‘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.

Public Drinking Water around the World

drinking water, india, international, outreach, photos, sustainability, technology, water availability

BYOB – bring your own bottle (for water), that is.

‘Fatherpur Sikri drinking water stand.’

Photo Courtesy INDIA a County of a Billion People Blog

‘A row of drinking water vending machines in Pattaya, Thailand. A liter of water sold (in a customer’s own bottle) for 1 baht.’

Above Photo: Vmenkov on Wikipeida

‘A drinking water post in the Rohtak district of India.’

Above Photo: Water Supply & Sanitation Branch, Haryana

‘This is a fountain in the Pueblo of Santa Catarina four miles away from Panajachel, Guatemala.’

Above Photo: hobotraveler.com blog

‘A Mayan woman with a child at a solar water treatment fountain in Guatemala.’

Above Photo: Aqua Sun International

‘Interesting photo of water cooler on the street behind the Niger Embassy in Cairo, Egypt.’

Above Photo: hobotraveler.com Blog

‘An Italian drinking fountain.’

Above Photo: travelblog.org

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.

‘A Different Kind of Water Torture’ on the Huffington Post

architecture, drinking water, general, international, sanitation, water treatment

“With the onset of hot, humid weather and early monsoon rains, situations of water-borne diseases such as viral hepatitis (A&E), gastroenteritis, typhoid and paratyphoid fever, cholera, dysentery, E-coli diarrhoea, giardiasis and intestinal worms, malaria, dengue fever, poliomyelitis and rotavirus diarrhoea in infants – the second major cause of childhood deaths – is likely to get worse if effective prevention and control measures are not adopted religiously.”

The above was the headline from a recent edition of The News International, the second largest English language newspaper in Pakistan. This summer has shown a rampant rise of water-borne illness in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. And in Pakistan alone, each year over 1.2 people die of water-borne illnesses.

In this same vein, John Sauer of Water Advocates in Washington DC has informed me of his recent post on the Huffington Post entitled “A Different Kind of Water Torture”. As the name might suggest, this post discusses the need to increase sanitation and water conveyance projects worldwide.

LA Tap Project – PSA-a-thon Series

drinking water, film, general, groundwater, india, outreach, PSA-a-thon Series, sustainability

Yes, it’s true.  I am a sucker for any great Public Service Announcement (PSA) relating to water. If produced right, sometimes these PSAs have the ability to intrigue me, bring a smile to my face, educate me, and move me to action or even to tears.

Because I love PSAs about water so much, I am going to feature them on Water for the Ages in a PSA-a-thon Series. Be sure and check out the first in the series: a PSA on rainwater harvesting made for television in India.

The second in the series, today’s PSA, is a little out-of-date but neat nonetheless. It was created for the Tap Project, an outreach effort each year from March 16 to March 22, to raise money for UNICEF’s water programs. Enjoy.

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)…

Quarter of Crude, Please

drinking water, economy, international, investments, outreach, water treatment

A friend asked me the other day, “did you know that it takes about quarter of a bottle of oil to produce one bottle of water?” I didn’t, and he was right.

His simple statement, and I found myself pondering this fact. To be honest, just thinking about the concept of a quarter of a bottle of oil in a beverage container disgusted me. And it further solidified my aversion to plastic bottles.

The production of plastic PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) bottles is an oil (natural gas and petroleum) intensive process. The Pacific Institute estimates the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil were required to produce 31.2 billion liters of water in 2006. This figure does not include the immense amount of oil used to transport bottled water around the world. (‘Fiji Water‘, oh my).

“The Pacific Institute estimates that the total amount of energy embedded in our use of bottled water can be as high as the equivalent of filling a plastic bottle one quarter full with oil.”

Dammed if we do, dammed if we don’t.

architecture, audio, dam, drinking water, economy, energy, floods, general, international, sustainability, technology

A friend sent along these great videos of a coffer dam being breached in super-fast speed. This video has since circulated the Internet extensively, but in case you haven’t seen it yet…

Marmot Dam Removal – ‘largest dam removal in Oregon’

This video shows the intentional breaching of a coffer dam, the final phase in a process to return the Sandy River to a free-flowing state.

Just like the Marmot Dam, most dams are finally demolished because of significant upkeep costs and concerns for fish.

So, what is the shelf-life of a dam?

Many dams constructed in the early 20th century are beginning to age and show signs of disrepair. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) is keeping a watchful eye over the dams in America. With over 79,000 dams in the United States, the ASDSO supposes there are thousands (3,316 to be exact) of dams susceptible to collapse.

…the number of dams identified as unsafe is increasing at a faster rate than those being repaired.
– ADSO

The possible failure of a dam is probably the most likely contender for its removal. But, many environmental, socio-economic, aesthetic, and cultural benefits also occur with the removal of dams.

