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des jurassischen Wassertröpfchens
20-23 sep 06 2ème CONGRES INTERNATIONAL L’EAU EN MONTAGNE, MEGEVE
12.10.05 Wasser- & Landwirtschaft: auf dem Weg zum Einklang? (Rundschreiben an Ratsmitglieder)
Citarum river, Indonesia
Genesis einer Idee
8.10.05 Trinkwasser-Initiative (4.Motionsentwurf)
31.3.05 Trinkwasser: Wertschöpfungsquelle (Einfache Anfrage, 1.Entwurf)
05.5044 - Fragestunde. Euromarket. Privatisierung der Wasserversorgung auch in der Schweiz?
05.5214 - Fragestunde. Dringliche Massnahmen gegen Überschwemmungen und Lawinen?
05.5211 - Fragestunde. Unwetterschäden 2005
05.5210 - Fragestunde. Prävention und Hochwasser
03.472 - Pa Iv Trinkwasser ist keine Handelsware
Reportagen & Kommentare
11 Jan 13 A Cancer Cycle, From Here to China, NYT, DAN FAGIN
16 Aug 12 Don’t Waste The Drought, NYT, CHARLES FISHMAN
5.Aug 12 Wasser wird nie knapp, NZZ am Sonntag, Christian Strunden
18.Mai 12 Wasserschloss Schweiz, NZZ, Friedemann Bartu
29.Jan 12 Peter Brabeck: «Wenn wir einen Liter Wasser abfüllen, ist die Welt entrüstet», Tages-Anzeiger, Daniel Schindler
28 jan 12 Peter Brabeck: "L’eau est un droit de l’homme." Mais sans prix, l'eau est gaspillé, Le Temps, Pierre Veya
21 Sep 11 Iraq may suffer clean water crisis in 15-20 years, Reuters, Aseel Kami
21.Sep 11 Wasserkraft neu gedacht, NZZ, Stephanie Geiger, Leserkommentare
21 Sep 11 The Return of the Elwha River, NYT, editorial
2 Jun 11 Chemicals in Farm Runoff Rattle States on the Mississippi, NYT, LESLIE KAUFMAN
1 Jun 11 Land & water grab: When the Nile Runs Dry, NYT, LESTER R. BROWN
1 Jun 11 Ambitious Plan for China’s Water Crisis Spurs Concern, NYT, EDWARD WONG
19 May 11 China Admits Problems With Three Gorges Dam, NYT, MICHAEL WINES
15 Feb 11 NO AGREEMENT ON WATER SHARING AT NILE COM MEETINGS, US Embassy Cairo, Wikileaks
8.Nov 10 Harzer Wasserregal: Ein Fall für die Landschaftsdetektive, FAZ, Janina Dörmann
31 Oct 10 The Colorado River’s Future, NYT, editorial
14 Jun 10 Tibet's watershed challenge, Washington Post, Uttam Kumar Sinha, Comment
12 Jun 10 Vital River Is Withering: Iraq Has No Answer, Lament, NYT, Steven Lee Myers
6 Jun 10 Lack of water threatens Iraq's long-term stability, REUTERS, Serena Chaudhry
15.Mai 10 Entwässerung bremst Braunwalds Abrutschen, NZZ, Sarah Fasolin
9 Aug 09 Landgrab: the myopics of the new colonialism, The Independent, Paul Vallely
21 Apr 09 De-Watering Wyoming, NYT, Editorial
15 Mar 09 Chilean Town Withers in Free Market for Water, NYT, ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO
30 Jan 09 The water bubble is close to bursting, World Economic Forum report, Mark Adams
15 Oct 08 Where Water Trumps Energy, NYT, Editorial
23 Sep 08 Ban Near on Diverting Water From Great Lakes, NYT, SUSAN SAULNY
1 Sep 08 Tajikistan Hopes Water Will Power Its Ambitions, NYT, DAVID L. STERN
13.Jul 08 Nestlé-Präsident über die Verteufelung von Flaschenwasser, Sonntagszeitung, Victor Weber
12 Mar 08 Turkey, Iraq, Syria to initiate water talks, Today's Zaman, ERCAN YAVUZ
10 Feb 08 Drought Has Georgia Revisiting Border Dispute, WP/AP, Greg Bluestein, comments
10 Feb 08 Errare humanum est, WP, Iconoc
14 Dec 07 Western States Sign Water Pact, AP
10 Dec 07 Western States Agree to Water-Sharing Pact, NYT, Randal C. Archibold
15 Oct 07 Environmental disaster at China's Three Gorges Dam, Washington Post, Editorial
28 Sep 07 Beneath Booming Cities, China’s Future Is Drying Up, NYT, Jim Yardley
18 Sep 07 India-Sri Lanka Isthmus Canal Projet Hits Religious Wall, Washington Post, Rama Lakshmi
29 Aug 07 New Risks Emerge At Giant Three Gorges Dam, Wall Street Journal, Shai Oster
13 May 07 Snake River: Change of Heart by Dam’s Natural Allies, NYT, FELICITY BARRINGER
4 April 07 No Longer Waiting for Rain, an Arid West Takes Action, NYT, R.C. Archibold et al.
24 Mar 07 Dead Sea plan to restore water raises doubts, Washington Times, Jay Bushinsky
1 Jan 07 A Century Later, Los Angeles Atones for Water Sins, NYT, RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
19 Nov 06 A Troubled River Mirrors China’s Path to Modernity, NYT, JIM YARDLEY
15 Nov 06 Water Shortage in India, CNN
12 Nov 06 Hamilton, Wash.: After More Than a Century of Soaking, NYT, WILLIAM YARDLEY
1 Nov 06 Britain 'planned to cut off Nile', BBC News
2 Oct 06 China's Water Woes, TIME MAGAZINE, SUSAN JAKES
24 août 06 L'eau douce, une ressource dangereusement mal gérée, Le Temps, Etienne Dubuis
23 Aug 06 Ancient Persian waterworks found in Israel, Reuters, Corinne Heller
22. Aug 06 Neue Systemen, um Abwasser in heimischen Kreisläufen zu recyceln, FTD, Nicola Kuhrt
22. Aug 06 Tummelplatz für Krankheitskeime, FTD, Axel Bojanowski
20 août 06 Les pesticides menacent les nappes d'eau, Le Monde, Gaëlle Dupont
10 Aug 06 Old Feud Over Lebanese River Takes New Turn, Los Angeles Times, Kim Murphy
7 July 06 Border Fight Focuses on Water, Not Immigration, NYT, Randal C. Archibold
28 June 06 Alzheimer's disease, aluminium & drinking water
12 March 06 Death of the world's rivers, independent.co.uk, Geoffrey Lean
12 March 06 Rivers: a drying shame, independent.co.uk, Geoffrey Lean
8 mars 06 «La neige ne suffira pas», lematin.ch , Sébastien Jost
30. Jan 06 Armut, Trinkwasser und Privatwirtschaft, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, C.W.
27.Dez. 05 Alarm in der Arktis: Permafrost-Böden tauen auf, Focus, Michael Odenwald
26 Nov 05 Chinese Officials Sought to Hide Toxic Spill, Washington Post, Philip P. Pan
24 Nov 05 Panic as China's toxic city loses its water, The Independent, David Eimer
12 nov 05 Méditerranée: La dégradation écologique et la fracture Nord-Sud, Le Monde, Hervé Kempf
The Great Man-Made River Project of Libya, UNESCO
13 Feb 04 Storms lie ahead over future of Nile, Guardian (UK), Jeevan Vasagar
9 Feb 04 Tanzania Ignores Nile Treaty, Starts Victoria Water Project, The East African, Faustine Rwambali
1996 L'Eau, la Terre et le Feu (pétrol): res in usu omnium en Droit Musulman et Arab, Sami Aldeeb
8 Dec 92 After Thumbing EEA, Europe's Water Castle Offers Alternatives, WSJ, Anton Keller
1967 Memorandum on the technical and economic feasibility of applying nuclear explosives for civil engineering works,
with special reference to water resources development and management, Eighteen Nation Disarmament Conference, H.Anton Keller
1967 Plowshare, a new key to water resources development, Doublekay, Mathematica, AEC, H.Anton Keller
1967 Recent developments in international water law, Water for Peace Conference, H.Anton Keller et al.
1967 New horizons for water resources development, Water for Peace Conference, H.Anton Keller et al.
1966 The Nile waters question in view of the Nile agreement of 1959, ISAFONC, H.Anton Keller
1965 Contribution aux e?tudes de l'utilisation optimum des eaux du Nil, Travaux publics et entreprises, No 53, H.Anton Keller et al.
1964 Optimum management of Nile discharge. ISAOFNC, H.Anton Keller
1964 Le projet du Gabgaba : une variante au projet du haut barrage d'Assouan, Impr. La Concorde Lausanne, H.Anton Keller
1983 Optimale Wasserwirtschaft des Nil mit Einfu?hrung in das Gabgaba Projekt, ISAFONC, H.Anton Keller
Eingereicht von Teuscher
Eingereicht im Nationalrat
Stand der Beratung Erledigt
Gestützt auf Artikel 160 Absatz 1 der Bundesverfassung und Artikel 107 des Parlamentsgesetzes reiche ich folgende parlamentarische Initiative ein:
Das Parlament wird beauftragt, eine Vorlage auszuarbeiten, mit welcher der Bund das Trinkwasser zum öffentlichen Gut erklärt bzw. eine gewinnorientierte Trinkwasserversorgung untersagt. Der Bund garantiert eine landesweite, sichere Versorgung mit sauberem Trinkwasser. Die Gewässerhoheit bleibt wie bisher bei den Kantonen. Der Bund erlässt aber Rahmenbedingungen und Leitplanken, wie diese Wasserhoheit ausgeübt werden muss. Die Vorlage soll folgende Forderungen umfassen:
1. Der Bund erklärt das Trinkwasser zu einem öffentlichen Gut.
2. Die Kantone üben die Gewässerhoheit im Rahmen der vom Bund erlassenen Vorschriften aus.
3. Bund, Kantone und Gemeinden garantieren die Versorgungssicherheit und den Unterhalt der Verteilnetze.
4. Der Bund erlässt Richtlinien zu den Wassertarifen. Insbesondere müssen alle Wasserbezüger einer Trinkwasserversorgung gleich behandelt werden. Das Erzielen eines über den für Unterhalt und Erneuerung sowie für eine angemessene Verzinsung des investierten Kapitals hinausgehenden Gewinns ist nicht zulässig.
5. Die Versorgung mit qualitativ einwandfreiem Trinkwasser zu günstigen Preisen muss auch für die kommenden Generationen vollumfänglich sichergestellt werden.
6. Trinkwasserversorgungen dürfen nicht durch gewinnorientierte Unternehmungen betrieben werden.
7. Bei einer Ausgliederung von Wasserversorgungen muss die jeweilige öffentliche Körperschaft (Gemeinde, Gemeindeverband, Kanton) weiterhin die vollständige Kontrolle über die Wasserversorgungen ausüben können.
8. Regionale Fusionen sind zulässig, sofern sie eine effizientere Wasserversorgung erlauben oder der Versorgungssicherheit dienen.
9. Beim Verkauf von privaten Quellen besitzen Gemeinden oder Kantone ein Vorkaufsrecht.
Das Interesse der Wasserkonzerne am Wassermarkt ist sehr gross. Allein der europäische Wassermarkt wird auf 80 Milliarden Euro geschätzt. Um diesen Markt streiten sich die grössten Konzerne wie die französischen Multis Vivendi und Suez (gemeinsamer Weltmarktanteil von 53 Prozent). Die Weltbank schätzt diesen Markt weltweit auf mehr als 800 Milliarden Euro (etwa 1200 Milliarden Franken) pro Jahr. Die Europäische Union (EU) gehört zu den treibenden Kräften, welche den Bereich Wasserversorgung für private Unternehmen öffnen will. Die EU macht in dieser Sache auch Druck auf die Schweiz. Es besteht das Risiko, dass im Zuge von Sparmassnahmen viele Schweizer Gemeinden hohe Erneuerungsinvestitionen mit einer Privatisierung und Liberalisierung umgehen wollen, denn der Unterhalt der Versorgungsnetze ist teuer. Viele Gemeinden müssen ihre Wasserversorgung in den kommenden Jahren erneuern. Die Schweiz muss deshalb rechtzeitig Vorkehrungen treffen, damit Wasser nicht zu einer Handelsware wird.
Was bei einer Deregulierung des Wassermarktes passiert, kann man in England sehen. So haben beispielsweise die britischen Versorger nach der Privatisierung und Liberalisierung 20 000 Haushalten den Wasserhahn abgedreht, weil diese die hohen Rechnungen nicht mehr bezahlen konnten. In 128 Fällen wurden die Versorger wegen Vernachlässigung der Infrastruktur verurteilt. Während die Zahl der Arbeitsplätze im Wassersektor um 60 Prozent zurückging, stiegen die Vorstandsgehälter um ein Vielfaches an. Die Unternehmensgewinne machten bis zu 40 Prozent der Gebühren aus. Deshalb muss die Schweiz die Versorgung mit Trinkwasser unter besonderen Schutz stellen.
Chronologie: 06.10.2005 NR Der Initiative
wird keine Folge gegeben.
Amtliches Bulletin - die Wortprotokolle
Behandelnde Kommission Kommission für Umwelt, Raumplanung und Energie NR (UREK-NR)
Antrag: Keine Folge geben
Kommissionsberichte 27. April 2004 - Kommission für Umwelt, Raumplanung und Energie NR - Nationalrat
Deskriptoren Trinkwasser; öffentliche Infrastruktur; Eigentum; Staatsorgane; Wasserversorgung; Wasserwirtschaft; service public; Vorkaufsrecht; Gemeinde; Kanton; 52; freies Schlagwort: öffentliches Gut;
Bericht der Kommission für
Umwelt, Raumplanung und Energie vom 27. April 2004
03.472 n Pa.Iv. Teuscher. Trinkwasser ist keine Handelsware *
Die Kommission hat an ihrer Sitzung vom 27. April
2004 die am 19. Dezember 2003 von Nationalrätin Franziska Teuscher
eingereichte parlamentarische Initiative in Anwesenheit der Initiantin
Mit der Initiative wird das Parlament beauftragt, eine Vorlage auszuarbeiten, mit welcher der Bund das Trinkwasser zum öffentlichen Gut erklärt und gewinnorientierte Trinkwasserversorgungen untersagt.
Antrag der Kommission
Die Kommission beantragt mit 14 zu 9 Stimmen, der Initiative keine Folge zu geben.
Eine Minderheit der Kommission (Schenker, Aeschbacher, Bäumle, Maillard, Marty Kälin, Rechsteiner-Basel, Stump, Teuscher, Ursula Wyss) beantragt, der Initiative Folge zu geben.
Im Namen der Kommission
Der Präsident: Lustenberger Ruedi
1. 1. Text 1. 2. Begründung 2. Erwägungen der Kommission
2. Erwägungen der Kommission
Die Initiantin hob in ihrem Eingangsvotum den vorsorglichen Charakter der Initiative hervor, es gilt heute dafür zu sorgen, dass die Wasserversorgung eine zentrale Aufgabe des Service public bleibt und nicht liberalisiert wird.
Die Kommission diskutierte das heutige System der Wasserversorgung in der Schweiz und nannte Szenarien einer Privatisierung, wie sie in Frankreich und England bereits stattfanden. Hierzulande sind die Gemeinden für die Wasserversorgung verantwortlich, und über die Gemeindeversammlungen haben die Bürgerinnen und Bürger die Möglichkeit, Einfluss zu nehmen. Das System funktioniert sehr gut, und da kein Wassermangel herrscht, besteht auch kein Anreiz zum Handel oder zu wirtschaftlicher Betätigung. Die Mehrheit der Kommission sah es als übertrieben an, die Privatisierung generell zu verbieten, und sah entsprechend keinen Handlungsbedarf, das aktuelle System zu ändern.
Eine Minderheit erachtete es als wichtig, frühzeitig allfälligen Privatisierungsbegehren multinationaler Konzerne den Riegel zu schieben. Unter Spardruck könnten die Gemeinden in Versuchung geraten, die Wasserversorgung zu privatisieren. Die Initiative will, dass die Wasserversorgung gemeinnützig bleibt. Sie möchte gleichzeitig verhindern, dass aus einer Situation der Knappheit ein Mehrwert abgeschöpft wird, der Bürger und Wirtschaft ungerechtfertigt belastet.
Die Verwaltung bestätigte, dass sich in England negative Beispiele einer Privatisierung der Wasserversorgung zeigen und dass in Frankreich die Wasserversorgung in der Hand internationaler Konzerne liegt. Diese Verhältnisse haben dazu geführt, dass die Liberalisierung der Wasserversorgung auf der Ebene der WTO traktandiert wurde.
Die Kommission sprach sich schliesslich dafür aus, dass die Liberalisierung der Wasserversorgung auf Ebene der WTO für die Schweiz im Status „nicht verhandelbar" verbleibt.
Nationalrat - Herbstsession
2005 - Sechzehnte Sitzung - 06.10.05-15h00
Conseil national - Session d'automne 2005 - Seizième séance - 06.10.05-15h00
03.472 Parlamentarische Initiative
Teuscher Franziska. Trinkwasser ist keine Handelsware
Teuscher Franziska. L'eau potable n'est pas un bien marchand
Vorprüfung - Examen préalable
Einreichungsdatum 19.12.03 Date de dépôt 19.12.03
Bericht UREK-NR 27.04.04 Rapport CEATE-CN 27.04.04
Nationalrat/Conseil national 06.10.05 (Vorprüfung - Examen préalable)
Antrag der Mehrheit Der
Initiative keine Folge geben
Antrag der Minderheit (Schenker, Aeschbacher, Bäumle, Maillard, Marty Kälin, Rechsteiner-Basel, Stump, Teuscher, Wyss) Der Initiative Folge geben
Proposition de la majorité Ne pas donner suite à l'initiative
Proposition de la minorité (Schenker, Aeschbacher, Bäumle, Maillard, Marty Kälin, Rechsteiner-Basel, Stump, Teuscher, Wyss) Donner suite à l'initiative
Teuscher Franziska (G, BE): Wasser ist das
kostbarste und wichtigste Lebensmittel; wir können es durch nichts
ersetzen. Es stellt ein natürliches Monopol dar, bei dem auch keine
Marktkräfte spielen können. Wenn wir anfangen, mit dem Wasser
umzugehen wie mit einer gewöhnlichen Handelsware, setzen wir den sozialen
Frieden aufs Spiel. Die Wasserversorgung muss eine zentrale Aufgabe des
Service public bleiben. Das sage ich hier ganz bewusst so. Denn es gibt
in diesem Parlament Leute, welche alles und jedes schnell privatisieren
wollen, ganz nach dem Motto: "Die Gewinne privat und die Verluste dem Staat".
Der Druck, die Wasserversorgung für private Unternehmungen zu öffnen, ist gross. Die EU gehört in diesem Markt zu den treibenden Kräften, welche die Wasserversorgung Privaten zugänglich machen will. Überall wo solche Pläne bis anhin umgesetzt wurden, gab es Probleme. So hat die Deregulierung des Trinkwassermarktes in England auf der einen Seite zur Situation geführt, dass britische Versorger nach der Privatisierung und Liberalisierung 20 000 Haushalten den Wasserhahn abdrehten, weil diese Haushalte die hohen Rechnungen nicht mehr bezahlen konnten. Die Versorger wurden auf der anderen Seite in 128 Fällen wegen Vernachlässigung der Infrastruktur verurteilt. Die Zahl der Arbeitsplätze ging um 60 Prozent zurück, die Gehälter der Verwaltungsratsmitglieder hingegen stiegen um ein Vielfaches an. Die Unternehmensgewinne machen in England bis zu 40 Prozent der Gebühren aus. So etwas darf in der Schweiz nicht passieren. Die Schweiz hat eine sehr gute Wasserversorgung. Das soll in Zukunft auch so bleiben.
Ich verlange mit meiner parlamentarischen Initiative sozusagen als vorbeugende Massnahme, dass wir eine Vorlage ausarbeiten, welche zwei Hauptpunkte umfasst:
1. Das Trinkwasser wird zu einem öffentlichen Gut erklärt. Der Bund garantiert die landesweite sichere Versorgung mit Trinkwasser.
2. Die Gewässerhoheit bleibt - so wie bis heute - weiterhin bei den Kantonen. Der Bund erlässt jedoch Vorschriften, um eine gewinnorientierte Trinkwasserversorgung auszuschliessen.
Mit diesen Vorschriften soll erreicht werden, dass Bund, Kantone und Gemeinden auch in Zukunft die Versorgungssicherheit und den Unterhalt der Verteilnetze garantieren. Der Bund muss auch Richtlinien für Wassertarife erlassen, damit alle Einwohnerinnen und Einwohner, welche an Trinkwasserverteilnetze angeschlossen sind, gleich behandelt werden. Gewinne dürfen nur realisiert werden, um den Unterhalt und die Erneuerung des Netzes zu gewährleisten. Zudem sollen die Gemeinden und Kantone ein Vorkaufsrecht haben, wenn Private Quellen verkaufen wollen.
Sie mögen jetzt vielleicht einwenden: Was soll das? In der Schweiz sind solche Privatisierungspläne nicht umsetzbar. Aber da könnten Sie sich ziemlich täuschen. Privatisierungsideen bei der Wasserversorgung sind überhaupt nicht abwegig. Viele Schweizer Gemeinden haben einen Erneuerungsbedarf bei ihrer Wasserversorgung. Das Leitungsnetz stammt in vielen Fällen noch aus der Zeit von 1900. Jetzt fehlt vielen Gemeinden ganz einfach das Geld, um die nötigen Investitionen zu tätigen. Es ist also für eine Gemeinde verlockend, die Wasserversorgung auszulagern und privaten Händlern zu übergeben.
Vielerorts sind Elektrizitäts-, Gas- und Wasserversorgung in einer einzigen Gesellschaft zusammengefasst. Bei einer allfälligen Auslagerung der Energieversorgung stellt sich automatisch die Frage, was mit der Wasserversorgung geschehen soll. Viele hier kennen das Problem aus ihrer eigenen Wohngemeinde.
Internationale Wasserkonzerne haben ein immenses Interesse am Wassermarkt. Man schätzt den europäischen Wassermarkt auf rund 80 Milliarden Euro, also über 120 Millionen Franken. Die EU gehört wie schon gesagt zu den treibenden Kräften bei der Öffnung des Marktes.
Die Forderung, die ich in dieser parlamentarischen Initiative vorbringe, ist - gemessen an der heutigen Regelung - nicht völlig neu. Ich bin aber überzeugt, dass wir im Sinne des Vorsorgeprinzipes heute überlegen müssen, wie wir auch in Zukunft eine optimale Wasserversorgung sichern können, denn alle, die keine eigene Quelle haben, sind sozusagen Zwangskunden oder Zwangskundinnen. Ich bitte Sie daher, meiner parlamentarischen Initiative Folge zu geben.
Schenker Silvia (S, BS): Entgegen der Mehrheit
der Kommission beantrage ich Ihnen im Namen der Minderheit, der parlamentarischen
Initiative Teuscher Folge zu geben. Wasser hat eine grosse politische Bedeutung.
Wer über Wasser spricht, muss demzufolge über Politik sprechen.
Wasserpolitik hat Konsequenzen für viele andere Politikbereiche: Boden-
und Landwirtschaftspolitik, Handels- und Wirtschaftspolitik, Umweltpolitik
und besonders auch Sozial- und Gesundheitspolitik. All diese Politikbereiche
sind miteinander verknüpft. Der Zugang zu Wasser, zu sauberem Wasser
hat eine hohe Bedeutung für Menschen, Tiere und Pflanzen, unter Umständen
existenzielle Bedeutung. Wer also das Recht hat, über die Verteilung
und Verwendung von Wasser zu entscheiden, hat grosse Macht. So weit sind
Sie vielleicht alle mit mir und der Minderheit noch einverstanden. Sie
alle wissen um die Bedeutung von sauberem Wasser und um die Konsequenzen,
wo dieses fehlt.
Aber - und nun zeigen sich die Unterschiede - was hat das mit der aktuellen Politik in der Schweiz zu tun? Haben wir das nicht im Griff? In der Tat zeigen sich im Moment keine grösseren Probleme. Dennoch sieht die Minderheit der Kommission Handlungsbedarf. Denn der Druck ist gross und steigt zusehends, das kostbare Gut zu vermarkten. Mit Wasser, mit sauberem Wasser lässt sich viel Geld verdienen, und wo sich viel Geld verdienen lässt, ist das Feld für Machtspiele und Korruption offen.
Es ist nicht auszuschliessen, dass innerhalb der WTO vermehrt Druck gemacht wird, diesen Bereich zu liberalisieren. Spätestens in diesem Zeitpunkt ist es von Vorteil, wenn der Grundsatzentscheid in der Wasserpolitik der Schweiz klar getroffen ist.
Die parlamentarische Initiative Teuscher will in der Hauptsache, dass aus der Wassernutzung keine privaten Gewinne entstehen, dass die Versorgung gemeinnützig ist und dass nicht aus einer Situation der Knappheit Profit geschlagen werden kann. Gerade weil die Wasserverteilung und -versorgung in der Schweiz im Moment in der Regel gut läuft, sollten wir die Initiative unterstützen. Es geht darum, ein klares und deutliches Signal zu geben. Es hätten sich in anderen Ländern grosse Probleme vermeiden lassen, wenn dort der Grundsatz, dass das Wasser ein öffentliches Gut zu sein hat, in der Gesetzgebung verankert wäre. Heute haben wir die Chance, prophylaktisch tätig zu werden. Wir können dieser Initiative heute Folge geben und damit einem sicher noch grösser werdenden Druck etwas entgegensetzen. Lassen wir uns diese Chance nicht entgehen. Ich bitte Sie namens der Minderheit, der Initiative Teuscher Folge zu geben.
Messmer Werner (RL, TG), für die Kommission:
Das Hauptziel der Initiative ist, dass aus der Wassernutzung keine privaten
Gewinne entstehen, dass die Versorgung gemeinnützig ist und dass nicht
aus einer Situation der Knappheit ein Mehrwert abgeschöpft wird, der
die Bürger und die Wirtschaft unnötig belastet. Darum verlangt
Frau Teuscher mit ihrer parlamentarischen Initiative unter anderem, dass
der Bund neue Vorschriften erlasse, speziell zu den Wassertarifen, dass
Richtlinien erlassen werden, gewinnorientierte Unternehmen keine Trinkwasserversorgung
betreiben dürfen usw.
Die Kommission lehnte diese Initiative mit 14 zu 9 Stimmen ab. Auch die Kommissionsminderheit räumt zwar ein, dass unser heutiges System gut funktioniert. Sie meint aber, es gäbe Anzeichen, dass es Kräfte gibt, welche dieses System zum Wanken bringen möchten. Die Minderheit macht auch geltend, dass es in Zukunft auf dem Weltmarkt grössere Probleme geben wird. Sie erwähnt in diesem Zusammenhang Erfahrungen aus Indien und England und will damit belegen - ich zitiere aus dem Protokoll der Kommissionssitzung -, "dass die Wasserversorgung der Gewinnsucht von privaten Unternehmen zum Opfer falle".
Die Mehrheit der Kommission kommt dagegen zum Schluss, dass absolut kein Handlungsbedarf ersichtlich ist. Die Initiantin reichte bereits im Dezember 2000 einen Vorstoss mit ähnlichem Anliegen ein. Die Ausgangslage hat sich seither nicht im Geringsten verändert. Somit muss mit Bezug auf den vorliegenden Vorstoss eben auch von Zwängerei gesprochen werden. Es ist unbestritten, dass wir in der Schweiz keinen Wassermangel haben; man spricht ja nicht umsonst auch vom "Wasserschloss Schweiz". Die Verteilung und Überwachung funktioniert. Es besteht somit nicht nur kein Anreiz, sondern es ist auch keiner in Sicht, mit der Wasserversorgung Handel zu betreiben und sich wirtschaftlich zu betätigen. Ein Handel beginnt dort, wo tatsächlich Wassermangel herrscht; nur dann ist er reizvoll.
Dies trifft bei uns absolut nicht zu. Nur schon darum hält ein Vergleich mit Indien nicht stand. Zum Glück verfügen wir über genügend und qualitativ hochwertiges Trinkwasser. Allein schon diese Tatsache bietet Gewähr, dass es zu keiner Mangelsituation kommt, welche Gewinne erlaubt, die in anderen Ländern vielleicht möglich sind.
Etwas Weiteres, was die Initiative verlangt, ist ebenfalls bereits geregelt. Artikel 76 Absatz 1 der Bundesverfassung lautet: "Der Bund sorgt im Rahmen seiner Zuständigkeiten für die haushälterische Nutzung und den Schutz der Wasservorkommen sowie für die Abwehr schädigender Einwirkungen des Wassers." Absatz 2: "Er legt Grundsätze fest über die Erhaltung und die Erschliessung der Wasservorkommen, über die Nutzung der Gewässer zur Energieerzeugung und für Kühlzwecke sowie über andere Eingriffe in den Wasserkreislauf." In Absatz 4 heisst es: "Über die Wasservorkommen verfügen die Kantone. Sie können für die Wassernutzung in den Schranken der Bundesgesetzgebung Abgaben erheben." Absatz 6 lautet: "Der Bund berücksichtigt bei der Erfüllung seiner Aufgaben die Anliegen der Kantone, aus denen das Wasser stammt."
Das heutige System funktioniert hervorragend; es funktioniert gerade auch darum so gut, weil es auf die Gemeinden heruntergebrochen wird. Sie sind letztlich für die Wasserversorgung verantwortlich. Somit haben in unserem Land viele Bürgerinnen und Bürger die Möglichkeit, direkt über Gemeindeversammlungen auf die Wasserversorgung Einfluss zu nehmen. Auch die Rechnungen müssen transparent sein und separat vorgelegt werden. Ein besseres System kann es also nicht geben, da wäre jede Korrektur eine Verschlechterung. Darum: Belassen wir unser bewährtes System so, wie es ist.
Ich bitte Sie im Namen der Kommissionsmehrheit, dieser Initiative keine Folge zu geben.
Teuscher Franziska (G, BE): Herr Messmer,
Sie haben sich über meine parlamentarische Initiative ein bisschen
lustig gemacht, indem Sie gesagt haben, Indien könne man nicht mit
der Schweiz vergleichen. Ich denke, England und Frankreich kann man durchaus
mit der Schweiz vergleichen: Dort ist im Wassermarkt bereits eine grosse
Liberalisierungs- und Privatisierungswelle ausgebrochen.
Ich möchte Sie fragen: Können Sie mir zum einen erklären, warum Vivendi, dieser internationale Wasserkonzern, ein so grosses Interesse am europäischen Markt hat, und zum anderen, wie gross der europäische Markt im Bereich Wasser geschätzt wird?
Messmer Werner (RL, TG), für die Kommission:
Ich habe erstens nicht den Eindruck, dass ich mich darüber lustig
machte, denn Sie brachten ja das Beispiel. Es war aber schon etwas amüsant
zu hören, wie Sie die Schweiz mit Indien verglichen. So wenigstens
war es in der Kommission.
Sie wissen zweitens viel besser als ich, wie sich das mit der Firma verhält, die Sie erwähnt haben. Ich kann Ihnen aber eines sagen: Hier in der Schweiz liegt absolut kein Interesse vor, die Wasserwirtschaft zu privatisieren. Ich sage Ihnen nochmals: Für die Wirtschaft entstehen dort interessante Geschäfte, wo Mangel auszumachen ist und Konkurrenz entstehen kann. Dann sind Gewinne abzusehen. Aber im Bereich der Wasserversorgung ist das absolut nicht der Fall. Darum bleiben wir doch in der Schweiz, und seien wir froh darüber, dass wir keine Kapriolen machen müssen, wie Sie sie vorschlagen.
Teuscher Franziska (G, BE): Sie haben meine Frage nicht beantwortet.
Abstimmung - Vote Für Folgegeben .... 75 Stimmen Dagegen .... 76 Stimmen
Eingereicht von Menétrey-Savary
Eingereicht im Nationalrat
Stand der Beratung Erledigt
Der Bundesrat beteuert immer wieder, dass der Bund keinerlei Absicht habe, die Wasserversorgung zu privatisieren. Im Bericht der UREK vom 28. Mai 2001 über die parlamentarische Initiative der grünen Fraktion kann z. B. nachgelesen werden, dass der Direktor des Bundesamtes für Wasser "versicherte, dass der Bund keine Marktöffnung im Wasserversorgungsbereich plant".
Allerdings weiss man heute, dass der Bund Forschungen der ETH Lausanne über die Wasserversorgung finanziert und dass er das Projekt Euromarket, das die "möglichen Auswirkungen einer Liberalisierung des Wassersektors untersucht", unterstützt und subventioniert.
Wie soll dieses Engagement des Bundes verstanden werden?
Bereitet sich der Bundesrat darauf vor, dem Druck der WTO bezüglich Gats nachzugeben?
Antwort des Bundesrates vom 14.03.2005
Leuenberger Moritz, Bundesrat: Das Projekt Euromarket ist ein Forschungsprojekt der Europäischen Union, an welchem die ETH Lausanne mitarbeitet. An dessen Finanzierung ist die Schweiz vereinbarungsgemäss beteiligt. Nach Artikel 76 Absatz 4 der Bundesverfassung verfügen die Kantone über die Wasservorkommen. Die Wasserversorgung und die Wasserverteilung werden nach kantonalem Recht geregelt.Der Bundesrat hat noch nie die Absicht gehabt, eine Änderung dieser Zuständigkeitsordnung vorzuschlagen, und er hat noch nie damit geliebäugelt, das Wasser zu privatisieren.
Er hat im Jahre 2003, am 14. Juni, ein Mitglied damit beauftragt, dies öffentlich kundzutun, und der Vorsteher des UVEK hat in der berühmten Geschichte über das jurassische Wassertröpfchen im Kanton Jura dieses Anliegen unterstützt. Dieses Wassertröpfchen stammt ursprünglich aus Poliez-le-Grand - das ist sein Bürgerort -, und es sagt zu den jurassischen Kindern:
"Me vendre, moi? Jamais de la vie!", s'écria la goutte jurassienne. "Je ne suis pas une marchandise, je suis une goutte d'eau; j'appartiens à tout le monde. Me privatiser, ce serait priver les hommes et les femmes de ce monde de leur droit de vivre d'amour et d'eau fraîche."
Dies gesagt habend, verdampfte das Wassertröpfchen und machte noch eine Kurve über Aigle und Saint-Saphorin, bevor es ins Mittelmeer gelangte und dort auch viele Geschichten erlebte.
Ich übergebe Ihnen hier die ganze Geschichte, die damals im Namen des Bundesrates erzählt wurde.
