Tribute to Women and Water by IWMI

agriculture, community, gender, women

Stunning and breathtaking visual imagery of women from around the world using water for drinking, cleaning, cooking, growing, working, praying, and living. This striking video was produced by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) for International Women’s Day on March 8th. The video is posted on their new Gender Topics page.

Visions of Water, Visions of Life: ECAG in Kenya

africa, agriculture, community, drinking water, groundwater, ngo, visions of water, visions of life, water availability, water management

This is the second interview for the series Visions of Water, Visions of Life. Today’s interview is with Gibson Munanga. He is the director of an organization called Environmental Community Assistance Group (ECAG) working on water and land issues in rural Kenya. And, let me tell you, Gibson is one busy director. He works as a teacher at a school for the deaf. Somehow he still manages to find time to dream-up ideas, organize work parties, and implement a variety of projects to ensure water and land sustainability in his village.

Gibson and Kids
Above Photo: Gibson and students at Kakamega School for the Deaf.

Your organization originally started growing tree seedlings and working on land restoration projects. Can you please tell us why you decided to direct your focus towards water issues?

Our organization began and is still growing tree seedlings and working on land restoration projects. In the course of undertaking these, we encountered enormous challenges to finding water for irrigating the tree seedlings in preparation for planting during the rainy season. Water problems are a chronic issue here in the dry and rainy seasons. We have not shifted our focus, but we had to approach them [water and land restoration issues] at the same time because they go hand-in-hand. We left water problems to be addressed by ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNITY ASSISTANCE GROUP. The tree nursery and land restoration projects are handled by our co-organization called WESTERN TREE NURSERY, SEED COLLECTION, STORAGE AND VENDING GROUP.

What is the water situation in your village? What is the water situation in Kenya?

The water situation in our village is bad. People have to walk long distances in search of water. This mainly affects women and children (especially their standard of education and quality of life). The overall water situation in Kenya is worse. In Turkana, Pokot, Ukambani and other northeastern parts of Kenya near the border with Somalia, the search for water may take a whole day. It takes over a year for these places to receive rains, which may last only a week or luckily a month. This type of rainfall pattern can not support crop growth or open-water systems. It is rocky and expensive to drill for water in these areas. The water is very deep.

What do you believe is the solution to improve the water situation in your village?

The solution to improve the water situation in our village is to strategically situate boreholes in central places where water can be used easily by families. In addition, many trees were destroyed in most water catchments over twenty years ago. Water-catchment friendly trees should be planted in those areas because many small streams and rivers have dried up. The range of climate and rainfall in our village allows for rainwater harvesting. Provision of water-harvesting tanks would help to solve water problems here. Provision of water lorry tankers [see picture below] would help provide water to people during extreme water shortage events for a small fee.

Lorry Tanker
Above Photo: This is the type of water tanker that ECAG would like for their community.

Do you talk about water issues with your students at the school for the deaf? What do the children believe is the solution to improve the water situation in your village?

[The students are deaf so they wrote their answers on a chalkboard. Mr. Munanga took pictures of their answers with a camera. Please see the forthcoming post called Kakamega Youth Talk About Water Problems in Kenya.]

Has ECAG completed any significant water projects?

Six years ago ECAG constructed a very successful water project [well] at Alfred Amulyoto’s home (in Kambiri in the Kakamega District) to serve neighboring communities. Community members agreed to maintain the well pump through small donations. We constructed another successful water project [well] at Emily’s home (in Sichirayi) with the help from neighboring homes. Another water project [well] was constructed at Mr. Peter Matwanga’s home (in Khayega Village) which services a big homestead and 15 nearby homes.

What are a few other non-water projects that ECAG has completed?

We are producing tree-seedlings for planting in water-catchment areas. We are propagating medicinal trees for blood purification, stomach problems, malaria treatment, and other ailments. We are propagating fruit trees to alleviate hunger and provide vitamins, and we are propagating trees for firewood. In a nut-shell, trees are very much related to water, environmental issues and rainfall-storage quantity.

What is your advice for future generations on water?

My advice for future generations on water issues would be to conserve water and use it wisely, protect all water sources, and plant trees. Every drop of water counts!

For more information about ECAG or if you would like to make a donation, please visit their website here.

