Tag Archives: water scarcity

Not Sharing, even a Glass of Water: the Water Crisis in India

The southern city of Chennai—India’s fifth largest with a population of around 10 million—has been meeting only two-thirds of its water needs for weeks, the product of years of drought and decades of failure to manage the region’s water resources.   Residents have been scrambling around the clock to get water—spending hours chasing government tankers or paying private companies to deliver water.  Recent light rains broke a 200-day streak without rain. But the first month of India’s annual monsoon brought one-third less rain than the 50-year average, the driest June in five years, according to the India Meteorological Department.

The acute water shortage in one of India’s largest cities has been building for decades through a mix of population growth, poor planning and increasingly erratic monsoon rains….

The situation in Chennai reflects a larger water crisis spreading across India. Half the country’s population—600 million people—live in areas where water resources are highly or extremely stressed. About 100 million people living in 21 of India’s biggest cities may see their groundwater exhausted by the end of next year, according to a 2018 study by NITI Aayog, an Indian government policy think tank.  By 2030, demand for water will be double the country’s supply, the report said. And the impact will go far beyond the areas actually affected by water shortages: Almost one-third of the country’s agricultural output comes from areas most affected by water shortages…

The scarcity has led to clashes between neighbors. “No one is ready to share even a glass of water,” she said.

Excerpts from Vibhuti Agarwal and Krishna Pokhare Indians Hunt Through the Night for Water as a Megacity Runs Dry, WSJ, July 6, 2018

How to Kill One Million Fish: Murray-Darling

But it took a viral video posted on 8 January 2019 to drive home the ecological catastrophe that was unfolding in the Murray-Darling river system in Australia. In the footage, Rob McBride and Dick Arnold, identified as local residents, stand knee-deep among floating fish carcasses in the Darling River, near the town of Menindee. They scoff at authorities’ claims that the fish die-off is a result of the drought. Holding up an enormous, dead Murray cod, a freshwater predator he says is 100 years old, McBride says: “This has nothing to do with drought, this is a manmade disaster.” Arnold, sputtering with rage, adds: “You have to be bloody disgusted with yourselves, you politicians and cotton growers.”

Scientists say McBride probably overestimated the age of the fish. But they agree that the massive die-off was not the result of drought. “It’s about taking too much water upstream [to irrigate farms] so there is not enough for downstream users and the fish,” says Quentin Grafton, an economist specializing in water issues at Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. The Australia Institute, a Canberra-based think tank, blamed “policy failure and mismanagement” in a 19 January 2019 report, but called drought a catalyst.

Excessive water use has left river flows too low to flush nutrients from farm runoff through the system, leading to large algal blooms, researchers say. A cold snap then killed the blooms, and bacteria feeding on the dead algae sucked oxygen out of the water,   This wasn’t supposed to happen. In 2012, the national government adopted the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, touted as a “historic” deal to ensure that enough water remained in the rivers to keep the ecosystem healthy even after farmers and households took their share.

In 2008, the federal government created the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to wrestle with the problem. In 2010, a study commissioned by the authority concluded that farmers and consumers would have to cut their use of river water by at least 3000 but preferably by 7600 gigaliters annually to ensure the health of the ecosystem. Farmers, who saw their livelihoods threatened, tossed the report into bonfires.  The final plan, adopted as national law in 2012, called for returning just 2750 gigaliters to the rivers, in part by buying water rights back from users. “It was a political compromise that has never been scientifically reviewed,” Williams says, adding that “climate change was never considered in the plan, which was a dreadful oversight.”..

Grafton says there are also suspicions of widespread water theft; up to 75% of the water taken by irrigators in the northern part of the system is not metered. Farmers are also now recapturing the runoff from irrigated fields that used to flow back into streams, and are increasing their use of ground water, leaving even less water in the system, says Mike Young, an environmental policy specialist at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

In February 2018, such issues prompted a group of 12 academics, including scientists and policy experts, to issue the Murray-Darling Declaration. It called for independent economic and scientific audits of completed and planned water recovery schemes to determine their effects on stream flows. The group, which included Williams and Grafton, also urged the creation of an independent, expert body to provide advice on basin water management. Young, who wasn’t on the declaration, wants to go further and give that body the power to manage the basin’s water, the way central banks manage a country’s money supply, using stream levels to determine weekly irrigation allocations and to set minimum flow levels for every river.

Excerpts from Dennis Normile, Massive fish die-off sparks outcry in Australia, Science, Jan. 22, 2019.

The Water Barons of Australia

Australia has one of the world’s most sophisticated water-trading systems, and officials in other water-challenged places—notably California and China—are drawing on its experience to manage what the World Bank has called world’s “most precious resource.”  The system here, set up after a catastrophic drought in the 2000s saw the country’s most important river system almost run dry, aims to make sure each gallon of river water goes to higher-value activities.

But the return of severe drought to an area of eastern Australia more than twice the size of Texas is testing the system…Putting a price on water is politically unacceptable in many countries, where access to lakes and rivers is considered a basic right and water is often allocated under administrative rules instead of by markets.