Eingereicht von Marty
Eingereicht im Nationalrat
Stand der Beratung Erledigt
Das Hochwasser in der Schweiz hat aufgezeigt, dass vermehrt in Präventionsmassnahmen investiert werden muss. Mit guter Prävention kann viel Leid verhindert, aber auch viel Geld gespart werden. Von einer besseren Prävention profitieren wesentlich die Versicherungen. Deshalb stellt sich die Frage, wie diese verbindlich für Präventionsmassnahmen gewonnen werden können.
Sieht der Bundesrat eine Möglichkeit, für die Finanzierung von Präventionsmassnahmen ein Projekt der Public-Private-Partnership mit den Versicherungen einzugehen, z. B. in Form einer Präventionsagentur? Müssen die neugeschaffenen Grundlagen im Versicherungsaufsichtsgesetz allenfalls ergänzt bzw. präzisiert werden?
Wie ist gewährleistet, dass diese Grundlagen von den Kantonen rasch umgesetzt werden?
Antwort des Bundesrates vom 03.10.2005
Mit Präventionsmassnahmen können, wie die jüngsten Ereignisse erneut gezeigt haben, viel Schaden und Leid verhindert und Kosten gespart werden. In Anbetracht der beschränkten Mittel der öffentlichen Hand verdient die Idee einer Public-Private-Partnership mit den Versicherungen und unter Beteiligung des Bundes eine vertiefte Prüfung. Dabei werden die gestellten Fragen geklärt. [red. Hervorhebung]
Eingereicht von Lustenberger
Eingereicht im Nationalrat
Stand der Beratung Erledigt
Grosse Teile der Schweiz sind von der Unwetterkatastrophe von Ende August betroffen. Kantone und Gemeinden sind bei der Bewältigung der entstandenen Schäden auf Bundeshilfe angewiesen.
1. Mit welchen Massnahmen gedenkt der Bundesrat den Folgen des Unwetters zu begegnen?
2. Bestehen bereits ein Gesamtkonzept und ein entsprechender Fahrplan?
Antwort des Bundesrates vom 03.10.2005
Wie bei vergangenen Unwettern wird der Bund Kantone und Gemeinden bei der Bewältigung der entstandenen Schäden unterstützen. Das UVEK wird dem Bundesrat in Kürze ein entsprechendes Gesamtkonzept mit Massnahmenkatalog
und Fahrplan unterbreiten. [red. Hervorhebung]
Eingereicht von Leuenberger
Eingereicht im Nationalrat
Stand der Beratung Erledigt
Im Rahmen des Entlastungsprogramms 2003 wurden die Subventionen für Waldpflege und Schutzbauwerke um 10 Millionen Franken gekürzt. Im Dezember 2004 hat das Parlament auf Wunsch der Kantone seine Entscheidung revidiert und die Subventionen 2005 für Schutzwälder um 2 Millionen Franken erhöht. Der vorgesehene Betrag reicht aber immer noch nicht aus.
Angesichts der alarmierenden Vorhersagen, dass Naturkatastrophen in Zukunft sehr viel häufiger auftreten werden, frage ich den Bundesrat: Welche Massnahmen wird er ergreifen, um die verheerenden Auswirkungen von Überschwemmungen und Lawinen einzudämmen?
Antwort des Bundesrates vom 03.10.2005
Eine ausgewogene und angemessene Sicherheit kann nur durch ein integrales Risikomanagement garantiert werden, welches die Prävention, die Vorsorge, den Einsatz im Ereignisfall und die Instandstellung umfasst. Die darauf basierenden Massnahmen von Bund, Kantonen und Gemeinden haben sich grundsätzlich bewährt. Sie zeigen, dass die gesetzlichen Grundlagen für eine Schutzpolitik grundsätzlich ausreichend sind.
Engpässe bestehen vor allem bei den Finanzen, und zwar auf allen Ebenen, also bei Bund, Kantonen und Gemeinden. Die wirksame Abwehr von Naturgefahren setzt eine genügende und konstante Finanzierung voraus.
Dringliche Massnahmen sind für die unmittelbare Schadensbewältigung angezeigt. Die Investitionen in präventive Massnahmen müssen jedoch über eine lange Dauer erfolgen, damit sie wirken können. Bei diesen Massnahmen handelt es sich insbesondere um den Gewässerunterhalt (einschliesslich der Pflege des Schutzwaldes sowie der Verhinderung der Bodenerosion durch Pflege des Kulturlandes), raumplanerische Massnahmen, Schutzbauten sowie Massnahmen im Bereich der Notfall- und Einsatzplanung (Bevölkerungsschutz). [red. Hervorhebung]
1. Wie beurteilt der Bundesrat die Gegebenheiten,
Abhängigkeiten und Aussichten der Trinkwasserversorgung der Schweiz?
2. Welche Bedeutung misst der Bundesrat der dauerhaften, eigenständigen und höchstwertigen Trinkwasserversorgung bei, im Gegensatz zur Nahrungsmittelversorgung, welche traditionell einen tragenden Teil der Schweizer Aussenhandelspolitik darstellt?
3. Teilt der Bundesrat die Auffassung, wonach das abgegebene Wasser möglichst dem empfangenen entsprechen sollte und dahingehend ein jeder Landbesitzer - insbesondere auch die Tierzucht, Land-, Wald-, Wein- oder Obstbau betreibenden Familienbetriebe, Gutsbesitzer, Körperschaften und Gemeinden - Verantwortung trägt für die Qualität, Quantität und Zeitverteilung des Wassers, welches das betreffende Grundstück durchfliesst, und wonach diese vorrangige wasserwirtschaftliche Treuhandfunktion, welche auch der Biodiversität und andern landwirtschaftlichen Anliegen dient, existenzsichernd abzugelten ist?
Stand: 8.10.05 Trinkwasser-Initiative
1. Der Bundesrat wird aufgefordert
Bericht zu erstatten über die Gegebenheiten, Abhängigkeiten und
Aussichten der Trinkwasserversorgung der Schweiz. Ziel ist die dauerhafte,
eigenständige und höchstwertige Trinkwasserversorgung bei gleichzeitigem
Schutz der Einzugsgebiete und Stabilisierung der Abhänge durch Rüfen-Entwässerungsmassnahmen.
2. Der Bericht soll die Voraussetzungen und Konsequenzen aufzeigen bezüglich folgender Leitprinzipien:
a) das von einem Grundstück abgegebene Wasser soll bezüglich Qualität, Quantität und Zeitverteilung möglichst dem auf dem Grundstück auftretenden Wasser entsprechen,
b) ein jeder Landbesitzer soll - als Wasserwirt - Verantwortung tragen für das Wasser, welches das betreffende Grundstück durchfliesst oder von ihm entnommen wird, unabhängig davon ob darauf Tierzucht, Land-, Wald-, Wein- oder Obstbau oder andere Nutzungsarten betrieben werden, unabhängig auch davon ob es sich um einen Familienbetrieb, um einen Gutsbesitzer, um eine Gemeinde oder um eine andere private oder öffentliche Körperschaft handelt, und es soll im Einvernehmen mit den Unterrainern in der Regel aus einem Einzugsgebiet per Quellzapfung oder anderswie nicht mehr Wasser exportiert werden, als per Rüfen-Entwässerungsvorkehren gewonnen wird, jedenfalls nicht mehr als dem ordentlichen Wasserhaushalt zuträglich ist, und
c) die unter b) aufgeführten vorrangigen wasserwirtschaftlichen Treuhandfunktionen, welche auch der Biodiversität und andern landwirtschaftlichen Anliegen und/oder dem Abhang- und Rüfenschutz dienen, sollen existenzsichernd abgegolten werden.
3. Der Bericht soll ferner die rechtlichen und organisatorischen Massnahmen aufzeigen, welche zur Umsetzung der unter 2 aufgeführten Leitlinien erforderlich sind.
Sehr geehrtes Ratsmitglied,
Die Unwetterschäden in der Zentralschweiz und anderswo haben bewährte
Lösungsansätze in Erinnerung gerufen, welche zwar in Vergessenheit
geraten sind, mit Ihrer Unterstützung jedoch allseits fruchtbringend
zu neuem Leben geweckt werden mögen. Dazu gehören nicht nur Renaturisierungen
der Flussläufe und Erhöhung der Abflussprofile, sondern auch
und besonders die systematische Entwässerung
der Rutschhänge und Rüfengebiete.
Alt-Ständerat Werner Jauslin, der sich in den 80er Jahren auch um entsprechende Lösungen z.B. im Münstertal bemühte, hat mich eben auf einschlägige Massnahmen in der Umgebung von Interlaken, sowie auf analoge Wasserbewirtschaftungs-Vorkehren in Oman und Iran aufmerksam gemacht. In den letzteren Fällen handelt es sich gewissermassen um umgekehrte Sammel- und Verteilsysteme in niederschlagsarmen Gegenden, welche ähnlich wie die Bisses im Wallis funktionieren.
In einen weiteren Zusammhang gesetzt, anerbietet sich damit die Möglichkeit, die besonderen Gegebenheiten der Schweiz positiv umzusetzen. Dahingehend darf ich Sie auf einige Leitgedanken hinweisen, welche ich - wie nachfolgend wiedergegeben - in einem Perspektiv-Memorandum zusammengefasst habe. Und welche ich auf dem Hintergrund aktueller Ratsgeschäfte zu Trinkwasser-, Rutschhang-Stabilisierungs-, und Landwirtschafts-Fragen in einen ersten Motionsentwurf gekleidet habe (http://www.solami.com/wasser.htm#Trinkwasser).
Für Ihre gelegentliche Rückäusserung wäre ich Ihnen verbunden. Inzwischen wünsche ich Ihnen alles Gute und verbleibe mit freundlichen Grüssen
Anton Keller, Genf 022-7400362 079-6047707 email@example.com
* * *
Antwort vom 17.10.05 auf einen Kommentar
vom 12.10.05 von Mitarbeitern des Bundesamtes für Wasser und Geologie
Sehr geehrter Herr Kollega,
Ich danke Ihnen für Ihren Kurzkommentar von
dem ich mit Interesse Kenntnis nahm. Vergangenheit und Zukunft der einschlägigen
Ideen gedenke ich auf dem Netz aktualisiert zu halten (http://www.solami.com/wasser.htm)-
Analog zur Laffer-Kurve, welche die maximal erreichbaren Steuereinkünfte in Abhängigkeit verschiedener Steuersätze aufzeigt, gibt es offenbar auch einen höchsten Kommunikationspunkt, der sowohl mit zuviel wie auch mit zuwenig Worten verpasst wird. Wie schon Franz von Assisi gesagt haben soll: I struggle to be brief but end up to be confusing. Ähnlich erging es mir offenbar wieder einmal bei der Redaktion des 4.Motionsentwurfs zur "Trinkwasser-Initiative"
Bei der in den Motionstext integrierten vorgeschlagenen systematischen Entwässerung der unstabilen Hänge geht es natürlich überhaupt um nichts anderes als um Hangstabilisierung. Bezeichnenderweise ist dies verbunden mit der einhergehenden beschränkten Entlastung des natürlichen lokalen Wasserlaufs, und mit dem entsprechend verminderten Bedarf an Wildwasserverbauungen in der Bachrinne selbst. Da das so aus den Rutschhängen gezogene Wasser - analog zum System der Walliser Bisses - auf verschiedenen Talebenen mit minimalstem Gefälle in offenen oder geschlossenen Kanälen gesammelt und den Hängen entlang zum geeignetsten Abzugspunkt im Tal geführt werden soll, anerbietet sich von dort ab die Möglichkeit, die so anfallende Wasserkraft in der Talsohle zu nutzen. Sowohl die auf diesem Weg erzielbare Verminderung der Wildwasserverbauungen, als auch die Nutzung der anfallenden Wasserkraft, dürften zwar die Systemkosten entlasten, sind aber vollends nachrrangig.
Trinkwasser soll hingegen weiterhin aus den bewährten traditionellen Medien (Quellen, Grundwasser, Seewasser, etc.) gewonnen und auch exportiert werden können; demgegenüber ist Hangentwässerungs-Wasser grundsätzlich ohne weiteres in den normalen Wasserhaushalt desselben Einzugsgebiets zurückzuführen.
Der im Motionsentwurf gemachte - und offenbar missverständliche - Link zum Trinkwasser ist rechtlicher und politischer Art. Es geht darum, für Konzeption, Bau und Unterhalt der oben umschriebenen und in verschiedenen Zonen voraussichtlich recht aufwendigen Hangentwässerungs-Systeme neben der öffentlichen Hand verlässliche Markt-Partner von Anfang an organisch einzubinden. Damit soll auch die bereits angerissene Debatte über die Rolle der Privatwirtschaft in der zukünftigen Trinkwasserversorgung von der z.T. idelogisierten auf die sachliche Ebene zurückgebunden werden. Denn seit dem Fall der Berliner Mauer sollten Eigentumsfragen eigentlich wieder nüchterner und sachdienlicher diskutiert werden können - auf dass möglichst alle Diskussions-Komponenten sich als Teil der Lösung und nicht des Problems präsentieren.
Ich hoffe, Sie mit diesen Entgegnungen, Hinweisen und Erwägungen zur Fortführung des Dialogs - auch unter Ihren Kollegen, inkl. im Bundesamt für Landwirtschaft - anzuregen, und sehe Ihren weiteren Beiträgen mit Interesse entgegen.
Mit freundlichen Grüssen
Anton Keller, Genf
Ignores Nile Treaty, Starts Victoria Water Project
Extract Author: Faustine Rwambali
TANZANIA LAST week launched a Tsh27.6 billion ($27.6 million) project to draw water from Lake Victoria to supply Kahama in Shinyanga region, in contravention of two treaties colonial Britain signed with Egypt and Sudan controlling the use of water from the lake. The Agreements restrict riparian countries from initiating projects that would affect the volume of Nile waters without the permission of Egypt.
The contract for the laying of a 170-kilometre inland pipe was awarded to the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, and signifies Tanzania's loss of patience with talks involving Kenya, Uganda and Egypt over the validity of the two agreements signed in 1929 and 1959 respectively, stipulating how water from Lake Victoria and the River Nile was to be shared out.
Despite engaging in lengthy negotiations over the use of waters from Lake Victoria and the Nile, Tanzania has maintained that the two agreements were illegal, said the Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Water and Livestock Development, Dr C. Nyamurunda, in Dar es Salaam last week.
The second phase of the contract, said to be worth about Tsh57.5 billion ($57.5 million), is expected to commence in July 2004, and will be completed next year. The total cost of the water project is estimated at Tsh85.1 billion ($85.1 million).
The water will be mainly used for domestic purposes, said the official, indicating that the government was still sensitive to concerns from Egypt about the widescale use of water from the lake without consulting Cairo.
The water project will initially benefit 420,000 people, but this number is expected to soar to 940,000 in the next 20 years.
Apart from Shinyanga and Kahama towns, some 54 villages situated along the pipeline will benefit from the project, said Edward Lowassa, the Minister for Water and Livestock Development.
To cut down on the costs involved in maintaining the pipeline, the government says it will set up an independent body to manage the project.
Dr Nyamurunda said that Tanzania's sentiments about the legality of the agreements were shared by other Nile Basin countries. "Other countries also believe that the treaties were illegal, but they are ready to co-operate in negotiations although they are not restricted from using the waters of the Nile," he said. The Nile Basin initiative is made up of 10 countries.
"In the Draft Agreement on Nile River Basin Co-operative Framework, Section 15, all countries, except Egypt and Sudan take the position that the treaties in question are illegal," he said.
At independence, Dr Nyamurunda says, Tanganyika made its position on the agreements clear to the UN, Egypt and Britain.
The controversial 1929 Nile Waters Agreement was concluded between Egypt and Great Britain, which represented Uganda, Kenya, Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and the Sudan. It was concluded by an exchange of letters between the Egyptian Prime Minister and the British Ambassador in Egypt on May 7, 1929, in Cairo.
It stated that no works would be undertaken on the Nile, its tributaries and the Lake Basin, that would reduce the volume of the water reaching Egypt. It also gave Egypt the right to inspect and investigate the whole length of the Nile up to the remote sources of its tributaries in these territories.
The agreement also allocated Egypt 48 billion cubic metres per year of Nile water as its acquired right, while that of the Sudan was four billion cubic metres per year. This was based on the report of a commission appointed by Cairo in 1925 providing a technical basis for the 1929 Agreement.
But Sudan and Egypt renegotiated the 1929 agreement in 1956, coming up with the 1959 "Full Utilisation of the Nile Waters" agreement, which was signed on November 8, 1959, allowing the construction of the Aswan High Dam as the major element in the control of the Nile waters for the benefit of the two countries.
Egypt and, to a lesser extent, Sudan, depend almost entirely on the Nile for their agricultural production and are major users of the 6,700 km river's waters. Its basin area is about three million sq km.
According to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), by 1995, Egypt had three million hectares under irrigation, using 62 billion cubic metres of water annually, while Sudan had developed 1.26 million hectares, requiring 16 billion cubic metres of water per year.
Although the treaty was first signed in 1929 by the Egyptian Prime Minister and the British High Commissioner in Egypt, it bound seven other countries, including Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Apart from Ethiopia, which had a government in place, the treaty was made before these countries gained their independence.
The treaty, a culmination of previous agreements made in 1889, 1891 and 1902 between the British and Italian governments and later the Ethiopian Government, merely acknowledged Egypt's natural and historical "right" to the Nile's waters.
A section of the treaty says, "Without the consent of the Egyptian Government, no irrigation or hydroelectric works can be established on the tributaries of the Nile or their lakes if such works can cause a drop in water level harmful to Egypt."
Dissatisfied with its share of the waters, Sudan withdrew from the treaty when President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt commissioned the Aswan High Dam in 1950s.
Around the same time, the country experienced a military coup in circumstances widely seen as suspicious, especially after the new government renegotiated the treaty. This resulted in the 1959 Agreement, which increased Egypt's share to 55.5 billion cubic metres while Sudan's share was increased to 18.5 billion cubic metres.
Kenya and the rest of the East African countries' water needs were ignored in the agreements as the two sole beneficiaries went ahead to irrigate six million hectares (Egypt) and 2.75 million acres (Sudan).
Since the signing of the agreements, Egypt and Sudan have used force or the threat of force to sustain them. For instance, in June 1980, Egypt nearly went to war with Ethiopia after Addis Ababa opposed attempts by the late President Anwar Sadat to divert the Nile waters to the Sinai Desert.
Sadat had promised Israel that he would irrigate the desert after the historical peace agreements made in Camp David brokered by the US government. Ethiopia then threatened to obstruct the Blue Nile, prompting Egypt to prepare for war.
By the end of last week, Egypt had yet to react to the Tanzanian move.
lie ahead over future of Nile
extract author: Jeevan Vasagar
A battle for control over the Nile has broken out between Egypt, which regards the world's longest river as its lifeblood, and the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, which complain that they are denied a fair share of its water.
In the latest escalation in the dispute, which some observers believe could lead to a new conflict in east Africa, Tanzania has announced plans to build a 105-mile pipeline drawing water from Lake Victoria, which feeds the Nile. The project flouts a treaty giving Egypt a right of veto over any work which might threaten the flow of the river.
The Nile Water Agreement of 1929, granting Egypt the lion's share of the Nile waters, has been criticised by east African countries as a colonial relic. Under the treaty, Egypt is guaranteed access to 55.5bn cubic metres of water, out of a total of 84bn cubic metres.
The Egyptian water minister, Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, recently described Kenya's intention to withdraw from the agreement as an "act of war". Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the former secretary-general of the UN, has predicted that the next war in the region will be over water.
The Nile treaty, which Britain signed on behalf of its east African colonies, forbids any projects that could threaten the volume of water reaching Egypt. The agreement also gives Cairo the right to inspect the entire length of the Nile.
It has been gravely resented by east African countries since they won their independence. Kenya and Tanzania suffer recurrent droughts caused by inadequate rainfall, deforestation and soil erosion. The proposed Lake Victoria pipeline is expected to benefit more than 400,000 people in towns and villages in the arid north-west of Tanzania.
"These are people with no water," said the Tanzanian water minister, Edward Lowasa. "How can we do nothing when we have this lake just sitting there?"
The Nile, which is over 4,000 miles long, is fed by the White Nile, flowing from Lake Victoria, and the Blue Nile, flowing from Ethiopia.
An estimated 160 million people in 10 countries depend on the river and its tributaries for their livelihoods. Within the next 25 years, the population in the Nile basin is expected to double, and there is a growing demand to harness the river for agricultural and industrial development.
The Ugandan commentator Charles Onyango-Obbo wrote recently: "Egypt can't enjoy the benefits of having access to the sea, while blocking a landlocked country like Uganda from profiting from the fact that it sits at the source of the Nile."
While east African countries are eager to make greater use of the river, Egypt fears any threat to its lifeblood. Most of Egypt's population lives in the Nile valley - on 4% of the country's land - and any fall in the water level could be disastrous.
The Nile treaty was drawn up at a time when Egypt was a British satellite, regarded as strategically crucial by London because of the Suez canal, which controlled access to India.
The agreement is now in effect enforced by international donors, who are reluctant to advance funds for major river projects that will upset Egypt, a key Arab ally of the US in the Middle East.
Sub-Saharan countries cannot match Egypt's diplomatic clout, but they face a dilemma as a major untapped resource rolls through their territories.
"We have reached a stage where all the Nile basin countries are confronted by domestic development challenges," said Halifa Drammeh, a deputy director of the United Nations environment programme. "How many people have access to safe water? How many have access to sanitation?
"There is a tremendous pressure on these governments to sustain the needs of their populations, and to raise their standard of living.
"After all, there is nothing we can do in life without water. Wherever there is sharing, there is potential for conflict."
Work is due to begin on Tanzania's pipeline project next month, and it is due to be finished late next year.
The Tanzanian government has said the pipeline is not intended for irrigation, which requires large quantities of water, but for domestic use and livestock. It will initially benefit more than 400,000 people, but this number is expected to rise above 900,000 in the next two decades.
Kenya plans a conference of the Nile basin countries in March to seek a peaceful solution to the dispute
Aujourd'hui déjà, 30 millions de Méditerranéens n'ont pas un accès permanent à l'eau potable
dégradation écologique autour de la Méditerranée
risque d'aggraver la fracture Nord-Sud
Fragilisation des sols et de l'agriculture, tensions sur l'eau,
impact négatif du changement climatique:
la plupart des indicateurs environnementaux évoluent vers le rouge
«Le risque pour la Méditerranée
de 2025 est la perspective d'une fracture sociale, économique et
environnementale entre les deux rives.» Rarement un rapport officiel
sur l'environnement n'avait si nettement articulé les questions
écologiques et politiques. L'étude menée par le Plan
Bleu, organe des Nations unies pour la Méditerranée, affiche
clairement ce lien. Elle est publiée (Méditerranée,
éditions de l'Aube) alors que se termine, vendredi 11 novembre,
à Portoroz (Slovénie), la réunion des Etats membres
de la Convention de Barcelone pour la protection de la Méditerranée.
Le bilan environnemental des pays riverains est négatif: presque tous les indicateurs évoluent vers un rouge toujours plus vif. Dans les années à venir, la pression démographique s'accroîtra inexorablement, même si les pays du Sud manifestent une «chute spectaculaire des indices de fécondité». L'inertie des mouvements démographiques entraînera ainsi une augmentation de 40 % en 2025 du nombre d'habitants dans les pays du sud et de l'est du bassin. Si les tendances se poursuivent, l'activité économique ne permettra pas de fournir suffisamment d'emplois aux jeunes générations, ce qui maintiendra «une forte insatisfaction sociale et une pression élevée à l'immigration», ces évolutions pouvant conduire «à des risques d'instabilité, sources de conflits potentiels». Le raidissement des tensions environnementales jouera un grand rôle dans cette évolution. La marginalisation des arrière-pays appauvrirait l'agriculture, affaiblie de surcroît par une urbanisation non maîtrisée qui mangera les sols.
Or l'agriculture n'est que rarement soutenue, notamment «en raison d'un manque de considération pour les populations rurales de la part des élites urbaines dominantes». Cela conduit à la pauvreté et à un exode rural engorgeant des villes qui peinent à maîtriser leur croissance. Les politiques nationales ne sont pas seules en cause: le rapport souligne qu'une «libéralisation non régulée du commerce international des produits agricoles» pourrait avoir «des effets très négatifs pour les régions rurales fragiles». Par ailleurs, le recul de l'agriculture, l'artificialisation des sols, la réduction des zones d'expansion des crues «sont autant de facteurs qui accroissent considérablement la vulnérabilité» aux accidents, au premier rang desquels se trouvent les inondations.
La croissance incontrôlée de la consommation d'eau - plus 25 % attendue d'ici à 2025 - risque aussi de conduire à des véri-tables crises d'approvisionnement. Aujourd'hui déjà, on estime que 30 mil-lions d'habitants des pays riverains n'ont pas un accès permanent à l'eau potable. Ce chiffre devrait augmenter à l'avenir: selon un autre instrument de mesure, le nombre d'habitants en situation de pénurie (moins de 500 m' par individu et par an) passerait de 45 millions en 2000 à 63 millions en 2025 La situation sera particulièrement tendue pour les pays qui prélèvent plus de 75 % des ressources annuellement disponibles (Egypte, Libye, Israël, Palestine, Espagne). Les experts déplorent que les politiques adoptées visent à augmenter l'offre d'eau par des grands travaux (barrages, aménagements, transferts, dessalements) dont le coût et les effets sur les écosystèmes sont négatifs. Mieux vaudrait, proposent-ils, viser à maîtriser les consommations, voire à les diminuer par des programmes d'économie.
Le changement climatique exerce lui aussi des pressions sur l'environnement méditerranéen. Son impact, encore mal appréciable, jouera dans le mauvais sens, aggravant notamment un phénomène de désertification provoqué par de mauvaises pratiques agricoles. De même, la demande d'énergie, si elle n'est pas contrôlée, pourrait augmenter de moitié d'ici vingt ans, alors qu'elle a déjù doublé dans les trente dernières années.
Le Plan Bleu appelle à des changements de politiques, tournés notamment vers la maîtrise des sols, une plus grande attention accordée à l'agriculture, le contrôle des demandes d'eau et d'énergie. Des réussites ponctuelles montrent que cela n'est pas impossible: la Tunisie suit une stratégie d'économie de l'eau efficace; le Maroc mène une politique rurale basée sur la participation des populations pour lutter contre la désertification; l'Italie est en pointe dans l'agriculture biologique. Mais, globalement, «les questions écologiques ne sont pas encore prioritaires pour les Etats», note Lucien Chabason, président du Plan Bleu. Un exemple est celui de l'Espagne, qui ne remet pas en cause l'agriculture irriguée dans le Sud, malgré le manque d'eau, et qui a vu ses émissions de gaz à effet de serre croître de 40 % depuis 1990, alors qu'elle est engagée par le protocole de Kyoto à limiter sa hausse à 15 %.
Les discussions de Portoroz, qui s'achèvent le 11 novembre, sont un bon test pour mesurer l'évolution des esprits des gouvernements. Ils ont notamment accepté d'entamer des discussions pour un éventuel protocole sur la protection des zones côtières. Inspiré par la loi Littoral français, le texte de travail vise à maîtriser l'urbanisation et à maintenir des zones non construites, alors que la pression touristique ne cesse d'augmenter. Le projet sera discuté à Barcelone dans deux ans. Mais ce n'est là qu'une solution partielle aux multiples défis environnementaux qu'affrontent les pays méditerranéens.
as China's toxic city loses its water
By David Eimer in Beijing
Harbin, the largest city in north-eastern China,
was in chaos last night as its panic-stricken residents attempted to flee
the city after the local government cut off all water supplies and rumours
of an imminent earthquake spread. Flights and trains out of Harbin, which
has a population of more than nine million, were fully booked, while roads
out of the city were jammed.
A discharge of toxic benzene, a solvent and component of petrol, leaking into the Songhua river, the source of Harbin's drinking water, forced local authorities to shut off the water supply to the city at midnight on Tuesday for at least the next four days. Residents were told to fill all available containers, including bathtubs, basins and buckets, with water and not to wash until the water supply came back on, while schools were shut until Monday and 15 hospitals in the city were put on standby.
"I have filled all the utensils at home: six basins, two Thermos flasks and an urn," Zhao Yunpeng, a salesman, told Chinese media. "We have never experienced something like this, so it's better to be well-prepared and who knows when the supply will be resumed?" The price of bottled water soared on Monday, as panic buyers stripped supermarkets and shops of supplies after the news that the water would be shut off.
Having initially claimed that the water was being cut off for a check of the supply system, Harbin's city government admitted yesterday that water contamination was behind the supply cut. China's State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa) confirmed that a "major pollution incident" had occurred, following an explosion on 13 November at a petrochemical plant in Jilin City, 120 miles south of Harbin. "Pollutants containing benzene have flowed into the Songhua river and created water pollution," said a Sepa official. A 50-mile stretch of the Songhua was affected, with the level of nitrobenzene in that part of the river reported to be 29.1 times the standard level. Dead fish were found floating near the discharge pipe of the chemical plant, which is owned and operated by the state-run PetroChina. Local fishermen claimed their catch had shrunk to nothing since the explosion, which killed five people and was caused by workers failing to turn off a gas valve.
The delay in informing residents of the danger to the water supply was causing anger in Harbin yesterday. Some residents claimed that water supplies in parts of the city had been cut off on Monday and that bottled water companies in the area had been told to increase production over the weekend. The authorities were silent over the fate of other cities along the Songhua which the contaminated water would have flowed past.
Harbin was in turmoil even before the pollution scare. Rumours of an earthquake measuring 5 to 6.5 on the Richter scale had sparked panic over the weekend, leading some people to sleep outside in tents despite the fact that it is the coldest city in China. Temperatures were expected to drop to -12C last night. Heilongjiang province, of which Harbin is the capital, is known for earthquakes. A quake in Daqing, 100 miles north-west of Harbin, in July injured a dozen people.
Northern China has long faced an acute water shortage, caused by widespread drought, pollution and rapid economic growth. Some 400 out of 660 Chinese cities suffer water shortages and the situation in 100 of those, including Beijing, is regarded as severe. A shortage of sewage treatment plants means the north of the country is reliant on diverting water from the south.
On Wednesday, Chen Bangzhu, the director of China's population, resources and environment committee, told a conference in Nanchang in Jiangxi province that 70 per cent of China's rivers and lakes were polluted. Mr Chen blamed the situation on the illegal discharge of waste and the overuse of fertilisers.
Authorities in Harbin said yesterday a decision on when to resume the water supply would be made after four days. Thousands of tons of bottled water were being sent into the city. "There is sufficient water," claimed a government spokesman. "Residents have all stored a lot and we have been rushing in water from other places. We also have safe water from underground wells."
The Great Man-Made River Project
Libya consists mostly of desert terrain. The Libyan Sahara desert is one of the last real wildernesses on the planet earth. Only the narrow coastal strip receives sufficient rainfall to make it suitable for agriculture and it is where 90 % of the population resides and where the capital, Tripoli, is situated. Rapid development of coastal areas and increased population have placed a severe strain on the coastal water supply. The existence of vast fossil aquifers in the south and south-east areas of the country has prompted the building of a huge pipeline to convey water to the coastal areas.
Started in 1980 the Great Man-Made River project is the largest engineering scheme currently being carried out in the world. The Great Man-Made River Authority (GMRA) was invested with the responsibility of extracting water from the aquifers in the South and conveying it for use in the Libyan coastal belt. The 4-meter diameter conduit is about 1.600 km long. This huge pipeline supplies water to the cities of Tripoli, Benghazi, Sirt and other settlements. The amount of water transfered daily is 6.5 million m3.
Since 1990, UNESCO has been contributing to the training of engineers and technicians, the setting up of a training center and the establishment of a technical documentation centre.
Alarm in der Arktis
Permafrost-Böden tauen auf
Bis 2100 könnten die Permafrost-Böden in der Arktis aufgetaut sein.
Die ökologischen und wirtschaftlichen Folgen wären immens.
Von Michael Odenwald
Die Combo der Satellitenaufnahmen von September (1979, oben) und September 2005 zeigt das Schmelzen der Eisfläche am Nordpol
Die Permafrost-Gebiete im hohen Norden von Alaska, Kanada und Sibirien umfassen ein Viertel der Landfläche der Nordhalbkugel der Erde. Die Böden dort sind in der Regel ganzjährig gefroren, allenfalls die oberste Schicht bis in maximal drei Meter Tiefe kann jeweils im Sommer kurzzeitig auftauen. Bis zur Mitte des Jahrhunderts, so ergab jetzt eine Modellrechnung des US-amerikanischen National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), könnte diese Bodenschicht zur Hälfte getaut sein. Im Jahr 2100 ist sie laut der NCAR-Prognose dann fast vollständig verschwunden.
Highways werden zu Buckelpisten
Dieser Prozess setzte bereits in den vergangenen Jahren ein, und vielerorts sind die Folgen des großen Tauens schon heute spürbar. In Alaska etwa verwandelten sich die Highways über weite Strecken in Buckelpisten. Die Bodenwellen entstehen, wenn Erde mit einem relativ hohen Eisanteil auftaut. Das Schmelzwasser versickert, so dass sich im Boden Hohlräume bilden, in die sich der Straßenbelag absenkt.
Häuser, die auf einem solcherart durchlöcherten Untergrund stehen, sind vom Einsturz bedroht. Er erzeugt auch „betrunkene Wälder“: Bäume rutschen in die Erdtaschen, ihre Stämme stehen dann kreuz und quer durcheinander. Aus Sibirien melden Behörden bereits wirtschaftliche Einbußen durch beschädigte Fabrikgebäude.
Neben wirtschaftlichen Verlusten drohen auch gravierende ökologische Konsequenzen. So speichern die Permafrost-Böden knapp ein Drittel des weltweit in der Erde enthaltenen Kohlenstoffs. Unter eisfreien Bedingungen können Bodenbakterien die kohlenstoffhaltige organische Materie abbauen. Dabei werden größere Mengen der Treibhausgase Methan und CO2 freigesetzt als global durch die Verbrennung fossiler Treibstoffe entstehen. "Wenn die Böden in der Weise auftauen, die unser Modell vorhersagt, beeinflusst dies das Klima enorm“, erklärt der NCAR-Klimaforscher David Lawrence. Es entsteht eine „positive Rückkopplung“, die den Treibhauseffekt weiter verstärkt.
Süßwasser fließt in die Ozeane
Durch die tauenden Böden fließt auch vermehrt Süßwasser in die Ozeane. Seit den 30er-Jahren des vergangenen Jahrhunderts verstärkten sich die Schmelzwasserströme bereits um sieben Prozent. Bis 2100 könnten sie durch den zunehmenden Treibhauseffekt laut der NCAR-Studie um weitere 28 Prozent zunehmen. Dies trägt nicht nur zum Anstieg des Meeresspiegels bei, der zahlreiche Küstenregionen gefährdet, sondern könnte auch die ozeanischen Strömungssysteme stören. Der vom Golfstrom abzweigende Nordatlantikstrom etwa, der warmes Wasser aus dem tropischen Atlantik bis in hohe nördliche Breiten transportiert, wird von so genannten Tiefenwasserpumpen angetrieben.
