Water Is Life: 4 Stories From Around the World

When the question is asked who will survive climate change and how-the answer will always begin with water. Water is Life. These 4 news items come from Central Asia, Ethiopia, and North America (Turtle Island).




Published on Friday, June 13, 2008 by Reuters
Water Squabbles Irrigate Tensions in Central Asia
by Maria Golovnina

VAKHDAT, Tajikistan – Under a scorching sun, an exhausted Tajik woman looks at a drying trickle of irrigation water running across her cotton field.“Water is all we have,” said Gulbakhor, a 55-year-old mother of nine, pointing at swathes of parched land stretching towards the austere mountains of central Tajikistan. She did not want to give her last name.

“But all the ponds and rivers are dry. We need to water our crop but we don’t have enough even for ourselves.”

Gulbakhor’s despair, shared by millions of Tajiks in this tiny ex-Soviet nation north of Afghanistan, reflects a growing sense of alarm throughout Central Asia where stability depends on the region’s scarcest and most precious commodity: water.

From tiny irrigation canals such as Gulbakhor’s to the powerful Soviet-era hydroelectric plants, water is the source of misery and celebration in a poor region already overflowing with political and ethnic tension.

Central Asia is one of the world’s driest places where, thanks to 70 years of Soviet planning, thirsty crops such as cotton and grain remain the main livelihood for most of the 58 million people.

Disputes over cross-border water use have simmered for years in this sprawling mass of land wedged between Iran, Russia and China. Afghanistan, linked to Central Asia by the Amu Daria river, is adding to the tension by claiming its own share of the water.

Water shortages are causing concern the world over, because of rising demand, climate change and swelling populations.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said water scarcity is a “potent fuel for wars and conflict”.

Analysts say this year’s severe weather fluctuations in Central Asia — from a record cold winter to devastating spring floods and now drought — are causing extra friction.

“Water is very political. It’s very sensitive. It can be a pretext for disputes or conflicts,” said Christophe Bosch, a Central Asia water expert at the World Bank. “It is one of the major irritants between countries in Central Asia.”


In the Tajik village of Sangtuda, a scattering of huts in a dusty, sun-puckered valley near the border with Afghanistan, villagers showed their only source of water: a rusty pipe pumping muddy water from a Soviet-era reservoir.

“We are lucky. There are villages around with no water at all,” said Khikoyat Shamsiddinova, an elderly farmer who said she had started planting drought-tolerant peas and watermelons — a small boost to her household income.

Water scarcity is particularly painful for Tajikistan since its glaciers and rivers contain some of the world’s biggest untapped water resources. A Soviet-era legacy of waste and decaying pipe networks are hampering sustainable distribution.

The World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and a host of European non-governmental organizations are helping Tajikistan build new canals and wells and repair the old ones.

Efficient water management requires advanced engineering expertise in water saving and resource planning in a region where most water simply vanishes into the ground if the irrigation timing is incorrect, experts say.

“If you look at quantity, yes, you have a lot of it, but it is not a question of quantity but quality and timing,” said the World Bank’s Bosch. “That’s the problem in Central Asia.”

The problems are having an effect far beyond farming. Lacking oil and gas reserves like some of its neighbors, Tajikistan depends on its sole Soviet-era hydroelectric plant, Nurek, to generate power.

Its crumbling power grid — ruined by civil war in the 1990s — finally gave out last winter, throwing hospitals, schools and millions of people into the dark and cold for weeks.

Makhmadnabi, a villager with a tired, weather-beaten faced, said people were becoming impatient. “The government must do something about it. People are gloomy,” he said.

With a foreign debt worth 40 percent of the economy and state coffers empty, Tajikistan is unable to finance urgent sector reform, adding to discontent and potential unrest in an otherwise tightly run country where dissent is not tolerated.

“There is definitely a build-up of dissatisfaction,” said one Western diplomat who asked not be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. “People will have to go through another winter of dark and cold and then they will realize that something’s wrong.”


There have been no outward signs of anger, but the trend is a worry for Western powers watching the strategically placed country for signs of trouble.