Update: 1,500 Farmers Commit Suicide in India

agriculture, india

Recently, I drafted a post on a mass-suicide event (because of drought, dropping water levels, related crop failure, and mounting farm debt) in the state of Chhattisgarh based on news reports in the Belfast Telegraph, the Daily Times, and Alternet. Update: this event was not a mass-suicide as defined in these news reports. Rather – and no better – 1,500 farmers committed suicide in 2007 in the state of Chhattisgarh.

Here is a portion of Mallika Chopra’s update:

“According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, 182,936 Indian farmers have committed suicide between 1997 -2007. It estimates 46 Indian farmers kill themselves every day – that is, roughly one suicide every 30 minutes. An estimated 16,625 farmers across India killed themselves in 2007, the last year that was reported. The numbers are horrifying, and they indicate the sense of despair that the poorest people in the world are facing today.”

And here is a post by Vandana Shiva called From Seeds of Suicide to Seeds of Hope: Why Are India Farmers Committing Suicide and How Can We Stop This Tragedy?

‘Wash Your Hands’ and ‘Clean Your Plate’ – World Water Week Wrap-Up

agriculture, drinking water, general, international, outreach, sanitation, sustainability, united nations, water availability

Less worldwide food waste and better global sanitation were urgent needs cited during this year’s World Water Week from August 17th until August 23rd organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) in Sweden. Over 2,400 science, business, government, and non-profit leaders gathered to discuss the “Progress and Prospects on Water: For A Clean and Healthy World” (this year’s theme) with a special focus on the 2008 International Year of Sanitation as declared by the UN.

This annual conference left much to be desired as discussions indicated  little progress in meeting one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — a reduction by half of the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2015. There are 2.5 billion people across the world without sanitation, and according to a United Nations progress report released in July of 2007, 1.6 billion of these people will need access to improved sanitation by 2015 to be on target with the MDGs. That is almost one-quarter, about 24%, of the current world population. Or in general terms, a lot of people.

John Sauer, in his recent article Finding the Toilet in Stockholm attributes the lack of available sanitation and drinking water, in part, to two major issues:

  • A general fear of the private sector and the “privatization” of public services.
  • The avoidance of the subject of sanitation and diseases such as diarrhea.


Above PhotoThe Millennium Development Goals Report 2007

Also this week, SIWI released a report indicating half of all food is lost (wasted, not ingested, not used) after it is produced. The report, Saving Water: From Field to Fork – Curbing Wastage in the Food Chain, estimated that 50 percent of all food is wasted and that less food waste will help preserve land and water resources. It takes water to grow food, right. Yep, and as James Leape stated at the opening session of World Water Week, “Irrigation-fed agriculture provides 45 percent of the world’s food supplies, and without it, we could not feed our planet’s population of six billion people.”

So in a nutshell, that is a wrap-up of this year’s World Water Week in Stockholm. And you can be sure I did eat every bite of dinner on my plate tonight.


Above Photo: SIWI.

Widespread Drought: The Middle East in 2008

agriculture, dam, drinking water, drought, economy, international, iraq, middle east, rivers, sustainability, water availability

The following words come to mind as I think of the Middle East – oil, Iraq, war, Palestine, Israel, and desert. Many of the words on my list are mere impressions of media-induced messages, but one word on my list is somewhat realistic – desert. The Middle East is an arid region known the world-over for sand, camels, heat, and more sand. So when I tell you in a few moments that many countries in the Middle East are facing severe drought conditions this year, you may not be surprised.

Yet contrary to my word list the Middle East isn’t entirely desert. Among the sand and heat, the region hosts fertile valleys and forests fed by one of two main rivers – the Tigris or Euphrates. This place was once so fruitful it was called “the fertile crescent,” “the cradle of civilization,” and “the birthplace of agriculture.” Today crops exported from the region include wheat, dates, olives, pistachios, raisins, eggplant, hazelnuts, and apricots. So when I tell you again that many countries in the Middle East are facing serious drought conditions this year, you may be dismayed.


Above Photo: Yale University

Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Cyprus, Iran and Iraq have each been dealing with decreased rainfall, reduced water storage, irrigation water shortages, and in some cases, declared drought. Drought in northeastern Syria over the past two years devastated wheat production in the region. Syria was forced to import wheat for the first time in fifteen years to compensate. Crops were also wiped out in Turkey after drought affected 35 out of 81 provinces. Iran is another nation importing extra wheat this season after a 20 percent decline in annual yield.