Ein Teil des warmen Wassers verdampft auf dem Weg nach Norden, und in den Polarmeeren angekommen, kühlt es beträchtlich ab. Infolgedessen steigt sein Salzgehalt, und es wird dichter als die umgebenden Wassermassen. Deshalb sinkt es in bestimmten Gebieten in die Tiefe und fließt am Meeresboden als kalte Strömung zurück nach Süden.
Meeresströmung schwächt sich ab
Der Zufluss großer Süßwassermengen verdünnt indes das dichte Wasser, so dass es nicht mehr absinken kann. Die Tiefenwasserpumpen kommen zum Erliegen – die Meeresströmung schwächt sich ab oder versiegt ganz, und damit der Transport von Wärme in den Norden, wo sich das Klima entsprechend abkühlt.
Schließlich verändert sich auf den tauenden Böden auch der Pflanzenbewuchs. Als Folge fehlt vielen Tieren des Nordens die Nahrungsgrundlage, so dass sie abwandern müssen. Betroffen wären vor allem Arten wie Karibus oder Rentiere, deren Wanderungszüge sich stark ändern würden. Andere Arten aber, die keine Ausweichmöglichkeit finden, sterben aus. Die Permafrost-Böden blieben seit Ende der letzten Eiszeit vor 10 000 Jahren unverändert gefroren.
Diskussion am Open Forum Davos
Armut, Trinkwasser und Privatwirtschaft
Eine der öffentlichen Begleitveranstaltungen zum WEF in Davos galt der krass mangelhaften Trinkwasserversorgung in armen Ländern. Die Privatisierungsfrage wurde teilweise relativiert.C. W. Der Zugang zu sauberem Wasser auch in trockenen Regionen und für arme Bevölkerungskreise ist gewiss eines der existenziellen globalen Probleme. Ein Zusammenhang mit der Globalisierung oder speziell der weltweiten Tendenz zur Liberalisierung entsteht, wenn internationale Unternehmen öffentliche Funktionen, zum Beispiel die ganze Bewirtschaftung von Netzen, erfüllen. Wird ein «öffentliches Gut» dadurch für die Bevölkerung besser oder schlechter verfügbar?
Keine Lösung ohne fähigen Staat
Der Streitpunkt kam auch an einer Veranstaltung des Open Forum Davos zur Sprache. Christoph Stückelberger, Sozialethiker und früherer Zentralsekretär von «Brot für alle», bezeichnete die öffentlich-privaten Partnerschaften als grösstenteils gescheitert. Viele Investoren hätten ihre Zusagen, etwa in Bezug auf die Versorgung peripherer Zonen, nicht eingehalten. Die Gegenposition vertrat Nancy Birdsall, Leiterin des Center of global development, eines amerikanischen Think- Tank. Öffentliche Wasserwerke in Entwicklungsländern könnten bedeuten, dass Reiche gratis Wasser erhielten, Arme sich aber mangels Anschluss teuer an Tankwagen eindecken müssten. Privatisierungen hätten hingegen bewirkt, dass die Versorgung überhaupt funktioniere, und für Arme seien Subventionen möglich.
Gerade Ulrike Ebert, die Thames Water, die betreffende Sparte des RWE-Konzerns, vertrat, äusserte sich nüchterner. Jeder Vertrag sei für sich zu beurteilen. Generell habe man gelernt, dass ein privatwirtschaftliches Engagement einen regulatorischen Rahmen brauche und entsprechende Kapazitäten bei der öffentlichen Hand voraussetze. Daher expandiere der Privatsektor bei der Wasserversorgung im Süden gegenwärtig nicht weiter. Damit ist allerdings noch nicht gesagt, wie das Grundproblem zu lösen wäre.
Der Nestlé-Konzern ist in diesem Infrastrukturbereich nicht tätig. Ein Rechtsstreit um eine von Nestlé genutzte Quelle in Brasilien, an dem ein ursprünglich als Podiumsteilnehmer vorgesehener Kirchenvertreter beteiligt ist, war indessen für Stückelberger Anlass, das Unternehmen zu einer mehr auf Dialog statt auf Macht bauenden Auseinandersetzung mit der jeweiligen Zivilgesellschaft aufzufordern. Präsident und CEO Peter Brabeck verwies etwas gereizt darauf, dass er nun zum vierten Mal am Open Forum teilnehme und Nestlé auch schon mit dem Hilfswerk Oxfam zusammengearbeitet habe. Birdsall fand die Kritik gar deprimierend.
Auch dank einer thematisch unklaren Moderation konnte Brabeck einzelnen Fragen mühelos ausweichen, indem er das Wassergeschäft seines Unternehmens in Relation zum Gesamtverbrauch, einschliesslich Landwirtschaft, setzte und quantitativ bagatellisierte. Auch wenn die Verantwortung von Unternehmen begrenzt ist, kann die Frage aufkommen, ob Flaschenwasser ein guter Weg sein könne, ein «Menschenrecht» (Brabeck) zu erfüllen.
Aus verschiedenen Gründen hatten drei Referenten kurzfristig einspringen müssen, so auch Firmino Mucavele, CEO der Neuen Partnerschaft für Afrikas Entwicklung (Nepad), der für ein Gleichgewicht von Wirtschaft und Sozialrechten plädierte. Andere Podien des Open Forum mögen besser geglückt sein. Hier hatte man den Eindruck, eine prominente Besetzung gewährleiste noch keine prominent gute Diskussion.
Das World Economic Forum und der Schweizerische Evangelische Kirchenbund - gemeinsam für das Open Forum verantwortlich - bilanzieren in einem Communiqué, an acht Veranstaltungen mit insgesamt 2400 Zuhörern habe ein «erfolgreicher kontroverser Dialog» stattgefunden. WEF-Teilnehmer seien in Kontakt mit der Bevölkerung gebracht worden, die sich an den Debatten beteiligen konnte. Ob dafür die Kirche weiterhin notwendig ist? Der Entscheid für die Fortsetzung im Jahr 2007 ist bereits gefallen.
Reservoir Dam Bursts in Hawaii; One Is Killed and 7
By JANIS L. MAGIN
HONOLULU, March 14 — One person was killed and as many as seven were missing on Tuesday morning after an earthen dam burst on the North Shore of Kauai, sending a wall of water from the mountains toward the ocean, ripping up a highway and lifting several houses off their foundations.
State Representative Hermina M. Morita said the body of a man was found after the dam, which held back the Kaloko Reservoir, burst in the early morning.
Ms. Morita, a Democrat whose district includes the dam, near Kilauea, said the victims were asleep in their homes when the dam burst. It was about 40 feet high and 800 feet along and captured runoff from several small streams.
The water raced down a stream, ripping up asphalt and closing Kuhio Highway. "It took two houses completely off their foundations, leaving just the concrete slabs," said Dave Curtis, a spokesman for the Hawaii Department of Civil Defense.
Kuhio Highway, the only road to two North Shore communities, Princeville and Hanalei, will remain closed until state transportation officials can inspect the stability of a second dam downstream from the reservoir.
Ray Lovell, a spokesman for the State Department of Civil Defense, said: "It's a small island, and this is a pretty big disaster."
The Coast Guard used a C-130 plane and two H-65 helicopters to search about 9,200 square miles of coastline and ocean for the missing people, said Chief Petty Officer Marsha Delaney.
Kauai and the other Hawaiian Islands to the south have had heavy rain and flooding for several weeks.
«La neige ne suffira pas»
PÉNURIE D'EAU Le manque d'eau en Suisse est toujours d'actualité.
Pour Walter Wildi,
professeur de géologie environnementale, les dernières giboulées n'y changeront pas grand-chose
Elle ne ferait certainement pas plaisir à
tout le monde, mais elle serait la bienvenue. Eh oui, la pluie se fait
attendre. Et la sécheresse persiste. Ce ne sont pas les flocons
tombés et à venir qui risquent d'y changer grand-chose. «Les
chutes de neige ne suffiront pas à compenser le manque d'eau, assure
Walter Wildi, professeur de géologie environnementale et directeur
de l'Institut Forel de l'Université de Genève. En tout cas
sur le Plateau.» Car même s'il en est descendu pas mal la semaine
dernière et qu'il y en aura encore, la neige n'est pas tombée
en quantité suffisante pour remédier à ce problème.
L'Office fédéral de l'environnement (OFEV) juge actuellement le niveau d'eau anormalement bas dans le lac de Constance, dans le Rhin en aval de ce lac jusqu'au confluent de la Thur et au Tessin. Quant au niveau des eaux souterraines, il est qualifié de spécialement bas cette année en raison du manque de pluies des derniers mois. L'OFEV explique qu'il faudrait un temps humide durant des jours, voire des semaines, en cette fin d'hiver, pour remplir les réserves d'eaux souterraines. «Les dernières grosses précipitations remontent à août dernier», rappelle Walter Wildi, qui précise: «La neige fraîche est composée de 10% d'eau et de 90% d'air.» En clair, s'il tombe 10 cm de poudreuse, cela ne correspond qu'à 1 cm de pluie.
Un autre phénomène limite l'efficacité de la neige pour remplir les nappes phréatiques, qui fournissent 80% de l'eau consommée en Suisse: l'évaporation. «Lorsque le temps se réchauffe, une partie de la neige fond et va dans le sol, mais une autre passe directement de l'état solide à la vapeur d'eau. Dans des quantités qui peuvent être assez importantes.»
Walter Wildi insiste donc sur un usage raisonnable de la précieuse ressource. «La consommation d'eau moyenne d'un Suisse, 162 litres, est élevée», affirme l'expert. Exemple à suivre pour éviter le gaspillage: fermer le robinet quand on se lave les dents ou installer des chasses d'eau économiques. «Trente pour cent de l'eau que nous utilisons finit dans les toilettes. Ça fait beaucoup pour quelques décilitres d'urine.»
© Le Matin Online
Death of the world's rivers
Disaster warning from UN as investigation reveals half of the planet's
500 biggest rivers are seriously depleted or polluted
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
The world's great rivers are drying up at an alarming
rate, with devastating consequences for humanity, animals and the future
of the planet. The Independent on Sunday can today reveal that more than
half the world's 500 mightiest rivers have been seriously depleted. Some
have been reduced to a trickle in what the United Nations will this week
warn is a "disaster in the making".
From the Nile to China's Yellow River, some of the world's great water systems are now under such pressure that they often fail to deposit their water in the ocean or are interrupted in the course to the sea, with grave consequences for the planet. Adding to the disaster, all of the 20 longer rivers are being disrupted by big dams. One-fifth of all freshwater fish species either face extinction or are already extinct.
The Nile and Pakistan's Indus are greatly reduced by the time they reach the sea. Some, such as the Colorado and China's Yellow River, now rarely reach the ocean at all. Others, such as the Jordan and the Rio Grande on the US-Mexico border, are dry for much of their length.
Even in Britain, a quarter of the country's 160 chalk rivers and steams - such as the Kennet in Wiltshire, the Darent in Kent, and the Wylye in Wiltshire - are running out of water because too much is being abstracted for homes, industry and agriculture.
This week an influential UN report will officially warn the world's governments of an "alarming deterioration" in the planet's rivers, lakes and other freshwater systems. Klaus Toepfer, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, told the IoS yesterday that the state of the world's rivers is "a disaster in the making".
The UN's triennial World Water Development Report, compiled for an international conference in Mexico City which opens on Thursday, warns that "we have hugely changed the natural order of rivers worldwide", mainly through giant dams and global warming. Some 45,000 big dams now block the world's rivers, trapping 15 per cent of all the water that used to flow from the land to the sea. Reservoirs now cover almost 1 per cent of land surface. The UN report says that demand for them "will continue to increase", but recommends that they should be barred from the world's remaining, undammed "free-flowing" rivers.
The United States has dismantled 465 dams in recent years, mainly for environmental reasons. But last week, in an abrupt U-turn, it signalled that it was about to embark on its biggest dam-building campaign in decades, when the Washington State legislature passed a bill to allow the federal government to build a series of dams on the Columbia, the West's largest river.
Global warming is endangering even the rivers that have largely escaped damming. The relatively untamed Amazon was hit by its most serious drought on record last autumn. And salmon are dying in Alaska's Yukon River - the world's longest undammed watercourse - because its waters are getting too hot. On Tuesday an international day of action will see demonstrations across the globe to draw attention to rivers' plight.
We have used our engineering skills to harness
the Earth's water systems.
Now we are paying the price.
Rivers: a drying shame
By Geoffrey Lean
The delta of the great Colorado River - where
once it swept into the Gulf of California - used to be the most wonder-filled
wetland in the whole North American continent.
Some 400 species of plants and animals - including jaguars, beaver and the world's smallest dolphin- thronged its 3,000 square miles of wetlands, lagoons and tidal pools. The local people made a good living fishing its teeming waters. Now it has become a forbidding desert of salt flats and giant heaps of dead clamshells. The fishing boats have been long since beached; the destitute people have to seek what work they can in wheat fields and tortilla factories far away.
The reason for the transformation is not hard to find. Not a drop of the mighty river which once carved the Grand Canyon now flows through the delta to the sea. It has all been used upstream - to slake the thirst of cities such as Tucson, Arizona, feed fountains in Las Vegas, green golf courses and irrigate farmland. Such water as remains in the delta has flowed in from the sea.
It is much the same story in that other great river of the American south-west, the Rio Grande. This does not merely fail to reach the sea: it disappears for much of its length. The atlases tell us it is one of the 20 longest rivers in the world, but in reality it stops some 800 miles inland at El Paso, Texas, which takes all its water. For the next 200 miles or so there is just a dribble of sewage in its old river bed, and even this often dries up in summer. Local people call it "the forgotten river". The dry channel does not come alive again until a relatively healthy tributary, the River Conchos, joins it from Mexico. For the rest of its
length, as it forms the boundary between the two nations, it should, in justice, be called the Conchos, not the Rio Grande. But even this is quickly used up, mainly to irrigate farmland, and often fails to make it through to the Gulf of Mexico.
It is much the same story right across the world. China's Yellow River, the fifth longest in the world is in trouble at both ends. Its source in the Tibetan plateau is drying up - and for most of the past 35 years it has failed to reach the sea all year round.
Similarly, despite the words of the spiritual, the River Jordan is far from "deep and wide". In practice it ends at the Sea of Galilee, where Israeli engineers have blocked the outflow and piped the water to irrigate fields and supply Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Such water as flows down the Jordan valley again comes from a tributary, the River Yarmuk. But it cannot really do the job. In biblical times the valley carried a billion cubic metres of water every year; now it has to make do with less than a tenth of that. The ugly truth is that the river - sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims - is now mainly made up of diluted sewage.
It is the same for river after famous river. The lower reaches of the Nile used to carry 32 billion cubic metres of water a year; now they are down to two billion. The Indus in Pakistan - "Asia's Nile" - similarly has lost 90 per cent of its water in the last 60 years. Australia's Murray River fails to reach the sea every other year.
Even in Europe, Germany's River Elbe has run so dry that it frequently becomes impassable to barge traffic for months at a time - and three years ago river traffic almost completely stopped on the Rhine. In Britain the Environment Agency regularly sounds the alarm about our chalk rivers and streams - which gave birth to the sport of fly-fishing. Dozens of them dry up every summer, and 40 of the 160 in the country are officially under threat.
The writer Fred Pearce, who has published a groundbreaking book on the crisis of the world's rivers, says: "The maps in an atlas no longer accord with reality. The old geography lessons about how rivers emerged from mountains, gathered water from tributaries and finally disgorged their bloated flows into the oceans are now fiction."
The UN-backed World Commission on Water for the 21st Century reported: "More than one half of the world's major rivers are being seriously depleted and polluted".
There are two main culprits; abstraction of water for rivers - usually after damming them - and global warming. The world has, on average, built two giant dams a day, every day, for the past 50 years. Now 45,000 of them span the world's rivers. Every one of the world's 20 longest rivers is encumbered by them.
In many ways it all began on the Colorado, 70 years ago, with the Hoover Dam, the great symbol of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Today, the dams intercept more than a third of the world's freshwater as it flows towards the sea and at any one time are holding back 15 per cent of it.
The UN's triennial World Water Development Report, published for a international conference in Mexico City this week, cautions that damming has "hugely changed the natural order of rivers worldwide." It goes on: "Humanity has embarked on a huge ecological engineering project with little or no preconception - or indeed full present knowledge - of the consequences. We have sought to redesign and impose a new order on natural planetary systems, built over aeons of time."
Dams waste massive amounts of water. In hot, dry regions, they lose about 10 per cent of their reservoirs to evaporation every year: much more is lost in irrigation. Global warming is making things even worse. The source of the Yellow River is drying out as glaciers retreat. And a great drought in the southwestern United States - so intense that even cacti are wilting - is exacerbating the crisis of the Colorado and the Rio Grande.
It is even endangering relatively healthy rivers. The Amazon, relatively unencumbered by great dams, was hit by the worst drought on record last year: water levels fell by 10 metres and boats were stranded. And salmon are endangered in Alaska's Yukon River because its waters are too warm.
This will only get worse as the world goes on heating up, making the desert delta of the Colorado just a foretaste of the rivers of the future.
Length: 4,000 miles
Famous as: Source of some of world's richest habitats
Problems: Depleted by a record drought last year. Widespread deforestation
Verdict: Largely undammed and rescuable
Length: 2,900 miles
Famous as: Carries most silt
Problems: Source is drying out and river now usually fails to reach the sea
Verdict: Attempts at rescue. Task immense
Length: 104 miles
Famous as: Holy river
Problems: Effectively ends below the Sea of Galilee. Site where Jesus was baptised now a pool of sewage
Verdict: Hardly exists, damage seems terminal
Length: 1,900 miles
Famous as: Border river
Problems: Now two rivers, split by 250-mile dry section
Border Fight Focuses on Water, Not Immigration
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
CALEXICO, Calif. — For more than 100 years, as their names imply, Calexico and its much larger sister city, Mexicali, south of the border, have embraced each other with a bonhomie born of mutual need and satisfaction in the infernal desert.
The pedestrian gate into Mexico clangs ceaselessly as Mexicans lug back bulging bags from Wal-Mart and 99 Cent Stores in Calexico. The line into the United States slogs along, steady but slower, through an air-conditioned foyer as men and women trudge off to work and, during the school year, children wear the universal face that greets the coming day.
Now, the ties that bind Calexico and Mexicali are being tested as a 20-year dispute over the rights to water leaking into Mexico from a canal on the American side is reaching a peak. Though the raging debate over illegal immigration in the United States has not upset border relations here, some say the fight over water could affect the number of Mexicans who try to cross here illegally.
To slake the ever-growing thirst of San Diego, 100 miles to the west, the United States has a plan to replace a 23-mile segment of the earthen All-American Canal, which the federal government owns and the Colorado River feeds, with a concrete-lined parallel trough.
The $225 million project would send more water to San Diego, by cutting off billions of leaked gallons — enough for 112,000 households a year — that have helped irrigate Mexican farms since the 1940's.
But Mexican farmers and their advocates say the lined canal would effectively turn off the spigot for 25,000 people, including 400 farmers whose wells rely on the seepage that has helped turn the powdery fields east of Mexicali, an industrial city, into one of the biggest Mexican producers of onions, alfalfa, asparagus, squash and other crops.
The farmers and their families ask what will they do if they cannot till the fields and answer that they will cross the border, illegally if they have to, in droves.
"They can't build a fence high enough to stop us," said Gerónimo Hernández, a Mexicali farmer whose family has worked the fields for generations.
Juan Ignácio Guajardo, a lawyer in Mexicali who is helping a civic group there and two environmental groups in Southern California fight the canal, said, "You can't have it both ways," adding, "You can't take our water away and then say, 'We don't want immigration, either.' "
The dispute over the project was among the topics President Bush and President Vicente Fox of Mexico discussed in an April meeting in Mexico.
[A federal judge ruled against environmental groups in the United States and a Mexicali civic association in a lawsuit against the project, dismissing some claims on June 26 on technicalities and deciding on July 3 that many of the predicted effects on Mexico were "highly speculative" and that the federal environmental law at issue did not apply beyond the border. The groups said they were preparing an appeal. In addition, a separate lawsuit is pending in state court.]
On the American side, managers of the Imperial Irrigation District, which controls the canal and a vast water system that has turned swaths of the California desert in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys into some of the most fertile farmland anywhere, defend the plan.
They say the 1944 international treaty on the distribution of water from the Colorado River, which feeds the canal, does not prohibit the concrete lining. New agreements among the states and water utilities along the Colorado have imposed limits on how much water can be tapped from the river, making every drop count that much more.
"There is more need than water available," said the general manager of the irrigation district, Charles Hosken. "When you find a point to access water, I think it is our duty to go after it."
Mr. Hosken acknowledged that the project, which has been mired in legal challenges and planning since the 1980's, "will have impact" on Mexico, but said, "The fact is, the water belongs to the United States, and we have never been compensated for it."
He said he was particularly angry at opponents of the project who invoke the immigration debate, which while discussed here, has not set off the fiery passions found elsewhere.
The notion that cutting off the leakage would drive up illegal immigration, he said, was "quite a stretch" and a "scare tactic" intended to take advantage of the charged atmosphere surrounding the debate.
But opponents said the project was moving forward without enough consideration of its potential effects.
The federal lawsuit contended that a study in 1994 of the project's environmental consequences was outdated and should be revised to take into account changes of the last 12 years.
The groups argued in the suit that the original study did not fully take into account a projected increase in air pollution if the fields were returned to dust or the deterioration of Mexican wetlands if the leaking water were to dry up and remove the habitat of endangered birds and lizards.
In the state lawsuit, filed in April, another environmental group contends that the concrete lining and the shape of the new canal would produce swifter currents that would endanger people and animals. That group says it plans to seek a temporary restraining order against the project.
California has agreed to pay for 60 percent of the project, with the San Diego County Water Authority financing the rest. Malissa Hathaway McKeith, president of Citizens United for Resources and the Environment, a group in the federal lawsuit, said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could halt the project by withholding the state money until the environmental effects were studied more closely.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Schwarzenegger, Margita Thompson, said such a move was far from likely because the governor thought that the water recovered from the lining would lessen the need to tap the Colorado.
"This will help provide long-term stability in water management," Ms. Thompson said.
The dispute has touched a nerve in Calexico, which, with a population of 33,000, mostly Spanish speakers of Mexican descent, functions as a virtual suburb of Mexicali, which has nearly one million residents.
The mayor and Council of Calexico have sided with the Mexicali farmers, taking pains to make clear that Mexicans are welcome here in part because they fear that economic distress in the region could damage their economy, which is buoyed by Mexican wallets.
"If we didn't have Mexico," said Mayor Alex Perrone, who like many other city residents was born in Mexicali and reared in Calexico, "we could not survive."
So intertwined are the towns that Calexico fire trucks race across the border for emergencies. Mexicali children fill private schools in Calexico. Special border-crossing cards known as laser visas make it easy for many Mexicans to go back and forth, though some sneak in, too, hiding in cars or scaling the steel-plate fence.
Ire against the new canal has grown in Mexicali, where bumper stickers opposing it are turning up.
"How can they take away the farmers' water after all these years?" asked Juan Rodolfo Rodríguez, a Mexicali shopkeeper who was buying a caffè latte at the Starbucks shop here. "Americans always want more, but we are used to this."
Farmers like the Hernández family fear they would not have the resources to find alternate water sources, like digging deeper wells to tap an underground aquifer.
"It would be costly to maintain," said Luis Hernández, Gerónimo Hernández's brother. "And who knows if it would give us the same amount of water?"
WARFARE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Old Feud Over Lebanese River Takes New Turn
Israel's airstrikes on canals renew enduring suspicions that it covets water from the Litani.
The Jewish state denies having any such designs.
By Kim Murphy, Times Staff Writer
QASMIYA, Lebanon — Israeli bombing has knocked out irrigation canals supplying Litani River water to more than 10,000 acres of farmland and 23 villages in southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, prompting accusations here that Israel is using its war against Hezbollah to lay claim to Lebanon's prime watersheds.
Heavy fighting and a series of targeted strikes on open water channels and underground water diversion pipes have suspended much of Lebanon's agricultural use of the Litani River along the coastal plain and in parts of the Bekaa Valley near Qaraoun Dam, said water engineers who have surveyed the south.
The damaged or broken facilities include a pumping station on the Wazzani River, whose inauguration by Lebanon in 2002 prompted Israel to threaten military action because it diverted water a few hundred yards from the Israeli border, in a watershed that feeds the Jordan River, Lebanese officials said. At the time, Hezbollah promised to defend the facility.
The strikes went largely unnoticed by the outside world in the nearly monthlong air assault targeting Hezbollah guerrilla strongholds in southern Lebanon. But Lebanese point to the extensive damage to their irrigation and drinking water system as evidence that border security and water issues remain intertwined in a region short on both.
"Whenever Israel throughout history has thought of its northern border, they don't talk, for example, of the mountains as a border. They always think of the valley of the Litani," said Mohammed Shaya, dean of the college of social sciences at Lebanese University in Beirut.
Israel has said repeatedly that it has no designs on Lebanon's water.
"There's a policy decision at the highest level not to target those water pumping stations," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "We don't claim an inch of Lebanese sovereign territory. We don't claim a gallon of Lebanese water. We have no hostile intentions whatever towards Lebanon as a country, towards the Lebanese people or towards Lebanese natural resources."
But the enduring suspicion in Lebanon that Israel regards the water of the Litani as its own and the lands to its south as a security perimeter help explain Beirut's reluctance to accept any U.N. cease-fire resolution that does not call for an immediate Israeli withdrawal from the region.
At a minimum, Lebanese officials fear that the repeated attacks on water facilities — as well as bridges, highways, power plants and roads — signal an intention to debilitate Hezbollah-dominated southern Lebanon and enable a long-term Israeli presence there.
"They started [bombing] with the Litani water reservoir, the Litani dam. And we all know that the Litani has a special place in this country," said Fadl Shalaq, president of the Lebanese Council for Reconstruction and Development. "It's a big reservoir of water, and the Israelis don't hide it that there are several parts of the Litani that they would like to take for themselves."
Officials in southern Lebanon said the attacks hit not only bridges, but open water canals, crippling irrigation to thousands of acres here in the Tyre region and in the Bekaa Valley.
During fighting near the Wazzani springs, a guard at the pumping station was killed, the pump was knocked out of service and the underground pipes through which water is transported were heavily damaged, said Hussein Ramal, an engineer for the Litani Water Authority, which operates irrigation systems in the region. "Now every one of these villages is without water."
The Litani flows 102 miles, entirely within Lebanon. It courses south through eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, before turning sharply westward just 2 1/2 miles from the Israeli border, then heading through the coastal plain, past the town of Qasmiya to the Mediterranean, north of Tyre.
Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, who would become the first president of Israel, in 1919 included the Litani valley among the "minimum requirements essential to the realization of the Jewish National Home." David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, proposed including the Litani again in the 1940s on the eve of the creation of the Jewish state. In the 1950s, historical records show, Moshe Dayan, then chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, and others favored occupying and ultimately annexing southern Lebanon up to the Litani River.
Occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights, though motivated by security concerns, has provided Israel with an important source of water. Experts note that the small slice of land known as the Shebaa Farms, one of the issues in the current conflict, is graced with abundant groundwater flowing from the slopes of Mt. Hermon.
Israel also sees Shebaa Farms as a strategic asset because of its proximity to the Israeli, Syrian and Lebanese borders.
Israel has always argued that much of the Litani's water flows to the sea, wasted.
A large portion of the river's flow is diverted to a series of hydropower dams, leaving relatively little for irrigation in southern Lebanon. But the Lebanese government had planned to offer a $200-million contract this summer to irrigate major new sections of the region.
Both states would benefit if Israel sold Lebanon power and Lebanon sold Israel water, said Haim Gvirtzman, hydrology professor at Hebrew University.
"Should there be peace between Israel and Lebanon, then it will be possible to use the Litani's water as a trigger for a fruitful cooperation between the two countries," Gvirtzman said.
But the Lebanese fear that a prolonged Israeli occupation would give the Jewish state ample time to develop its own international "projects" for sharing the Litani's water.
"In this war, the whole symbol of water has come back with the insurgency now. Because Israel's declared war is to push out the Katyushas" — the rockets being fired by Hezbollah militants — "but the long-range aim, I believe, is to again enter the water issue and push it on the Lebanese," said Mahmoud Haidar, head of the Delta Center for Research and the Press in Beirut.
"If Israel is the winner in this war, in any settlement," he said, "water will become an issue. It will become part of the Israeli demands."
A report on Debka File, a website often described as reflecting the thinking of Israeli intelligence, described "Israel's recovery of control over its main sources of water" at Wazzani as "the most important gain from the crisis" in Lebanon.
"Israel will not cede this asset in a hurry," the website predicted. "Worth citing in this regard is Defense Minister Amir Peretz's statement after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice left the Middle East, that Israel would retain control of a security belt in southern Lebanon until a multinational force takes over."
Israeli officials say any damage to water facilities is collateral to strikes on bridges and roads used by Hezbollah to transport weapons.
"The whole idea that we are trying somehow — and this is going back to conspiracy theories — that we are trying to steal Litani water is ridiculous," said Regev, the Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Here on the Litani, in the empty banana fields and citrus groves that stretch for miles, there is a sense among residents that the battle already has been lost.
The airstrikes on the main irrigation canal, the trunk of a system that waters 9,800 acres, has doomed this year's banana crop. No one knows when the canal system might be repaired. The farmers have fled, and the banana plants stand drying under the hot summer sun.
"All the farmers depend on this water. It's drying up. There's nothing left here. It's collapsing," said Mohammed Saghir, a Qasmiya shop owner who stayed behind because he had nowhere to run. "In 1948, the British hit the irrigation canal, and now the Israelis want to hit it. They know all our families depend on this water," he said.
Special correspondent Vita Bekker in Tel Aviv and Times staff writer Henry Chu in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
Les pesticides sont largement présents
dans les rivières et les nappes d'eau
Le bilan de la qualité de l'eau publié jeudi 17 août par l'Institut français de l'environnement (IFEN) ne fait apparaître aucune amélioration. Les eaux brutes superficielles et souterraines restent largement contaminées par les pesticides, utilisés principalement pour améliorer les rendements agricoles.
En 2004, sur les 607 points de mesure de la qualité des rivières, la présence de pesticides a été relevée dans 96 % des cas. La qualité de l'eau est jugée "moyenne à mauvaise" dans 49 % des cas, ce qui signifie que la vie des organismes aquatiques et la production d'eau potable sans traitement spécifique sont compromis. Pour les eaux souterraines, dont le renouvellement peut prendre des centaines d'années, des concentrations de pesticides sont relevées dans 61 % des échantillons. Dans 27 % des cas, la qualité est médiocre ou mauvaise.
Le nombre de molécules chimiques repérées augmente : dans les eaux superficielles, 229 substances différentes ont été quantifiées au moins une fois en 2004, contre 201 en 2002. Dans les nappes, 166 substances ont été quantifiées en 2004, contre 123 en 2002. Les substances les plus souvent décelées sont le glyphosate et l'atrazine, qui persiste dans l'environnement malgré son interdiction en 2001.
L'IFEN reste toutefois très prudent sur l'interprétation de cette évolution. "Nous cherchons plus de molécules, dans davantage d'endroits, et nos capacités d'analyse s'améliorent dans certains cas", explique François Moreau, chef du département de la connaissance environnementale à l'IFEN. Les chercheurs espèrent à l'avenir pouvoir gommer ces biais, mais c'est un travail "très lourd", commente M. Moreau.
Ces chiffres renforcent l'hypothèse selon laquelle l'évolution des tonnages de produits pesticides vendus n'est pas un indicateur significatif. Après avoir connu un pic en 1999, ces quantités ont baissé pendant plusieurs années, avant de remonter en 2005. Cependant, "les différentes substances présentent des niveaux de danger très hétérogènes et les substances nouvelles sont en général plus toxiques à faibles doses", notent les auteurs du rapport.
La France est le troisième consommateur au monde d'insecticides, d'herbicides et de fongicides.
Tummelplatz für Krankheitskeime
Schlechte Trinkwasserqualität bedroht in vielen Ländern die menschliche Gesundheit -
Geologen setzen jetzt auf Minerale als Filter.
von Axel Bojanowski
Auch wenn die Jahrhundertflut für ungewohnte hygienische Mängel gesorgt hat - in Deutschland ist die Qualität von Trinkwasser in der Regel kein Thema. Selten belasten lecke Abwasserleitungen und Kläranlagen das hiesige Nass. In anderen Ländern stellt die Verseuchung der lebenswichtigen Ressource durch Viren und Bakterien jedoch ein großes Problem dar - insbesondere dort, wo das Grundwasser knapp ist. Viele Entwicklungsländer, aber auch Teile der USA beziehen ihr Trinkwasser aus belasteten Flüssen oder Seen und bereiten es, wenn überhaupt, mit Chlor oder UV-Strahlung auf. Dabei werden jedoch nicht immer alle Keime abgetötet.
Bei der Suche nach neuen Möglichkeiten zur Abwasserreinigung haben Geologen jetzt künstlich beschichtete Minerale entwickelt, die das Trinkwasser kostengünstig vor einer Verseuchung schützen könnten. Die Forschergruppe um den Geologen Dirk Schulze-Makuch von der Universität Texas in El Paso griff dabei auf die speziellen Eigenschaften von Zeolithen zurück. Diese Minerale "brodeln", sobald sie erhitzt werden, weil sie von zahlreichen wassergefüllten Kanälen durchzogen und mithin durchlässig sind. Wie die Forscher im geologischen Fachmagazin "EOS" schreiben, könnten Zeolithe als Filter dienen, durch die auf Grund der großen Porosität große Mengen Flüssigkeit strömen. Die Minerale halten Partikel durch elektromagnetische Wechselwirkungen zurück - Teilchen mit einer gegensätzlichen Ladung zur Mineraloberfläche werden angezogen und bleiben haften.
Natürliche Zeolithe haben eine überwiegend negativ geladene Oberfläche und stoßen Viren und Bakterien ab, die gewöhnlich ebenfalls negativ geladen sind. Die Forscher behandelten die Minerale deshalb mit einer chemischen Substanz, die normalerweise antibakterieller Bestandteil von Mundwassern ist. Die Moleküle der Lösung sind auf zwei Seiten positiv geladen, verbinden sich mit der Zeolithen-Oberfläche und geben der Gesamtverbindung eine positive Ladung, die künstlich erzeugten Zeolithe ziehen Viren und Bakterien deshalb an.
