Blue Planet Run: The Race to Provide Safe Drinking Water to the World – A Book Review

climate change, drinking water, drought, economy, groundwater, international, outreach, photos, water availability, water conflict

As readers of Water for the Ages may have noticed, I’ve been on an extended holiday break (to visit family in East Tennessee). Arriving back to the Pacific Northwest, my mailbox was full with letters, bills, Christmas Cards, and other postal paraphernalia. Yet, to my surprise, there was one mysteriously large and somewhat heavy package addressed to me.

me-and-book-2

Soon, I discovered this large package was a massive, coffee-table sized book called Blue Planet Run: The Race to Provide Safe Drinking Water to the World published by the Blue Planet Run Foundation in San Francisco, California. The Blue Planet Run book was published to raise money to assist in meeting the Blue Planet Run Foundation’s goal of providing safe drinking water to 200 million people by 2027. One hundred percent of all royalties from the sale of this book will be used to fund drinking water projects around the world.

photo-from-book

Opening the book, I was immediately transported around the world through the vivid photographs that graced cover to cover. These images, taken by photojournalists over a period of one-month last year, tell the stories of rapid development and its effect on water supplies, dam construction, access to water in crowded cities, new water technologies, and leaders who are making strides in water access and supply. Several essays are also featured throughout the book written by authors including Robert Redford, Diane Ackerman, Paul Hawken, and Bill McKibben.

And, after coming home to indoor plumbing and plenty of fresh water, this book helps me remember (during this holiday season) just how lucky I really am.

Advertisements

Water and the G8: Hokkaido Toyako Summit

climate change, drinking water, drought, economy, general, groundwater, industrial, international, investments

As most have heard by now, the 34th annual G8 Summit is underway in Japan from July 7th to July 9th in Toyako, Hokkaido.



Leaders from eight of the world’s industrialized nations, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States (in addition to the president of the European Union and representatives from fifteen other nations) are busy talking and talking some more about the global economy. Again this year, some of these conversations address environmental concerns which embrace the issue of water.


The agenda for the G8 Summit is prioritized something like this:


  1. Global Economy (Sub-prime Crisis, Rising Inflation, Economic Growth)
  2. Environment and Climate Change (Carbon Reduction, International Cooperation, Global Food Security)
  3. Development in Africa (Development, Water, Health, and Education)
  4. Political Issues (Nonproliferation, Nuclear Safety)

Water is linked to the global economy, a changing climate, food security, and is necessary to consider for future development in Africa, but it is unclear exactly how G8 leaders will tackle the matter of water. Many international organizations have been lobbying delegates of the 2008 Summit to focus on the topic of water. The Asia-Pacific Water Forum encouraged G8 leaders to highlight the importance of water security in the region. Water Aid issued a plea for G8 leaders to provide additional funding for sanitation projects abroad. UNICEF met with G8 leaders earlier in the spring to inform participating nations of the one billion people worldwide without access to clean, drinkable water.





Deliberations on water by G8 nations are nothing new. In 2003, global water was discussed at the Summit in Evian, France. Participants from this Summit produced a G8 Water Action Plan outlining an agreement for better global water management “particularly taking into account the importance of proper water management in Africa…” But indistinct steps have been made towards realization of these goals as evidenced by talks on similar subjects at this year’s Summit and a “reaffirmation” of the G8 Water Action Plan.


So far, the following agreements relating to water (sort of) have been reached at the Hokkaido Toyako Summit:


  • Environment and Climate Change – The world should cut carbon emissions by 50 percent before 2050 with each nation having individual targets.
  • Development and Africa – G8 nations pledge 60 billion dollars over five years to help the continent fight disease. G8 nations reaffirm Millennium Development Goals for water, health, and sanitation in Africa. G8 nations hope to reinvigorate efforts to implement the Evian G8 Water Action Plan from 2003 with a progress report at the 2009 Summit.
  • Global Food Security – Nations in the world with sufficient food storage should release food to the market. Worldwide removal of food export restrictions is necessary.

Repetitions of past/existing goals seem to highlight the 2008 Summit list of accomplishments in the environmental realm. Agreements similar to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol ‘reduction of greenhouse gas’ initiative to a repeat of the 2003 Evian G8 Water Action Plan.


Well, you know what they say, maybe the third time is a charm (or the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh)…

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

K2K – In Search of Water

art, climate change, drinking water, drought, floods, groundwater, hydrogeology, india, international, outreach, rivers, sustainability, technology, water availability

One man’s dream will soon raise the world’s awareness about the complexity of water challenges occurring in India. Beginning Saturday April 26th in Bangalore, CS Sharada Prasad will travel 19,000 km (11,807 m) on motorbike to document the meaning and encompassing challenges of water to people in India. Crossing 15 major rivers, 28 states, and 7 territories, Mr. Prasad will document his journey on a blog called “K2K – In Search of Water“. His route will be mapped with a GPS unit attached to his motorbike and uploaded to Google Maps. Geotagged blog posts will be updated everyday and photos from his journey will be available on EveryTrail and Flickr.