Palestine and Israel have been in a “regional drought” for over half a decade. Palestinians in the West Bank, facing especially difficult circumstances, are without water for hours or days at a time this summer. Israel controls 90 percent of the water distribution system for the West Bank, but claims to be unable to provide additional water to those in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, King Abdullah in Jordan has secured an Emergency Water Supply plan for next summer in case rains are less than predicted over winter. And, of course, the island of Cyprus is dealing with prolonged drought. Turkey is sending water by tankers to the Turkish half of the island, but the Greek half of the island refuses to accept water from Turkey. They are receiving water by tankers from Greece. A drought has been declared in Iraq after significantly less than the annual, average rainfall of six inches. Some say it is the worst drought in ten years. Both the Tigris and Euphrates flow through Iraq in less quantities from a lack of rainfall and dams constructed in Turkey and Syria. Barley and wheat yields, in this country, are expected to be reduced by half this year.

Widespread drought in the Middle East means many individuals are enduring severe hardship with little watery relief. Often forced to relocate or consume muddy or polluted water unfit for human consumption, people in this region have to test the limit of life with minimal water. Simultaneous drought in regions such as the Middle East and Australia further influences already soaring grain prices on the world market. In fact, wheat prices have risen by 40 percent over the last several months alone.

Dude, where’s my lake?

africa, agriculture, asia, audio, climate change, economy, general, lakes, rainwater, research, south america, sustainability, water availability

An estimated three hundred and four million of them across the globe, and yet researchers are noticing many inland lakes are beginning to dry. In Siberia, Central Asia, East Africa, and North America – the results are the same – lakes simply cannot compete with man-made alterations to the environment. These are not just small lakes, some of the lakes with dropping water levels are gigantic in size.

There are 122 large lakes in the world each over 1000 square kilometers (386 square miles). Lake Victoria, in Africa, is the largest tropical lake in the world at 68,800 square kilometers (26,560 square miles). Mounting water-level decline in this lake is slowly eroding the livelihood of local fisherman and ranchers, agricultural producers, and industrial water users near the lake. A lack of suitable drinking water or dependable power supply is also becoming more common in the region.

Morning Edition on NPR recently aired a segment on Lake Victoria by corespondent Jessica Partnow: ‘Battle for Resources Grows as Lake Victoria Shrinks‘. She has also reported on dropping water levels in Lake Haramaya in Africa for World Vision Report.

Disappearing Lake‘ by Jessica Partnow

Sometimes occasional fluctuations of water levels in lakes are natural, but the current rate that many lakes are beginning to go dry throughout the world is not. Humans alter the natural environment near lakes and water levels decline. We build dams, over-pump rivers, over-use groundwater, put roads and parking lots in natural recharge areas, build industries in locations without enough water, over-irrigate our crops, and, often, we use too much water in our homes. Not to mention the effect of a changing climate on water supply sources.

But, some things that could help ‘decline’ at least some of this water-level decline include: conservation, conservation, conservationgrow crops in regions they are acclimated (low-water crops)alternative water supply sources such as rainwater harvesting systemspursue green “water conservative” development techniquesreduce the pavementrethink industrial productionlow impact livingconservation, conservation, conservation.

A few other lakes around the world with dropping water levels

Aral Sea – Central Asia
Great Lakes – United States
Lake Baikal – Russia
Lake Chad – Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Niger
Lake Chapala – Mexico

Water Labels for Milk, Fruit, Meat, and More

agriculture, climate change, international, sustainability

Into the local grocery store for my weekly accruals, I browse the aisles for items on my shopping list…

Milk – 65 gallons of water for production per serving
Cherries – 90 gallons of water for production per serving
Eggs – 136 gallons of water for production per serving

I diligently note the amount of water used for production of each product clearly labeled on the back of the container and then place them into my cart.

Sound a bit far-fetched? Well, not so much if you were in Australia this week attending an international water conference in Adelaide.

James Hazelton, a professor from Macquarie University, suggested this approach for labeling of food products in Australia and beyond, according to ABC News. He cited the success of labeling water efficient appliances such as low-flow toilets and washing machines.