Sowohl in Labor- als auch in Feldexperimenten spülten die Geologen verkeimtes Wasser durch die neuartigen Minerale; 99 Prozent der enthaltenen Bakterien und Viren blieben an den Zeolithen hängen. Nach Meinung der Forscher bieten sich die Minerale damit als ideale Füllung anstelle von Kies für Trinkwasserbrunnen an. Für die größte Effektivität soll die Pumprate im Brunnen so eingestellt sein, dass das Wasser zehn Sekunden Kontakt mit dem Zeolith hat.
Um diese Technik anwenden zu können, ist eine entsprechende Infrastruktur notwendig, nämlich überhaupt Brunnen mit Pumpen für die Wasserversorgung zu haben. In vielen Entwicklungsländern ist sie jedoch gar nicht vorhanden.
Grosse und kleine Geschäfte
Forscher tüfteln an neuen Systemen, um Abwasser in heimischen Kreisläufen zu recyceln. Nach
Meinung von Experten steckt in der Abwassertrennung eine Zukunftsindustrie.
Ein Tastendruck genügt. Mit einem Schwall
spült die Toilette die menschliche Hinterlassenschaft aus der Kloschüssel.
Eine unglaubliche Verschwendung. In der Kanalisation verschwinden nicht
nur sechs Liter Trinkwasser, für immer verloren ist auch ein wertvoller
Rohstoff: Urin. Er enthÃ¤lt viel Phosphor - ein für
Lebewesen unverzichtbarer Zellbaustoff und ausserdem der wichtigste Pflanzendünger.
Die wenigen Phosphor-Abbaustätten in den USA und Afrika sind in einigen Jahrzehnten erschöpft, deshalb mÃ¼ssen Alternativen her. "Wir müssten keinen Mangel fürchten, wenn unsere Sanitärsysteme entsprechend ausgelegt wären", sagt Ralf Otterpohl, Leiter des Instituts für Abwasserwirtschaft an der Technischen Universität (TU) Hamburg-Harburg. Sind sie aber nicht. Stattdessen wird der Urin zusammen mit anderen Abwässern in die Kläranlage gespült, wo er dann so stark verdünnt ist, dass Nährstoffe nicht mehr herausgefiltert werden können.
Daher arbeiten immer mehr Forscher an Sanitärkonzepten für das 21. Jahrhundert. Urin-Dünger-Fabriken, Wasserrecyclinganlagen und Separations-Sets für den heimischen Lokus sollen die knapper werdenden Ressourcen recyceln. Experten sind überzeugt: Im Zukunftsmarkt Abwasser-Trennung haben die dafür nötigen Anlagen und das Know-how aus Deutschland gute Exportchancen.
Der Ingenieur spricht von Gelbwasser
Am Anfang aller innovativen Techniken steht die Separationstoilette. Nur so kann Urin - der Ingenieur spricht lieber vom Gelbwasser - von den Feststoffen des Braunwassers getrennt werden. Von außen gleichen die Hightech-Töpfchen herkömmlichen Klos. Wer hineinschaut, erblickt allerdings zwei Öffnungen: Der Urin versickert vorne durch eine Art Sieb, lange bevor das Spülwasser die Fäkalien hinwegschwemmt.
Gerade hat das Hanauer Unternehmen Roediger den Prototyp einer Vakuum-Trenntoilette vorgestellt, die nur einen Liter Wasser pro Spülung verbraucht. Erfolgreich laufen auch Pilotprojekte wie in Lübeck, hier ermöglichen Trenntoiletten und
Biogasreaktoren eine dezentrale Abwasserentsorgung. Weitere Städte sollen folgen. Auch die Industrie investiert in die biologischen Techniken. Das Unternehmen Huber Technology im bayerischen Berching separiert im firmeneigenen "ReUse-Park" aus dem Urin der Firmenmitarbeiter Nährstoffe für die Düngerproduktion. Die Feststoffe aus dem
Braunwasser landen in einem Biogasreaktor. Das Grauwasser, das aus allen anderen Waschvorgängen des Hauses stammt, wird gefiltert und kommt in den Fischteich.
Interesse in den USA und China
Derartige Anlagen sind vor allem für Städte interessant, die mit Wasserknappheit zu kämpfen haben. In den USA oder in China ist man auf die deutschen Entwicklungen aufmerksam geworden. Die Hamburger Stadtentwässerung (HSE) testet ihr ökologisches Abwasserkonzept auf der zu Shanghai gehörenden Insel Chongming. Huber Technology hat erste Anlagen bereits nach Vietnam geliefert, die nächste geht nach Indonesien.
Auch Ulrich Braun hat große Pläne. In Zusammenarbeit mit der TU Hamburg-Harburg hat sein Unternehmen Intaqua ein Verfahren zum Wasserrecycling entwickelt. "Mit der Anlage lässt sich der Wasserverbrauch eines Deutschen um bis zu 90 Prozent senken", sagt er. Sein Verfahren: Die anfallenden Flüssigkeiten eines Hauses werden in zwei Kreisläufe getrennt. Bakterien zersetzen in Abwässern aus Dusche, Spüle oder Waschmaschine alles, was schädlich ist. Nach Filterung und Entsalzung kann es wieder als trinkbares Leitungswasser verwendet werden. In einem zweiten Kreislauf wird das
Toilettenspülwasser so behandelt, dass es wieder zum Spülen des Klos genutzt werden kann. Die Feststoffe werden kompostiert und zur Biogasproduktion genutzt. Die Nährstoffe des Urins werden gefiltert und getrocknet zu Dünger verarbeitet.
Erste Hotels sollen beliefert werden
Brauns erste kommerzielle Demonstrationsanlage entsteht im Zentrum für nachhaltige Technologien in Ahlen. 2007 will Braun erste Hotels mit den Wasser-Waschmaschinen beliefern, er rechnet mit einem Umsatz von 1,5 Mio. Euro "danach wird der Markt explodieren."
Wie es in Zukunft in den Großstädten aussehen müsste, wenn alle Verbraucher ihren Urin in Tanks sammeln, darüber hat sich Ralf Otterpohl Gedanken gemacht. Mit seinem Team arbeitet er an einer Mikro-Düngerfabrik. Statt die Unmengen an Harn erst umständlich aus den Siedlungen abzufahren, könnte der Rohstoff direkt vor Ort zu Trockendünger verarbeitet werden. "Das lohnt sich wahrscheinlich so ab 10.000 Einwohnern", sagt Otterpohl. Er testet außerdem Methoden, die auch die im Urin steckenden Schadstoffe, wie etwa Medikamenten-Rückstände, herausfiltern.
Die innovative Technik hilft allerdings wenig, wenn die Verbraucher nicht mitmachen. Die müssen von neuen Abwasserkonzepten noch überzeugt werden. Ronny Schmidt, Abwasserexperte von der Fachhochschule Lübeck, meint dazu: "Das wird noch mal eine schwere Aufgabe."
Ancient biblical waterworks found in Israel
By Corinne Heller
RAMAT RACHEL, Israel (Reuters) - Archaeologists in Israel have unearthed an ancient water system which was modified by the conquering Persians to turn the desert into a paradise. The network of reservoirs, drain pipes and underground tunnels served one of the grandest palaces in the biblical kingdom of Judea.
Archaeologists first discovered the palace in 1954, a structure built on a six-acre (2.4 hectare) site where the communal Ramat Rachel farm now stands. Recent excavations unearthed nearly 70 square meters (750 square feet) of a unique water system. "They had found a huge palace ... even nicer than the palaces in Jerusalem, (dating) from the late Iron Age to the end of the biblical period in the 7th century," Oded Lipschits, a Tel Aviv University archaeologist, said.
The infrastructure of the palace was remodeled throughout the centuries to fit the needs of the Babylonians, Persians, Romans and Hasmoneans who ruled the Holy Land, said Lipschits, who heads the dig with an academic from Germany's University of Heidelberg. But it was the Persians, who took control of the region around 539 BC from the Babylonians, who renovated the water system and turned it into a thing of beauty.
Lipschits said they added small waterfalls to try to turn a desert into a paradise. "Imagine on this land plants and water rushing and streaming here," Lipschits said. "This was important to someone who finds aesthetics important, for someone who wanted to feel as though they are not just in some remote corner in the desert."
Yuval Gadot, a biblical archaeology expert from Tel Aviv University who is taking part in the excavation, said it was unclear exactly how the water system worked. "Probably rainwater came down on the roof of the houses (in the palace complex)," he said. "From there, it was collected by drains into pools or to the underground reservoir and taken to nearby fields for crops or nice gardens." For centuries water supplies have been one of the most sensitive issues in the Middle East, where most of the region is desert.
L'eau douce, une ressource dangereusement mal gérée
L'homme a pris l'habitude de consommer l'eau douce sans compter. Erreur, assurent de nombreux spécialistes réunis cette semaine à Stockholm: cette richesse-là risque fort d'être moins aisément disponible à l'avenir.
La population du monde a explosé, en triplant, depuis le début du XXe siècle! Les prélèvements d'eau douce par l'homme ont augmenté deux fois plus vite, en sextuplant dans le même temps. Or si cette ressource est particulièrement abondante sur notre planète, elle n'est pas pour autant sans limite et ne doit pas être dilapidée, ce qui est souvent le cas aujourd'hui. L'un des grands défis auxquels sera confrontée l'humanité ces prochaines décennies sera, par conséquent, de mieux la rentabiliser. Mais comment faire? La question est au cœur des réflexions des quelque 1500 représentants d'organisations réunis cette semaine à Stockholm à l'occasion de la Semaine mondiale de l'eau.
Une pression croissante
L'approvisionnement de l'humanité est menacé de diverses façons. Il l'est bien évidemment par l'aridité régnant dans certaines régions - «Les Moyen-Orientaux disposent en moyenne de quelques centaines de mètres cubes d'eau douce par jour, contre 10000 aux Européens», indique Jürg Staudenmann, expert suisse du Programme des Nations unies pour le développement (PNUD).
Mais il l'est aussi ailleurs, rappelle Anders Jägerskog, rattaché à l'Institut international de l'eau à Stockholm (SIWI), l'organisateur de la conférence. Notamment dans les pays en voie d'industrialisation rapide, telles l'Inde et la Chine, qui ont tendance à polluer inconsidérément leur environnement, au point de rendre d'énormes quantités d'eau impropres à toutes sortes d'usage.
Et la pression sur l'eau ne va pas manquer de croître à l'avenir. La première raison est démographique: la population mondiale devrait passer de 6,5 à 9 milliards d'individus d'ici à 2050, individus qui tendent à consommer chacun davantage d'eau que par le passé. La seconde cause est climatique: le réchauffement de la Terre s'apprête à modifier le régime des pluies. «Il est difficile de savoir exactement si nous en aurons plus ou moins, explique Jürg Staudenmann. Mais elles risquent de tomber plus irrégulièrement qu'aujourd'hui, en se faisant rares en certaines saisons et surabondantes en d'autres.»
De gros gaspillages
Quelles mesures d'économies peuvent-elles être prises? Il en est de toutes sortes, étant donné qu'il existe de gros gaspillages dans tous les secteurs concernés. «Lorsque l'industrie bénéficie de mesures d'incitation appropriées, on constate généralement qu'elle peut réduire ses demandes en eau de 40 à 90%, sans même changer de techniques ou de pratiques», assure ainsi le Programme mondial pour l'évaluation des ressources en eau (dépendant de l'ONU) dans un rapport publié à la veille de la conférence de Stockholm.
Le domaine clé est cependant l'agriculture. «De tous les secteurs qui utilisent de l'eau douce (elle) est dans la plupart des cas celui où le rendement économique de l'eau est le plus faible», affirmait l'an dernier l'Organisation des Nations unies pour l'alimentation et l'agriculture (FAO) dans son magazine Agriculture 21. Surtout, elle représente à elle seule 70% des prélèvements. Alors que l'homme boit en moyenne quatre litres d'eau par jour, il en faut plusieurs milliers pour assurer sa nourriture quotidienne.
Beaucoup a déjà été fait. «La productivité de l'eau utilisée dans l'agriculture a au moins doublé entre 1961 et 2001», remarque la revue de la FAO, qui explique essentiellement cette évolution par l'élévation des rendements agricoles. Et beaucoup peut encore être réalisé. D'importants gains d'efficacité sont attendus aux trois niveaux concernés: celui de la plante (améliorations du matériel génétique rendant le végétal plus vigoureux ou son enracinement plus profond), celui des champs (perfectionnement des techniques de plantation et d'application de l'eau) et celui du bassin hydrographique (affinage de l'utilisation des ressources ou du recours aux prévisions météorologiques).
Les économistes proposent de leur côté de rationaliser l'usage de l'eau en lui donnant le prix le plus réaliste possible. Dans cette perspective, ils proposent des techniques d'évaluation permettant d'établir des rapports coûts-bénéfices - tel, dans le secteur agricole, le «rendement par goutte d'eau». Ainsi est né le concept d'«eau virtuelle», soit l'eau nécessaire à la production d'un bien (voir tableau ci-contre). En l'utilisant, l'Egypte a pu se rendre compte qu'elle avait réalisé une économie globale de 2,7 milliards de m3 d'eau grâce à ses importations de maïs (qu'elle n'a pas eu besoin d'irriguer).
Autant de mesures au gros potentiel. Selon la FAO, une hausse de 1% de la productivité de l'eau dans l'agriculture vivrière libérerait - en théorie, tout du moins - 24 litres d'eau par jour et par habitant dans le monde. Mieux encore: une augmentation de 10% permettrait d'éponger d'un coup la consommation actuelle de tous les ménages de la planète.
© Le Temps, 2006 . Droits de reproduction et de diffusion
China's Water Woes
Pollution, drought and vast deserts are all signs
the country is struggling to manage its most basic resource
BY SUSAN JAKES
The first day the water truck came to Xiangshan village, the wells had already been dry for two months. Throughout the hills flanking the city of Chongqing and stretching south and west into Guizhou and Sichuan provinces, parts of China this summer suffered their worst drought in 100 years. In Xiangshan, a tiny mountain village high above the Qi River valley 150 km south of downtown Chongqing, residents had made do drinking from the muddy catchments in their fields. But by Aug. 24, when the truck set out on what was starting to become a routine delivery, those holes too were dry and Xiangshan's farmers had been forced to give up on irrigation. Pears hung hard and blistered on the trees. Sunflowers crumpled. The bamboo was brown.
Ao Minhong, a truck driver conscripted by the local government, was working long days. He filled plastic drums on his flatbed from a fire hydrant hooked up to the river. The Qi was listless that day and the liquid in the drums looked like weak tea. When he rounded a bend into Xiangshan after an hour's climb, he was mobbed. Li Caowan, a mother of two, worried the water wasn't clean. But she poured it into a ceramic tub in her yard anyway. "What choice do we have?" she said. "There's nothing else to drink."
The scene was familiar. In Harbin last November, it was fire engines plying icy streets lined with people holding buckets. Harbin's water had been contaminated with benzene from a chemical-plant explosion. In February, the trucks were in Sichuan, where a power plant discharged a toxic cocktail into the Yuexi River. And in September, when tap water for 80,000 in Hunan province was cut off because it had been tainted with an arsenic compound, the trucks saved the day once again.
But water isn't supposed to come on trucks. China's flair for contingency plans isn't reassuring. Rather, it's one of a growing number of signals that when it comes to dealing with this most basic of resources, the country is failing. Some 320 million Chinese lack adequate access to clean drinking water. Deserts cover 27% of the country's landmass. Most of China's surface water is unfit for human consumption, and some of that not even clean enough for industrial use. Grain production is sliding. And the Yellow River runs dry so often and so long that some scientists have argued that it ought to be considered a seasonal phenomenon. "China's water shortage and pollution problems are more severe than any other large country in the world," said Qiu Baoxing, Vice Minister of Construction, last month, "This is a critical point in time. We are at a crossroads."
That's the optimistic take; sometimes, though, it seems more like an approaching dead end. Already China's water woes undercut many of Beijing's most cherished aspirations: contaminated rivers not only swell health-care costs but increasingly generate domestic unrest. Continued droughts sap power supplies, ruin farmers and will eventually mean competition with other nations for grain. Moreover, providing citizens with the one precious resource that really does just fall from the sky is among the most fundamental duties we expect developed nations to perform. If China is to continue toward its goals of economic prosperity, social stability and stronger relations with the rest of the world, it will need to do better - and fast.
Granted, nature and history have dealt China a tough hand: just 8% of the world's water, but 22% of its people. Added to that is a profound lopsidedness in distribution: 81% of China's water is in the southern part of the country, which has 57% of its population. This means the North has only 990 cu m of water per person - or 12% of the world's average. These are numbers so familiar in China that even schoolchildren can rattle them off. But alone, they don't spell doom. Other countries - Israel, Australia - have prospered despite dry climates. But governance is key. "What we really lack in China," says Wang Yongchen, a founder of the environmental nongovernmental organization Green Earth Volunteers, "isn't water. It's water management."
China isn't alone in facing a water crisis. Nations such as the U.S. have far from perfect records - more than a century of misguided policies encouraged farmers in the western U.S. to grow thirsty crops in what is essentially a desert. And China's size - plus the speed of its economic growth - means it is not always easy to apply others' lessons to its own circumstances. But there are things to be learned. Some countries have decided to conserve water for urban users and import food. Some have raised the price of water to reflect its scarcity value. In the West, grassroots groups, media campaigns and lawsuits have played a crucial role in spurring a cleanup of dirty water.
But China's leaders - wary of civil society and thus far unwilling to lean hard on local enterprises - have yet to embrace such measures fully. Instead, Beijing's primary focus has been on large-scale works like the South-to-North-Water Diversion (SNWD), a pharaonic engineering project with a $62.5 billion price tag, first conceived in 1952 by Mao Zedong. The scheme calls for three "lines" of canals and raised aqueducts that, if completed according to plan, by 2050 will carry 45 billion cu m of water from the wet South to cities in the parched North each year. That is a truck brigade writ large.
Workers began the Eastern Line, which runs from Yangzhou to Tianjin, in 2001. The Central Line, underway since 2003, will siphon a portion of the Han River, a Yangtze tributary, up through the provinces of Henan and Hebei and into Beijing to supply a projected one-fifth of the city's water by 2010. The Western route, as yet a pipe dream - complex, costly and environmentally risky - is intended to connect the headwaters of the Yangtze to the depleted Yellow River.
Few dispute that something needs to be done to avert crisis in the North China Plain?an area that is home to roughly 40% of China's population and produces about 40% of its grain. According to Jiang Liping, a water-resources expert at the World Bank, parts of the region are between 10 and 20 years away from running out of groundwater. Beijing, which has needed to divert water to meet its needs since the Yuan dynasty, 800 years ago, relies on reservoirs intended for agricultural use and on ever deeper wells.
But the SNWD has drawn criticism from those who say the big, expensive project has overshadowed more practical measures, like improving efficiency in irrigation, building a system of tradable water rights, and stopping pollution at the source instead of cleaning up later. Even the project's most ardent supporters agree that without improved environmental enforcement, it will fail to deliver what it promises. The canals of the Eastern Line have already become repositories of untreated sewage. Says Chen Zhikai, an engineer who has worked on the planning of the diversion for more than 50 years: "We can move the water. But if we can't control pollution, then we're just finished." Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, and the author of China's Water Crisis, says, "People think [the SNWD] is going to solve everything. But it can't. It's just an emergency measure."
There is perhaps no better way to get a sense of the challenges facing Beijing than to drive the highways that run along the SNWD's Central Line. In 1,200 km you pass through forgotten cities?huge by the standards of the rest of the world?that seem decades rather than mere kilometers removed from the capital. The route takes you through toll booths where packed buses disgorge cramped loads of travelers and government sedans race by, leaving speed limits in the dust. You pass few trees and not a single forest.
Heading south out of Beijing, the first thing that strikes you is the corn?growing in ditches along the road, bumping up against factories, against piles of garbage. The corn parts. You pass a red billboard that reads "Strengthen Water-Resources Management According to the Law." Just beyond the sign a dry reservoir comes into view, tall grass covering its bottom. Then you see the now pointless dam and, just above it, the bright-green Precious Prosperity golf course and a clutch of newly built suburban homes. The next things you notice are the invisible rivers. They are pointed out by signs: "The Hancun River Bridge," "The Liuli River Bridge," "The Sha River Big Bridge," "The Especially Big Bridge" over the Qin River. Without these reminders you might think you were just driving over more cornfields. Under other bridges a shadow of the water remains, a string of puddles or piles of sand shifting in the wind.
This spent topography owes its character both to China's current urban expansion and to changes wrought in the past. Chinese have been irrigating their agriculture by river diversion for millennia. But as recently as the 1950s, most of the many rivers on the North China Plain still flowed. That was the decade when Mao's enthusiasm for controlling nature led to the building of hundreds of dams along the Hai and the Huai, the region's main river systems, and others like them. Today, many of the reservoirs behind those dams have been requisitioned by city governments or industry, and peasants have turned to pumping groundwater?depleting half of Hebei's non-replenishable reserves, for example, in 50 years.
Just to the west of Baoding?the first major city south of Beijing?this history is being revisited. To supply emergency water to Beijing in time for the 2008 Olympics, a spur of the SNWD will draw off a portion of Hebei's remaining good surface water until the full project is finished and water flows up from the South. The enormous trunk of the aqueduct, like an elevated highway with walls, is already blasting through the mountains with the corn thronging its fat legs.
Baoding, with a population of 10 million, has troubles of its own. To the east of the city is Baiyangdian, the largest freshwater lake in the region. Nine rivers feed this wetland dubbed the "kidney of North China," of which eight are now mostly dry. The last one must handle more than half of Baoding's sewage and industrial waste. In January, Baiyangdian began to buckle under this burden and suffered the largest fish kill the lake had ever seen. The disaster prompted Baoding to speed up the construction of a new sewage-treatment plant and today the lake is expanding its tourist services. Billboards along the road advertise the image to which the lake's guardians aspire: HUGE. ECOLOGY. HEALTH. RECREATION.
Around Handan, at the southern end of Hebei, a man-made landscape intrudes on the corn: piles of coal slag, smokestacks and gouged mountain faces. Clean water supplies here are among the scarcest in the region, and village after village has the same story: the water in the reservoirs is unfit to drink, what's usable goes to the city, the pumps suck deeper every year. In Yehe village, farmer Tian, 61, harvests millet with his family. Their drinking water, Tian says, comes from a communal well 360 m deep. "We can't afford to use this water to irrigate," he says. "We now rely on the sky. If it doesn't rain, we don't eat."
Tian won't be getting any water from the SNWD. Its cargo will be priced to reflect the cost of the project. Farmers won't be able to afford it and even if they could, preference will be given to urban residents. In theory, cities will give the cheaper water from old reservoirs back to the countryside?planners say that cities must demonstrate they're saving water before they can draw from the new aqueduct. But, says Ma, "If the situation of the cities is desperate, this policy will be very hard to enforce."
Harsh though it may sound, however, charging high prices for SNWD water makes sense. Currently 67% of China's water is used for agriculture, a sector responsible for only 13.2% of GDP. As California and Arizona have discovered, as an economy becomes urban, so water needs to be diverted from farmers to their urban cousins. That isn't easily done in places where courts are independent and local governments are held accountable at the ballot box. In China, the challenges are much steeper. Diverting water to the cities "may mean more civil unrest unless [China's leaders] can figure out how to use their water more efficiently," says Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project, a U.S. research institute. "They're in a really tough situation."
How will things get better? In time, perhaps, because of people like Yun Jianli, 62, a retired biology teacher and native of the city of Xiangfan, which lies about 90 km downstream of the Danjiangkou reservoir. The ancient walled city is moated by the Han River, which is stout enough that downtown Xiangfan's million residents both drink from it and use it as a sewer. But Xiangfan isn't going to keep all its water. Work is underway to raise the Danjiangkou reservoir's main dam so that it will catch more of the Han's flow. The reservoir will then spread and catch more water in rainy years. These reserves will then be channeled toward Beijing and the volume of the Han at Xiangfan will drop. The city plans to build a dam of its own to keep the water deep, but this will slow the Han, impeding its ability to rinse itself clean. Further complicating the picture is another river, the Tangbai, which empties into the Han upstream of the new dam and is severely polluted.
This rearrangement of nature worries environmentalists, but at least they have Yun on their side. She was riding a bus six years ago when a passenger pointed out a sewage pipe discharging its muck into a small stream. Yun had been a member of the Xiangfan branch of the Women's League and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress, a government advisory body, and used her connections to visit the spot she saw from the bus. Before long she found herself making trips to other rivers, poking around factories, sniffing at the water. She was alarmed by what she saw, but at a loss for how to respond until she watched a news report about an environmental organization on a college campus in Guangzhou. "I had never heard the word NGO," she recalls. "I wanted to know: Could an old lady like me follow the example of these students?"
Yes, she could. In 2001 Yun set up Green Han River, Xiangfan's first and only environmental NGO. The group's budget is less than a thousand dollars a year but its impact has been significant. Yun's members do what officials in Beijing can't: they regularly "walk" the rivers in their region, marching along them with flags and sleeping in tents near their banks. In addition to photographing the waterways?the Tangbai has been so badly polluted by effluent from paper mills that it has literally run black?Yun and her volunteers organize classes for schoolchildren, peasants and even government officials. Sometimes she just reminds people of what ought to be obvious: "We don't live in a desert. We're right next to a river. We ought to be able to use it."
Most people may call Yun "Granny," but she is as much an activist as a teacher. In 2003 she gathered several dozen bottled samples of polluted water, lined them up on the steps of the municipal water bureau, and told her story to other environmentalists around the country. Last year, her urgings prompted a national-level inspection of Zhaiwan, a village on the Tangbai north of downtown Xiangfan, and just south of the border with Henan province. The inspection confirmed that Zhaiwan's wells contained dangerous levels of highly carcinogenic chemicals. Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, reported the findings, factories upstream were shut down and, early this year, Xiangfan dug the village a new deep well to supply clean drinking water. "People like Yun Jianli are the drivers of positive change in China," says Alex Wang, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S. NGO. "All countries that have dealt with their environmental problems to any degree have people like Yun?passionate, on-the-ground voices who will keep on working until things change for the better."
Sadly, Zhaiwan's fate also speaks to the limitations of groups like Yun's in modern China. Despite Beijing's attention, the Tangbai still stinks. According to Zhaiwan's Mayor, Zhai Jinghan, discharges of pollution regularly turn the water black, but his complaints upriver go unheeded "because the polluting factories are on the other side of the provincial border and we're not in their domain." Xiangfan's government shares his frustration. Wang Lei of the city's Environmental Protection Bureau says Xiangfan has worked hard to clean up its portion of the river. But it has no authority to enforce antipollution measures upstream. Although levels of several key contaminants have recently declined, he says, "There is still pollution coming from industry and household waste in Henan ... We have reported and appealed to Henan many times."
But the river is still far from clean. On Sept. 7, two to three hundred people with fish nets and baskets gathered at a bridge along the Bai, a feeder of the Tangbai, in Henan's Xinye county. Stripping to their underwear, they waded in, skimming off the dead and dying fish floating by in water that gave off an odor both acrid and sweet, like a mixture of tar and caramel. No one seemed surprised at the size of the fish kill. "It happens once a month," said Gua, 51. "The factories upstream discharge their wastewater. It makes the fish get dizzy or die. That's when we come fishing." (Officials in Xinye later said in a fax that the villagers' claims were "groundless ... all the dead fish you saw could have been the result of someone illegally poisoning the fish or bombing them or electrocuting them.") Yun stood on the bridge, and called officials in Xiangfan to warn them what was heading downstream. Then she told the people around her not to eat the fish. After about 10 minutes, she propped her chin in her hands and stared out into the rain. "This," she said, "is the tragedy of our rivers."
No one wants the story to end in a place like that bridge. And indeed, Beijing has seemed to feel a sense of urgency lately. Last month, Chinese officials announced they would invest $41 billion in sewage treatment and drinking-water purification, and set an ambitious goal: clean drinking water for the entire country by 2015. Whether the initiative will really penetrate China's smaller cities and townships remains to be seen. Many Chinese cities have sewage-treatment plants but lack the funds or the will to actually operate them. Cleaning up the water above all will require a cleanup of local corruption. In March China's National Audit Office announced that as much as 70% of funds allocated for water programs between 2002 and 2003 had been misused.
Still, not all is gloom. China's State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), long considered a toothless watchdog, recently announced plans to establish regional offices, which will nearly double its tiny workforce, now fewer than 200. Cautiously, Beijing has floated the idea of raising water prices. Ma Jun recently launched a website that gathers together, on a searchable map, all of the available official information about pollution of China's waterways. The map will give people like Yun a new source of hard data with which to bolster their calls for a cleanup. "SEPA can't be here every day to monitor these factories," she says, "To save a river you have to rely on the people along its banks." She's trying; so are thousands like her, all over Asia.
With reporting by Nicole Qu/Beijing
From TIME asia Magazine, issue dated October 9, 2006 Vol. 168, No. 15
Britain wanted to control the key trade
Britain 'planned to cut off Nile'
Britain drew up plans to cut the flow of the River Nile to Egypt to force President Gamal Abdel Nasser to give up the Suez Canal in 1956, files reveal. Military officials believed they could harm agriculture and cut communications by reducing the flow of water, newly-released documents show.
The plan was outlined to Prime Minister Anthony Eden six weeks before British and French forces invaded Egypt. But it was abandoned because of fears it would trigger a violent backlash.
Under the plan, Britain would have used a dam in Uganda to reduce water levels in the White Nile by seven-eighths. But planners realised that the scheme would take months to work, and could also harm other states such as Kenya and Uganda. One British official noted that the plan, while unworkable, could still be useful. "It might be possible to spread the word among the more illiterate Egyptians that 'unless Nasser climbs down, Britain will cut off the Nile'," Cabinet official John Hunt was revealed to have said.
'No legal justification'
The Suez crisis was triggered in July 1956 when the Egyptian president nationalised the Suez Canal, a vital trading route from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. Britain and France joined forces with Israel and the three nations attacked in October 1956 in a bid to regain control of the canal, but US and UN pressure forced a withdrawal.
The documents, released to the National Archives in Kew, also show the prime minister was urged to conceal the fact that his attorney-general had warned that the invasion was illegal. At the time, UK lawmakers were claiming that the action was legal.
But Attorney General Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller - father of current MI5 head Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller - wrote a strong letter challenging this. "I am unable to devise any argument which could purport to justify in international law either our demand that she [Egypt]... should withdraw her forces from a part of her own territory which she is engaged in defending, or the threat to occupy her territory by armed forces should she fail to accede that demand," he wrote. Then-Cabinet Secretary Sir Norman Brooks told the prime minister that he should not raise the issue of the war's legality in future speeches.
The Suez crisis damaged Sir Anthony's reputation and led to his resignation in 1957.
After More Than a Century of Soaking, Washington Town Mulls Move to Higher Ground
By WILLIAM YARDLEY
A recent Hamilton flood was the latest of many. Roll up the rugs. Empty the kitchen cabinets. Put the good furniture on the second floor and hope the river does not rise that high. Then load up the RV and head north of Highway 20 to the church. “They’re actually getting a little better at this, unfortunately,” said the Rev. Ron Edwards, the pastor of the First Baptist Church and a foul-weather host to many of Hamilton’s refugees.
Most of the about 300 residents of Hamilton repeated their weary routine this week, when an immense band of moisture, known as the Pineapple Express for its origins in tropical waters near Hawaii, dumped record rain and drove rivers to new heights across western Washington and Oregon. The storm killed three people, breached levees, flooded farms, washed out roads and forced hundreds of evacuations.
And here in Hamilton, 80 miles northeast of Seattle, where the Skagit River once again ignored its ostensible banks, where mud now slicks the ramp that Dave Thompson uses to roll his wheelchair to his front door, where “flood line” signs mark the head-high reach of the river in 2003, this last storm has renewed attention, and momentum, to the idea of moving Hamilton to higher ground for good. “The only problem we have with it is that we don’t have a program that buys new town sites,” said Carl Cook, the mitigation director for the regional office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington State.
And so the Hamilton Public Development Authority was born in 2004. The group, an agency created by the town with a board that includes representatives of local Indian tribes and the Nature Conservancy, wants to move Hamilton, minus the mud, across Highway 20 to about 200 acres of private land on a dry hillside.
Supporters of the move say it would serve dual purposes: improving the lives of Hamilton residents, many of whom cannot afford to move on their own, and improving the Skagit, home to one of the largest wintering colonies of bald eagles in the country and a spawning site for six species of salmon.
The greatest challenge now is buying the new land. Board members say it would cost about $4 million, which they hope to raise from the federal and state government. But another challenge would be actually moving the people, not all of whom say they want to go. “We’re too old to start over,” said Kathy Lipsey, 59, who moved to Hamilton with her husband, Ed, 64, a hay farmer, about 15 years ago. The couple knew about Hamilton’s history of flooding when they moved into a double-wide mobile home there. But the price was right. This year they raised their house three feet, using hydraulic jacks and concrete blocks. “You always can convince yourself that you’re going to be a little better prepared than you are,” Mr. Lipsey said. “But the floods come differently each time.”
It has been a soggy century for Hamilton, which once thrived on coal mining and logging but fell into depression after the timber industry declined in the 1980s. Library archives have images of floods from the 1890s. On skagitriverhistory.com, there are links to newspaper articles about floods published as far back as 1896, when Hamilton was “totally inundated” by flooding. The floods never stopped, but people stayed, rebuilding after floods as recent as 1990, 1995, 1996 and 2003.
FEMA estimates that it has spent at least $10 million helping Hamilton recover over the years, but supporters of the move say the actual figure could be $20 million or more. While Hamilton would not be the first river town in the nation to move, its plan for doing so is distinctive. Over the course of 20 years, Hamilton’s riverfront lots would slowly slip from the map through a kind of land swap that is part environmentalism, part social engineering. The new town could have up to 400 lots.
No one would be forced to relocate, but the new development authority would buy property and help people move. The authority, said Patrick M. Hayden, a lawyer who is the part-time town attorney, would raise some money by selling land on the new town site and then use that money to buy property in the old part of town, preventing it from being developed again. Residents of Hamilton and other parts of the Skagit River floodway could buy or rent in the new town site at discounted rates. At the same time, the river, which twists 163 miles from British Columbia to the Puget Sound, would offer that much more undisturbed habitat along its banks.
Gayle Poole, a cook at Joy’s Bakery in Sedro-Woolley, about 12 miles west, said she moved from Hamilton after the floods of 1995 and 1996. Ms. Poole said she knew some people had stayed in Hamilton solely to file claims with FEMA after each flood. “To me it’s stupid to keep pouring out the taxpayers’ money when the solution’s right there on that hill,” she said, referring to the proposed new town site.