In April, parliament urged Tajiks to give up half their wages in May and June to help finish construction of the $3 billion Rogun hydroelectric plant — a project seen as key to solving energy shortages but which has been frozen since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

“I urge all the patriots and sons of our land to take active part in constructing the first phase of the plant and add your contribution to the country’s energy independence,” Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon was quoted as saying in local media on May 31.

In Soviet days, water management was unified under Moscow’s control, which linked Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, whose rivers and glaciers contain more than 90 percent of Central Asian water, with the arid plains of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

The system fell apart when Soviet rule collapsed. With national rivalries on the rise, the new states have been unable to agree on how to share their water effectively.

Uzbekistan, Central Asia’s most populous nation and a big gas producer, is angry that poor Tajikistan has the leverage to influence water levels in its cotton plains — a powerful political tool.

Farmers in Kazakhstan, for their part, accuse Uzbekistan of dumping fertiliser in its rivers. Tajik officials complain that foreign investment in its hydroelectric sector has stalled because of fears of conflict with Uzbekistan.

A Chinese company pulled out of a project to build a power station on a Tajik river last year because of what Tajik industry sources said was China’s reluctance to get involved in Central Asian bickering.

Observers agree that only cooperation between the five “stans” of Central Asia can provide sustainable water use.

“Countries should be able to do this as independent entities,” said another Western diplomat, who also preferred not to be identified. “They’re not children. They are grown-up members of the international community.”

© 2008 Reuters


Drought doubles number of Ethiopians needing aid: U.N.

Fri Jun 13, 2008 9:40pm EDT 
GENEVA (Reuters) – Drought in Ethiopia has caused food shortages, killed livestock and more than doubled the number of people needing urgent humanitarian aid to 5 million, the United Nations said on Friday.

“Seasonal rains have been poor or have failed in many parts of Ethiopia with dramatic effects on harvests in crop-producing areas,” said Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The United Nations is seeking $325 million to provide nearly 400,000 tonnes of food aid as well as health and other assistance through November to people in Ethiopia’s hard-hit south and southeastern regions, which border Somalia and Kenya.

Some 4.6 million people are now in need of assistance, compared to 2.2 million before the drought took hold, Byrs said.

As many as 75,000 children are already suffering from acute malnutrition and illness as a result of the drought, which the United Nations said has compounded pressure on poor Ethiopians squeezed by an increase in the global prices of cereals and other foods.

(Reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Stephanie Nebehay)


Monsoon season starts Sunday
Storms during 1st weeks could trigger wildfires


Published: 06.14.2008

The intense splash of weather that simultaneously threatens and sends waves of relief across southern Arizona every summer is about to begin.
And this year, for the first time, we know exactly when.

Until last year, the start of the monsoon – the three-month rainy season when Tucson gets half its annual rain – was determined by the dew point, the temperature at which moisture condenses into water in the air. Beginning this year it starts June 15, rain or shine.
Forecasters say it will be shine. But that doesn’t mean rain is that far off, and people who deal with the monsoon face to face are gearing up.

We could start seeing afternoon clouds over the mountains any day now – mostly “dry” storms that spark lightning but little rain, said Eric Pytlak, science and operations director for the National Weather Service in Tucson.
It’s already raining to the south, where the monsoon is born before sweeping into Arizona on the tail of a high pressure zone.
“The monsoon is getting going down in Mexico,” Pytlak said.

That high pressure zone was nearing the border this week and is expected to move into its monsoon position over northeast Arizona in coming weeks.
University of Arizona researcher Chris Castro expects an early start (before July 7) and stronger-than-usual storms with a lot of lightning during the first weeks of the season, he said during a Web briefing June 4.
“This is going to be potentially a trigger for increased wildfire activity,” Castro said.

The Pima County Regional Flood Control District has been checking levees, culverts and various and sundry pieces of the hardware that keeps homes flood-free, said district director Suzanne Shields.
Engineers are checking the depth of channels, and they are checking the rain gauges – some of which are accessible only by helicopter. A key drainage feature, Cherry Field basins near Campbell Avenue and East 14th Street, are ready for this year’s monsoon. The basins should help prevent a repeat of flooding on Fourth Avenue, which damaged about a dozen businesses last July, Shields said.
Not all monsoon preparations require heavy equipment.