Many water markets that do exist only allow landowners to buy and sell water rights. Australia since 2007 has allowed anyone to trade water parcels, putting supply under the influence of market forces in a system now valued at about $21 billion. Water may be freely bought and sold by irrigators, farmers, water brokers or investors through four exchanges—H2OX, Waterfind, Water Exchange and Ruralco—which allow real-time pricing…

As Australia rewrote the rules of its water market over the last decade to deal with its own drought crises, many farmers chose to sell their water licenses and rely on one-off purchases to keep farming.  The tactic worked until winter rains failed to arrive this year, turning fertile areas into dust bowls. Where a megaliter of water in June last year, before the drought took hold, cost around 3,000 Australian dollars (U.S. $2,166), the price is now closer to A$5,000, according to Aither Water, an advisory firm. The high cost has left smaller farmers praying for rain…

Australia’s drought is splitting agriculture-producing regions into those who have water and those who don’t.  Large investors—including Canadian and U.S. funds—bought high-price water licenses to set up agribusiness ventures in profitable almonds, cotton and citrus, with an eye to growing Asian markets. Others have set up dedicated water investment funds, with prices at the highest levels seen since the drought last decade.

In a country where boom-and-bust cycles, through drought and flood, have historically made water a political flashpoint, some rural Australian lawmakers and farmers want the government to divert water to help parched farms…In August 2018, Victoria state auctioned 20 gigaliters of water that had been earmarked for the environment, putting it on the market for dairy and fruit regions around Cohuna…Some water traders and environmentalists criticized the move as political interference—and said it risked undermining the water market by giving priority to farmers and disrupting forward trades and planning by other irrigators….Euan Friday, a water manager for farm and water investment company Kilter Rural, said the market is doing what it is supposed to do, and warned that the country’s fragile rivers—much smaller than the major rivers of North America—would be facing a dire situation without it. Supported by Australian pension funds, Kilter Rural has invested $130 million in buying water rights and redeveloping farmland.

Excerpt from Australia Model Water Market Struggles with Drought, WSJ, Nov. 8, 2018

Buying their Way out of Water Crisis: Gulf States

Scientists are now warning of “Peak Salt” – the point at which the Gulf becomes so salty that relying on it for fresh water stops being economically feasible.  “The average Arab citizen has eight times less access to renewable water than the average global citizen, and more than two thirds of surface water resources originate from outside the region,” says the U.N.Development Programme (UNDP) in a new study released this week.  Titled “Water Governance in the Arab Region: Managing Scarcity and Securing the Future,” the report warns that water scarcity in the region is fast reaching “alarming levels, with dire consequences to human development”….

A recent satellite study by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) found the region has lost, since 2003 alone, far more groundwater than previously thought – an amount the size of the Dead Sea…Threatened by future scarcities, several Arab countries, including the UAE, have expanded their use of non-conventional water resources including desalination; treated wastewater; rainwater harvesting; cloud seeding; and irrigation drainage water.

Currently, the Arab region leads the world in desalination, with more than half of global capacity.  Desalinated water is expected to expand from 1.8 percent of the region’s water supply to an estimated 8.5 percent by 2025.  Most of the increase is expected to concentrate in high-income, energy-exporting countries, particularly the Gulf countries, because desalination is energy- and capital-intensive…According to the UNDP study.Arab region’s oil wealth has allowed some states to mask their water poverty, giving them the false impression they can buy their way of out of the coming crisis…

Excerpt, By Thalif Deen, Arab World Sinks Deeper into Water Crisis, Warns UNDP, IPS, Nov. 29, 2013

Water in the Middle East: investment

Amidst a growing water crisis in the predominantly arid Middle East and North Africa (MENA), some of the world’s most influential water experts will meet Jan. 15-17 at the International Water Summit (IWS) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) to look for sustainable solutions.The World Bank has already warned that MENA is the world’s “most water-scarce region, home to 6.3 percent of the world’s population but with just 1.4 percent of renewable fresh water.”

The six countries that comprise the Gulf Cooperation Council – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE – are expected to spend a staggering 725 billion dollars over the next two decades on new water projects, desalination plants, infrastructure-building and high-tech innovations…

At the Abu Dhabi summit, Project Stream will offer a major opportunity for developers and investors to “connect and accelerate the building of sustainable water solutions”.  The summit, which is is part of the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week being hosted by Masdar, described as “a sustainable green energy city of the future”, will also bring together financiers and some of the world’s leading engineering, technology and service providers.

Peter McConnell, show director for IWS, says that GCC countries have been investing heavily in water sustainability over the last few years.  “And Project Stream will in essence become a networking platform that will connect solution providers from around the world to project developers from the region,” he added.  These projects, McConnell, said range from multi-billion-dollar government infrastructure ventures to high-tech innovations in areas such as low-energy desalination, water leakage prevention and water efficiency.  “These will contribute in a significant way to address the worldwide challenges surrounding clear water supply,” he added…

The industry think-tank Global Water Intelligence (GWI), which is collaborating with Project Stream in Abu Dhabi, has reported major planned investments by Gulf countries, amounting as much as 725 billion dollars over the next two decades.  Between 2013 and 2017, Qatar is planning to invest some 1.1 billion dollars in desalination capacity through independent water and power projects (IWPPs).  Kuwait has a combined municipal water/wastewater capital expenditure budget of 4.4 billion dollars from 2013 to 2016, while the UAE’s budget reaches 13.0 billion dollars.  Saudi Arabia is expected to spend about 53.9 billion dollars over the next two decades to build, operate and maintain water projects to meet the growing demand in the Kingdom, according to GWI estimates

Excerpts,  Thalif Deen, Water Summit to Focus on Resolving Scarcities in Mideast, IPS, Jan. 11, 2012