Mr. Cook, the FEMA official, acknowledged there was room for abuse but said, “There’s an obligation on FEMA to make sure claims are paid.” Mr. Edwards, the pastor, said he believed few people were exploiting FEMA. "By and large, they’re the exceptions,” he said. “The norm is that people don’t have the money to move.” As for residents who say they like life in Hamilton as it is and would not want to move to the new town, “I think that’s kind of a smokescreen,” Mr. Edwards said. “I think they would get out, if they knew they really could.”
Water Shortage in India
JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Delhi runs dry. India's capital is
facing a crisis that's parching the country as a whole. Where can it find
Hello and welcome.
The Yamuna River that runs through New Delhi is sacred to devout Hindus. They hold festivals and worship at its banks, and some scatter the ashes of their dead into its waters. But New Delhi also pumps its sewage into the Yamuna and its industrial waste, and much of the city drinks the water, too. They have no choice. There are 14 million people in India's capital. By one estimate, they consume roughly 4 billon liters of water a day, and even at that they never have enough.
On our program today, driven to drink.
We have this report from CNN's Seth Doane.
SETH DOANE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You didn't get any water today?
HARBANS KUMAR, RETIREE: No, no, no. That's the problem.
DOANE (voice-over): Harbans Kumar starts every morning like this, looking to see if there'll be enough water just to make it through the day.
KUMAR: I tell you, in terms of water, the quality of life has been really miserable.
DOANE: Kumar lives here in (UNINTELLIGIBLE), an upper middle class part of Delhi. A snapshot of a problem plaguing people across India: the 13,000 or so families living here have very limited access to water.
KUMAR: Me and my wife, I can assure you, we have spent one week sharing one bucket of water to survive, for a normal routine.
DOANE: Kumar is retired and has the luxury of being home to check and see when water starts flowing. When it does, he says he'll have just about 20 minutes to turn on the pump and fill up his tank.
DR. BHARTI OBEROI, PEDIATRICIAN: Water situation is (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You see, the water comes normally in the morning. 7:00 to 8:00 is the regular timing for the water. But we are not getting water sometimes for two days, sometimes three days, and sometimes when it comes, some people do get it, sometimes they don't get it at all.
DOANE: Kumar's neighbor, a pediatrician, tells us she leaves the hospital and her young patients just to come home to check if there is water.
OBEROI: Every guest who comes, we have to tell them, you have to go in the bathroom and say please, please open the tap slowly.
DOANE (on camera): You have to tell your guests.
OBEROI: Yes, my guests always ask me, when they have to come from outside Delhi, you know, you won't have water problem. I say please open slowly.
DOANE (voice-over): Ironically, there are vast water resources across India. Monsoon rains flood parts of the subcontinent several months each year, boosting the water table. Still, much of the water is lost before it gets to India's citizens, lots of it lost in leaky pipes.
The World Bank says on a per capita basis, India is among the worst countries when it comes to water infrastructure. So where government is failing, private businesses are springing up. Many of them illegally pumping ground water to sell at a premium and fill a need.
DR. R.K. PACHAURI, ENERGY RESOURCE INSTITUTE: Ground water has been depleted to a point where water tables have really dropped precariously. So I think we have a serious problem with water in this country, and it's happening in several parts of the country.
DOANE: Sarinder owns a telephone booth in his village, but he says he makes most of his money here, pumping water to sell for irrigation and drinking. He says on average he fills up 35 water tankers a day from this backyard business. He tells us he doesn't know of any government regulation and just pumps as much as he can.
Sarinder shows us this water holding tank which is 10 to 12 feet deep. There are more than 19 million wells like this one across India, according to the Center for Science and Environment, an environmental activist group.
There are laws against this kind of pumping, which vary from state to state. But even government officials admit they're hard to enforce.
DR. SALEEM ROMANI, CENTRAL GROUNDWATER BOARD: Pumping is -- you have to catch up with the needs of the people. And unless you (UNINTELLIGIBLE), enforcement is not going to solve the problem.
DOANE: Delhi consumes more water than any other state in India, and this was one of the Delhi government's best hopes, the Sonia Vihar Water Treatment Plant, designed to supply more than 3 million people here with water.
But soon after opening with much fanfare in September, it was quickly obvious that it wouldn't regularly operate to capacity. Why? Because there wasn't enough water to supply the plant. The state water agency in charge of this plant, the Delhi Jal Board, declined CNN's request for an interview.
(on camera): Here in Rajasthan, about a 7-hour drive from Delhi, it's an area know for its dry, desert-like climate. We met a farmer here who used to farm on the land behind me until about a year ago, but he says with less than average rainfall, it's difficult to farm. He now can make more money selling water from the farm's well.
(voice-over): The former farmer says 10 years ago or so he used to get water about 23 meters, or 75 feet, below ground. He says now he must drill more than 100 feet down for water.
(on camera): What you're doing, in essence, selling this water in your backyard, is illegal. Do you worry that you're depleting the water table faster than it can be replenished?
(voice-over): "It may be illegal," he says. "It may be right, it may be wrong. But there is the demand for water. Water is life. You either have to give water to the people, or they will take it from here or somewhere else."
ROMANI: If it's a case of every individual trying to maximize returns from his own actions and sort of, you know, making a quick buck, then clearly you're not going to get desirable results.
So I think you need a totally different psychology for managing these common resources. I mean, this is a common property resource.
DOANE: A lot of people think education is the way to go, so teaching about water and basic sanitation are lessons in this rural school, how to best use it and conserve it.
(on camera): Water impacts more than you might think. UNICEF, the U.N. body, has found a direct correlation between water and basic sanitation being available in school and the boosting of student enrollment and student retention.
(voice-over): UNICEF, working with the government, installed toilets and a pump powered by a seesaw to bring water for washing hands and keeping clean. Just one year after the program was introduced, attendance here nearly doubled. Almost 200,000 schools across India now have a program like this one.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For teenage girls, we find that it's quite an issue. They go to school, they have their menstruation and they don't have the policy they need to actually take care of themselves and wash themselves. We found that they left school early, they would go home after lunch, and they didn't come back.
DOANE: There is even an appointed water minister, Pavan (ph), who after school takes us to her home.
(on camera): This is one of the ideas that Pavan (ph) brought home with her from school. It seems pretty simple. Just a long handled ladle that they dip in the water so they don't get their dirty hands in it.
(voice-over): But changing behavior in the next generation doesn't solve the crisis of today, where residents in even major cities are struggling to get by.
(on camera): What about bathing? Showers?
OBEROI: Oh, showers. Forget about it. That luxury -- we have put everything, but we can't use them.
DOANE: You have showers, but you can't use them.
OBEROI: Yes, but you can't use them.
DOANE: Because there's not enough water?
DOANE: So what do you do?
OBEROI: What do you do? Just two mugs at times. Even with two mugs, I have had a bath.
DOANE: The bottom line is, there are more and more people drawing on a resource essential to life that is already in critically short supply and droves of people are moving to the cities where there are already water shortages.
It is an enormous problem, and now what India must do is struggle to find a way to solve it.
Seth Doane, CNN, New Delhi.
MANN: India is hardly the only place where demand exceed supply. We take a break now, but when we come back, a look at others around the world suffering from a lack of clean water and what's being done to help them.
Stay with us.
MANN: In Kenya, it's a problem of extremes. There's not enough water, or there's too much. Torrential downpours in parts of the country this rainy season have displaced tens of thousands of people and killed at least 23, but the rains that caused so much devastation could prove to be the very key to solving Africa's water woes.
The U.N. Environment Program says enough rainwater falls in Kenya to supply six or seven times its population. In a report issued this week, the agency suggests that just collecting it, or as the experts say harvesting rainfall, could be an underused and affordable way to supply clean water to millions of people who need it. It's one of several solutions suggested for redistributing water from where it's most available to where it's most needed.
JUSTUS LAVI, KENYAN VILLAGER: It is real sad and it is one of the very shocking things that Kenya is experiencing.
MANN (voice-over): Drought and a shortage of drinking water are changing many Kenyans' way of life. Nearly two years ago, about 25 people were speared, clubbed or chocked to death in western Kenya's Rift Valley (ph) province over water. Old rivalries were reignited when drought shrank the local river that is the region's lifeline.
Just 50 kilometers away, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference that's now underway in Nairobi, the incident is an illustration of how access to water in developing countries can mean the difference between life and death. A lack of rainfall and dried up water sources are problems that are becoming all too familiar to many Kenyans.
PETER KINYA MAINE, KENYAN FARMER: We have severe droughts and our economy has gone down. We no longer have enough food, enough money, and that has become more and more harder.
DAVID DITHAIGA, KENYAN DROUGHT MANAGEMENT OFFICER: In the long run, we are going to have intense poverty because (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to water the animals and to irrigate the farms.
MANN: The U.N. says the consequences of life without water are devastating. The just released annual report of the U.N. Development Program says a lack of access to clean water and basic sanitation kills nearly 2 million young children each year.
KEVIN WATKINS, U.N. DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM: There are over 1 billion people in the world who do not have access to clean water. These are people who start their day walking to rivers to collect water, sending young girls to collect water and so on. There are over 2.6 billion people in the world who do have access to sanitation. These twin deficits I think do speak to a global crisis.
MANN: The report, released in South Africa last week, says water and sanitation are things that most people take for granted. It says that dripping taps in rich countries, for example, lose more water than is available each day to more than a billion people.
The report calls for a global campaign to help developing countries and it urges those developing countries to help themselves by devoting more of their spending to basic water and sanitation needs.
THABO MBEKI, SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: Indeed we cannot speak about development while people subsist without clean water and proper sanitation and thus become exposed to numerous preventable diseases. As in many other areas of our lives, we have a duty to fight against domestic and global apartheid in terms of access to water.
MANN: Some countries are trying to come up with new ways to provide water to their people. In China, the solution could be salt water. The government plans to desalinate up to a million cubic meters of seawater a day for areas suffering from drought and industrial pollution. In South Africa, the government has legislated that each citizen receive 25 liters of water per day for free. Those who can afford it can buy more. Those who can't still have enough to get by. It's considered a right of citizenship for all South Africans, regardless of their income.
ANREA HEYNS, PRETORIA RESIDENT: Every single family in South Africa receives a certain amount of water free every day and it's not that one person gets it and another one does not get it. So, yes, it's a good thing, because all the people get the same treatment.
PRINCE NIDLOVU, SOUTH AFRICAN TOWNSHIP RESIDENT: Inside the house, you can get water. Outside, you can even get water. Everything is all right about this water. We do washing, we do bathing, we do cleaning, we do for our flowers, trees and everything that has a need for water, I think it's all right.
MANN: And in Mozambique, a new invention aims to make the chore of fetching water fun. Children who spend much of their day ferrying water back from local wells can now accomplish the same thing with the play pump. It looks like a piece of playground equipment, but every spin helps to pump clean water from underground wells.
SAMUEL MANHICA, UNICEF: The pump is improving the hygiene and the water quality for the community and also (UNINTELLIGIBLE). So now, like here, we have safe water to that community from that pump and also we have something where the children can play and can maintain children in school.
MANN: They're all efforts to ensure that access to clean water is not just a privilege. The U.N. says it needs to be seen as a basic human right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The crisis in water, as we've heard before, is a crisis of widespread violation of the basic right to water. There has to be practical action so those rights are realized.
MANN: The U.N. Development Program's report estimates it would cost $10 billion to achieve its goals of increasing access to water and sanitation. Seem like a lot of money? It's less than half of what rich countries spend each year on mineral water.
We take a break now. When we come back, we'll speak with the lead author of the U.N. Human Development Report about the world's water problems and the solutions.
Stay with us.
MANN: People don't drink that much water. Most of us only need two or three liters a day. Cooking and keeping clean can take 40 or 50 liters more. But far more than that goes into the ground to irrigate the farms that grow our food.
Here is a striking example. Had a cup of coffee today? A Dutch study found that making a cup of coffee takes 140 liters of water, most of it to grow the coffee beans. If we could get that much water to people instead of plants, would that solve our problem?
Joining us now to talk about where the world is going to find its water is a man you saw briefly earlier in the program, Kevin Watkins of the United Nations Development Program, author of its study "Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis."
Let me ask you a very basic question just to get started. Two- thirds of the planet is covered in water. Even parched countries like India, the continent of Africa, are covered with water during rainy season. Why should anyone be short of the stuff?
WATKINS: Well, you're right, we are the water planet, and yet we have this terrible scarcity. I mean, it's abundant.
What we're dealing with here is a real humanitarian crisis. The headline numbers for that crisis are 1 billion people without access to water, but the real figure that I think should shock and disturb us all is the 2 million deaths of children under the age of 5 who die because they can't get a glass of clean water, the millions of girls who are kept out of school because they can't get clean water, the enormous cost, in terms of economic growth, for regions like sub-Saharan Africa.
And the worst thing of all, I think, is this is an avoidable crisis. We're not dealing here with a tsunami that we can't predict. It's not rocket science to get pipes in the ground and taps in people's homes. This is a crisis which is, speaking frankly, born of complacency and indifference on the part of the world's governments.
MANN: So even in arid countries, people could solve this problem, you're saying, if they set a mind to do it. How can they do it?
WATKINS: Well, every country is different. In some parts of the world, there are indeed shortages of water. The Middle East would be a very good example of that.
In most of the world, however, what we see is some people suffering acute shortages of water and other people having water to wash their cars and fill their swimming pools. You go to your average African slum, and from that slum you can often see middle class suburbs where households are having water pumped into them at very low prices.
And, indeed, one of the things that we found in the report was that people in the slums of sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and Asia are often paying 5 to 10 times as much for their water as people in high income areas and indeed they're often paying more than people in Atlanta or New York or London or Paris.
I think this says something very directly that there is something wrong with the governance of water, that we're not dealing with scarcity, we're dealing with a problem of governance and distribution.
MANN: So this doesn't sound really like a crisis. It doesn't sound like an accident. It doesn't sound like an environmental problem. It sounds like a tragic kind of mistreatment, a tragic kind of oppression that rich and powerful people are inflicting on the powerless.
WATKINS: It's a crisis for people whose lives are destroyed by not having access to clean water, but it's a crisis that we can resolve, and we've set out what we think is a feasible and practical strategy for resolving it.
It's really not too much to ask that all of the world's governments strive to provide their citizens with 20 liters of clean water a day. That's less than an average European or American uses in the shower or in flushing in the bathroom. It's not too much to ask that countries spend 1 percent of their national wealth on providing water and sanitation to their citizens, especially when many of these countries are spending five or six times as much as that.
MANN: Let me jump in with an example, because we began this program by talking about India and New Delhi in particular. India's economy is booming. It has a democratically-elected government. And it seems to be trying in some sense to address its voters' demands for more water. And in India, they're failing.
WATKINS: Well, some parts of India are moving in the right direction. Other parts, very clearly, are failing. And I think if you look at India, it really illustrates the central point we're making in this report, that India is now in the super league of performers on economic growth in the world. It's just behind China. But when it comes to getting water to its citizens, it doesn't perform that well. It has enormously high rates of diarrhea among children. It has a very high death rate. And so the success we see on the economic front isn't being matched by progress on the social front. And one of the explanations for that is a failure to put in place a water infrastructure that provides clean and affordable water to poor people.
MANN: Let me jump in on that very thought. There are some people who say that the problem is in fact that most people and many institutions, I think the United Nations among them, regard access to water as a right. And so when people have water, they use it as much as they want, they waste it as much as they want, and they sell it in ways that are destructive to the environment.
If people had to pay for their water, they'd take better care of it, places like India wouldn't waste as much of it, and there would be more of it, ultimately, even for the poorest citizens. Is that the answer?
WATKINS: Well, that's partly a fair point. We point out in the report that water may be a right, but for most of the world's poor people, it's a very high cost right. You pay a lot of money for water if you're living in a slum in Mumbai, in Nairobi, in parts of Brazil.
The real challenge is to constrain overuse of water by high income groups in agriculture and in industry and to ensure that the water infrastructure is in place which provides affordable water to the slums and the rural villages in which poor people live.
At the moment, it's the world's poorest people who are paying the highest price for water, and that's a topsy-turvy world that we just should not accept.
MANN: Kevin Watkins, of the U.N. Development Program, thank you so much for talking with us.
WATKINS: Thank you.
MANN: And that's INSIGHT. I'm Jonathan Mann. The news continues.
A Troubled River Mirrors China’s Path to Modernity
By JIM YARDLEY
DOLKA, China — At the two glacial lakes that give birth to the Yellow River, a Tibetan nomad named Tsende stands at the river’s edge and rolls up his pants. He says a dragon lives in the lakes, a god of rain. Two decades of drought convinced him the dragon is angry. Tsende steps barefoot into the river, a human speck at an altitude of almost 15,000 feet, swallowed in the emptiness of the Qinghai Province grasslands. He is carrying five silver rings. A nomad on the other side has 20 sheep. They have arranged a trade. He will travel across grasses that once touched his knees but now barely reach his ankles. Hundreds of nomads, prodded by the government, have sold their herds and fled the land around the lakes. Others like Tsende have rammed a Buddhist prayer pole into a hillside and prayed to the dragon. Told that some scientists offer another explanation for the weather — climate change — Tsende is unimpressed. “The result is the same,” he said with a shrug.
Science or superstition, the result is the same: The source of the Yellow River, itself the water source for 140 million people in a country of about 1.3 billion, is in crisis, as scientists warn that the glaciers and underground water system feeding the river are gravely threatened. For the rest of China, where the economy has evolved beyond trading rings for sheep, it is the latest burden for a river saturated with pollution and sucked dry by factories, growing cities and farming — with still more growth planned.
For centuries, the Yellow River symbolized the greatness and sorrows of China’s ancient civilization, as emperors equated controlling the river and taming its catastrophic floods with controlling China. Now, the river is a very different symbol — of the dire state of China’s limited resources at a time when the country’s soaring economic growth needs more of everything.
“The Yellow River flows through all these densely populated parts of northern China,” said Liu Shiyin, a scientist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “Without water in northern China, people can’t survive. And the economic development that has been going on cannot continue.”
China’s dynamic economic engine, still roaring at record levels, is at a corrosive crossroads. Pollution is widespread, and a nationwide construction spree, tainted by corruption, is threatening to overheat the economy. China’s leaders, worried about the unbridled growth, are trying to emphasize “sustainable development” even as questions remain about whether the party’s rank and file can carry out priorities like curbing pollution and conserving energy.
The Yellow River, curving through regions only intermittently touched by the country’s boom, offers a tour of the pressures and contradictions bearing down on China, and of the government’s efforts to address them. The river’s twisting 3,400-mile path from the Qinghai grasslands to the Bohai Sea seems to encompass not just thousands of miles but thousands of years — from nomads like Tsende sleeping under tents made of animal hair to urbanites like Peng Guihang, a homemaker living in a new high-rise building in the city of Zhengzhou.
In between, in the ancient, irrigated oasis in the tiny region of Ningxia, farmers plant rice in the desert and treat the Yellow River like a bottomless well. In a pebbled, alien expanse along the river in Inner Mongolia, an enormous industrial region has arisen in only a few years, spewing out so much pollution that a shopkeeper surrounded by factories scoffs at government promises to clean up China.
Most astonishing, cities beside the river like Yinchuan, Luoyang and Zhengzhou — places few Americans have ever heard of — are racing to become China’s next new regional urban center with almost hallucinatory building booms. Yinchuan, a modest, ancient capital, is building an entire city district for a vast government complex and is adding 20 million square feet of construction every year through 2011. Luoyang, once the capital of the Zhou dynasty, has built a cluster of futuristic sports stadiums that look like a grounded armada of metallic, alien spaceships.
From one bend of the river to the next, and the next, an evolutionary chain emerges: nomad to farmer, farm to factory and factory to city. It is the kind of change that other countries have navigated over centuries. In China, it is happening all at the same time. The Yellow River, then, is like a path into the future. To follow it is to watch China’s struggle to get there.
Climate Change and Drought
It is July, monsoon season at 15,000 feet. The sky is spitting. Two days earlier, it rained. Nomads hope the dragon is no longer angry. Tsende is sipping a steaming cup of yak-butter tea inside a tent overlooking the frigid blue water of Gyaring Lake. Nomads like Tsende are the descendants of ethnic Tibetans whose families have lived here for generations to when the sparse region was part of Tibet, not China. Even now, many nomads speak no more than a few words of Chinese.
Last year, a local official approached Tsende with an offer: sell his yaks and sheep and move to a township. His family would get a free cinder-block house and an annual stipend of 8,000 yuan, or about $1,000. Local cadres, responding to an edict from Beijing to reduce grazing, offered the same deal to every nomad around the lake. “They wanted to protect the grasslands,” said Tsende, who like many ethnic Tibetans uses only one name. “They want to move all the nomads into towns, but some nomads are opposed.” He added, “I don’t think overgrazing is the problem.”
Gyaring Lake and its twin, Ngoring Lake, are considered the source of the Yellow River. Scientists began studying the region after drought took hold in the 1980s. Grasslands were turning to desert, raising fears that the river’s source could be endangered. Eventually, overgrazing was deemed to be the root of the problem, and local governments began moving nomads off the land.
More recently, though, Chinese scientists have examined the region and concluded that the pressures from herding are only one part of a much broader problem. Mr. Liu, the hydrologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and other scientists discovered that the complicated water system feeding the lakes was in crisis. Underground water levels were sinking and chains of smaller feeder lakes were receding or drying up altogether. Air temperatures were slowly rising, while the old pattern of two rainy seasons per year was down to one. “We’ve found that the problem is much broader and is being caused by global climate change,” said Mr. Liu, who is also a professor at the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Institute.
Researchers found that the glaciers feeding the river had shrunk 17 percent in 30 years. Earlier this year, the official New China News Agency reported that glaciers across the entire Qinghai-Tibet plateau, which includes the Yellow River source region, are now melting at a rate of 7 percent a year because of global warming. The report also said average temperatures in Tibet had risen by 2 degrees since the 1980s, according to China’s national weather bureau.
At the source of the Yellow River, Mr. Liu said the combination of less rainfall and warming temperatures had thawed the surface layer of active permafrost and disrupted the underground water channels. Moisture is being absorbed deeper into the warmer ground, and less water is funneling into the Yellow River.
The warming trend has literally moved the ground. Some sections of Highway 214, the two-lane provincial highway, now gently undulate because of melting permafrost. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the technological marvel that recently opened as the world’s highest railroad, has already reported track problems from the warming ground surface.
Climate change sounds as strange to a nomad as a dragon god does to a scientist. Yet nomads have been witnesses to what seem to be symptoms. At a chain of lakes known as the Sea of Stars, a nomad in a camouflage jacket described how the shoreline had receded more than 20 yards during the past decade. Other nomads, including Tsende, have noted steadily rising temperatures. “The temperature has been rising every year,” Tsende said. “It is much warmer now during all four seasons than it was 20 years ago. Sometimes in the winter, the surface of the lake doesn’t even freeze anymore.”
China ranks behind only the United States in carbon dioxide emissions, which scientists consider the raw ingredient of global warming, though that is tricky to explain to a nomad who has never seen a factory. Instead, nomads remember the Han Chinese gold prospectors and fishermen who arrived in the 1980s.
Mining shaved huge scars into the grasslands. Fishermen arrived on donkeys, then later in cars, punching holes into the icy surface of the lakes and slipping nets into the them. At about the same time, drought took hold. Nomads considered the lakes holy and refrained from fishing. They say the local Buddhist holy man, or incarnate lama, warned that the dragon in the lakes was upset that the natural order had been disturbed. The drought lasted 20 years. “Our Incarnate Lama told us that when the Han Chinese came and started the gold mining and the fishing, it insulted the spirit of the lake,” Tsende said. “He told us that the gold under the earth offered us protection for the grasslands.”
Almost half of the roughly 400 families who once lived around Gyaring Lake have left. In other surrounding regions, the same trend has played out, as thousands of nomads are leaving — though not all of them. Atop a hillside beside Gyaring Lake, nomads have built a tower where people pray to the dragon for rain. Mining and fishing are now banned. Tsende hopes the dragon is satisfied; it is too soon to say if the drought is ending, but this year the rains have improved. He has no plans to leave and has managed to buy the newest nomad status symbol, a motorcycle. “I think the warmer, the better,” he said of rising temperatures. “Then, there will be more grass.”
Mr. Liu, the scientist, is less sanguine. The entire source region of the river, stretching across different areas of Qinghai, accounts for roughly 40 percent of the water supply in the Yellow River. Rainfall can vary, he said, but other climate trends suggest that the threat to the source of the Yellow River is not going away. “If the trends that we’re seeing up near the source continue — that the climate is getting dryer and hotter — the river will keep drying up,” he said.
Irrigating the Desert
The tiny, diamond-shaped region known as Ningxia could be the Rhode Island of China. It accounts for less than 1 percent of the country’s population and less than half a percent of its land mass. The terrain is arid and mountainous, and in recent years has been gripped by drought. Not surprisingly, per capita, few places drink more lustily from the Yellow River.
The Yellow River has allowed Ningxia to defy reality for centuries: rice paddies soak in the desert; sunflowers stare up at skies that almost never rain. Today, farmers repeat a phrase handed down for generations, “Tian Xia Huang He Fu Ningxia,” or “The Yellow River Is a Great Gift for Ningxia.” But is Ningxia a great gift for the rest of China?
Water shortages are at crisis level in many regions. About 400 of China’s 600 cities lack an adequate supply for future growth , and many are now making do by draining underground aquifers to dangerously low levels. Some coastal cities are building desalination plants to turn seawater into drinking water. Over all, China has one of the lowest per capita water supplies in the world and one of the most uneven distributions of water. Northern China is home to 43 percent of the population but only 14 percent of the country’s water supply.
To address that imbalance, the government has begun work on a grandiose, and controversial, “South-to-North” transfer project, which would pump water along channels from the Yangtze River in southern China to replenish the country’s thirsty north, including the Yellow River.
Officials say they believe the plan, potentially the most expensive public works project ever in China, is the best hope for maintaining economic growth in the north, but critics point to practical and environmental concerns, and are fighting to block plans for a channel through Qinghai.
Ningxia, while far too small to blame for the country’s water travails, typifies the challenges China will face as it weighs logic against history in parceling out water. The village of Yingpantan lies in the Yinchuan Plain, a lush green stripe carved by centuries of irrigation. Rice paddies, wheat, corn and groves of red berries known as gouqi provide farmers a comfortable livelihood in a region where rain may fall twice a year.
“We used to be poor, now we are not,” said a farmer, Yang Fengyin, 52. “Water is not a problem here. On the banks of the Yellow River, we’ve never run out of water.” Told about water problems elsewhere in China, including along many sections of the Yellow River, Mr. Yang was unconvinced. “It’s a rumor,” he said.
Yingpantan Village, built inside the bed of the river, exists solely because during the 1960s the Communist Party under Mao built a dam upstream in neighboring Gansu Province that harnessed the river below. A few doors away from Mr. Yang, a young man studying for the college entrance exam, Chen Shuangquan, told a story that has become family lore, of the raging Yellow River forcing the family onto the rooftops during the 1940s until Mr. Chen’s grandfather, then a young soldier, returned by raft to rescue his relatives. For the younger Mr. Chen, the tale became a morality play in which the untamed river was a destructive villain and dams were the savior. “The dams have protected our way of life,” said Mr. Chen, 20, standing less than a mile from the river as mosquitoes swarmed in the humid July air and dusk summoned his neighbors back from the fields.
Dikes and irrigation in Ningxia trace to the beginning of dynastic rule, when the Qin rulers who unified China in 221 B.C. built irrigation for soldiers garrisoned on some of the earliest sections of the Great Wall. Farmers still plant rice on the same paddies tilled roughly 2,000 years ago.
Throughout history the Yellow River has spawned floods, and emperors who could not protect the people were said to have lost heaven’s mandate to rule. The Communist Party has built more dams than any dynasty, and the river is now a top-to-bottom plumbing project that many environmentalists fear is being plumbed to death.
For several years during the 1990s, the river ran so low that it failed to reach the sea. For the moment, engineers have corrected that problem, but the dams and dikes have accentuated a different one: the river is rising into the sky. The huge amount of sediment washing downstream is now pinched by so many dikes and interrupted by so many dams that it is pushing the bed of the river upward, which means as the river goes up, so must the height of dams to prevent floods.
In Ningxia, generations of farmers in villages like Yingpantan have paid no attention to how much water they drained from the river. Their work fulfilled a national priority still evident today, as some Chinese officials sometimes voice fears of China being unable to feed itself. More recently, though, different fears — of not enough water — have prompted the introduction of local conservation efforts. In Yingpantan and nearby villages, irrigation schedules are now announced over public loudspeakers. Rice paddies have been banned in some areas.
But conservation also assumes that demand will not grow, and demand in Ningxia is driven by desperation. Drought is written on the landscape of the arid, lifeless mountains beyond the river’s reach; the name of one mountain village, Hanjiaoshui, roughly translates as Shout for Water. Conservation is becoming a national priority but a recent drought has made finding water a matter of survival for many people in Ningxia. “People are starving and have no way of living up there,” said Wang Qirong, 64, a farmer in Yingpantan. “You just can’t let people starve. If we have water, we should take it into the mountains in trucks.”
People are already coming down from the mountains. A short drive north of the village, Ma Junqing, a grandfather in a threadbare gray Mao suit, said drought forced him to leave two years ago. He said 100 families from his home county were now leasing wasteland just beyond the edge of the river’s irrigation system. They have built water channels to turn sand into soil, and soil into survival. “There is absolutely nothing in my hometown,” Mr. Ma, 56, said. “It didn’t rain. If it rains, you eat. If it doesn’t rain, you don’t eat.”
Thirsty Factories, Dirty Air
Down a potholed street leading into an industrial park, a brick building that was once part of a forced labor camp is now another sort of prison: the small sundries shop where Zhang Yueqing lives amid the choking pollution of one of China’s newest industrial corridors.
Hulking factories spew blue smoke as hunched men shovel minerals into the red glow of open pit furnaces. They are making coke, silicon and other raw materials to be shipped elsewhere in China, as well as to Europe, Japan, South Korea and the United States. Furnace ash is spread over empty lots like black icing over a cake. “If you are here in the morning, you’ll see an inch of coal dust on the ground,” said Mr. Zhang, 54. “We cough a lot. At night, sometimes the smoke is so thick that you can turn on your car lights and you still can’t see where you are going.” His wife, Chen Fengying, 53, added: “We can’t plant anything. We can’t plant tomatoes or hot peppers. They cannot grow.”
The industrial park sits along the river in the region that joins Ningxia and Inner Mongolia, part of an industrial colossus built in less than six years on the arid, water-starved land surrounding the city of Wuhai. “The kind of development that is happening is abnormal,” said Chen Anping, an advocate for restoring grasslands in Inner Mongolia. “There’s no way this can be sustained. There are not enough resources.”
With one important exception: coal. The northernmost route of the Yellow River courses through the center of China’s coal country. Under the planned economy in 1958, the central government founded Wuhai in the rocky terrain as the coal supplier for the state-owned steel maker, Baotou Steel.
But the collapse of the planned economy almost meant the collapse of Wuhai. By the early 1990s, local officials were debating how to save the city and built three coal-fired power plants to provide electricity to the east. But the city still needed jobs. So officials recruited investors to build the energy-intensive, heavy polluting industries that other regions no longer wanted. “We told them we have cheap coal, cheap electricity, and if they came and invested here, we could give them land on credit,” said an official in the Wuhai environmental bureau, who explained the city’s history but asked not to be identified for fear of official reprimand.
The strategy worked. Before 1998, Wuhai had four factories. Now, it has more than 400. Wuhai became an industrial model for nearby cities like Shizuishan. In June, the New China News Agency reported that more than $50 billion in industrial development was planned for the 500-mile stretch of the river in Ningxia and Inner Mongolia. Experts estimated that industrial demands for water would quintuple by 2010.
Many investors had arrived in Wuhai with a frontier spirit, heeding the government’s call to develop the west while enticed by the prospect of big profits. “A lot of people came here and invested their own savings,” said one factory owner who had been in the region for five years. “But they didn’t know it would reach such a scale and that the environmental problems would become so bad.”
Decades of strip mining had already transformed some parts of coal country into vast tracts of denuded wasteland. Rapid industrialization made Wuhai a pollution nightmare. The Yellow River itself was already one of the most polluted rivers in the world. But suddenly clouds of polluted air were drifting hundreds of miles east to Beijing. When a reporter visited the region in late July, the air was so polluted that raindrops left black spots on car windshields. “The government is in a tough position here,” said the factory owner. “They had nothing. They had to build infrastructure and improve people’s lives. Without these factories, there is nothing.”
This spring, the severity of the pollution problem finally forced official action. The State Environmental Protection Administration closed scores of smaller, dirtier coke factories. Local regulators demanded that other factories install better pollution equipment or face closing.
Some investors felt betrayed. One woman who had invested $1.2 million to build a coke factory but who had no money left to install antipollution equipment committed suicide after it was closed. But the Wuhai environmental official said the city could no longer ignore pollution. “We are taking it seriously,” he said.
From his vantage point inside the industrial park about an hour from Wuhai, the shopkeeper, Mr. Zhang, said factories belched pollution without restraint. People digging wells now must dig about 260 feet deeper because factories have drained so much underground water. He said local officials did little to stop them. “They want to collect taxes and attract investment,” he said.
Mr. Zhang said factory managers were adept at duping environmental inspectors. Often, he said, they are tipped in advance of a surprise inspection. “When someone comes from the prefecture or the provincial government, the owners shut the factories two days in advance,” he said. “Environmental protection costs money.”
A short drive away, a cluster of factories lined a stretch of the Yellow River. Outside one factory, a faded propaganda slogan promised, “Environmental Protection Is Our Country’s First Priority.” Local residents had said factories sometimes operated at night to avoid environmental oversight. At 6:49 p.m., almost all of the smokestacks were silent. But as the sun later fell behind the Helan Mountains, the silence was broken: 17 smokestacks had just begun a long night’s work.
New Cities Scour for Water
From her fashionable apartment in one of the newest high-rises in the city of Zhengzhou, Peng Guihang is eating a bowl of dumplings in her enclosed balcony. A basketball game is playing on her flat-screen television. Her laptop is open on her marble coffee table. The only thing missing is neighbors. Mrs. Peng and her family are among the first tenants in the unfinished district known as the “new city” of Zhengzhou. “There is not much here yet,” said Mrs. Peng, seemingly not too worried. “The shops will probably open in two or three years.”
Mrs. Peng is embarrassed by the suggestion that she is living the new Chinese dream, but she is part of a new consumer class that must grow and prosper for China to keep rising. It is for people like her that “new cities” are being built across the country. The view outside her apartment would be astounding if it were not common in many Chinese cities: a horizon filled with rising towers, each 25 stories or taller; a sleek exhibition center built beside an artificial lake splashed with colorful schools of carp; a half-built arts center resembling five massive concrete eggs. Construction cranes filling the sky in all directions.
