to grow by 750 million in 2020, and demand for food to increase by 70% by 2050, it is clear that something has to be done to improve the efficiency of food production and distribution.”

As access to mobile networks becomes increasingly available even in remote rural areas, the mobile phone can be used as a simple, inexpensive and convenient to not only stay in touch with friends and relatives but to also provide access to finance, improved healthcare solutions, supply chain efficiencies and increasingly automated mobility. In other words, mobile communications technology can be used as an enabler of sustainable growth particulalrly among marginalized and underprivileged populations.

“Mobile financial services can fill the banking gap felt by the poorest farmers. With access to savings or insurance services, farmers can reduce the impact of extreme weather events and invest in improving production. Meanwhile, mobile information platforms open up significant additional routes to potential markets, relaying information on prices for inputs and produce sales, as well as information on how to grow and respond to a context of climate change through the dissemination of reliable seasonal weather forecasts,” says Dame Barbara Stocking, Chief Executive Officer of Oxfam in the report. 

Africa’s Quest for a Green Revolt

EARLY in the morning, Mary Kanyaire, 33, collects water and firewood, and then prepares a meal for her two school-going children before she heads out to the fields, approximately 3 kilometers away from her homestead.

Alone, under the hot sun, she weeds groundnuts in a sandy field with a hoe. Although she knows she will not get a good yield, she strives on, buckets of sweat pouring down her face. Continue reading

In Zimbabwe, Subsistence Farmers Face Water Woes

At a public borehole in Zviyambe, a village in the backyard of Zimbabwe, approximately 250 kilometres away from Harare, the capital city, butterflies, goats, cattle and human beings mix and mingle in edenic fashion all in search of the precious liquid: water. Under a blazing sun, Sekai Mabika (not her real name) and her sister take turns to fill up buckets with water all the while shooing the goats away while the butterflies flutter hither and thither sipping at the water spilled to the ground and the cattle standby for their turn to drink water.

According to Sekai, she makes three trips everyday to fetch water at the public borehole, approximately four kilometers away from her homestead.

“It’s a painful trip, but it has to be done otherwise we will have no drinking water at home. All our homestead wells are dry,” she says, wiping sweat from her brow. “And, tomorrow, I have to do this again.”

The mid-afternoon sun, hot like a possessed devil, casts a shadow across her face as she balances the bucketful of water on her head and walks towards her homestead, her sister trailing her. Throughout the day the sun blasts across the landscape in this area literally skyrocketing daytime temperatures, and in the process, wilting young crops and drying up water sources, making subsistence farming very difficult. Continue reading

Water & Sanitation As A Human Right

waterMANY governments around the world pay only lip service to the problem of water and sanitation thereby denying an essential human right to their populations.  Though governments attest to the importance of water and sanitation as evidenced by MDG on water and sanitation, they make very little investment in the sector. The matter is rarely given prominence on national political agendas.

Water as a human right refers to the human right to safe water and adequate sanitation without which the enjoyment of other essential human rights can be jeopardized.  The availability of safe drinking water and hygienic sanitation facilities can indeed play a key role in the fight against poverty, hunger, child deaths and gender inequality.

According to the UN, over 1,100 million people do not have access to safe drinking water and over 2,600 million have no access to adequate sanitation. To complicate matters, water sources throughout the world are drying up, chiefly due to climate change and the mismanagement of water resources.

Dirty water and lack of sanitation affects mainly the poor, disadvantaged and voiceless in society, that is, women, girls and children.

Approximately, 1,8 million children die every year to diarrhea because of lack of access to clean water, more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. More than 50 percent of the cases occur in Africa and Asia despite the existence of inexpensive and efficient means of water treatment.

 “In the developing world, 24,000 children under the age of five die every day from preventable causes like diarrhea contracted from unclean water,” said Caryl M. Stern, President and CEO, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF at the launch of a report, titled “Diarrhea: Why Children Are Still Dying and What Can Be Done“.  Continue reading

Africa Must Act on Climate Change

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe urged African governments to do more work on climate change which threatens to unravel the lives of millions of people across the continent.

 

Mr. Motlanthe also called on the countries of the world to work in harmony in order to resolve the problem of climate change.

 

“Africa is one of the regions least responsible for climate change, but it is the most affected and least able to afford the costs of adaptation,” the South African newspaper Mail & Guardian quoted him. “”We must act. We owe it to the millions of people who will be directly affected.”

 

The issue of climate changes and its impacts has been the least of priorities for many African countries which are faced with numerous socio-economic and political challenges.

 

In addition, African government lack the financial wherewithal for technical innovation that have often been bandied as the solution to the problems presented by climate change.

 

In itself, South Africa is the largest emitter on the continent and depends on coal for 90% of its electricity needs. Moves to diversify to other energy sources have stalled due to a lack of policy framework and incentives for investors.
 

Mr. Motlanthe was quoted as saying that the problem of climate represented an opportunity to deal with the economic meltdown unraveling across the globe.

 

“As with climate change, this [economic crisis] is largely a crisis that is not of our own making but one which, like climate change, will affect us all and the poorest the most,” he said.

 

“For us in South Africa, the climate change challenge is therefore not only one of climate stabilisation, but it is ultimately also about combating poverty and promoting healthy livelihoods, energy security and sustainable development.”

 

Mr. Motlanthe stressed that the worst impact of climate change could be avoided if the rest of the world took up the challenge and acted in a united fashion.

 

Why kicking the plastic habit is good for the environment

No More Plastic

No More Plastic

At food stalls and in supermarkets in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, plastics of all shapes and sizes are dolled out like confetti when you make a purchase of items. The fascination with plastic is so amazing that with a single purchase of several items you can end up with over five plastic bags when less could do.

What is surprising is the plastic bags come at no cost, so customers gladly accept the packaging.

There is no doubt that the plastic bags which are probably handed out in their millions throughout Chiang Mai, and other parts of Thailand come at a great cost to the environment.

In Thailand, as in many parts of the world, the use of plastics is at epidemic levels with serious consequences for the environment. According to www.reusable.com, a website that promotes fighting the massive over-consumption of plastic shopping bags, the world has consumed over 276 billion plastics this year and the number is rising by the second.

Kicking the addiction to plastic bags is one of the single most important positive things that individuals can do to both protect and keep the environment clean. But it appears that it will take the world a long time to rid itself of the plastic habit because there are too many financial interests vested into the continued production of plastic.

Continue reading