The trip will take over two months to complete visiting places such as the Khardung La Pass at 18,380 feet to Kanyakumari at the southernmost tip of mainland India. Mr. Prasad will meet with local citizens, organizations, and community leaders to bring light to their accomplishments and challenges regarding sustainable water supplies. This event will be a great opportunity for students, classrooms, and people around the world to follow along with his adventure and become educated about water supplies in India. Sharada Prasad is a project officer for the India Water Portal developed by Arghyam, a non-governmental organization. Arghyam “seeks to support strategic and sustainable efforts in the water sector that address basic water needs for all citizens”.

Visit the cool interactive Google Map of the Journey across India here.

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?

Inner Mongolia Desertification (report by Circle of Blue)

asia, climate change, desertification, drinking water, drought, groundwater, industrial, international

Three million acres of sensitive grassland becomes desert each year in northern China and Inner Mongolia. This process of desertification causes water-tables to drop, groundwater sources to become salty, and dust storms to become more frequent. People from all walks of life are challenged by deterioration of these grasslands (often referred to as Steppe). Nomadic people of the area can no longer graze animals on the land and dust from storms is noticeable as far away as Japan, Korea, and the United States.


Above Photo: Kurt Friehauf.

The non-profit organization Circle of Blue has just released a comprehensive multimedia report on the desertification of Inner Mongolia called Reign of Sand. This inclusive and sensitive picture of Inner Mongolia (on the Circle of Blue website) features articles, an interactive map, a slide show of photographs, and videos. The collection examines linkages between climate change and rapid industrialization of north China to desertification and water unavailability in Inner Mongolia.

See the report on Inner Mongolia by Circle of Blue, REIGN OF SAND.

Island Dilemma = Dry Times Ahead

climate change, drinking water, drought, groundwater, international, water desalination

Drought and dry weather are seemingly the norm recently on two island nations nearly 10,291 miles (16,562 km) apart. Cyprus and New Zealand have been dealing with shortages of water continuing into 2008.

Cyprus

As highlighted previously on this blog,  a dry winter with little rain in Cyprus has diminished water supplies on the island. Reservoirs, now at less than 9% capacity, lack water for the coming summer season. Groundwater wells will provide little relief because they are often over pumped and inundated with saltwater.

The Republic of Cyprus is pursuing alternatives for water supply including construction an additional desalination plant and import of water from other locations on tankers. Regardless, extreme water rationing will be commonplace until the end of the summer in November or December of 2008.

New Zealand

It is summer in New Zealand from December until the end of February, and this year the country has been enduring an unusually severe drought. The Waikato Region on the North Island has been facing dessicated conditions not seen in over 100 years.

Effects of the drought in are far-reaching. Toxic algal blooms are on the rise in waterways, and water restrictions have been put into place. The agricultural industry, primarily dairy production located in the Waikato Region, has been the hardest hit.

The government of New Zealand is engaged in research on climate change and increasing drought events in drought-prone locations.

Officials believe rain will finally come to the region by the end of the fall season in May of 2008.

Cyprus Map courtesy of grhomeboyhmg on flickr.

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 

Depleted Aquifers and the Mediterranean

climate change, drinking water, drought, groundwater, international, sustainability, water trade

The azure blue of the Mediterranean Sea makes it easy to forget the arid climate at the edge of this salty body of water. But look a bit inland. Countries in the region are experiencing increased shortages of water and lack of significant rainfall to remedy this problem in the near future.

Photo courtesy of LauraMary on flickr.

I reviewed the current plight of the island of Cyprus with uncertain water supplies and reservoirs at less than two months capacity previously on this blog. One may be inclined to make allowances for one island enduring shortages of water, but a whole region facing dropping aquifer levels is another story. And this is the story unfolding in the Mediterranean Basin.

Countries to the south of the Mediterranean Sea, such as Egypt and Libya, have historically faced water supply issues. Even to the east, Israel, Lebanon, and Palestine have been fighting over water for decades. But,if you follow the sea to the north, you will find water shortages also follow.

A recent article in The Christian Science Monitor details the desiccation of Lake Aksehir and surrounding aquifers located in Central Turkey’s Konya Plain region. It also reviews dropping aquifer levels in Italy. While Turkey plans a water diversion project from the Goksu River (in a similar fashion as the South-North Water Transfer Project), it begs the question “is this the best way to supplement dropping aquifer levels in the region?”

Water shortages in Turkey will most likely curtail water exports to Cyprus and Israel. Egypt and Lebanon may also follow suit as an arid Cyprus looks to these countries for water. Additionally, all countries in the region might begin to factor climate change into the equation, as precipitation begins to decrease annually during winter months. Hopefully, these issues and more will be addressed soon as Turkey hosts the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul on March 15-22, 2009.

