Climate change in the news (Mar 20- 26, 2010)
Today is World Water Day, a good time to ponder the impacts of global climate change on water availability and quality. Julia Bucknall was part of a team of experts from the WDR2010 and the World Bank's Middle East and North Africa region visiting Israel last week to learn about innovation in water. The blog below is the first in three installments.
Can high-tech agriculture help developing countries get more from their water?
Israel invented drip irrigation, a technology that has spread rapidly since its introduction in the 1960s and which is widely touted as a key way for countries to close their water gap and be more adapted to climate change. It certainly does reduce evaporative losses, is often associated with a switch to high-value crops, and reduces fertilizer use when liquid fertilizer is added to the mix and delivered precisely to the root of the plant (a process that delights in the name “fertigation”). We often see important productivity gains.
Yet it’s not as simple as that.
Climate change in the news (Mar 13- 18, 2010)
Almost all human and ecosystem activity relies on a safe, stable supply of water resources. And since the resource needs to be allocated to myriad uses, from drinking to agriculture to instream flows to transportation, industry, and spiritual transformation, water management is conflict management. Moreover, when surface basins or aquifer systems cross international boundaries the unifying principles of integrated watershed management and all the attendant centripetal forces within a basin directly contradict the centrifugal needs of state separation and sovereignty.
|Photo © iStockphoto.com|
There are 263 basins, and 265 aquifers, which cross the political boundaries of two or more countries. International basins cover 45.3 percent of the earth’s land surface, affect about 40percent of the world’s population, and account for approximately 80 percent of global river flow. Ninety percent of the global population lives in countries with international basins. While the potential for paralyzing disputes is especially high in these basins, history shows that water can catalyze dialogue and cooperation, even between especially contentious riparians. Moreover, as we move from thinking about rights to thinking in terms of equitably sharing “baskets” of benefits, opportunities to cooperate become palpable.
|Photo © Julia Bucknall/World Bank|
It is very hard to explain through writing what befell us. The drought is more that what is seen on telly. I am now only left with one cattle. The rest were wiped by the drought. That makes me feel as if there is no future in me. I had a dream of seeing the number I had increase to more than I could think of. Now that dream is gone.
We had rain for only two days, the 15th and 16th of October. This is not enough to make the land green, so we are still hoping for more. I am touched by offers of help. I wish you could make some grass for me. Since there haven't been any rain in most places in the country, we found it difficult to move the cattle in search of grass. Many died on the way.
|Photo: © Curt Carnemark / World Bank|
All "new" priorities risk diverting attention from "old" ones. Climate change seems no different. It seems likely that climate change, through its impact on temperatures and rainfall, will have negative affects on existing water stress in many countries. Crop water demand will increase with temperature, rainfall will decrease in many areas and become more erratic in most. Further, we are already substantially over-drafting many aquifers and damaging river eco-systems.
In parallel with these concerns, Vorasmarty et al (2000) estimate that the impact of economic and population growth will substantially exceed the impacts of climate change on the water demand/supply balance.
No one in Nairobi—where we just released pre-press version of the World Development Report—needs to be reminded about the effects of climate change. Four consecutive rains have failed, and on 80 percent of the country’s land area, water resources are at a tenth of their normal levels.
|Photo © Ann Phillips|
Everyone is feeling it.
Farmers see dying crops. The harvest is 28 percent of normal amounts. The Minister of Environment reported at the WDR launch yesterday that ten million Kenyans were going hungry because of the drought. Herders see their cattle dying or have to sell them for low prices. Some are shipping their cattle to areas that still have grass only to see them die of cold at the higher altitudes.
|Photo © iStockphoto.com|
While people are largely well adapted to the ‘natural’ climate variability of their region (of which drought is one half of the equation, and abnormally wet periods the other), droughts can pose very serious risks when their severity exceeds expected levels, or when they strike in areas which are not used to coping with them. And this is likely to happen more frequently with climate change.