The end of the Yellow River is still a few hundred miles downstream, but this is the destination China is trying to reach — a nation of peasant farmers transformed into a modern, urban country. And yet so many cities are expanding so quickly, at the same time, and often following much the same blueprint, that China’s urbanization rush has alarmed national leaders and raised fears of overheating. One recent gathering of city planners found that more than 100 cities aspire to become major international cities, while more than 30 cities have requisitioned millions of acres of land to build central business districts.
“Some local officials really don’t understand how to properly urbanize,” said Lu Dadao, a Beijing scholar who specializes in urbanization. “They want it to happen fast, and they want it to be big. They have all taken up urbanization without considering what the natural speed of it should be.”
Along the Yellow River, major cities, and many smaller ones, are in the throes of construction booms, competing to emerge as dominant cities. In Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia, officials are spending about $1.2 billion a year to build a government complex across hundreds of acres. It includes a huge provincial legislature, provincial ministry buildings, a government-owned five-star hotel, a residential compound for foreign entrepreneurs and an outdoor People’s Plaza that can accommodate 30,000 people.
This is a common development blueprint in second-tier Chinese cities: use government money to build government districts in hopes that they will become the equivalent of anchor tenants to attract private real estate development. “Provincial leaders decided that Yinchuan represents the province,” said Jiang Guanglin, chief of the Yinchuan Construction Bureau. “They want to make it a bigger, more powerful and more beautiful city. They want it to be a regional center.”
But so does Lanzhou, the nearby capital of Gansu Province. And so does Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province, which is on a tributary of the Yellow River. In Luoyang, just a few hundred miles east of Zhengzhou, officials are finishing a government complex as well as apartment and office towers and a sports complex with four arenas for basketball, cycling, target shooting and swimming, as well as a soccer stadium.
Rapid urbanization is already transforming the Yellow River region. Population in the region has nearly tripled since the 1950s. Government statistics show that roughly four billion gallons of wastewater are dumped into the river every year, double the amount from two decades ago. Every growing city, each trying to lure people and industry, is scouring for water. Some are building reservoirs; others are draining so much water from underground aquifers that several cities have reported serious land subsidence.
This summer, the State Council, China’s equivalent of a cabinet, approved national regulations to improve controls over the Yellow River and better regulate water use, partly by raising prices. But officials agree that regulations alone are not enough to compensate for the rapidly rising demand for water. Water saved from farming must be diverted to industry. And cities along the river want to grow like cities on the country’s prospering coast, even though the Yellow River region has none of the same natural advantages. “The capacity of the river hasn’t changed,” said Su Maolin, a senior engineer with the Yellow River Conservancy Commission. “There is only so much water they can use. It’s already at the maximum capacity of usage.”
The “new city” where Mrs. Peng lives is fashioned after the famed Pudong, the swamp-turned-financial district in Shanghai. In 1992, an elderly Deng Xiaoping visited undeveloped Pudong and exhorted China to build faster and bigger. What followed was an economic explosion that has changed the world. But China’s new leaders are no longer encouraging projects like Pudong. They are trying to tamp down on a runaway economy by ordering provinces to build slower and more judiciously, while cracking down on the corruption endemic to so many projects.
Indeed, so many large construction projects are so infused with corruption that urbanization has become a get-rich scheme for many officials. In the first six months of this year, Chinese prosecutors secured convictions in 1,608 major bribery cases, in which officials accepted kickbacks to facilitate construction projects. A senior official in Beijing was sentenced to death, and then given a reprieve, for embezzling state highway construction funds. In June, a Beijing vice mayor in charge of Olympic construction was removed for embezzlement and kickbacks related to non-Olympic projects.
In Zhengzhou, central government investigators in September found that city officials illegally seized — and then resold, at a handsome profit — thousands of acres of land for a “university town” adjacent to the “new city” project. A month earlier, investigators used satellite technology and found 654 examples of illegal land grabs for construction projects, mostly for local government projects.
This messy, chaotic process is ultimately supposed to help China reach its goal of becoming a “well-off society” by 2040. Mrs. Peng, the tenant in the Zhengdong “new city,” is excited about her family’s new apartment, if reluctant to call herself affluent. Her husband owns a landscaping business, and they are trying to save for college for their two high-school-age sons. “I’m not one of the rich people,” Mrs. Peng said modestly, looking around her stylish apartment. “This is just very ordinary.”
Her own parents could never have dreamed of such a home, though. Her father worked in the post office and was killed during the Cultural Revolution. She recalled the terror of Red Guards breaking into homes to threaten and harass people. Her widowed mother had to rear five children, and did so without begging. Each has done well — a brother in real estate, another brother working in Beijing, a sister working as a teacher.
“We’re all doing fine,” Mrs. Peng said. She predicts that her neighborhood will be bustling by the year’s end. Her building is apparently already sold out. Others are less certain. Local television stations are filled with advertisements promoting the “new city.” They say the district is the future. Mrs. Peng, meanwhile, watches through her window as a friend in an adjacent building renovates an apartment. “I can see she has almost finished renovating,” she said. “But I haven’t had the courage to go see it. I don’t want it to be better than mine.”
Jake Hooker and Lin Yang contributed to this article.
A Century Later, Los Angeles Atones for Water Sins
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
INDEPENDENCE, Calif. — It may fall short of a feel-good sequel to “Chinatown,” the movie based on the notorious, somewhat shady water grab by Los Angeles that allowed the city to bloom from a semi-arid desert.
But in one of the largest river restoration efforts in the West, water is again flowing along a 62-mile stretch of the Owens River after a dry spell of nearly a century.
That part of the river had been left mostly drained when upstream water, fed by snowmelt from the towering Sierra Nevada, was channeled 233 miles south to fill swimming pools and bathtubs throughout Los Angeles.
The restored flow is among several long-awaited steps the city is taking to help make amends for the environmental consequences of its water maneuvering, most notably the drying up of Owens Lake, an area more than three times the size of Manhattan, here in the Owens Valley.
Los Angeles agreed in December to expand efforts to control toxic dust storms that erupt from what is left of the lake, a 110-square-mile body that emptied when the river was diverted to Los Angeles through an aqueduct opened in 1913.
The lake’s salty, mineral-laced basin has been the largest single source of particulate pollution in the country. It looks so otherworldly that it doubled as a desolate planet in the movie “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.”
To restore the river, Los Angeles built automated gates at the point where the river veers into the aqueduct. The gates steer some water into the original riverbed, setting the stage for the growth of cottonwood trees and other plants and the return of waterfowl and other animals.
Much of the water eventually returns to the aqueduct, though some of it is being used for lake irrigation and other projects. Environmentalists here say they are keeping an eye on Los Angeles for backsliding, but they acknowledge that the new efforts will make a significant difference.
As winds whipped across Owens Lake on a recent afternoon, Mike Prather of the Owens Valley Committee, which along with the Sierra Club took Los Angeles to court over the environmental fallout of its water policies, marveled at sandpipers, American avocets and other birds frolicking in the shallow pools created by the irrigation.
“This work will bring back more and more of them,” Mr. Prather said, savoring the twist in the battle that means water once intended for Los Angeles will feed the lake. “It’s Owens Valley’s turn to stick its straw in L.A.’s water,” he said.
Court rulings and the threat of legal action have largely forced Los Angeles’s hand in dealing with its past water moves, but city leaders say they are also intent on doing the right thing in keeping up a vital source of water while avoiding further damage to the Owens Valley.
H. David Nahai, president of the board that oversees the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, said Los Angeles was looking for less adversarial ways to resolve differences over the valley, which provides 40 percent to 60 percent of the city’s water supply, depending on the snowfall in the mountains. “We can’t change the past, but we can shape the future,” said Mr. Nahai, one of five board members appointed by Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, who promised a friendlier approach to the valley when he took office in July 2005.
Susan Cash, the chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors of Inyo County, where the Owens Valley is located, said animosity toward Los Angeles had lessened since the early 20th century, when the water diversion was made possible by the purchase of much of the valley by less-than-forthcoming city operatives.
The underhanded moves, as chronicled by historians, included city representatives posing as ranchers as they bought up property. The questionable land dealing provided the inspiration for “Chinatown,” the 1974 movie starring Jack Nicholson as a private detective who stumbles across corruption on a Los Angeles water project.
Water from the valley made possible the growth of what became the nation’s second-largest city. But people in the valley have long regarded the water dealings as a double-edged sword.
Officials here have argued that the water diversion undercut the potential for growth. But others say that such prospects were dim anyway in such a dry and remote valley, and that Los Angeles’s keeping the water clean and the land relatively untouched has been a boon.
Los Angeles’s policy of allowing public access to much of its land and the fact that many people here have worked for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, one of the valley’s largest employers, or have friends or relatives there, have contributed to improved relations. The godfathers of Ms. Cash’s children worked for the department. “The fact is,” she said, “we are in a marriage with no annulment in the near future, so we have to find a way to work together.”
Inyo officials said the city’s projects could inspire more tourism, the only real economic activity in this dry, high-desert valley. "We have recreational users now but not to the extent it can be once the river is flowing and there is sufficient water for fish and wildlife,” said Arlene Grider, president of the chamber of commerce here.
The long-promised river restoration is a $24 million project, compensation won from a lawsuit by environmental groups over excessive groundwater pumping. It came after delays that prompted a county judge in September 2005 to impose daily fines of $5,000 on Los Angeles. The penalty has so far cost the city $2.3 million and will continue until a large volume of water flows through the river in the coming months.
The work on the lake, scheduled to be completed by 2010, will irrigate or otherwise control dust over 43 square miles. The improvements result from an agreement the city signed with the local air pollution control regulator in 1998 that sets a timetable to comply with federal requirements to control dust on the lake. The city has spent $400 million on dust control for just under 30 square miles of the worst pockets, and in December, through a mediator, it agreed to do 12.7 more square miles by 2010 at a cost of $105 million.
A water department spokeswoman in Los Angeles, Carol Tucker, said ratepayers would see relatively modest increases in their monthly bills; the river restoration, for example, would amount to an increase of about 26 cents. Los Angeles has one of the country’s more intensive conservation programs, allowing it to use roughly the same amount of water even as it has grown by 750,000 residents in the past two decades.
But environmentalists say they doubt the city can grow much more without finding more water. Mr. Nahai said the Department of Water and Power was already studying other possibilities, like using groundwater from within Los Angeles, buying water from other places and desalinating ocean water.
But one thing is certain, he said: “Are we going to get to a place where we are going to pump all the water out? No.” Still, most everyone suggests there could be rough going ahead. Ms. Cash, the Inyo County supervisor, said officials were only “cautiously optimistic” about a changed relationship with Los Angeles because they had heard nice words from the city before, only to end up in court.
Mr. Nahai acknowledged that the litigious nature of the relationship would be difficult to break. “Nobody can guarantee there won’t be litigation in the future, and litigation has its uses,” he said. “There is no denying what the City of Los Angeles has done far too often has been because of court order.” He added, “It’s like what Mark Twain said: ‘Whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting over.’ ”
Quand les plantes résisteront à la sécheresse
Anne Pélouas (au Canada)
Les céréaliers des pays riches comme ceux des pays en voie de développement n'auront peut-être plus, d'ici quelques années, à vivre le cauchemar du manque d'eau qui détruit les cultures à grande échelle. Depuis le début de l'année 2006, des sécheresses persistantes ont déjà touché l'Australie, les Etats-Unis, le Brésil, la Chine, entre autres, et ces phénomènes devraient s'amplifier avec le réchauffement climatique.Dans la ville de Kingston, en Ontario au Canada, la société de biotechnologie Performance Plants teste actuellement un procédé pour que des plantes, génétiquement modifiées, résistent à la pénurie d'eau. L'idée a "germé" il y a huit ans dans un laboratoire de l'université de Toronto après qu'un étudiant eut oublié d'arroser les plantes avant un long week-end ! A leur retour, les chercheurs ont constaté qu'une seule plante avait survécu et ont cherché à comprendre ce qui la distinguait des autres. Peter McCourt, professeur de botanique et spécialiste en phytogénétique, a alors découvert qu'en éliminant un gène particulier (appelé ERA1) d'une plante, celle-ci devenait très vulnérable à l'acide abscisique (ABA), une hormone végétale produite en conditions de sécheresse. Les plantes ne possédant pas ce gène détectent ainsi plus tôt les signes d'un manque d'eau et réagissent en fermant les pores minuscules (stomates) qui se trouvent à la surface des feuilles. Le végétal déclenche donc une sorte d'"interrupteur moléculaire" lui permettant de garder son humidité plus longtemps.
Sur la base de ces travaux universitaires, la société Performance Plants a mis au point une technologie baptisée YPT (Yield Protection Technology) "afin que la plante soit ultrasensible à un manque d'eau, même léger, et puisse rapidement arrêter sa transpiration", note le vice-président de la recherche Yafan Huang. Ces plantes tolérantes à la sécheresse contiennent un gène appelé "promoteur conditionnel", actif lors de sécheresse, mais qui se désactive s'il y a assez d'eau dans le sol.
Des champs de colza testés pendant trois ans dans l'Ouest canadien ont, selon l'entreprise, donné des rendements supérieurs de 26 % à ceux de cultures témoins. Performance Plants poursuit ses recherches en voulant adapter sa technologie à d'autres cultures comme le maïs, le soja, le coton, les plantes ornementales et le gazon. D'après M. Huang, la première version commerciale de maïs résistant aux sécheresses devrait pousser dès 2010.
Dead Sea plan to restore water raises doubts
By Jay Bushinsky
JERUSALEM -- The Israeli government is authorizing a series of ecological
surveys in light of fears that a plan to prevent the Dead Sea from shrinking
by pumping water into it from the Red Sea will disrupt underground aquifers
in the parched region.
Officials here and in neighboring Jordan are concerned about the steady drop in the Dead Sea's level, an estimated 3 feet a year, and the consequent retreat of its shoreline that has left the hotels and neighborhoods ever farther from the ancient body of water.
The Dead Sea is situated at the lowest sector on Earth. Its salt-saturated water, most of which comes from the River Jordan, has no outlet other than evaporation.
An ambitious rescue project developed by Israeli and Jordanian engineers was presented to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert by his deputy, Shimon Peres, whose primary role is to foster regional cooperation.
One of the project's main components is the digging of a canal from Eilat at the northern tip of the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba to Sodom at the Dead Sea's southern end.
A desalination plant would be installed at that point, and an artificial waterfall with a drop of 1,500 feet would be created there to generate electricity.
"The Jordanians are vitally interested in the project as a whole and especially in its byproduct, fresh water," said Galit Cohen, an Environment Ministry official in charge of the initiative. Amman, the capital of Jordan, is critically short of potable water, and the desalination plant would solve this problem."
Jordanian Minister of Water Zaafer al-Aalem also is enthusiastic about the Red Sea-Dead Sea canal.
"This project is a unique chance to deepen the meaning of peace in the region and work for the benefit of our peoples," he said.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' economic adviser, Mohammed Mustafa, said, "We pray that this type of cooperation will be a positive experience to deepen the notion of dialogue to reach solutions on all other tracks."
The Israeli government's decision coincided with a recent summit meeting here between Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas.
Palestinians are hoping that an independent Palestinian state eventually will be established alongside Israel with part of its eastern border fronting on the Dead Sea.
The proposed "Peace Conduit" from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, 150 miles apart, would go through the comparatively flat Arava Valley.
"The Jordanians have been mobilizing international funding, mainly from the World Bank," Mrs. Cohen said. There also have been expressions of financial interest from France, the Netherlands and Japan.
"The environmental problems are very serious, however," she said. "Due consideration must be given to the effect the water transfer might have on the unique coral reefs of the Gulf of Aqaba, the impact it would have on the Gulf's fish and how it would affect the water table on which our desert settlements in the Arava Valley depend."
She was optimistic, however, regarding the Dead Sea's survival as the world's most saline-saturated body of water even if its dimensions are reduced.
The Dead Sea's problems were caused by the large-scale tapping of the River Jordan's water for irrigation by Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian farmers. This has resulted in a sharp reduction of its southward flow and curtailed its natural influx into the Dead Sea.
Farther to the north, the Syrians have been siphoning off water for their agriculture from the Yarmuk River, which is one of the Jordan's main tributaries.
"The ultimate solution to the Dead Sea's decline lies in a four-sided agreement to regulate the use of the Yarmuk and Jordan for irrigation," Mrs. Cohen said. However, the current political climate in the Middle East is likely to bar this kind of multinational initiative for the foreseeable future.
"Even if they stopped drawing off water from these rivers or terminated Israel's tapping of the Sea of Galilee for its agriculture and urban population, the Dead Sea's problem would not be solved," she said. "It would only slow down the rate and amount of its shrinkage."
No Longer Waiting for Rain, an Arid West Takes Action
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD and KIRK JOHNSON
A Western drought that began in 1999 has continued after the respite of a couple of wet years that now feel like a cruel tease. But this time people in the driest states are not just scanning the skies and hoping for rescue.
Some $2.5 billion in water projects are planned or under way in four states, the biggest expansion in the West’s quest for water in decades. Among them is a proposed 280-mile pipeline that would direct water to Las Vegas from northern Nevada. A proposed reservoir just north of the California-Mexico border would correct an inefficient water delivery system that allows excess water to pass to Mexico.
In Yuma, Ariz., federal officials have restarted an idled desalination plant, long seen as a white elephant from a bygone era, partly in the hope of purifying salty underground water for neighboring towns.
The scramble for water is driven by the realities of population growth, political pressure and the hard truth that the Colorado River, a 1,400-mile-long silver thread of snowmelt and a lifeline for more than 20 million people in seven states, is providing much less water than it had.
According to some long-term projections, the mountain snows that feed the Colorado River will melt faster and evaporate in greater amounts with rising global temperatures, providing stress to the waterway even without drought. This year, the spring runoff is expected to be about half its long-term average. In only one year of the last seven, 2005, has the runoff been above average.
Everywhere in the West, along the Colorado and other rivers, as officials search for water to fill current and future needs, tempers are flaring among competing water users, old rivalries are hardening and some states are waging legal fights. In one of the most acrimonious disputes, Montana filed a suit in February at the United States Supreme Court accusing Wyoming of taking more than its fair share of water from the Tongue and Powder Rivers, north-flowing tributaries of the Yellowstone River that supply water for farms and wells in both states.
Preparing for worst-case outcomes, the seven states that draw water from the Colorado River — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico in the upper basin and California, Arizona and Nevada in the lower basin — and the United States Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the river, are considering plans that lay out what to do if the river cannot meet the demand for water, a prospect that some experts predict will occur in about five years. “What you are hearing about global warming, explosive growth — combine with a real push to set aside extra water for environmental purpose — means you got a perfect situation for a major tug-of-war contest,” said Sid Wilson, the general manager of the Central Arizona Project, which brings Colorado River water to the Phoenix area.
New scientific evidence suggests that periodic long, severe droughts have become the norm in the Colorado River basin, undermining calculations of how much water the river can be expected to provide and intensifying pressures to find new solutions or sources.
The effects of the drought can be seen at Lake Mead in Nevada, where a drop in the water level left docks hanging from newly formed cliffs, and a marina surrounded by dry land. Upriver at Lake Powell, which is at its lowest level since spring 1973, receding waters have exposed miles of mud in the side canyons leading to the Glen Canyon Dam.
In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has sounded alarm bells by pushing for a ballot measure in 2008 that would allocate $4.5 billion in bonds for new water storage in the state. The water content in the Sierra Nevada snowpack has reached the lowest level in about two decades, state hydrologists have reported, putting additional pressure on the nation’s most populous state to find and store more water. “Scientists say that global warming will eliminate 25 percent of our snowpack by the half of this century,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said recently in Fresno, Calif., “which will mean less snow stored in the mountains, which will mean more flooding in the winter and less drinking water in the summer.”
In Montana, where about two-thirds of the Missouri River and half of the Columbia River have their headwaters, officials have embarked on a long-term project to validate old water-rights claims in an effort to legally shore up supplies the state now counts on.
Under the West’s water laws, claims are hierarchal. The oldest, first-filed claims, many dating to pioneer days, get water first, with newer claims at the bottom of the pecking order. Still, some of the sharpest tensions stem more from population growth than cautionary climate science, especially those between Nevada and Utah, states with booming desert economies and clout to fight for what they say is theirs.
Las Vegas, the fastest-growing major city in the country, and the driest, developed the pipeline plan several years ago to bring groundwater from the rural, northern reaches of the state. The metropolitan area, which relies on the Colorado River for 90 percent of its water, is awaiting approval from Nevada’s chief engineer.
Ranchers and farmers in northern Nevada and Utah are opposed to the pipeline plan and have vowed to fight it in court, saying it smacks of the famous water grab by Los Angeles nearly a century ago that caused severe environmental damage in the Owens Valley in California. “Southern Nevada thinks it can come up here and suck all these springs dry without any problems,” said Dean Baker, whose family’s ranch straddles the Nevada-Utah border, pointing out springs that farmers have run dry with their own wells. “We did this ourselves. Now imagine what pumping for a whole big city is going to do.”
Meanwhile, Utah has proposed a $500 million, 120-mile pipeline from Lake Powell to serve the fast-growing City of St. George and Washington County in the state’s southwestern corner. Nevada officials have said they will seek to block that plan if Utah stands in the way of theirs. “Utah is being very disingenuous, and we’re calling them on it,” said Patricia Mulroy, the chief executive of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the agency responsible for finding water for Las Vegas and its suburbs. “St. George, Utah, is growing as fast as southern Nevada, because the growth is going right up the I-15 corridor.”
Dennis J. Strong, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said Nevada was protesting too much and instead should be cheering the Lake Powell project because Colorado River water that Utah does not use would flow in Nevada’s direction. Mr. Strong said that Nevada’s protests “may be a bargaining chip.” He said he hoped for a compromise that would allow both projects to move forward.
In Yuma, near the Arizona border with Mexico, officials have pinned hopes on a desalination plant built 15 years ago. The plan then had been to treat salty runoff from farms before it made its way into Colorado River headed to Mexico, thus meeting the terms of an old water treaty.
But a series of unusually wet years made it more efficient to meet the treaty obligations with water from Lake Mead, so the plant sat idle. Drought has changed all that. Arizona water managers, who are first in line to have their water cut in a shortage under an agreement with other states, called for the plant to be turned on.
Under an agreement with environmentalists, the federal Bureau of Reclamation plans to monitor the environmental effects of using the plant, and study, among other things, using the purified water for purposes other than meeting its treaty obligations, like supplying the growing communities around Yuma. “It never made sense to me to just dump bottled-water quality water into the river anyway,” said Jim Cherry, the bureau’s Yuma area manager.
What unites the Western states is a growing consensus among scientists that future climate change and warmer temperatures, if they continue, could hit harder here than elsewhere in the continental United States.
“The Western mountain states are by far more vulnerable to the kinds of change we’ve been talking about compared to the rest of the country, with the New England states coming in a relatively distant second,” said Michael Dettinger, a research hydrologist at the United States Geological Survey who studies the relationships between water and climate.
Mr. Dettinger said higher temperatures had pushed the spring snowmelt and runoff to about 10 days earlier on average than in the past. Higher temperatures would mean more rain falling rather than snow, compounding issues of water storage and potentially affecting flooding.
In some places, the new tensions and pressures could even push water users toward compromise. Colorado recently hired a mediator to try to settle a long-running dispute over how water from the Rocky Mountains should be shared among users in the Denver area and the western half of the state. Denver gets most of the water and has most of the state’s population. But water users in the mountains, notably the ski resort industry, also have clout and want to keep their share.
Robert W. Johnson, the Bureau of Reclamation commissioner, said he shared the optimism that the disputes could be worked out, but he said he thought it might take a reconsideration of the West’s original conception of what water was for.
The great dams and reservoirs that were envisioned beginning in the 1800s were conceived with farmers in mind, and farmers still take about 90 percent of the Colorado River’s flow. More and more, Mr. Johnson said, the cities will need that water.
An agreement reached a few years ago between farmers and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the chief supplier of water to that region, is one model. Under the terms of the agreement, farmers would let their fields lie fallow and send water to urban areas in exchange for money to cover the crop losses. “I definitely see that as the future,” Mr. Johnson said.
Randal C. Archibold reported from Yuma, Ariz., and Kirk Johnson from Denver.
On the Snake River,
Dam’s Natural Allies Seem to Have a Change of Heart
By FELICITY BARRINGER
LOWER GRANITE DAM, Wash. — The wheat Bryan Jones grows in Eastern Washington begins its journey to Asia on barges along the lower Snake River. The river, once a wild, muscular torrent, was made barge friendly a quarter-century ago by four of the nation’s most controversial hydropower dams.
A tame river keeps Mr. Jones’s business viable. So why is he is spending time with the guides and fishermen who want to remove the dams? In part, because he feels the tug of environmentalist arguments that the dams will endanger wild salmon that, even more than wheat, are the region’s natural bounty.
“I always believed dams were economically too big of a hurdle to attack,” said Mr. Jones, who is 52. “But I began to realize that we are potentially losing runs of salmon” along this tributary of the Columbia River.
It is still a relatively rare phenomenon, but one becoming more noticeable: some members of the dams’ natural constituency, like farmers, are talking to their downriver antagonists about a future that might not include the four lower Snake River dams. There is talk of reconstituting a regional rail system to deliver Mr. Jones’s wheat to Portland, Ore. There is talk of a wind farm to replace the electricity — enough to power most of Manhattan — generated by the four dams.
The conversations are still in their early stages, and political support for the dams remains strong. Congressional ties to the Bonneville Power Administration, which provides electricity from the dams to regional utilities and businesses, are many, and few politicians want to back an action that could raise electricity bills and cost jobs. At best, wind power is intermittent and expensive; in 2005, regional electricity costs were more than 25 percent less than the national average.
But the pressures on the hydrosystem’s traditional operations are accumulating, and conversions like Mr. Jones’s have taken on an enhanced significance. As former Gov. John A. Kitzhaber of Oregon said in an interview, “by not talking to each other, not trying to figure out the real economic issues, we’re setting up a situation where someone else is going to figure out our future for us.”
His allusion was clear: he fears that the operations of the Columbia River dams could be determined by a federal judge if federal and local agencies here cannot come up with a plan to successfully protect salmon.
Indeed, Judge James A. Redden of the Federal District Court in Portland, who has presided over the central Endangered Species Act challenge to dam operations and whom the Vancouver Columbian called “the best friend of endangered fish in the Northwest,” has been acerbic in his dismissal of the most recent Bush Administration plan. Among other things, the administration argued that the Columbia River dams could not be removed because they were an immutable part of the landscape, having been built before the Endangered Species Act went into effect. It suggested habitat restoration would save the fish population.
The Bush administration appealed Judge Redden’s 2005 ruling, and last month the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in San Francisco, forcefully backed him. Under the federal government’s theory, the appeals court held, “a listed species could be gradually destroyed, so long as each step on the path to destruction is sufficiently modest. This type of slow slide into oblivion is one of the very ills the Endangered Species Act seeks to prevent.”
On the lower Snake River, four runs of wild fish are threatened and one of these, sockeye salmon, may be irretrievable. Of the others, the spring and summer Chinook salmon, which have been going upriver for the past few weeks, are of most concern.
A new fish-protection plan, called a biological opinion, is due from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration later this year. Judge Redden has warned that if it fails to meet his viability test, he may have to take drastic action — presumably, taking the running of the Columbia River hydropower system into his own hands, as another federal judge, W. Arthur Garrity, did in the 1970s with Boston’s schools after the local community could not find a way to desegregate.
The Bonneville Power Administration, also known as the B.P.A., is not a named defendant in the endangered-species lawsuit, but because the dams’ operators at the Army Corps of Engineers work closely with Bonneville’s engineers, B.P.A. officials are often called on by the courts to help explain corps actions.
The Bonneville administrator, Stephen J. Wright, said in an interview in his Portland office that the potential loss of 5 percent of the electricity generated regionally each year would “magnify substantially” the current challenge of feeding the region’s growing hunger for power without raising costs.
Mr. Wright and Bob Lohn, who heads the regional office of the National Marine Fisheries Service, argue that dams are hardly the only environmental disturbance harming the salmon runs, and that the bumper salmon year of 2001 demonstrates that salmon and dams can coexist. Judge Redden has deemed their plans for accomplishing the goal of salmon recovery inadequate. Environmentalists say their optimism about coexistence is belied by the steady decline in fish runs.
Out here at the Lower Granite Dam, Witt Anderson, the chief of the Columbia River fish management office at the Army Corps of Engineers, said, “We’re mining the last few improvements we can get out of the hydrosystem.”
But Mr. Anderson argues that dam removal alone would not be a quick fix to what ails the fish. Given the impact of factors including agricultural runoff, culverts, cyclical changes in ocean temperature and the amount and location of ocean-borne food available to salmon, “We would say the solution is a comprehensive plan that addresses the life-cycle of fish, gravel to gravel.”
Smaller private dams have been breached around the country, and there are plans to do so at dams on the Elwha and White Salmon Rivers in Washington. The idea of breaching the Klamath River dams in Oregon and California is getting new and serious scrutiny. But the Lower Snake River dams are significantly bigger, in economic terms, than any of these.
There is, first of all, the electricity they generate. And the transportation. And the creation of inland ports, like Lewiston. Given these significant economic interests, the rethinking being done by a farmer like Brian Jones or a Lewiston city councilman like Jim Klauss is startling.
“When they created these dams in the 60s and 70s they said we’d have a lot of economic development,” a promise that never materialized, said Mr. Klauss, who is 47. Now the sediment trapped behind the Lower Granite dam requires constant dredging just to make a small passage for boats and the levees may need to rise higher to keep the city safe in storms.
So, although the City Council is pro-dam, Mr. Klauss said he was dubious.
“We’re kind of on a yo-yo,” he said. “We built these dams and changed everyone’s lifestyle, and we can’t say we have a lot to show for it. If you take them out you yo-yo back and change everyone’s lives again.” But, he said, it may be worth it.
To the north, in Spokane, Wash., the president of the local chapter of Trout Unlimited sees these small cracks in the dams’ natural constituencies as the beginning of a bigger political shift. “This new generation,” said Harvey Morrison, who is 64, “has been willing to ask the hard questions.”
RESERVOIR OF FEAR
In China, New Risks Emerge At Giant Three Gorges Dam
Scientists Spot Dangers In Slides, Silt and Algae; Cracks in a Rice Paddy
By SHAI OSTER
MIAOHE VILLAGE, China -- China's vaunted engineering marvel, the Three Gorges Dam, drew fierce criticism during its construction for uprooting more than a million people and manhandling the Yangtze River basin. Now, a year after completion, the project has new problems -- including landslides, water pollution and suggestions that the dam could contribute to the very flooding it was built to prevent.
Geologists say the massive weight of water behind the Three Gorges Dam has begun to erode the Yangtze's steep shores at several spots. That, along with frequent fluctuations in water levels, has triggered a series of landslides and weakened the ground under places like Miaohe, a village about 10 miles up the reservoir from the dam. Local officials worry that a whole mountainside here could collapse into the water, killing residents and threatening a vital shipping lane.
Construction on the Three Gorges Dam began in 1994 and it's not yet fully operational.
There are additional dangers. Chinese scientists say that as the dam blocks silt heading downstream, the Yangtze River estuary region, which includes Shanghai, is shrinking and sea water is coming further inland. A report this spring by the World Wildlife Federation said water flowing through the dam is now moving faster, damaging downriver dikes. The urbanization that accompanied the dam's construction led to more raw sewage and fertilizer runoff, which collects in the reservoir rather than flushing downstream.
The emerging issues at Three Gorges illustrate this rapidly industrializing country's efforts to control its environment, and how the attempts to overcome them can worsen the problem. In other areas of the world, dam building has resulted in landslides or earthquakes set off by the weight of water in reservoirs. Here at the world's largest hydroelectric project, a center of China's population and economy, the consequences could be magnified.
Questions about the Yangtze are taking on added urgency as China grapples with a mounting water shortage. Across the country, millions of tons of raw sewage, industrial waste and fertilizer runoff have turned lakes into algae-covered cesspools. According to official statistics, more than half of China's major waterways are so polluted that fish are dying or water is unsafe for drinking or irrigation. More than 300 million people -- almost one-quarter of the population -- lack access to clean drinking water, the government says.
Making things worse, more than one-third of the country's 85,000 or so reservoirs have "serious" structural problems, according to the official Xinhua news agency. This spring, a deputy minister of water resources called China's reservoirs "time bombs" that could threaten the lives and property of those downstream. In 1975, a dam collapse in Henan province killed tens of thousands or more, an incident that was covered up until recently.
China's media is starting to cover problems at Three Gorges Dam and its 400-miles-long reservoir. The government hasn't spoken publicly about issues here, but it has quietly rolled out a warning system for landslides and is supporting research to map out at-risk regions. Officials are pouring money into water-treatment plants and reinforcing about 1,400 miles of riverbanks.
"We thought of all the possible issues," says environmental scientist Weng Lida, the former head of the Yangtze River Water Resources Protection Commission, a government agency tasked with protecting the river basin's water and environment. He is now secretary general of the Yangtze River Forum, a coalition of the Chinese government and nongovernmental organizations that share research on the region's environment. "But the problems are all more serious than we expected."
The government agency that oversees the dam, the Changjiang Water Resources Committee, declined requests for an interview.
The changes can be seen here in Miaohe, where villagers have grown oranges from gnarled trees and farmed the area's steeply terraced rice paddies for generations. Miaohe's 100 or so residents narrowly avoided the mass relocations that accompanied the dam's construction, when some 1.3 million people moved from their homes to make way for the reservoir.
This spring, villagers noticed a crack some 600 feet long and barely a half-inch thick zigzagging across their paddies. Not long afterward, dam officials lowered reservoir levels to prepare for the summer flooding season.
After early May rains raised reservoir levels again, there were four landslides in five days not far from Miaohe village. Villagers say they heard timbers in their houses begin to split. The government told them to evacuate.
Officials in Zigui City, the county seat, are facing a new wave of relocations. Some 100,000 people in the county moved to make way for the reservoir. Now officials are concerned they'll have to relocate more. "The changes have come faster than our plans," said Cui Shaofeng, an official from the Zigui County resettlement office.
The 4,000-mile long Yangtze is the world's third-longest river, racing down from Tibetan glaciers, slicing massive valleys through the middle of China and passing fertile plains before its brown waters meet the sea. On the way, the river passes the Three Gorges, a series of canyons that for centuries plagued sailors with swift currents and hidden rocks. Floods were a constant threat, claiming 300,000 victims, by some estimates, in the last century alone.
China's leaders long dreamed of damming the Yangtze in part to harness its power, but primarily to prevent catastrophic flooding. Modern China's founding father, Sun Yat-sen, proposed a dam in 1919. Mao Zedong, who believed nature could be shaped to man's purpose, wrote a poem about turning the treacherous Three Gorges into a navigable lake.