Cyprus and Water Imports from Greece, Egypt, and Lebanon

climate change, drinking water, drought, groundwater, international, water desalination, water trade

The small island country of Cyprus may soon be shipping water on tankers from Greece, Egypt and Lebanon to supplement current dwindling water supplies.

Cyprus has been facing drier than normal conditions for four consecutive years. Winter in Cyprus, November through March, usually serves to fill reservoirs for the coming season. But this winter has been practically rainless, and estimates leave reservoirs at two-months of capacity.

Cyprus typically provides water to citizens through several reservoirs and two water desalination plants. Because of the current water crisis, a third desalination plant is being constructed and emergency groundwater reserves may be rationed. Additionally, the country is contemplating the exorbitantly expensive shipment of additional water supplies.

Importing water, however, is nothing new to the country of Cyprus. As stated in this grotesquely entitled article, How to profit from the world’s water crisis, Cyprus had previously imported water from Turkey via large inflatable floating balloons holding up to five million gallons a piece. Obviously not the most efficient or cheap method for obtaining water, but neither is desalination (for now).

In the late 1990s, Aquarius Water Transportation became the first company to tow bags of fresh water for export, delivering commercial bulk quantities to the Greek Islands. In 2000, another company, Nordic Water Supply, began using 5 million gallon bags 10 times as big as the original Aquarius containers – to float water from Turkey to northern Cyprus.

– From an article in The Christian Science Monitor.

Cyprus

Update: (1/25/08)
Cyprus to extract water from underground reserves through bore holes.

Nepal Discontent Over Climate Change Talks in Bali

asia, climate change, india, united nations

Nepal is a land on the edge of the mighty Himalayas. Although rather small, only the size of Arkansas, Nepal is known the world over for Mount Everest which is the highest mountain globally at an elevation of 29,029 feet.

As the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change wraps-up in Bali, Nepali officials are worried water supplies may become even more stressed with loss of glacial sources in the Hindu-Kush. Their concerns are exasperated with the hesitancy of the US and Canada to agree to any definitive carbon emission cessation.

Water shortages in Nepal are nothing new. The diverse elevation and terrain leaves lowlands hot and humid while alpine regions are cold and remote. Sanitation and water infrastructure have continuously presented difficulties in places such as Madhyapur Thimi and areas of Kathmandu Valley. Approximately 13,000 children die each year from lack of potable water.

Individuals who reside in mountainous regions in Nepal use less than 5 liters (1.3 gallons) of water per day. Still Nepal’s rivers, driven by snow-melt, are already showing signs of decreasing flows. Further, water wars are expected to ensue between many countries that rely on glacial melt in the Himalayas for water supply including India and China.

A step in the right direction, organizations such as Nepal Water For Health are encouraging better access to sanitation and utilization of alternative water supply systems such as rainwater collection and fog collection systems (such as the one depicted below), and water conservation measures as drip irrigation.

Peter Gleick and Water for the Future (NPR Interview)

audio, climate change, drinking water, international

Peter Gleick, founder of the Pacific Institue (an environmental think-tank), talks about global water supply, climate change, and alternative water supply options for the future on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Thanks to my friend Seldom for sending this link!

Water Crisis in Cyprus and Climate Change

climate change, drinking water, drought, water desalination, water treatment

The small island of Cyprus is facing a fourth year of drought, with water reservoirs dwindling dry at less than 9% of original capacity. As a recent article on Reuters indicates, climate change is thought to be linked to the continued parched conditions.

Cyprus maintains a Mediterranean climate, with a rainy season between November and March of each year. Reservoirs, which supply the island with water, have time to refill during the rainy season. However, over the past four years, precipitation during winter months has been on the certain decline. The Meteorological Service of the Republic of Cyprus states:

Statistical analysis of rainfall in Cyprus reveals a decreasing trend of rainfall amounts in the last 30 year…The rate of decrease of the average precipitation in Cyprus during the 20th century was one millimeter per year.

For an island half of the size of Connecticut, residential population is approximately 788,457 people and over 2 million tourists visit the area each year. Cyprus provides water to most individuals using supply from the reservoirs, and supplements supply with two desalination plants. The current water crisis has forced the country to utilize emergency groundwater reserves, and a third temporary desalination plant will be on-line next year. As quoted from the Reuters article:

Desalination of seawater is not an ideal choice for the authorities, but it has saved Cyprus before. “We don’t desalinate lightly, without being aware of the consequences,” said Partassiades. “It is energy-consuming … and this causes (greenhouse gas) emissions Cyprus has to pay fines for.

Water restrictions have been put into effect on the island, until the situation improves, with a hope of rainfall to occur this winter.

Cyprus, with Limassol city in the background, photo courtesy, LaRezistance on flickr.