Nasa Image of Water Earth
water availability

What is your definition of global water shortage?

A few weeks ago a freshman from City College of New York contacted me to ask a simple question for her Environmental Psychology class: “What is your take on the global water shortage?” She believed many people were not aware of the issue, or they thought such a scenario wouldn’t affect them. After pondering her question for a few minutes, I realized she made a good point in the North American context. In many lower-income countries where water access is a big problem, people are familiar with the idea of global water shortages. In North America, it feels like the general public is more aware of global water shortages existing primarily in other countries (now this may slowly be changing in areas such as the arid southwest US or in areas experiencing drought).

Nasa Image of Water Earth
Above Photo: Through the Cupola on the International Space Station by NASA

Let us first define global water shortage. A general definition of global water shortage is an excess of humans worldwide not having safe, potable water. There are around 800,000 people globally without access to water. People don’t have water because they can’t afford systems to convey and treat water or they live in locations where water is physically scarce. The global water shortage is compounded by affects of climate change, population growth, human migration, pollution, and competition. Climate change could result in longer periods of drought or intense flood events and people, even those living in the United States, will experience water supply variability. Population growth and human migration, pollution from factories and homes, and competition between water users will further limit available water resources even in the United States. There are two areas of concern when thinking about a global water shortage from a North American perspective: 1) ensuring all people have equitable access to water supplies globally, and 2) ensuring that we in the United States are learning conservation methods and preparing for times of water scarcity.

Regarding these two areas of concern, it seems North Americans are more empathetic to the global component but less empathetic to the water conservation component. Popular groups like charity: water and water.org use famous celebrities like Matt Damon to help explain the global water shortage message to the North American public. The general public may not know the exact number of people without adequate water, but they seem to understand that people live without water in other countries. But when they turn on the tap, they don’t understand how using less water will help their community or how learning water conservation techniques could help their community. This might arise from a lack of understanding about local water policies, the energy used to treat such water, or even the basic water cycle. People don’t realize how what they do is connected to the bigger picture. For example, using less water requires the municipality to treat less water which will use less energy which could mean less gas extracted for energy production. International NGOs, federal and state governmental organizations, and even/especially I could do a better job communicating the global water shortage to the North American public to help avoid this global/local divide. What is your definition of a global water shortage?

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

Visions of Water, Visions of Life: ECAG in Kenya

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.

drinking water, international, outreach, sustainability, water availability

YouthNoise DROP Campaign

Lately, I’ve been so busy with grad school that I’ve neglected my blog. Luckily, there are people like those over at the Youth Noise Drop Campaign still working tirelessly to improve global water and sanitation conditions.  Previously, I let you know that they were hosting a summit in NYC for young activists to learn more about global water issues. Well, they hosted the summit and have posted the video on their website.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Plus, the Drop Campaign website is super cool. They offer monthly tips on water conservation and water actions, have links to a whole community of other individuals interested in global water, and encourage people to be more aware of global water issues.

drinking water, drought, economy, general, water trade

Barcelona Imports Water from France

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

agriculture, asia, drought, economy

Drought Continues in Kashmir

The Kashmir region (India, China, and Pakistan) is hoping for additional precipitation in form of snow.  The region, while traditionally arid, has received little snow or rain over the past several months to replenish waterways. December 22nd commenced an annual season of 40-days known as “Chillai Kalan”, characterized with heavy snowfall and blustery temperatures. However, as of yet, this “Chillai Kalan” has not brought the significant snowfall for which citizens have been hoping. A shortage of rain threatens many farmers in the region, including those who cultivate the famed Kashir Saffron spice (exported on the global market).

Nearly five hundred springs have dried up, and the level in the river Jhelum has fallen to a dangerously low degree. The river through the middle of the city has shrunk so low that at several places children can bee seen playing cricket on the river bed.

Kashmir Observer

River Jhelum near Srinagar, during a time with ample flow.

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

Water Crisis in Cyprus and Climate Change

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.

agriculture, asia, water trade

Thailand, Agriculture, and Water Cap and Trade

The people of Thailand are gearing up for general elections for prime minister on December 23, 2007. This is an exciting occurrence, as political activities were outlawed in Thailand after a major coup d’etat on September 19, 2006.

While preparations for the elections occur, discussions abound regarding the future of the economy in Thailand. As stated on the Bangkok Post Daily, it cannot be ignored that the agricultural sector in Thailand currently supports a large part of the economy. Thailand exports a large percentage of their agricultural products to the global market. But, the author of this article states,

There may be a time when Thailand must keep its agricultural produce within the country for food security, especially to offset drought. If at some time in the future Thailand cannot feed its own people and must depend on food imports, it will have to fork over a hard-earned foreign exchange advantage to buy ever more expensive food, and there may be little money left for development. Therefore, said Nongnuch, Thailand should never abandon its determination to maintain food security, and always produce at least enough to feed its population.

Firstly, I must exclaim, I do not see how maintaining food supplies within one’s country would offset drought. But, this issue does bring up conversation concerning globalization, food supply, and water availability.

With increasing recognition of water shortages in agricultural sectors throughout the world, it has been suggested that a re-organization of food production could be a viable option to reduce stress on water supplies. For example, growing less water-intensive crops in arid locations, while growing water-intensive crops in areas with high precipitation. This kind of global re-organization of the food market would require extensive participation by political entities throughout the world to ensure trade of needed foods sources be conducted equitably.

However, current global trade is not conducted in a fair manner because large entities often have an unfair advantage over small entities, especially with the implementation of such trade polices like NAFTA and CAFTA, etc. That leads one to think that implementation of some manner of water cap and trade system could assist in a global reorganization of the agricultural sector.

In summary, if this new system of agriculture could be maintained, it has the possibility to provide sustainable agricultural commodities while lessening our dependence on water supplies. But, the likelihood of the imminent occurrence of this type of paradigm shift is nil to none.

Globalization is happening, we might as well use it for good.

-as succinctly stated by my close friend.