>From the late 1950s, the government approved and then delayed construction of a dam here several times, hobbled by technical challenges. By the late 1980s, China also faced mounting charges that a dam and reservoir would force mass relocations and destroy archeological sites and temples.
In April 1989, the government responded to criticism, saying it would delay a decision for at least five years. But opponents were silenced in the aftermath of Tiananmen Square crackdown in a few months later. In 1992, scientists and engineers completed a final environmental feasibility study. Later that year, the dam project was put to a vote before the National People's Congress. It passed. But nearly one-third of China's usually docile legislature voted no or abstained, an unusual show of dissent.
Construction officially began in 1994. Controversy continued. Responding to pressure from human-rights groups, the U.S. government and the World Bank pulled support from the project. In an open letter in 2000, leading engineers in China, including some who had worked on the feasibility study, protested a decision to fill the reservoir faster than originally planned.
The first trouble came in June 2003, two weeks after the Yangtze River was impounded and the reservoir began to fill. While water levels rose, passing 300 feet and approaching 450 feet, the valley's slopes started eroding under the pressure of the water.
On July 14, a mountain on a tributary of the Three Gorges gave way, shearing a tongue of land about two-thirds of a mile wide and long and more than 60 feet thick. Thirteen farmers were swept to their deaths in the mud and debris. The wedge hit the water, sending a two-story-tall wave crashing over 20 boats, drowning 11 fishermen. Officials blamed the landslide on heavy rainfall. Geologists say a sudden change in water levels loosened rocks along the riverbanks.
With a final cost of at least $22 billion, the 600-foot-tall dam was finished in May 2006. Once it is fully operational later this year, it will contain five trillion gallons of water, equivalent to one-fifth of the fresh water consumed each year in the U.S. It will produce more than 18,000 megawatts of electricity, nearly 10 times the capacity of Hoover Dam.
Filling With Sewage
Mr. Weng, the environmental scientist, believes the dam was necessary to stop floods. His biggest concern now is the worsening quality of the reservoir's water. Phosphorus and nitrogen levels from industrial and fertilizer runoff have risen 10 times above levels a decade ago, according to the WWF report, which he co-edited.
The reservoir is filling with sewage as well. Waste-water discharge has soared in the Yangtze basin, more than doubling from 2000 to 2005, the WWF report says. The basin is home to some 160 million people, including 30 million in the municipality of Chongqing, 400 miles upstream from the dam. In the 10 years ending in 2005, the Yangtze basin economy grew 12.6% a year on average -- a percentage point faster than the rest of the nation -- as it has switched from agriculture to industry.
Scientists and government officials say many sewage plants were built
to process waste before it hits the reservoir, but that some aren't connected
to city drains. Zhou Wei, vice director of the department of reservoir
management at the government's Three Gorges Project Construction Committee,
acknowledges that sewage levels in the reservoir appear to be increasing.
He says the government has given additional funds to make sure plants are
>From the beginning, engineers were also concerned about sedimentation. The Yangtze carries some 500 million metric tons of silt into the gorges each year. Without a way to release most of this mud, the reservoir would silt up and the dam could breach or collapse. Government engineers created 23 sluice gates at the bottom of the dam to release turbid water during flood season, and they estimate the system will keep the reservoir at roughly 90% or more of its capacity for nearly a century. Some critics believe sedimentation is growing at a faster rate, which could eventually make the dam unable to contain a flood crest.
Downstream, fluctuating sediment levels pose yet a different problem. In water with little sediment, sunlight reaches deeper and nourishes the photosynthetic algae, which also feeds on sewage and fertilizer runoff, Mr. Weng says.
Mr. Zhou, the reservoir management vice director, says the dam is not responsible for the blooms. Algae had turned out to be less of a concern than the Three Gorges committee had expected, he says, with only minor blooms in Yangtze tributaries.
There are also concerns about whether the dam will control floods. Weeks of downpours in July created the biggest surges on the upper Yangtze since 1998, when flooding on the undammed river killed thousands downstream. Officials announced on Aug. 1 that the July crest passed through the dam without incident.
Critics say that while the dam can handle surges, it may contribute to downstream flooding for an unforeseen reason. Past the narrow gorges where it enters central China's broad plains, the river traditionally slowed, and in some places centuries of sedimentation raised the riverbed above the surrounding countryside and is held back by dikes, as in New Orleans. Water released by Three Gorges runs faster, the WWF says, because the dam traps most of the silt. Lightened of its muddy load, the water courses out with more force and threatens to gouge out these dikes.
Geologists, meanwhile, are focusing on landslides. The Three Gorges have a base of limestone but are layered in places with sandstone, shale and mudstone -- softer materials that are more likely to collapse. Some areas were reinforced before the reservoir was filled. But as dam officials raise and lower water levels in anticipation of floods, the soaking and huge pressure changes leave banks weakened.
A team of scientists at the Imperial College London said earlier this year that slope instability is the gorges' "most widespread natural hazard." Writing in the Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology, published by the Geological Society of London, they warned the problem is likely to get worse.
The Dowry Plan
One of the authors looked at satellite readings of Zigui, Wushan and Badong counties, with a combined population of more than a million people. Geologist Ioannis Fourniadis of Imperial College London estimated that 3% of the counties' slopes are actively falling and 7% are unstable for activities such as road building. Another 15% were mostly stable. The rest were solid limestone, which he says pose extremely low risk.
A spokesman for China's Ministry of Land Resources blames this year's high incidence of landslides on heavy rainfalls since spring. He says the early-warning system has detected some major slides and that the government is training local people to recognize landslide warning signs.
Less than a mile from Miaohe, where a gravel road that provides sole access to the village passes through a muddy tunnel, the villagers have set up temporary housing. Inside the tunnel, they camp in plastic lean-tos. Nearby, the local government is clearing an area for the refugees to build new homes.
The government is providing money for homes, but the villagers say it isn't enough. The farmers will be able to grow rice, oranges and tea here, but they complain that the land isn't good. The local government is providing families a dowry for their daughters, to encourage them to marry out.
"This all started happening right after they began damming the river," says Han Qingxi, 52 years old, pausing from rebuilding his simple stone home. Nearby, backhoes level the mountainside. "They say it's safer here," he says.
--Zhou Yang and Kersten Zhang in Beijing contributed to this article.
Write to Shai Oster at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Plan for Sea Canal Puts Hindu Belief In Sharp Relief
Some Indians See Controversial Route As Threat to Divinely Created Shoals
By Rama Lakshmi
ADAM'S BRIDGE, India -- In the emerald waters separating India and Sri Lanka lies a long chain of sand-capped rocky formations. Devout Hindus believe the god Ram built the shoals before a battle with a demon king. Fishermen along India's coast believe the shoals saved them from a tsunami three years ago. And environmentalists treasure them for their patch reefs, sea fans, sponges and pearl oysters.
Now, however, the shoals -- which form what is known as Adam's Bridge -- are being threatened by the construction of a massive sea canal.
The Indian government began dredging the shallow ocean bed two years ago and is now poised to break apart Adam's Bridge, whose demolition is necessary to allow ships to traverse a direct route between the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. But the project has become entangled in a complex web of resistance from environmentalists, fishermen, political parties and Hindu activists.
Opposition to huge industrial projects is common in India, but the controversy over Adam's Bridge, or Ram Sethu, marks one of the first times religion has become an obstacle to major development. Thousands of Hindu protesters have rallied in the streets since last week, blocking traffic and chanting, "We will save Ram Sethu, we will save Hindu heritage!"
"Millions of Hindus believe that Ram built that bridge across the sea. Our scriptures and epics mention it," said Surendra Jain, a leader of the World Hindu Council, a hard-line Hindu group. "We will not let them destroy our religious heritage."
An ambitious project with an estimated cost of more than $500 million, the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal was originally envisioned in 1860, and at least 14 proposals have been abandoned over the years because India lacked the financial resources to build it.
Ships coming from the Arabian Sea currently go around Sri Lanka to reach India's east coast and Bangladesh. With the proposed channel, 13 yards deep and 328 yards wide, ships are expected to be able to pass straight through India's territorial waters. That would mean more revenue for India's ports.
"The ships will save about 30 hours in navigation time," said Rakesh Srivastava, a senior official at the Shipping Ministry in New Delhi. "More than 3,000 ships will use this channel every year. This is a very prestigious project for India and would lead to the economic transformation of the ports and the coastal people."
While many critics have petitioned the Supreme Court in a bid to have the project scrapped, the Hindu activists support the sea canal as long as it can be built in a way that would avoid damage to Adam's Bridge. Some activists have proposed dredging to the west of the bridge to make way for a canal.
Government officials have said that approach would be misguided. And they contend the bridge isn't important in Hinduism.
"People have mixed religion with reality," Srivastava said. The shoals were formed from calcium deposits and natural sedimentation over millions of years."
In court, the government contended that the Hindu god Ram was a mythical character, an argument that only further enraged Hindus opposed to the current project. The Hindu nationalist political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, called the statement a blasphemous insult, and the government hurriedly withdrew it.
Hindu opposition to the project is only the most recent hindrance to the canal's completion. Naval experts have questioned assertions that the canal would save ships 30 hours in travel time, as well as the economic viability of the project. Fishermen's unions have staged sit-ins, blocked rail traffic and petitioned the court.
Umayavel Tharakudiyan, a 55-year-old fisherman in the village of Ramakrishnapuram on the coast of Tamil Nadu state, said the dredging of sand has already reduced the number of fish he and others catch. He explained his fears by drawing a map of his village and the canal route in the sand.
"We will lose our freedom. For different kinds of fish, we go out at various times of the day. Once the ships start sailing, we will be assigned special times of the day for fishing. They will deny us entry with our boats and nets in some areas," he said as he sat on the sandy ground outside his thatched-roof home.
His wife, Tamilarasi, said Adam's Bridge has shielded the area during cyclones and other natural disasters. "The bridge protected us from the tsunami," she said. "Once that goes, our villages may disappear in the next cyclone."
Although the government has received formal environmental clearance for the canal, there are lingering concerns about the impact it would have on a marine biosphere reserve 12 miles west of the area to be dredged. A row of 21 islands rich in coral reefs, sea turtles, dolphins and sea cows, the reserve is one of the most biologically diverse areas in South Asia.
A recent government report said the canal could "drastically alter the dynamics of the ecosystems" in the biosphere.
"Sea animals communicate through waves, and the dredging work disturbs them. In the last six months, sea cows are losing their way and are seen closer to the shore," said Rakesh Kumar Jagenia, the wildlife warden at the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve. "It will get worse once the ships start sailing, with the high noise levels and thermal pollution."
Environmental activists and fishermen complain that despite their long struggle, it is the religious claim to Adam's Bridge that has provoked the most public interest and drawn a reaction from the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, ecologists and fishermen's groups are reluctant to build alliances with the Hindu nationalist organizations.
"People are debating nonissues," said T.S.S. Mani, an activist fisherman opposed to the canal. "This is a battle for environment, people's lives and livelihoods, but unfortunately it has acquired a religious branding."
MaryAnn3 What map. There is an entire book known as Srimad Bhagavatam, which literally means the story of God. It is now available in English too. Read that. Fascinating stories which even today are remembered and form part of all Indians' lives , those who live in cities and also in the remotest of villages. God's avatars ( incarnations ) are mentioned there as innumerble and only 10 of them are being recounted in Srimad Bhagavatam i.e. the story of God.
No maps are necessary. Thanks.
9/18/2007 6:32:09 AM
A shipping lane could have been dredged without any protests from any quarters.
But, some ignorant officials lacking sensibilities mentioned in an affidavit that Lord Rama did not exist at all and that he and his Vanara sena (monkey Army)did not build any bridge ( Setu ) is in a way going too far. Those officials may have not read about Lord Rama or Ramayana. Any person who did not know of Ramayana or Mahabharata does not deserve to be an officr of the Government of India in the same manner that any officer who does not know english language can not be called an educated person today in India. As for BJP or any other political organisation to make this unfortunate episode of Canal dredging and ignorant officials submitting an affidavit to the supreme court an issue for protest is a mistake. They are adept at this game.
So, the UPA as an entity which is running the Government should apologise to the nation in the next session of the Parliament in the name of Lord Rama and then carry on the business of building a seaway between India and Sri Lanka. The question of the Indian sensibility is supreme and it can not be contravened.
This project is necessary. For the various Tamil Nadu Kazhagams to deny Rama his revered place had been a habit. A great leader , Ramaswami Naicker , spoke badly of Lord Rama eventhough he bore his name. They were anti-national too in the way that the followers of the Indian National Party were known as patriots and the followers of Justice Party were traitors. To speak of Lord Rama in mean terms was their political and social manifesto.
That the name of Rama and his Ramayana survived to this day braving the onslaught of many conquerers , Shamaists , muslim hordes and latterly the christians ( not all of them , these christians ), is a tribute to the tenacity of a beautiful person an avatar of Vishnu. And now an official in the Indian Government proclaims that there is no historical basis for Rama's Avatar. Pardon him.
9/18/2007 6:21:36 AM
Well, this Ran Sethu - Adam's Bridge - issue for sure has spiralled out of control, landing in the ever controversial religious sphere which needs to be dealt with with immense maturity and foresightedness.
The Indian government needs to devise some smart strategy to physically circumvent the shoal and also not shatter the millenia old held public sentiments and beliefs, all along protecting one of India's historical - mythical - legacies from getting lost forever in the name of development and economic progress.
9/18/2007 5:58:52 AM
This article mistakenly states that Ram built that bridge.
The Hindus believe that Hanuman, the monkey God, a devout disciple of Ram built the bridge along with an army of monkeys.
The article avoids mentioning this belief to gain more credibility.
Facts must be checked accurately before publishing information that is read world wide.
9/18/2007 4:32:12 AM
A map would have been helpful.
9/18/2007 12:39:54 AM
Beneath Booming Cities, China’s Future Is Drying Up
By JIM YARDLEY
SHIJIAZHUANG, China — Hundreds of feet below ground, the primary water source for this provincial capital of more than two million people is steadily running dry. The underground water table is sinking about four feet a year. Municipal wells have already drained two-thirds of the local groundwater.
Above ground, this city in the North China Plain is having a party. Economic growth topped 11 percent last year. Population is rising. A new upscale housing development is advertising waterfront property on lakes filled with pumped groundwater. Another half-built complex, the Arc de Royal, is rising above one of the lowest points in the city’s water table.
“People who are buying apartments aren’t thinking about whether there will be water in the future,” said Zhang Zhongmin, who has tried for 20 years to raise public awareness about the city’s dire water situation.
For three decades, water has been indispensable in sustaining the rollicking economic expansion that has made China a world power. Now, China’s galloping, often wasteful style of economic growth is pushing the country toward a water crisis. Water pollution is rampant nationwide, while water scarcity has worsened severely in north China — even as demand keeps rising everywhere.
China is scouring the world for oil, natural gas and minerals to keep its economic machine humming. But trade deals cannot solve water problems. Water usage in China has quintupled since 1949, and leaders will increasingly face tough political choices as cities, industry and farming compete for a finite and unbalanced water supply.
One example is grain. The Communist Party, leery of depending on imports to feed the country, has long insisted on grain self-sufficiency. But growing so much grain consumes huge amounts of underground water in the North China Plain, which produces half the country’s wheat. Some scientists say farming in the rapidly urbanizing region should be restricted to protect endangered aquifers. Yet doing so could threaten the livelihoods of millions of farmers and cause a spike in international grain prices.
For the Communist Party, the immediate challenge is the prosaic task of forcing the world’s most dynamic economy to conserve and protect clean water. Water pollution is so widespread that regulators say a major incident occurs every other day. Municipal and industrial dumping has left sections of many rivers “unfit for human contact.”
Cities like Beijing and Tianjin have shown progress on water conservation, but China’s economy continues to emphasize growth. Industry in China uses 3 to 10 times more water, depending on the product, than industries in developed nations.
“We have to now focus on conservation,” said Ma Jun, a prominent environmentalist. “We don’t have much extra water resources. We have the same resources and much bigger pressures from growth.”
In the past, the Communist Party has reflexively turned to engineering projects to address water problems, and now it is reaching back to one of Mao’s unrealized plans: the $62 billion South-to-North Water Transfer Project to funnel more than 12 trillion gallons northward every year along three routes from the Yangtze River basin, where water is more abundant. The project, if fully built, would be completed in 2050. The eastern and central lines are already under construction; the western line, the most disputed because of environmental concerns, remains in the planning stages.
The North China Plain undoubtedly needs any water it can get. An economic powerhouse with more than 200 million people, it has limited rainfall and depends on groundwater for 60 percent of its supply. Other countries, like Yemen, India, Mexico and the United States, have aquifers that are being drained to dangerously low levels. But scientists say those below the North China Plain may be drained within 30 years.
“There’s no uncertainty,” said Richard Evans, a hydrologist who has worked in China for two decades and has served as a consultant to the World Bank and China’s Ministry of Water Resources. “The rate of decline is very clear, very well documented. They will run out of groundwater if the current rate continues.”
Outside Shijiazhuang, construction crews are working on the transfer project’s central line, which will provide the city with infusions of water on the way to the final destination, Beijing. For many of the engineers and workers, the job carries a patriotic gloss.
Yet while many scientists agree that the project will provide an important influx of water, they also say it will not be a cure-all. No one knows how much clean water the project will deliver; pollution problems are already arising on the eastern line. Cities and industry will be the beneficiaries of the new water, but the impact on farming is limited. Water deficits are expected to remain.
“Many people are asking the question: What can they do?” said Zheng Chunmiao, a leading international groundwater expert. “They just cannot continue with current practices. They have to find a way to bring the problem under control.”
A Drying Region
On a drizzly, polluted morning last April, Wang Baosheng steered his Chinese-made sport utility vehicle out of a shopping center on the west side of Beijing for a three-hour southbound commute that became a tour of the water crisis on the North China Plain.
Mr. Wang travels several times a month to Shijiazhuang, where he is chief engineer overseeing construction of three miles of the central line of the water transfer project. A light rain splattered the windshield, and he recited a Chinese proverb about the preciousness of spring showers for farmers. He also noticed one dead river after another as his S.U.V. glided over dusty, barren riverbeds: the Yongding, the Yishui, the Xia and, finally, the Hutuo. “You see all these streams with bridges, but there is no water,” he said.
A century or so ago, the North China Plain was a healthy ecosystem, scientists say. Farmers digging wells could strike water within eight feet. Streams and creeks meandered through the region. Swamps, natural springs and wetlands were common.
Today, the region, comparable in size to New Mexico, is parched. Roughly five-sixths of the wetlands have dried up, according to one study. Scientists say that most natural streams or creeks have disappeared. Several rivers that once were navigable are now mostly dust and brush. The largest natural freshwater lake in northern China, Lake Baiyangdian, is steadily contracting and besieged with pollution.
What happened? The list includes misguided policies, unintended consequences, a population explosion, climate change and, most of all, relentless economic growth. In 1963, a flood paralyzed the region, prompting Mao to construct a flood-control system of dams, reservoirs and concrete spillways. Flood control improved but the ecological balance was altered as the dams began choking off rivers that once flowed eastward into the North China Plain.
The new reservoirs gradually became major water suppliers for growing cities like Shijiazhuang. Farmers, the region’s biggest water users, began depending almost exclusively on wells. Rainfall steadily declined in what some scientists now believe is a consequence of climate change.
Before, farmers had compensated for the region’s limited annual rainfall by planting only three crops every two years. But underground water seemed limitless and government policies pushed for higher production, so farmers began planting a second annual crop, usually winter wheat, which requires a lot of water.
By the 1970s, studies show, the water table was already falling. Then Mao’s death and the introduction of market-driven economic reforms spurred a farming renaissance. Production soared, and rural incomes rose. The water table kept falling, further drying out wetlands and rivers.
Around 1900, Shijiazhuang was a collection of farming villages. By 1950, the population had reached 335,000. This year, the city has roughly 2.3 million people with a metropolitan area population of 9 million.
More people meant more demand for water, and the city now heavily pumps groundwater. The water table is falling more than a meter a year. Today, some city wells must descend more than 600 feet to reach clean water. In the deepest drilling areas, steep downward funnels have formed in the water table that are known as “cones of depression.”
Groundwater quality also has worsened. Wastewater, often untreated, is now routinely dumped into rivers and open channels. Mr. Zheng, the water specialist, said studies showed that roughly three-quarters of the region’s entire aquifer system was now suffering some level of contamination.
“There will be no sustainable development in the future if there is
no groundwater supply,” said Liu Changming, a leading Chinese hydrology
expert and a senior scholar at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
A National Project
Three decades ago, when Deng Xiaoping shifted China from Maoist ideology and fixated the country on economic growth, a generation of technocrats gradually took power and began rebuilding a country that ideology had almost destroyed. Today, the top leaders of the Communist Party — including Hu Jintao, China’s president and party chief — were trained as engineers.
Though not members of the political elite, Wang Baosheng, the engineer on the water transfer project, and his colleague Yang Guangjie are of the same background. This spring, at the site outside Shijiazhuang, bulldozers clawed at a V-shaped cut in the dirt while teams of workers in blue jumpsuits and orange hard hats smoothed wet cement over a channel that will be almost as wide as a football field.
“I’ve been to the Hoover Dam, and I really admire the people who built that,” said Mr. Yang, the project manager. “At the time, they were making a huge contribution to the development of their country.”
He compared China’s transfer project to the water diversion system devised for southern California in the last century. “Maybe we are like America in the 1920s and 1930s,” he said. “We’re building the country.”
China’s disadvantage, compared with the United States, is that it has a smaller water supply yet almost five times as many people. China has about 7 percent of the world’s water resources and roughly 20 percent of its population. It also has a severe regional water imbalance, with about four-fifths of the water supply in the south.
Mao’s vision of borrowing water from the Yangtze for the north had an almost profound simplicity, but engineers and scientists spent decades debating the project before the government approved it, partly out of desperation, in 2002. Today, demand is far greater in the north, and water quality has badly deteriorated in the south. Roughly 41 percent of China’s wastewater is now dumped in the Yangtze, raising concerns that siphoning away clean water northward will exacerbate pollution problems in the south.
The upper reaches of the central line are expected to be finished in time to provide water to Beijing for the Olympic Games next year. Mr. Evans, the World Bank consultant, called the complete project “essential” but added that success would depend on avoiding waste and efficiently distributing the water.
Mr. Liu, the scholar and hydrologist, said that farming would get none of the new water and that cities and industry must quickly improve wastewater treatment. Otherwise, he said, cities will use the new water to dump more polluted wastewater. Shijiazhuang now dumps untreated wastewater into a canal that local farmers use to irrigate fields.
For years, Chinese officials thought irrigation efficiency was the answer for reversing groundwater declines. Eloise Kendy, a hydrology expert with The Nature Conservancy who has studied the North China Plain, said that farmers had made improvements but that the water table had kept sinking. Ms. Kendy said the spilled water previously considered “wasted” had actually soaked into the soil and recharged the aquifer. Efficiency erased that recharge. Farmers also used efficiency gains to irrigate more land.
Ms. Kendy said scientists had discovered that the water table was dropping because of water lost by evaporation and transpiration from the soil, plants and leaves. This lost water is a major reason the water table keeps dropping, scientists say.
Farmers have no choice. They drill deeper.
Difficult Choices Ahead
For many people living in the North China Plain, the notion of a water crisis seems distant. No one is crawling across a parched desert in search of an oasis. But every year, the water table keeps dropping. Nationally, groundwater usage has almost doubled since 1970 and now accounts for one-fifth of the country’s total water usage, according to the China Geological Survey Bureau.
The Communist Party is fully aware of the problems. A new water pollution law is under consideration that would sharply increase fines against polluters. Different coastal cities are building desalination plants. Multinational waste treatment companies are being recruited to help tackle the enormous wastewater problem.
Many scientists believe that huge gains can still be reaped by better efficiency and conservation. In north China, pilot projects are under way to try to reduce water loss from winter wheat crops. Some cities have raised the price of water to promote conservation, but it remains subsidized in most places. Already, some cities along the route of the transfer project are recoiling because of the planned higher prices. Some say they may just continue pumping.
Tough political choices, though, seem unavoidable. Studies by different scientists have concluded that the rising water demands in the North China Plain make it unfeasible for farmers to continue planting a winter crop. The international ramifications would be significant if China became an ever bigger customer on world grain markets. Some analysts have long warned that grain prices could steadily rise, contributing to inflation and making it harder for other developing countries to buy food.
The social implications would also be significant inside China. Near Shijiazhuang, Wang Jingyan’s farming village depends on wells that are more than 600 feet deep. Not planting winter wheat would amount to economic suicide.
“We would lose 60 percent or 70 percent of our income if we didn’t plant winter wheat,” Mr. Wang said. “Everyone here plants winter wheat.”
Another water proposal is also radical: huge, rapid urbanization. Scientists say converting farmland into urban areas would save enough water to stop the drop in the water table, if not reverse it, because widespread farming still uses more water than urban areas. Of course, large-scale urbanization, already under way, could worsen air quality; Shijiazhuang’s air already ranks among the worst in China because of heavy industrial pollution.
For now, Shijiazhuang’s priority, like that of other major Chinese cities, is to grow as quickly as possible. The city’s gross domestic product has risen by an average of 10 percent every year since 1980, even as the city’s per capita rate of available water is now only one thirty-third of the world average.
“We have a water shortage, but we have to develop,” said Wang Yongli, a senior engineer with the city’s water conservation bureau. “And development is going to be put first.”
Mr. Wang has spent four decades charting the steady extinction of the North China Plain’s aquifer. Water in Shijiazhuang, with more than 800 illegal wells, is as scarce as it is in Israel, he said. “In Israel, people regard water as more important than life itself,” he said. “In Shijiazhuang, it’s not that way. People are focused on the economy.”
Jake Hooker contributed reporting from north China. Huang Yuanxi contributed research from Beijing.
The Dam Breaks
China can no longer deny the environmental disaster at Three Gorges.
FOR CHINA'S communist leadership, which gathers today for a major party congress, the gigantic Three Gorges Dam holds out the promise of abundant hydroelectric power and an end to devastating periodic floods along the Yangtze River. Yet from the moment they hatched a plan to build the colossal project, China's leaders have known that its benefits would come at a high environmental cost. Undeterred, they ignored or repressed dissent about it. One prominent early critic, journalist Dai Qing, was jailed for 10 months after the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 1989; her book "Yangtze! Yangtze!" was suppressed. Even then, the threats posed by the $22 billion project in Hubei province were so evident that one-third of the delegates to China's rubber-stamp national legislature either abstained or voted against it in 1993. Undaunted, the government began construction in 1994 and has relocated 1.4 million mostly poor rural villagers to make way for a 370-mile-long, 525-foot-deep reservoir. The dam's first stage opened in 2003, permitting cargo vessels to travel from Shanghai to Chongqing; eventually, its turbines are supposed to generate 84 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.
As recently as 2004, the official China Daily was still emitting happy talk about "achievements in environmental protection of the area." But now comes word that the warnings of Dai Qing and others were true. And the source of the news is none other than the Chinese government. In fact, a "catastrophe" is possible if preventive steps are not taken promptly, the official Xinhua news agency said last week. Apparently, thickly populated river banks near Chongqing have been weakened by the project, and landslides -- including one June 28 that killed four people -- are a frequent occurrence. The new reservoir's shoreline is collapsing in 91 places. In addition, the Yangtze is silting up because of the reduced flow of water, and pollutants are accumulating behind the dam -- exactly as critics had predicted.
The authorities in China have a plan, of course: They will relocate 4 million more people over the next 10 to 15 years. This additional movement of people will have immense direct costs -- financial and human -- and will exacerbate serious land shortages and urban crowding in Chongqing and its surroundings. Chongqing is already one of the most congested and polluted cities in China. We suppose it's good news that China's leaders, consistent with a recent increase in official candor about the country's environmental woes, are finally facing the facts about Three Gorges. But for many years to come, the dam will stand as a monument to their folly and their arrogance.
Western States Agree to Water-Sharing Pact
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
A dried-up marina on Lake Mead, one of the two primary reservoirs for the Colorado River in the states of Arizona and Nevada. Jim Wilson/The New York Times
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 9 — Facing the worst drought in a century and the prospect that climate change could yield long-term changes on the Colorado River, the lifeline for several Western states, federal officials have reached a new pact with the states on how to allocate water if the river runs short.
State and federal officials praised the agreement as a landmark akin to the Colorado River Compact of 1922, which first outlined how much water the seven states served by the river — California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming — would receive annually.
The new accord, outlined by federal officials in a telephone news conference Friday, spells out how three downriver states — California, Arizona and Nevada — will share the impact of water shortages. It puts in place new measures to encourage conservation and manage the two primary reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which have gone from nearly full to just about half-empty since 1999.
The accord is expected to forestall litigation that was likely to have arisen as fast-growing states jockey for the best way to keep the water flowing to their residents and businesses in increasingly dry times. It would be in effect through 2026 and could be revised during that time.
Some environmental groups said the pact did not go far enough to encourage conservation and discourage growth. But federal officials said they took the best of several proposals by the states, environmental organizations and others and emphasized the importance of all seven states agreeing with the result.
“I think for the first time in 85 years we are on the same page,” said Herb Guenther, the director of water resources in Arizona, which had initially balked at some terms of the agreement and was threatening legal action over it.
But with water levels in reservoirs dropping, a record eight-year drought, the prospect that climate change could bring more dry spells and new scientific analyses suggesting the West could be drier than has been traditionally believed, the states were pushed to act. These factors “forced the issue to the head and we decided to do something unique and different,” Mr. Guenther said.
The agreement, the product of two-and-a-half years of negotiation and study, establishes criteria for the Interior Department to declare a shortage on the river, which would occur when the system is unable to produce the 7.5 million acre-feet of water, enough to supply 15 million homes for a year, that the three downriver states are entitled to.
Water deliveries would be decreased based on how far water levels drop in Lake Mead and Lake Powell. The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the river system, predicts about a 5 percent chance of such a shortage being declared by 2010, but it all depends on how much the states are able to conserve and, of course, the weather. The probability projection “does not imply it can’t happen,” said Terry Fulp, a bureau official involved in managing the river.
Water districts, anticipating an eventual cutback of Colorado River water, have been storing large amounts of water and the accord encourages them to continue to do so.
The pact, which Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is expected to sign Thursday, includes a bundle of agreements with the states. One is approval for water managers in the Las Vegas area, which gets 90 percent of its water from the Colorado, to get a greater share of Lake Mead water in exchange for financing a reservoir in California to capture large amounts of river water destined for Mexico but beyond that country’s entitlement by treaty.
“It’s hugely important for us,” said Scott Huntley, a spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. “This really does provide the bridge for us to get into the next decade.” But John Weisheit, conservation director for Living Rivers, a Utah-based environmental group, said the agreement sends the message to the states that growth trumps sensible water management. Mr. Weisheit said the conservation should have been emphasized and the government’s computer modeling was overly optimistic about future water supply. “There is more water on paper than there actually is on the landscape,” he said. “They are looking at this in a way that will allow more development even though the water is not theoretically there.”
Flawed 1818 Survey Left State a Mile Short
of Tennessee River
Drought Has Georgia Revisiting Border Dispute
By Greg Bluestein
COLE CITY HOLLOW, Tenn. -- Nearly two centuries after a flawed survey placed Georgia's northern border just short of the Tennessee River, some legislators are thirsting to set the record straight.
A historic drought has added urgency to Georgia's generations-old claim that its territory should extend about a mile farther north and reach into the Tennessee -- a river with about 15 times the flow of the one Atlanta depends on for water.
"It's never too late to right a wrong," said Georgia state Sen. David Shafer (R), whose bill would create a boundary-line commission that aims to resolve the dispute.
The reaction of Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D): "This is a joke, right?"
Two potential side effects of making the 35th parallel Tennessee's southern border: Not only would Georgia get a chunk of Chattanooga, but Mississippi would get a slice of Memphis.
In Cole City Hollow, an obscure border community where some northwest Georgia residents rely on Tennessee roads, the river is so close to crossing the state line that it almost juts into the yard of a Georgia house.
If Tennessee's southern boundary were the 35th parallel -- as Congress designated in 1796 -- Georgia would have a share of the Tennessee River. But a surveying team sent by Georgia to chart the line in 1818 was a bit off the mark.
Historians say mathematician James Camak, who led the team, begged the state to provide him the latest equipment, but instead he had to rely on an English sextant -- an instrument more familiar to sea captains than to land surveyors. Other stories say Camak's team was scared away by an American Indian party.
Surveyors now know that the Georgia-Tennessee border was placed about 1.1 miles south of where it should be. But that, surveyor Bart Crattle said, is history.
"Just because you have more accurate equipment, you can't start moving border lines," said Crattle, a Georgian who works in Chattanooga and is licensed to survey in both states. "Can you imagine what would happen to our boundary lines? They'd be all willy-nilly.
"It's correct -- no matter how wrong it is."
The border has been in place for generations, though there is some dispute over whether Georgia ever formally agreed to it. In any case, Georgia partisans say they want what is rightly theirs.
"A state boundary can only be changed by the legislatures of the states, with the consent of Congress," Shafer said. "It cannot be changed by a mathematician with a faulty compass or a skittish surveying party afraid of the Indians."
The drought has whetted Georgia's thirst for the river, but this is far from the first attempt to redo Camak's math. Shafer's resolution traces efforts as far back as 1887, when North Carolina -- another state affected by the line -- authorized its governor to appoint commissioners and a surveyor to meet with neighboring delegations over the boundary. No record of such a meeting exists, it said.
The river winds closest to Georgia near the Camak Stone, a slab placed by surveyors to mark the corner where Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee meet.
Few who live near the border are happy with the idea of moving it.
"All they want to do is get them some water, and I'm against it," said Freddy McCulley, 70, who lives on the Tennessee side. "They ought to control their growth in Atlanta. This has nothing to do with the people. It's the politicians."
"That would be ridiculous. I'd have to move my phone line and everything," said Joe Dugger, a 63-year-old Tennessean. "This is a forgotten part of Georgia, and they have nothing to do out here except pave the roads every once in a while."
Some influential Georgia politicians have suggested using old-fashioned horse trading to broker a water deal, saying Georgia should offer a high-speed rail line from Atlanta to Chattanooga in exchange for rights to the river. But Tennessee's governor said he was unaware of the Georgia legislation until he was told of it last week by a reporter.
Errare humanum est: There is nothing wrong with a late admission - and acceptance of the consequences - of an error, be it regarding a medical mistake or a misfixed borderline. One can even argue for a human right to errors (but not for their repetition), provided one accepts its Siamese twin, i.e. the obligation to admit it as a precondition for its prompt repair, for making its recurrence less likely, and for providing solid common ground for developing road-holding and mutually beneficial solutions (see the Swiss lawmakers' draft law on the "right to error": www.solami.com/irrtum.htm ¦ .../wasser.htm).