Indeed, perhaps if we were more aware of the amount of water used for production of our food products, we might be inclined to conserve water and eat a ‘low-flow’ diet.

Great idea, sir!

Have you checked your Water Footprint lately?

Drying Up Palestine – A Documentary Film

agriculture, drinking water, film, groundwater, international, middle east

“Shot on location in the West Bank over a period of almost a year, Drying up Palestine illustrates the stresses and strains imposed on Palestinian society by Israel’s almost total control over access to water and sewage facilities in the Occupied Territories. Told in the words of ordinary inhabitants, the film creates a compelling portrait of the impact of military occupation on everyday life.”

– Planet in Focus Film Festival

Vodpod videos no longer available.

‘Water is Water’ – Newar Poet on Cultural Earth

agriculture, asia, audio, hydrogeology, international, outreach, rivers

Purna Bahadur Vaidya is a Newar Poet from Nepal with a collection of “84 poems refracted through water” in the language of Nepal Bhasa called LA LA KHA (WATER IS WATER).

Wayne Amtzis (photographer and writer himself) sat down with the author to translate the poems into English. He has so graciously given permission for some of these translations to be featured on the Cultural Earth page on Water for the Ages. His translations have also appeared in The Drunken Boat, a web magazine of international works.

In addition, the Library of Congress has recorded Purna Vaidya reciting portions of LA LA KHA in his native language of Nepal Bhasa.


Photo above courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Mount Everest is the peak with the clouds to the left. Ama Dablam is the peak to the far right.

Natural Water Treatment in Ecuador

agriculture, drinking water, economy, international, south america, sustainability, water treatment

A village in Ecuador was recently recognized on World Water Day 2008 for an innovative yet simple approach to water treatment using aquatic lentil and water lettuce.

The people of San Rafael de la Laguna, an indigenous community of 4,700, constructed a water treatment facility along the edge of Lake Imbakucha to offset polluted discharge from local tourist facilities and agricultural practices.

The water treatment facility removes up to 90% of the contamination, and the clean water is then used for irrigation of reeds. Local artisans create furniture, crafts, and paper from the reeds, and sell the products through the Totora Sisa Cooperative.


Photo above is Lake San Pablo (Imbakucha) in Ecuador.

Will water supply concerns overshadow the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing?

agriculture, asia, dam, drinking water, drought, economy, industrial, international, sustainability

Over two million people are expected to visit Beijing this year for the Summer Olympic Games. In August, the population of the metropolis will crest 19 million souls.

The arrival of so many visitors to China’s capital will result in exaggerated water use of 2.75 million cubic meters (2,229 acre-feet) a day or, in layman’s terms, enough water to fill 2000 Olympic size swimming pools each day.

Chinese officials may soon begin to worry as North China is currently enduring a severe drought including Hebei (which surrounds Beijing) and other provinces in the north.

The Chinese Ministry of Water Resources indicates the drought has caused 50,000 wells to go dry, with over 170,000 additional wells short of water. Over 3.4 million hectares of crops have been compromised, and 250,000 people are now short of drinking water in the Shandong, Heilongjiang and Hebei provinces.

China’s answer to this Catch-22 is to pipe water to Beijing via extensive water supply canals, often at the expense of local citizens, businesses, or agricultural practices. China hurries to finish 309 km (192 miles) of canals to draw water from behind several dams in the province of Hebei to serve water to Beijing for the Olympics, as stated on Reuters. These canals are actually part of a larger project China is undertaking to pipe massive amounts of water from the Yangzte River in the south to arid regions in the north, widely known as the South-to-North Water Transfer Project (previously reviewed on WaterWired).

                                                                                                    Central route of the South-to-North Water Transfer Project, courtesy of The New York Times.

Concerns about the colossal diversion project by residents of the area are many. During an interview with the Environmental News Network, one farmer said:

“For the country, it’s a good thing. It will bring water to Beijing so everything runs smoothly,” said Shi Yinzhu, herding sheep near the 100-metre wide canal in Tang county. “But for us here, they had to pump away underground water to dig the canal and we’ve lost a lot of land too … Sometimes you wonder if they need all the water more than us here.”

The world’s attention will soon be on Beijing, China for the Summer Olympic Games.

Will the world’s attention also be on the many people currently affected by drought conditions and difficult times in North China?

