Headlines about climate change often focus on food scarcity, but the problems facing the irrigation sector – which is critical to our ability to feed the future – are usually too complex to make it into the news. For stakeholders in the sector, however, the challenges are all too clear., such as:
Amid pomp, traditional dance and splendor, in rural Chisamba, central Province, the President of Zambia, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, cut an elaborate ribbon donned in Zambian colors of red, black, green and orange to lay a foundation stone to mark the construction of the Mwomboshi Dam. The dam construction is funded by the World Bank under the Irrigation Development and Support Project (ISDP) with the amount of $37 million. Not only did I attend this significant ground-breaking ceremony as a representative of the World Bank Group (WBG), but I also took the opportunity to say a Bemba agriculture idiom I have been taught by my colleagues at the office.
In 2015 the world saw great momentum for climate action, culminating in a historic agreement in December to cut carbon emissions and contain global warming. It was also a year of continued transformation for the energy sector. For the first time in history, a global sustainable development goal was adopted solely for energy, aiming for: access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
To turn this objective into reality while mitigating climate change impacts, more countries are upping their game and going further with solar, wind, geothermal and other sources of renewable energy. As we usher in 2016, these stories from around the world present a flavor of how they are leading the charge toward a climate-friendly future.
1: Morocco is rising to be a “solar superpower.” On the edge of the Sahara desert, the Middle East’s top energy-importing country is building one of the world’s largest concentrated solar power plants. When fully operational, the Noor-Ouarzazate power complex will produce enough energy for more than one million Moroccans and reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels by 2.5 million tons of oil.
If God appeared in the dream of a paddy farmer in India’s West Bengal and said, “You have made me happy with your hard work, make any three wishes and they will be granted,” the farmer will say “I want rain, rain, rain.”
That thought kept playing over and over in my mind, after interacting with farmers in the paddy fields of the Siliguri and Jalpaiguri districts of West Bengal. Located in India’s northeast, the area is famous for its scenic beauty, tea plantations and paddy fields. While the region’s fertile soil makes it ideal for a variety of crops, it is almost entirely dependent on rainfall for irrigation, like anywhere else in the world.
To reduce their dependence on the monsoons, India’s farmers have taken 12 million electricity connections and 9 million diesel pump sets with which they pump up groundwater for irrigation.
Although agriculture’s share of India’s economy is declining—it contributes to less than 15% of India’s GDP—it still employs 50% of the country’s workforce. Not surprisingly, perhaps, up to 20% of all the electricity used in India is for agriculture, mostly for irrigation. In some states, this can account for as much as 30-50% of all the electricity used in the state.
There are many states where power for agricultural purposes is highly subsidized, and this, combined with an unreliable supply of electricity, often causes farmers to leave their pumps on all the time. This wastes both electricity and water, with too much energy being used and too much groundwater being extracted, often way more water than needed.
Since more than half of India’s cultivated land is yet to be irrigated, a business-as-usual scenario will lead to a huge rise in India’s energy needs for agriculture alone.
But there is an alternative—solar energy.
With decreasing solar modules prices (70% in the last 4 years), solar pumps are fast becoming a viable financial solution for irrigation.
However, there are several questions about the use of solar pumps that need to be answered:
Won’t solar pumps only make farmers more lax about using energy resources and wasting groundwater?
Last month, I met an obstetrician in India and in the course of conversation, asked her how many babies she had delivered.
“After ten thousand babies, I stopped counting,” she said.
Naturally, I was curious to know if anything scared her when she’s delivering a child. Her answer: “I pray that there is electricity for sterilized water and other equipment during the process.”
The obstetrician is also the project director for part of a World Bank health project in Nagaland—a remote Northeastern state in India. She is an ardent advocate for the expansion and promotion of solar energy in the primary health care sector because she, like many of her colleagues, believes that more solar energy in the health sector can spur a revolution by boosting the standard and reliability of health delivery services in the country.
When I joined the World Bank four months ago as a renewable energy specialist, I had always considered solar in the context of electricity for homes and businesses. But working with other sectors and exploring solar interventions in increasing crop productivity, safe drinking water and child delivery in health centers has shown me the massive potential solar energy has to help other areas of development as well. There is a clear business case for why solar is fast becoming a mainstream technology for providing power even in non-energy sectors like agriculture and water.
Until recently, the biggest hurdle in adopting solar power was the high upfront cost (more than $3 per watt before 2010) and lack of project financing for solar projects.
But much of that has changed. In the last four years, solar module prices have fallen more than 70% (less than $1 a watt), and per unit cost of solar power (kwh) has fallen from 30 cents per unit in 2010 to less than 8 cents per unit not only in India but also in Brazil, Chile, UAE and other countries.
The cost of solar technology has come down, way down, making it is a viable way to expand access to energy for hundreds of millions of people living in energy poverty. For farmers in developing countries, the growing availability of solar water pumps offers a viable alternative to system dependent on fossil fuel or grid electricity. While relatively limited, experience in several countries shows how solar irrigation pumps can make farmers more resilient against the erratic shifts in rainfall patterns caused by climate change or the unreliable supply and high costs of fossil fuels needed to operate water pumps. Experience also suggests a number of creative ways that potential water resource trade-offs can be addressed.
Groundwater stored in the earth’s crust underpins all our lives – the ultimate source of freshwater for billions has become victim of over-extraction and the ultimate sink for pollutants.
For too long, not enough has been done to regulate the use of this precious, on-demand resource and manage disposal of waste. If rates of groundwater depletion have tripled in the past 3 decades, then the rate at which pollutants have accumulated in shallow aquifers can only have equaled or exceeded that rate.
The lack of care given to groundwater is placing a huge tax on the poor who have no access to clean piped water supply and depend on groundwater for their health and livelihoods. Self-supply, through the use of wells, from polluted aquifers in urban and rural areas is widespread, but un-reported. The impacts are all too apparent in the densely populated urban slums and rural communities that often live just centimeters above polluted soil and rock. Out-migration of poor farmers who are no longer able to access deepening groundwater tables has been a feature in arid and semi-arid regions, but intensive agriculture is also leaving behind a legacy of nitrates and pesticides which imprint aquifers for decades.
However, the reality of the concept is extremely straightforward. Resilience equals the ability of people, communities, governments and systems to withstand the impacts of negative events and to continue to grow despite them. Or maybe that is simply the definition I use.
Whatever the definition, what we can agree on is the need for action. It has always been challenging to convince people to invest in things that are preventative—quite simply, demonstrating impact requires proving a negative most of the time. However, with the apparent increase in frequency and severity of negative events, political and commercial willingness to take prevention, avoidance and risk management seriously is increasing.
The southern fringes of the Sahara desert host rugged lands where mankind has thrived for more than a millennium. In this vast panorama, the Inner Niger Delta stands out: In a region where limited rainfall is a fact of life, the Delta is a natural dam and irrigation scheme whose flood plain creates a grazing and cropping perimeter that at its peak can reach 30,000 km2 and sustains about 900,000 people.
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China’s most arid regions are facing an increasingly serious water crisis, and local water policies often aggravate the problem. In such climates, growth in the agricultural sector has come with high environmental costs.
With the help of new technologies that measure real water consumption in agriculture, governments are designing innovative water rights systems that actually save water. Based on results from two successful pilots, the World Bank Group is partnering with China to tap into science to transform water management in agriculture at the national level.