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

Visionary Politics: Saving the Environment for Future Generations

Visionary

Visionary

Political leaders have a key role to play in developing and taking action to combat the world environmental degradation, according to a recent survey of 1,350 professionals in position to make or influence large climate-related decisions in their governments, companies, or other organizations across 120 countries.

The performance of key actors – particularly national governments – has been inadequate to date with rhetoric at much feted climatic conferences over-dominating action states the survey.

Continue reading

Why Asia’s Motorcycles Must Go Green

In Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, motorcycles screech, drone, and dangerously define their way through cars, in the process, discharging a wide range of pollutants into the atmosphere and human lungs.

 

Motorcycles in this part of Thailand, as in many parts of Asia, are a basic form of transportation.

 

Motorcycles constitute 70 to 80 percent of the vehicular traffic fleet of Asia. As many parts of the region undergo economic boom, it is expected that the number of motorcycles will continue to grow which will significantly increase the emission of hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide.

 

According to the Environmental Science and Technology Journal, motorcycles produce 16 times the amount of hydrocarbons and three times the carbon monoxide emitted by a conventional passenger car.

 

The impact of motorcycle emissions on the environment as well as human health are severe and given the fact that motorcycles are widely accepted as a convenient and cheap mode of transport, there is little to no action being taken to combat their hazardous emissions either by citizens or governments.

 

In fact, in Chiang Mai, it appears that motorcycles have escaped environmental regulation, and it is not rare that a motorcyclist can be fined for not wearing a helmet as opposed to the amount of emissions that their motorcycle produces.

 

Besides the emission of pollutants, motorcycles also contribute significantly to noise pollution, a factor largely ignored by politicians and policy-makers.

 

A study conducted by the Asia Institute of Technology, Thailand in collaboration with the National Institute of Environmental Studies, Japan revealed that “under business-as-usual conditions, regional emissions of sulphur dioxide are expected to increase fourfold by 2030 over those of 1990; while emissions of nitrogen oxides are expected to increase threefold.”

 

The omnipresence of motorcycles in the region contributes a huge chuck to the environmental pollution in the region and therefore an alternative transportation system needs to be incorporated into the overall, integrated package to deal with the problem.

 

According to an environment engineer with the World Bank, two and three-wheelers constitute three-fourths of the Asian vehicular fleet, and these emit up to 70 percent of the total hydrocarbons, 40 percent of the total carbon dioxide and a substantial part of the particulate pollution in the region.

 

Making matters worse, motor-cycles equipped with two stroke technology are inefficient at combustion and emit hazardous forms of unburnt hydrocarbons, which damage human lungs.

 

Investing in clean technology in indeed a key priority that governments in the region need to put high on the agenda for the sake of future generations.

 

Replacing two-stroke technology equipped motorcycles in favor of four stroke technology can significantly cut emissions in the region.

 

“On average, a motorcycle with a 4-stroke engine consumes 30 percent less than one with a 2-stroke engine. The emission of particulate matter from a 2-stroke engine is 1.0 gram per passenger kilometer whereas it is 0.2 grams per passenger kilometer for a 4-stroke one,” states the Asia Institute of Technology and National Institute of Environmental Studies report titled “Alternative Policy Study: Reducing Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific.”

 

The report adds that investing in non-motorised, public transport systems can save “significant quantities of energy and reduce pollution levels.”

 

There is also a need for increased public awareness of the damage that is caused by motorcycles to both the environment and human health so that more people can opt for options that are environmentally friendly.

 

A key indicator of Asia’s step towards a greener future will undoubtedly involve taming its wild motorcycle population.

 

And hopefully, in Chiang Mai, as in many cities across Asia, there will be less but clean-technology powered motorcycles weaving their way through the sea of equally clean technology powered vehicular traffic.

Low Cost Technology Saves Poor

 

Most Zimbabweans –  about 70 per cent of the population – live in rural areas and are engaged in smallholder agriculture. These smallholder farmers, particularly in the country’s low rainfall areas, are extremely food insecure and have little or no access to new technology.

 

They suffer from low incomes and a generally low standard of living, poor health and nutrition, poor housing and an inability to send children to school. Soil degradation and outdated farming methods have kept rural families trapped in poverty.

 

Inadequate and unreliable rainfall and the recurrent threat of drought also restrict the potential of rain-fed agriculture, on which the livelihoods of most smallholder farmers depend. In a word, access to water for irrigation is one of the most critical constraints that small farmers face.

 

Making matters worse, AIDS is undermining agricultural systems and affecting the nutritional situation and food security of rural families. As adults fall ill and die, families face declining productivity as well as loss of knowledge about indigenous farming methods and loss of assets.

 

The devastating consequences of the epidemic are plunging already poor rural communities further into destitution as their labour capacity weakens, incomes dwindle and assets become depleted, with the latter affecting mostly women and children who have few property rights.

 

According to a survey conducted by the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union, agricultural output in communal areas has declined by nearly 50% among households affected by AIDS in relation to households not affected by AIDS. Maize production by smallholder farmers and commercial farms has declined by 61% because of illness and death from AIDS.

 

Women and girls are especially vulnerable. They face the greatest burden of work – given their traditional responsibilities for growing much of the food and caring for the sick and dying in addition to maintaining heavy workloads related to provisioning and feeding the household. In many hard-hit communities, girls are being withdrawn from school to help lighten the family load.