We Build Them…

World’s Five Largest Dams by Volume (completed and proposed)


Source of Data: InfoPlease

And, then we take them down…

Three Largest Proposed Dam Removals in the World (so far)

  • If approved, four dams on the Klamath River in California and Oregon.
  • Two dams on the Elwha River are cited for removal in 2012.
  • Matilija Dam: Will this dam in Ventura County, California be removed?

American Rivers has compiled a list of dams removed from 1999 to 2007. They state around 713 dams have been removed, to date.

Barcelona Imports Water from France

drinking water, drought, economy, general, water trade

Barcelona Water Imports

This ship, docked in Barcelona, Catalonia, is carrying 5.3 million gallons of water in 20 storage tanks. This water will serve up to 180,000 people for one day in the capital city. Photo courtesy AP/Manu Fernandez

Spain is enduring a drought. Reservoirs in Barcelona are at 20 percent capacity, and rainfall has been minimal over the past four years. The government has opted, as a short-term answer to this water crisis, to import water from Tarragona, Spain and Marseilles, France. The water will arrive on ten ships (like the one above) each month over the next six months.

Total Price Tag = $68 Million

Iraq: Water and Politics in a War-Torn Country

drinking water, groundwater, international, iraq, middle east, water availability, water conflict, water treatment

Less than half of Iraq’s population of 29 million people have access to clean, drinkable water. According to a recent report by Oxfam, the number of civilians in Iraq without water has risen from 50 percent to 70 percent during 2003 to 2007 (the continued US occupation).


Above Photo: Child cries as a woman fills pans of water from a public water hose on open ground in Najaf, Iraq, in 2006. Alla al-Marjani/Associated Press.

Recent History of Water in Iraq

Iraq had over 140 drinking water and treatment facilities in operation in the recent past. Air attacks in the 1991 Persian Gulf War destroyed many of these plants. At the same time, UN imposed sanctions that disallowed trade between Iraq and other countries. This made import of needed chemicals and supplies for upkeep of the water facilities difficult. By 2003, Iraq’s 140 major water treatment facilities were operating at 35 percent of their design capacity. In March 2003, the US government launched a direct-attack on Iraq. The following continued war rendered useless already deteriorating water infrastructure systems across the country. Years of political upheaval, sanctions against Iraq, consistent mortar attacks, and unstable-transitional governing bodies have made maintenance of the water treatment systems almost impossible. Unsafe water is also taking its toll. Iraq saw the worst outbreak of Cholera in recorded history in 2007.


Above Photo: A man in a village in southern Iraq demonstrates how Bechtel left his village without access to clean water. BanglaPraxis.

While some measures are being taken to ensure water availability in Iraq…

UNICEF provides water on tanker trucks and distributes home-hygiene kits to civilians. UNESCO has assessed water resources available in Iraq and evaluated possible management plans. USAID has refurbished 10 water treatment plants and installed 70 small water treatment systems in rural communities. The transitional Iraqi Government has been developing water policy. The Iraq Water Project (Veterans for Peace in conjunction with LIFE) has sent small, sterilized water units for hospitals and schools and has been working to rebuild six water treatment plants in Iraq.

…these actions are not yet enough.

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.

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

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‘The politics of oil and water’ – Interviews on Big Think

drinking water, economy, film, international, outreach, rivers, water availability, water trade

Several interviews on the ‘politics of oil and water’ are featured this week on Big Think, a website of ideas from people on everything including the environment. The following people and others were asked about “access to oil and water as a human right, sources of alternative energy and the future of global conflicts over resources”.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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.

Quick Story on Water in Africa

africa, drinking water, drought, film, international, outreach, rivers, sustainability, water availability

In Africa, there is a young girl named Christina. She lives with her family in a small village in rural Ghana in West Africa. Ghana is close the equator with a tropical climate, but each year over eight months may pass without a drop of rain. During these dry spells, the one small pond in her village will slowly evaporate in the hot sun. Villagers are forced to seek water elsewhere. It is Christina’s job to fetch her family’s daily ration of water. Each day, she will walk up to four hours to gather enough water. Christina is a hardworking girl, but because she walks so far for water means she has no time to attend school. Christina is a real girl, and this is a true story as told in the short film below by Water Aid. Water Aid is an international organization with a vision of a world where everyone has access to safe water and sanitation. Intrigued? Read more about water in Africa below.

Africa Water Facts

Desert, rainforest, and savanna – over 900 million people live in Africa. It is the second largest continent in the world. Of all who live in Africa, 340 million people (38%) lack access to clean water and 500 million people (56 %) lack access to sanitation facilities.

If you lived in Africa, you would have to walk an average of six kilometers (3.72 miles) to carry sometimes dirty or murky water home to your family for use. The burden of this chore often falls on the women and children of a household.

The Nile, Niger, Volta, and Zambezi River Basins cross multiple political borders making water policy difficult and even volatile according to research conducted by the UN as featured on the BBC.


Above Photo: Water availability in Africa.UNEP/GRID-Arendal Maps and Graphics Library