NEWS UPDATE 

In China, the State Flood and Drought Relief Headquarters has just updated statistics showing currently 5.9 million people face drinking water shortages, more than double that figure of 2.43 million published on Feb. 24, throughout the entire country.

and

China Diverting Major River to “Water” Beijing Olympics – National Geographic

Fungal Micro-pollution in Water

agriculture, research, rivers

Molds, mushrooms, and yeasts – prevalent in all locales from the cracks of a sidewalk, in the forest, and sometimes even your refrigerator. At times, fungi have wonderful uses including yeasts for brewing beer or wine to the gastronomic delight of the rare white truffle. At other times, certain fungi will produce a substance toxic to living beings called Mycotoxins. Recently, research has found certain Mycotoxins (micro-pollution) originating from fungal outbreaks in food-crop fields will enter waterways through irrigation run-off, as noted in a review in Science Daily.

While some toxins in this family may weaken the immune system or act as an allergen, other toxins have no evident effect on humans. This study showed increased quantities of such micro-pollution in Swiss rivers, and indicated “a need for stronger monitoring and control of these overlooked micropollutants.” The report “Fusarium Mycotoxins: Overlooked Aquatic Micropollutants?” will be released on February 13, 2008 in the ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

By the way, this post reminds me of a favorite joke:

Why did the algae and and the fungus get married?

Well… they took a lichen to each other.

Saltwater Farming and an End to Rising Seas

agriculture, audio, climate change, technology

One man claims an idea that will deter damages of rising seawater influenced by climate change and produce biofuels capable of powering your vehicle without one drop of freshwater. Sound to good to be true? You be the judge.

Atmospheric scientist Carl Hodges of the Seawater Foundation has two novel ideas: absorb rising seawater through recharge of defunct aquifers with seawater and saltwater farming of Salicornia bigelovii for biofuel production. When speaking of farming of salicornia during a public radio interview on MarketPlace:

They pack as much high-quality vegetable oil as soybeans, making salicornia an ideal biofuel crop — and a highly profitable one. Especially if the fertile effluent from those shrimp farms we saw from the air is used as the irrigation source.

– Carl Hodges

Listen to the full interview entitled Seeing opportunity in rising oceans here:

World Economic Forum 2008 Wraps Up with Water

agriculture, asia, climate change, drinking water, economy, industrial, international, technology, united nations, water trade

Water was a major topic of conversation at the World Economic Forum 2008 (WEF) now coming to a close in Davos, Switzerland.

At the forum, according to the Environmental News Service, Bill Gates announced a grant of $306 million dollars for development projects to help boost yields of crops for farmers in developing countries. It is unclear whether a portion of this money will be devoted to water conservation practices in conjunction with agriculture. Also discussed was implementation of a cap and trade system for water supplies and the importance of market forces in water allocation.

Leaders at the forum pledged renewed support for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, of which one goal is to increase access to safe drinking water.

Created as a venue for dialogue, research, and networking among economic and political leaders, the WEF is often criticized for more talk rather than action, a membership majority of industrialized countries (primarily USA, Europe, and Asia), and limited media access to specified plenary sessions.

While members of the WEF did review the importance of water in the coming age, no definitive plan was drafted to move our global society in that direction. However, maybe discussions during the event will leave lasting impressions on these economic leaders. And gradually, they will come to the realization that water is more than a commodity, but a necessity of life.

Be sure to check out other blog posts on this issue… our friends at WaterWired give additional perspective on how water was incorporated into the WEF agenda.

Webcasts from this forum are available on the Podcasts, Video, and Web-Mediapage on this blog, as well as on the WEF website.

For an insiders look at the WEF 2008, check out this NPR story: The Wacky World Economic Forum.

Drought and the Yangtze

agriculture, asia, climate change, dam, drought, sustainability

A short video clip from the BBC on the current drought occurring around the Yangtze River in China. River levels are at record lows, and Chinese officials are discharging extra water from the Three Gorges Dam. Scientists indicate climate change will increase the frequency of such droughts.

Will the Three Gorges Dam still be relevant if dropping river levels on the Yangtze become commonplace?

More articles on dropping flows in the Yangtze River include:
Yangtze River water level at 140-year low – Telegraph
Yangtze hit by drought in China – BBC News
Parts of China’s Yangtze at lowest level in 140 years – AFP