“It could be something as simple as a little field mouse building a nest in one of our (rain) gauges,” Shields said.

The weather service – which forecasts the weather and issues severe weather warnings – has been preparing for weeks, Pytlak said.

Forecasters are reviewing monsoon science and the software used to issue warnings, and they have done monsoon-related drills, he said.

The weather service has revamped its monsoon Web page to offer more information and better allow the public to track the arrival and progress of the storms, Pytlak said.
“Some people just want to know if it’s going to rain today, but some people want to know more than that. They want to know why,” he said.

Tucson Electric Power has made its monsoon list and is checking it twice, said spokesman Joe Salkowski.

“We are looking for parts of our systems that are vulnerable,” Salkowski said.

Examples include damaged transformers and cracked, aged power poles. Replacing poles before they fall can prevent chain reactions that lead to outages, he said.
“That one pole, when it falls, drags down all the poles next to it,” he said.

So crews put one metal pole – called a “stopper” – in a row of wooden ones. The metal pole can keep the whole row upright during a storm, he said.

Nonetheless, there are likely to be outages during monsoon. If your power goes out, it’s OK to call TEP, but wait about 15 minutes first, Salkowski suggests. Power can often be restored within minutes by rerouting around downed lines, he said.
“In most cases we are aware of outages when they occur, but there are instances when we are not aware . . . It just depends on where you are,” he said.


June 12, 2008
12:58 PM

 CONTACT: American Rivers
Andrew Fahlund, 202-347-7550 x3022;
John Seebach, 202-347-7550 x3055
Healthy Rivers — Not More Hydropower Dams — Are Needed in a Warming World
American Rivers submits testimony to House Water and Power Subcommittee
WASHINGTON, DC – June 12 – Hydropower dams aren’t a “silver bullet” when it comes to fighting global warming, and healthy rivers will become increasingly valuable to wildlife and human communities in a warming world, American Rivers said today in testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Water and Power Subcommittee.

In the hearing on the current and future energy mix of the United States, American Rivers emphasized that hydropower dams will continue to play a role, but that they must be sited and operated in a way that supports the health of rivers and communities.

Andrew Fahlund, Vice President for Conservation at American Rivers, made the following statement:

“Making smart energy choices is more important than ever. Hydropower dams will continue to play a role serving our nation’s energy needs, but they aren’t a silver bullet solution to the problem of global warming. In some cases, hydro dams may even make the problem worse.”

“Global warming affects every American river and therefore, every American community. We know that the future holds more intense floods and droughts. The question is how to make our rivers and communities more resilient in the face of these big changes. The answer lies in protecting and restoring healthy rivers.”

“Hydropower dams may not generate as much global warming pollution as coal, but they can have staggering impacts on a river’s health. It isn’t fair or just when a dam harms clean water, or prevents a community from enjoying its river and the many economic benefits that come from river recreation and healthy fish and wildlife.”

“It is folly to believe that building new hydropower dams will solve our energy problems. All of the best hydropower sites were developed decades ago. Many of the sites that remain were rejected because development was simply too expensive or because the costs to local communities or the environment was too high.”

“Not all dams are created equal. Each dam has its own balance of costs and benefits. There are hundreds of cases where a dam’s operations have been improved to boost the health of the river. There have been other cases where a dam’s economic and environmental impacts were simply too high, and the dam was removed to restore the river. Dam removal will remain an option for communities with outdated or harmful dams.”

American Rivers is the leading national organization standing up for healthy rivers so communities can thrive. American Rivers protects and restores America’s rivers for the benefit of people, wildlife and nature. Founded in 1973, American Rivers has more than 65,000 members and supporters nationwide, with offices in Washington, DC and the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, California and Northwest regions. www.AmericanRivers.org

Read a copy of the testimony (PDF) 


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