 

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) describes household food security as “the capacity of households to procure a stable and sustainable basket of adequate food” (IFAD, 1996). It incorporates: (a) food availability; (b) equal access to food; (c) stability of food supplies; and, (e) quality of food. All aspects of this are affected by both the household-level impact of HIV/AIDS and the wider impacts of a generalised HIV/AIDS epidemic.

 

In households coping with HIV/AIDS, food consumption generally decreases. The household may lack food and the time and the means to grow and prepare some food. For the patient, malnutrition and HIV/AIDS can form a vicious cycle whereby under-nutrition increases the susceptibility to infections and consequently worsens the severity of the disease, which in turn results in a further deterioration of nutritional status.

 

The onset of AIDS, along with secondary diseases and death, might be delayed in individuals with good nutritional status.

 

Nutritional care and support may help to prevent the development of nutritional deficiencies, loss of weight and lean body mass, and maintain the patient’s strength, comfort, level of functioning and self-image.

 

In effect, the nutritional status of HIV/AIDS patients can also help improve the effectiveness of antiretroviral therapy, when it does become widely available to poor rural people.

 

In such a context, labour-saving technologies that will adapt agriculture to new conditions generated by HIV/AIDS can help to compensate for the depletion of labour caused by sickness and death.

 

Drip-irrigation is a low pressure, low volume irrigation system suitable for vegetables, shrubs, flowers and trees, and can be helpful when water is scarce or expensive.

 

Already popular in countries such as Israel and India, drip-irrigation has been gaining attention because of its potential to increase yields and decrease water use, fertilizer, and labour requirements, if managed properly.

 

Drip irrigation (sometimes called trickle irrigation) works by applying water slowly and directly to the soil. It is the slow drop-by-drop, localised application of water at a grid above the soil surface. Water flows from a tank through a filter into lines then drips through emitters into the soil next to the plants. The high efficiency of drip irrigation results from two primary factors. The first is that the water soaks into the soil before it can evaporate or run-off. The second is that the water is only applied where it is needed (at the plant roots), rather than sprayed everywhere as in sprinkle or furrow irrigation systems.

 

Nutrients can be applied through the drip systems, thus reducing the use of fertilizers. Soil is maintained in a continuously moist condition. With a 100 square meter garden, equipped with low cost drip kit technology, a family of five can grow nutritious vegetables for consumption throughout the year.

 

This inexpensive kit offers a 50 per cent savings on water, over 80 per cent yields, and better quality vegetables and herbs. Because of its minimal labour requirements, the kit is well suited to serve HIV and AIDS affected households headed by orphans or their grandparents, where labour maybe in short supply.

 

In Zimbabwe’s rural areas, HNGs are widespread, yet they are largely neglected in spite of their potential to cushion disadvantaged and AIDS-affected families from food insecurity. Ordinarily, a HNG is cultivated close to home, thus eliminating the need for farmers to travel to distant fields.

 

HNGs can play a significant part in enhancing food security in several ways, most importantly through: 1) direct access to a diversity of nutritionally-rich foods, 2) increased purchasing power from savings on food bills and sales of garden products, 3) availability of food throughout the season and especially during seasonal lean periods, and 4) savings on water, time and labour.

 

Improving household gardening requires the optimal use of land and irrigation, as well as a dynamic integration of additional crops and crop varieties with specific value and uses. A well developed HNG has the potential, when access to land and water is not a major limitation, to supply most of the non-staple food that a family needs every day of the year, including roots and tuber, vegetables and fruits, legumes, herbs and spices.

 

Roots and tubers are rich in energy and legumes are important sources of protein, fat, iron and vitamins. Green leafy vegetables and yellow-or orange-colored fruits provide essential vitamins and minerals, particularly folate, and vitamins A, E and C. Vegetables and fruits are a vital component of a healthy diet and should be eaten as part of every meal, and are highly recommended for people living with AIDS

 

Smallholder farmers generally grow three cycles of crops per year. Typically, this includes at least one cycle of vegetable crops during the winter months, and an early maize or bean crop that can be harvested in December. The exact cropping cycles and systems will depend on regional climate, soils and input availability, in conjunction with the specific skills and nutritional needs of the household.

 

Farmers are encouraged to grow locally available indigenous crops that are highly nutritive but often neglected. The crops contain good nutrients and often require low labour-input. They represent a flexible source of food supply and can be easily preserved. Besides providing a source of income, they are adapted to cultural dynamics and local food habits.

 

They produce ample seeds without creating a dependence on external resources. Because the technology is new, smallholder farmers require technical support and training to help them tap into the full potential of the kit.

 

By strengthening the capacity to produce food at household level using low-cost technologies, negative impacts can be mitigated for AIDS-affected communities. Labour saving technologies and improved seed varieties can help to compensate for the depletion of labour caused by sickness and death, and assist farm-households to survive prolonged crisis, such as that caused by AIDS. Through agriculture and rural development, resilience against HIV can be built.

 

Drip irrigation technology offers much promise for landholders in the communal areas of Zimbabwe, where water application has traditionally involved the use of surface irrigation and “bucket watering”. Both methods are inefficient and waste a lot of water. Using the bucket involves hard work especially when the water is far away and scarce.

 

With drip irrigation, communal farmers, especially women, who are the primary carers and pillars of the community, can be able to maintain their gardens with ease, efficiently and at a low cost.

 

Also, drip technology will give quick returns on a small investment, and growing vegetables will provide both nutrition vegetables and year-round incomes.

 

As the old Chinese saying goes: “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”