The Taba border dispute between Israel and Egypt also had its origin in an erroneous borderline. And, with the help of neutral specialists, it was resolved peacefully and to mutual advantage only when both parties agreed to study and draw inspiration from the original documents and authorities found, in part, in the League of Nations archives in Geneva. Other examples include the Venezuela/Colombia territorial dispute which was resolved over 100 years ago with the help of a neutral mediator, i.e. a member of the Swiss Federal Council. So why could the people of Tennessee and Georgia not find a fair, mutually helpful and lasting healing to the still festering wound of their apparently erroneous borderline by drawing on the services of competent, trustworthy and readily available mediators from close by or afar? Iconoclast
2/10/2008 8:09:51 AM Recommended (1)
54 40 or fight? looks like it's time to go to war with canada!
2/10/2008 8:03:47 AM
I just came back from Georgia and it was raining like hell. From talking to people I work with it has rained quite a bit this winter. They felt like while they could do with more rain the drought is done.
2/10/2008 7:50:43 AM
If we're going to re-open border disputes then there are two in our own region. Mason and Dixon placed their famous line FAR to the south of where it should have been - Gettysburg, Philadelphia...part of Maryland.
Also the official boundary between Maryland and (West) Virginia was to be the SOUTH fork of the Potomac...the surveyors went along the North fork instead.
2/9/2008 8:58:04 PM
Iraq, Syria to initiate water talks
ERCAN YAVUZ, ANKARA
Turkey, Syria and Iraq have decided to bury the hatchet over water issues and cooperate by establishing a water institute that will consist of 18 water experts from each country to work toward the solution of water-related problems among the three. Through the new institute experts from Turkey, Syria and Iraq will work toward developing cooperation among the three countries and exchanging water technology.
This institute will conduct its studies at the facilities of Turkey's Atatürk Dam, the biggest in the country, and plans to develop projects for the fair and effective use of trans-border water resources. This rapprochement among the three countries has led to acceleration of the construction of the Ilisu and Asi dams. Until several years ago, international strategists would argue that a war over water resources would inevitably erupt in the Middle East. But the recent agreement among Turkey, Syria and Iraq seems to discredit this thesis. Turkey had hinted at changing its water policy during the World Water Congress, held in Antalya in March 2007. Turkey adopted a fair share model for the surface waters that leave its borders and suggested that the problems it had with Syria, Iraq, Iran, Bulgaria, Georgia and Greece over water management should be solved through bilateral talks. Turkey had made clear at the time that it did not want third parties to get involved in the settlement of water issues.
Turkey's wish to negotiate such issues alone stemmed from its observation that whenever it had talks with Syria, France, too, became involved the talks and that whenever it negotiated with Iraq, the UK and the US also jumped into the discussions.
So Turkey proposed that the three countries handle the matter through bilateral talks, which Syria was the first to accept, partially attributable to the warm relations with Syria that started after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's first visit to the country. Several talks have been held between Syria and Turkey, during which the two countries have decided to jointly construct a dam on the Asi River, which originates in Syria and flows to the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey's Hatay province.
Diplomatic initiative proved successful
Turkey's diplomatic initiative for settlement of the water issue provided beneficial as well with respect to Iraq. In the past, Iraq had frequently filed official complaints with the United Nations about Turkey's construction of dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, arguing that Turkey had failed to release sufficient water from its dams. On Jan. 3, 2008 Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Dardari paid an official visit to Turkey during which he expressed Damascus' eagerness to have more of a share of water from the Euphrates River. Turkish officials, in response, told him that Turkey would release more water if there is sufficient water in its dams. Moreover, Turkish Environment Minister Veysel Eroglu met with Dardari in Syria on Jan. 10, and these mutual visits culminated in a deal between two countries over joint work to solve water issues.
Turkey held similar talks with Iraq. Previously, owing to the crisis in Iraq, Turkish and Iraqi water experts could not meet regularly. However, the first official visit paid by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to Ankara on March 8 served to open a new era in this respect. Iraqi Minister of Water Resources Abdul-Latif Jamal Rasheed was in the Iraqi delegation and met with Eroglu to tell him that Baghdad had accepted Turkey's offer to establish a water institute at Atatürk Dam. As a gesture from Iraq, Rasheed also declared that Iraq would like the Il?su Dam to be built as soon as possible. In the past, Iraq raised objections to the construction of this dam, arguing that because of it Iraq would receive less water.
Institute to become operational in April
Turkey, Syria and Iraq will send public officials and university professors who are experts in water issues to the institute, and the experts are expected to start arriving later this month.
These experts will work toward developing cooperation among countries and exchanging developments in water technology. Given its repository of know-how and knowledge in water issues, Turkey is expected to provide information and technology to other countries for the renovation of irrigation and potable water systems. The institute will map water resources in the region and draw a report on measures that the respective countries must take for effective management of these resources. The costs of the institute's work will be covered by Turkey, and its report will be published on April 15.
Meanwhile, the construction of the planned dam on the Asi River is expected to start soon. Turkey will also lend support to Iraq in its dam construction efforts, particularly those related to the Mosul dam. The tripartite cooperation will not be restricted to water issues as the three countries will also work together in the areas of environment, forestry and meteorology. As the winter precipitation in its eastern region is higher than expected, Turkey will be able to release more water to Iraq and Syria this year, experts say. The cooperation between three countries will be presented as case study at the 5th World Water Forum to be held in Istanbul in 2009.
Eroglu: Expect no war over water
Environment and Forestry Minister Eroglu, speaking to Today's Zaman, said: "No war over water resources will erupt in the region. Instead of having problems over water with our neighbors, we prefer developing joint projects. Contrary to what some people claim, a war over water resources in this region won't emerge, though people may always find reasons to wage wars. We believe that the water resources in the region can be effectively used to satisfy its water needs. However, we must develop joint projects for their effective use."
«Die Polemik hat die Züge einer Hexenjagd
Nestlé-Präsident Peter Brabeck über die Verteufelung von Flaschenwasser,
WC-Spülungen und Politiker, die Wasser predigen und Wein trinken
Von Victor Weber
Brabeck: «Die Wasserwerke bereiten pro Kopf und Tag 400 Liter Wasser auf, der Bedarf an Trinkwasserqualität liegt aber nur bei 9 Litern»
Zürich - Der Umwelt zuliebe auf abgefülltes Trinkwasser verzichten und auf billigeres, aber gleichwertiges Hahnenwasser umstellen - mit diesem Argument wird in den USA die «Anti Bottled Water Campaign» ausgefochten. An der Bürgermeisterkonferenz vom 23. Juni in Miami sprach sich die Mehrheit gegen den Konsum von natürlichem oder künstlichem Mineralwasser aus.
Auch Michael Bloomberg, Bürgermeister von New York, macht sich für das Leitungswasser stark. Kirchliche und studentische Organisationen tragen die Kampagne mit. Nun schwappt sie auf die Schweiz über, wo mit Nestlé der Weltmarktführer im Mineralwassergeschäft angesiedelt ist. Trendige Restaurants gehen dazu über, ihren Gästen eine Karaffe Hahnenburger auf den Tisch zu stellen. Der Waadtländer CVP-Nationalrat Jacques Neirynck ,77, will mit einer Motion erreichen, dass Mineralwasser nur noch mit ärztlichem Rezept in der Apotheke bezogen werden kann. Nestlé-Präsident Peter Brabeck nimmt Stellung.
Herr Brabeck, was ging Ihnen durch den Kopf, als Sie von den Plänen
des Ehrenprofessors der ETH Lausanne erfuhren?
Ich habe das im Flugzeug gelesen, als ich am Montag aus den USA zurückgekehrt bin. Ich wundere mich, wie leichtsinnig und realitätsfern Politiker solche Projekte propagieren. Dieser so genannt bürgerliche Parlamentarier glaubt zu wissen, was für die Bürgerinnen und Bürger richtig ist, und möchte am liebsten alles Mineralwasser aus dem Verkehr ziehen. Dabei übersieht er, dass Mineralwasser die gesündere Alternative zu Süssgetränken und auch zu alkoholischen Getränken ist.
Die «Anti Bottled Water Campaign» argumentiert weniger
mit der Gesundheit
Die Polemik hat die Züge einer Hexenjagd angenommen. Wenn man aus ökologischen Gründen Wasser sparen will, muss man mehr Mineral- und weniger Leitungswasser trinken.
Warum denn das?
Flaschenwasser verursacht den geringsten Wasserverbrauch, um Flüssigkeit in bester Qualität zu den Konsumenten zu bringen. Weil der Preis für Leitungswasser aus politischen Gründen zu tief angesetzt ist, kann nicht genügend in die Netze investiert werden. Durch Lecks versickern in den Entwicklungsländern 70 und in der EU 30 Prozent des Trinkwassers.
In der Schweiz werden die öffentlichen Leitungen besser unterhalten
Das Problem bleibt aber, dass ein Konsument, der 1 Liter Süssgetränk trinkt, virtuell 3 bis 5 Liter Wasser verbraucht, beim Bier sind es 4 bis 6 Liter. Beim Mineralwasser sieht die Bilanz viel besser aus: In unseren Abfüllanlagen benötigen wir 1,8 Liter für 1 Liter Flaschenwasser.
Dann sollten eher Bier und Cola apothekenpflichtig werden?
Wenn man konsequent sein will, Ja. Das zeigt, wie absurd die Argumentation der wirren Köpfe ist, die Mineralwasser in die Apotheken verbannen wollen. Das erinnert mich an meine Jugend, als ich für meinen Vater mit einem Krug im Gasthaus Bier holen gehen musste.
Ist es nicht offensichtlich, dass für abgefülltes Mineralwasser
viel mehr Erdöl verbraucht wird?
Das ist das einzige Argument des rührenden Parlamentariers. Vergleicht man den Energieverbrauch für Hahnenwasser mit jenem für Flaschenwasser, muss man unbedingt auch das unnötigerweise auf Trinkwasserqualität aufbereitete WC-Spülwasser einberechnen, das heisst, auf das eigentlich verbrauchte Trinkwasser umlegen. Die Wasserwerke bereiten pro Kopf und Tag 400 Liter Wasser auf, der Bedarf in Trinkwasserqualität liegt aber nur bei 9 Litern. Ausser der Betriebsenergie für die Wasserwerke sollte auch die Energie berücksichtigt werden, die beim Aufreissen der Strassen verpufft, um an die Wasserleitungen heranzukommen.
In den USA bedroht die Kampagne allmählich das Wassergeschäft
Lassen Sie mich eines klarstellen: Zu Hause trinke auch ich Hahnenwasser. Wenn ich Lust auf ein Sprudelwasser oder auf den Geschmack eines besonderen Mineralwassers habe, greife ich zur Flasche. Diese Wahl muss man den Bürgern schon lassen. Ich staune, wenn jemand behauptet, er könne einen Mouton Rothschild 1978 vom nächsten Jahrgang unterscheiden, aber gleichzeitig behauptet, alles Wasser schmecke gleich, und darum nur Wasser aus dem Hahnen trinkt.
Was steckt hinter der «Anti Bottled Water Campaign» in
Flaschenwasser hat nichts, rein gar nichts mit dem gravierenden Problem zu tun, dass uns die Ressource Wasser lange vor dem Erdöl ausgehen wird - von den Mengen her schon gar nicht. Mineralwasser beziehungsweise abgefülltes Tafelwasser eignet sich aber für bewegte Politiker, die mit starken Worten auffallen wollen.
Ist es nicht unsinnig, Mineralwasser vom anderen Ende der Welt einzuführen?
So gesehen, müsste man auch auf ausländische Weine verzichten.
Im Wasserschloss Europas fehlt es uns weder an ausgezeichnetem Leitungswasser
noch an Mineralwasserquellen.
Mineralwasser ist nicht gleich Mineralwasser. Es herrschen grosse Unterschiede bei den Geschmacksrichtungen und bei der Positionierung: Am oberen Ende sind Marken, die die Bedeutung von Champagner haben, im mittleren Bereich sind die lokalen Mineralwassermarken angesiedelt
beide Kategorien haben klar identifizierbare Quellen
ja, das sind gleichsam Mineralwasser mit Appellation d'origine contrôlée.
Wie etwa Henniez, die Nestlé nun übernimmt. Was haben
Sie damit vor?
Man hat uns vorgeworfen, dass wir just in unserem Heimatland keine eigene Quelle haben, das wollten wir ändern.
Sodann gibt es gewissermassen gepanschtes Quellwasser.
Für unsere Marke Aquarel, die wir in Europa vertreiben, greifen wir für den jeweiligen Markt
auf unterschiedliche Quellen zurück.
Gibt es ein Menschenrecht auf Wasser?
Ja, pro Person täglich 5 Liter zum Trinken und 20 Liter für die Hygiene. Was darüber hinausgeht, muss zu kostendeckenden Tarifen verkauft werden. Sonst werden Swimmingpools und Golfplätze subventioniert.
Hopes Water Will Power Its Ambitions
By DAVID L. STERN
NUREK, Tajikistan — The inscription just above a tunnel at the foot of the colossal Nurek hydropower dam in south central Tajikistan is succinct: “Water Is Life.” The frigid, frothing Vakhsh River rushing under it adds a visual punctuation mark.
In Tajikistan, the source of more than 40 percent of Central Asia’s water, this is no mere platitude. The mountainous state lacks the industry and natural riches that bless other former Soviet Central Asian republics. Water is one of the few resources the country possesses in great abundance.
For this reason, President Emomali Rakhmon has pinned Tajikistan’s economic hopes — and perhaps even its continued political existence — on developing its hydropower potential.
Three projects are either under construction or being considered, including Rogun, a gargantuan structure farther up the Vakhsh River. Tajik officials say they have hopes of building more than 20 hydroelectric plants and dams.
But a number of sizable hurdles must be surmounted before the plans for a great hydropower future can be realized. Tajikistan is in an earthquake zone and the dams must be built to withstand major seismic shocks. Officials are expected to conduct environmental impact studies to determine whether any flora or fauna will be threatened.
The Tajik government is also heavily in debt and must find heavy foreign investment to build the dams. On Wednesday, China agreed to build a $300 million hydroelectric power plant, Nurobad-2, with a capacity of 160 to 220 megawatts. But Tajik officials say Rogun alone will cost up to $3.2 billion.
Further afield, the region’s complicated water politics, where upstream and downstream countries have diametrically opposed needs and aims, threaten to intensify.
Here, water irrigates endless fields of cotton, one of the main sources of income in this primarily agricultural land. Nurek — the world’s highest dam, at 984 feet, and a prestige project of the Soviet Union — is the difference between light and darkness, heat and no heat, for the majority of Tajikistan’s seven million inhabitants, supplying nearly all the country’s energy needs. It also provides cheap electricity to power the Talco aluminum plant, the nation’s largest industrial enterprise.
Rogun, as it is now envisioned, would surpass Nurek’s height by more than 100 feet.
Though for the moment it seems to be managing, Tajikistan threatens to become a failed state, say Western experts and diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue. The country still has not fully recovered from a devastating civil war a decade ago. State coffers are virtually empty, while the government is viewed as unable to meet basic needs.
The situation was laid bare last winter when prolonged subzero temperatures overloaded the Soviet-era electrical grid, plunging the entire country into cold and darkness. For Western officials working in Tajikistan, the emergency was a disturbing revelation of the government’s dysfunction.
“The crisis was not caused by the winter weather,” said an official of an American nongovernmental organization, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “The crisis was triggered by the winter weather, but caused by chronic mismanagement.”
All of Tajikistan’s power troubles will be remedied by the dam projects, the Rakhmon government hopes. They will not only provide for all of Tajikistan’s energy needs but also allow the country to export power to neighboring countries.
“It’s a good idea — hydropower is one of the few resources that Tajikistan can exploit,” said John Morgan, an official with Usaid, the American assistance program, and a power specialist. “Power lines could go to Afghanistan and Pakistan, which are both energy-starved countries, and to the rest of Central Asia as well.”
Rogun, for example, will generate about 13 billion kilowatt hours per year, more than 80 percent of the country’s average consumption, officials at the construction site say. In the short term, Sangtuda-1, a hydropower plant that began operating last winter, will take on some of the country’s electrical heavy lifting, though its introduction failed to resolve the electricity crisis.
But outside investors are leery. While individual investors who are more accepting of risk may materialize, international donor organizations and banks have become more circumspect with Tajikistan. Besides the dysfunction and corruption revealed by the winter crisis, the International Monetary Fund recently announced that Tajikistan had misreported its finances six times over the last decade, an I.M.F. record. President Rakhmon has asked Tajiks to voluntarily forfeit a month’s wages, or about $10 million, to finance the initial building stage.
“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,” he said.
Water issues must also be resolved. Central Asia’s disagreements over how to allocate water resources resemble the Middle East’s in their complexity and potential for conflict. Downstream countries, most prominently Uzbekistan, have steadfastly opposed Tajikistan’s hydroelectric plans. The two countries are engaged in an undeclared cold war, Western diplomatic analysts say.
The Uzbeks, who need to provide for their expansive and inefficiently irrigated cotton fields, say that the dams will disturb the water cycle, withholding water in the summer when it is needed and releasing it in the winter for electricity. Tajik authorities say that the opposite will be true and that the dams will better regulate water distribution: water will be held in the winter and released in the summer.
Other analysts say that the Uzbeks, who supply electricity to Tajikistan,
fear they will lose leverage over their neighbors. “The thing is, the more
dams, the more control the Tajiks will have over the water, and that’s
what the Uzbeks are afraid of,” said one Western diplomat in the capital,
Tajikistan Turns to Water for Power
Tajikistan, the source of more than 40 percent of Central Asia's water, lacks the industry and natural riches that bless other former Soviet Central Asian states. Water is one of the few resources the country possesses in great abundance, and President Emomali Rakhmon is staking the country's economic future on major hydropower projects. At left, the road leading to the Rogun dam, which, when finished, will be the world's tallest. all photos by Carolyn Drake for The New York Times
A tunnel leading to Nurek dam, a colossal hydropower dam in south central Tajikistan, which supplies nearly all of Tajikistan's energy needs and irrigates endless acres of cotton fields.
Tajik officials say that they have hopes of building more than 20 hydroelectric plants and dams. However, the Tajik government is facing several hurdles in completing the projects: debt, regional politics and the fact that the country is situated in an earthquake zone. At left, the Vakhsh River.
A guard in the tunnel leading to the upper area of the Nurek dam.
The Nurek dam is 984 feet high and is a prestige project of the Soviet Union-era. It supplies nearly all of the country's energy needs.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, irrigation ended in the village of Shartuz, turning cotton fields in the area into arid plains.
Cotton field workers are ferried home after a day working in the fields. Cotton is one of the main sources of income in the country.
In the Kabodiyan district of southern Tajikistan, a dehkan farm -- once part of the Soviet collective farm system -- is tended by women from Uzbekistan.
The Uzbeks, who need to provide for their expansive and inefficiently irrigated cotton fields, say Tajikistan's dams will disturb the water cycle. Tajik authorities say that the opposite will be true and the dams will in fact better regulate water distribution. At left, an Uzbek woman weeds a cotton field in southern Tajikistan.
Many of the workers cannot afford to buy the cotton they grow. Each field has an owner who bought the land and gathers workers on his own conditions. The workers do not have a right to negotiate prices or complain about undelivered salaries.
A worker shovels cotton at a factory in Shartuz.
A limited water supply forced residents in the village of Yulduzqoq to switch from growing melons to growing corn on a former collective cotton farm. They have lived without electricity for the past two years.
Mirzoeva Rohila, a cotton field worker, and her family at home in Leninabad. Her husband lost his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan when he was a refugee there during the civil war. She said she has been paid for only two months of the seven months she has worked on the Bobojon Gafurov farm, a total of about $40.
In the village of Akjar, a Soviet-era irrigation canal is the only source of water. Many hope Tajikistan's power troubles will be remedied by the dam projects.
Near on Diverting Water From Great Lakes
By SUSAN SAULNY
The House began debate Monday on a sweeping bill that would ban almost any diversion of water from the Great Lakes’ natural basin to places outside the region.
The measure is intended to put to rest longstanding fears that parched states or even foreign countries could do long-term damage to the basin by tapping into its tremendous body of fresh water.
The bill, which would also put in place strict conservation rules for the eight states that border the lakes, is expected to win House approval, perhaps as soon as Tuesday. It has already been passed by the Senate, and the Bush administration has signaled its support.
So House backing for the measure, known as the Great Lakes Compact, is regarded by its many advocates across the Midwest and in New York and Pennsylvania as a long-sought final piece to a complicated puzzle whose solution started taking shape a decade ago in an effort to give the region control over its water. The fear was that without strict, consistent rules on who is entitled to that water, it might start disappearing.
“People realized that Great Lakes water is a finite resource and that death by a thousand straws is a real threat,” said Jordan Lubetkin, a spokesman for the National Wildlife Federation. “There is a perception that because the Great Lakes are so vast, they are immune from harm. That is not the case.”
Before the legislation even reached Congress, the states bordering the lakes had to approve the compact individually, agreeing — in a contentious process that itself took years — to certain common goals. The last state to approve, Michigan, did so only in July, following Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
(The Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, which also border the lakes, have adopted a nearly identical document.)
Though passage in the House is foreseen, support there is not unanimous. Some members say the pact is not strong enough to protect the lakes, which together account for 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water.
Among the dissenters is Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan, who complained Monday about an exception that would allow bottled water to be shipped outside the basin, among other management issues.
“Because these concerns remain unaddressed,” Mr. Stupak said in a statement, “I regret that I have to urge my colleagues to join me in opposing the compact until proper protections are put in place.”
“I see no reason why we must rush this process when our nation’s most precious natural resource is at stake,” said Mr. Stupak, whose district borders three of the lakes, calling the bottled-water exemption a loophole that could be used for large-scale diversion, exactly what the compact seeks to prevent.
But one of the compact’s drafters, Samuel W. Speck, former chairman of the water management working group of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, said the exemption was “not an issue.”
“By and large, bottled water isn’t shipped that far,” Mr. Speck said. “We found there is more bottled water sent into the Great Lakes Basin than sent out. It wasn’t a matter of us losing water. We actually gain water from the shipping.”
“There are those things that would irritate perfectionists,” he continued, “but it was the only way to get something so comprehensive and with enforcement enacted in all of the states and provinces. That’s an amazing accomplishment, and a very important one as we’re looking at greater demands for water and threats that climate change will bring.”
Under the measure, water generally would not be allowed to be diverted from the basin except under rare circumstances that would require the approval of all eight bordering states. In addition to the bottled-water exemption, an exception has been made for so-called straddling communities that lie on the basin’s borders, among other negotiated concessions based largely on whether diverted water could be restored to the lakes.
As for outlying states, Mr. Speck, among others, said he hoped they realized that guarding the freshwater supply with more vigor was in the long-term interest of the entire country.
“Some people will say, ‘Gosh, that’s discrimination against other states,’ ” Mr. Speck said. “The reality is that in the eight Great Lakes states, the largest parts of those states are outside of the basin. They’re not treating other states different from how they’re treating large areas of their own states.”
Another advocate of the compact, Steve Wieckert, a Republican member of the Wisconsin Assembly, said it had caused a tough fight in his state, because about half of Wisconsin falls outside the Great Lakes Basin. Some residents accused him of creating second-class citizens, but Mr. Wieckert, whose own district falls within the basin, said the compact was fair.
“No one else could come up with a better answer,” he said. “We needed a compact, and this was the best compact we could come up with.”
Catrin Einhorn contributed reporting.
Where Water Trumps Energy
Deep beneath the Earth’s surface from New York to West Virginia sits the Marcellus Shale, an enormous geological deposit of natural gas. Natural gas is one of the cleanest fuels available — if you can extract it without ruining the water around it.
Retrieving Marcellus natural gas requires hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling, a process that shoots millions of gallons of water deep underground to break the rock and unlock the gas. Now that prospectors are using this process increasingly in Pennsylvania and hoping to begin soon in New York, there are two important questions: Where will all that water come from? And what happens to it when it is no longer needed?
New York officials are exploring whether it’s possible to drill safely without poisoning water supplies. High on our list of concerns is whether the used water — some of it tainted with toxic chemicals — will later seep into streams, rivers and deep water wells, placing New York City’s municipal water supply at risk. Before the state allows exploration, there should be a clear agreement on how the used water will be dealt with safely.
Energy companies have already signed so many new leases for drilling rights with landowners in New York and Pennsylvania that one farmer called it a “modern-day gold rush.” Nobody wants to deprive these landowners of the money they can make, but the price of their good fortune cannot be the contamination of water supplies for everyone else.
Pete Grannis, the New York State environmental commissioner, promised at a recent hearing that, “we will not permit any drilling to take place that presents any threat to the city’s drinking-water supply.” That is an important commitment, but Mr. Grannis and Gov. David Paterson should take the safest course. While they search for ways to encourage drilling in less-sensitive areas, they should ban drilling anywhere near water supplies, and especially the city’s watershed.
State leaders in all of the areas touched by the Marcellus formation must find a balance between the need for energy and the need to protect water.
bubble is close to bursting:
warnings on water from World Economic Forum report
Mark Adams, Head of Communications, Tel.: +41 22 869 1212, email@example.com
• Report: World facing “water bankruptcy” in many places, if current
use trends continue
• Read the report online
• Follow the Annual Meeting online at http://www.weforum.org/annualmeeting – join the Davos Debates, watch webcast sessions, read session reports, download photos, twitter, participate in press conferences
Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 29 January 2009 ? Water is the nexus linking together a web of food, energy, climate, economic growth and human security; the world simply cannot manage water in the future in the same way as in the past or the economic web will collapse. This is the stark warning of a forecast released today by the World Economic Forum. The report is available here.
In examining different scenarios of what would happen if current water
use trends continue, the report shows that, as the world economy expands,
demand for water will rise and continue to outpace population growth. The
report finds that water has been consistently under-priced in many places
around the world and, as a result, has been wasted and overused. The report
goes on to say that many places in the world are on the verge of “water
bankruptcy” following a series of regional water “bubbles” over the past
50 years that fuelled economic growth.
This leads to a structural problem in the way water is managed across the global economy.
Some of the startling highlights of the forecast include:
• Agriculture: By 2025, water scarcity could affect annual global crop yield to the equivalent of losing the entire grain crops of India and the US combined (30% of global cereal consumption). Yet, food demand is expected to grow 70-90% by 2050.
• Energy: Energy production accounts for about 39% of all water withdrawals in the US and 31% of water withdrawals in the EU. While only 3% is actually consumed, the competition for access to water between energy and other sectors will intensify over the next two decades. Water requirements for energy production are expected to grow by as much as 165% in the US and 130% in the EU. This means water for agriculture will be squeezed at the same time as the demand for agricultural production sharply increases.
• Environment: Glaciers act as huge water banks. The glaciers of the Himalayas and Tibet alone feed seven of the world’s greatest rivers, providing water to more than 2 billion people. These glacial banks are disappearing at an accelerating rate. Most analyses suggest the majority of them will disappear by 2100 under current trends. Further, 70 major rivers around the world are close to being totally drained in order to supply water for irrigation systems and reservoirs. Extensive environmental damage is occurring as a result.
• Finance and economics: Within two decades, water will become a mainstream theme for investors; for many, water is already a better “pick” than oil. With good regulation, this will enable much more financing to be mobilized to invest in water infrastructure and technology. With poor regulation, innovative investment funds in water could expand.
Speaking earlier today at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon commented: “The water problem is broad and systemic. Our work to deal with it must be so as well. The World Economic Forum’s effort to develop the economic and geopolitical forecast on water is essential. For the first time, all the different perspectives and expertise required to define the full dimension of the problem and propose solutions are brought together.”
Dominic Waughray, Senior Director and Head of Environmental Initiatives of the World Economic Forum, and lead author of the report said: “A core theme emerging from today’s discussions on water here today was a strong call from all sides for sustained political, expert, civil society and business engagement to tackle the problem. The current economic downturn offers an opportunity to start addressing the emerging water crisis. Management of future water needs stands out as an urgent, tangible and fully resolvable issue for multiple stakeholders to engage in.”
For more information about the Water Initiative visit: http://www.weforum.org/en/initiatives/water/index.htm
* * *
The World Economic Forum
is an independent international organization committed to improving the
state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global,
regional and industry agendas.
Incorporated as a foundation in 1971, and based in Geneva, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum is impartial and not-for-profit; it is tied to no political, partisan or national interests (http://www.weforum.org).
Town Withers in Free Market for Water
By ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO
QUILLAGUA, Chile — During the past four decades here in Quillagua, a town in the record books as the driest place on earth, residents have sometimes seen glimpses of raindrops above the foothills in the distance. They never reach the ground, evaporating like a mirage while still in the air.
What the town did have was a river, feeding an oasis in the Atacama desert. But mining companies have polluted and bought up so much of the water, residents say, that for months each year the river is little more than a trickle — and an unusable one at that.
Quillagua is among many small towns that are being swallowed up in the country’s intensifying water wars. Nowhere is the system for buying and selling water more permissive than here in Chile, experts say, where water rights are private property, not a public resource, and can be traded like commodities with little government oversight or safeguards for the environment.
Private ownership is so concentrated in some areas that a single electricity company from Spain, Endesa, has bought up 80 percent of the water rights in a huge region in the south, causing an uproar. In the north, agricultural producers are competing with mining companies to siphon off rivers and tap scarce water supplies, leaving towns like this one bone dry and withering.
“Everything, it seems, is against us,” said Bartolomé Vicentelo, 79, who once grew crops and fished for shrimp in the Loa River that fed Quillagua.
The population is about a fifth what it was less than two decades ago; so many people have left that he is one of only 120 people still here.
Some economists have hailed Chile’s water rights trading system, which was established in 1981 during the military dictatorship, as a model of free-market efficiency that allocates water to its highest economic use.
But other academics and environmentalists argue that Chile’s system is unsustainable because it promotes speculation, endangers the environment and allows smaller interests to be muscled out by powerful forces, like Chile’s mining industry.
“The Chilean model has gone too far in the direction of unfettered regulation,” said Carl J. Bauer, an expert on Chile’s water markets at the University of Arizona. “It hasn’t thought through the public interest.”
Australia and the western United States have somewhat comparable systems, but they contain stronger environmental regulation and conflict resolution than Chile’s, Dr. Bauer said.
Chile is a stark example of the debate over water crises across the globe. Concerns about shortages plague Chile’s economic expansion through natural resources like copper, fruits and fish — all of which require loads of water in a country with limited supplies of it.
“The dilemma we are facing is whether we can permit ourselves to continue to develop with the same amount of water we have now,” said Rodrigo Weisner, Chile’s water director in the Public Works Ministry.
“There is no political consensus about how to deal with the challenge of producing the resources we have — including the biggest reserves of copper in the world — in a country that has the most arid desert in the world,” Mr. Weisner said.
Fernando Dougnac, an environmental lawyer in Santiago, said that balance was particularly difficult because the “market can regulate for more economic efficiency, but not for more social-economic efficiency.”
Lately, the country’s approach to water has been showing some cracks. In the Atacama desert city of Copiapó, unbridled water trading and a two-year drought mean that “there are many more water rights for the river than water that arrives from the river,” Mr. Dougnac said.
Quillagua is in Guinness World Records as the “driest place” for 37 years, yet it prospered off the Loa River, reaching a population of 800 by the 1940s. A long-haul train stopped here — today the station is abandoned — and the town’s school was near its 120-student capacity. (Today there are 16 students.)
That prosperity first began to ebb in 1987, when the military government reduced the water to the town by more than two-thirds, said Raul Molina, a geographer at the University of Chile. But the big blows came in 1997 and 2000, when two episodes of contamination ruined the river for crop irrigation or livestock during the critical summer months.
An initial study by a professor concluded that the 1997 contamination had probably come from a copper mine run by Codelco, the state mining giant. The Chilean government then hired German experts, who said the contamination had a natural origin.
Chile’s regional Agriculture and Livestock Service, part of the Ministry of Agriculture, refuted those findings in 2000, saying in a report that people, not nature, were responsible. Heavy metals and other substances associated with mineral processing were found that killed off the river’s shrimp and made the water undrinkable for livestock. (Drinking water for residents had been transported in for decades.)
Codelco, the world’s largest copper miner, rejects any responsibility. Pablo Orozco, a company spokesman, said that the river water had been bad for years, and that heavy rains around the time of the contamination episodes had briefly swelled it, sweeping sediments and other substances into the water.
But the debate is largely academic, because without suitable water to raise crops, many residents saw no reason to continue resisting outside offers to buy the water rights in their town. One mining company, Soquimich, or S.Q.M., ended up buying about 75 percent of the rights in Quillagua. Most residents moved away; those who remain average around 50 years old.
“Quillagua cannot resist much longer,” said Alejandro Sanchez, 77, pointing a cane at a parched, grassless field where he once grew corn and alfalfa.
In 2007, the national water agency started investigating claims that Soquimich was extracting even more water from the Loa River than it was due. The inquiry is still pending, officials said, though the company says it has never taken more water than it owns rights to.
But early last year, the regional water authority started satellite monitoring along the Loa. After recording no water at all in the summer of 2007, Quillagua suddenly received small amounts last year, and again this January.
That has made water authorities suspicious that companies had been draining more water than permitted, according to Claudio Lam, a regional director for the Chilean water agency.
Even so, the water arriving in the summer is still not enough to produce crops, said Victor Palape, the chief of the Aymara Indians in Quillagua.
In a cruel twist, the town survives only because of daily water trucks that are partly financed by Codelco and Soquimich, the two companies that residents blame most for their troubles.
Quillagua’s residents remain determined. Mr. Palape, who owns the town’s main restaurant, still dreams of attracting tourists to the 108 meteor crater sites in and around Quillagua.
His sister Gloria is equally proud of Quillagua’s place in history.
“To be able to live in the driest place in the world, with everything that has happened, the people have to be resilient, to be stubborn,” she said. “We are not giving up.”
Pascale Bonnefoy contributed reporting from Santiago, Chile.
To the list of truly terrible ideas, we would like to add the one that is stirring up residents of southwestern Wyoming.
A developer named Aaron Million has proposed to build a private, 560-mile-long, 10-foot-high pipeline from Wyoming’s Green River Basin, along Interstate 80, and then south along Colorado’s Front Range to Denver and Colorado Springs. The pipeline is meant to carry water — more than 80 billion gallons a year. Last week, the Army Corps of Engineers presented the proposal in the town of Green River, Wyo., where it was met with outrage.
What Mr. Million is proposing is legal enough, and he has claimed that he will not build the pipeline if it doesn’t meet strict environmental standards. But there is a problem at both ends of his project. He is proposing to remove billions of gallons of water annually from a rich, aquatic ecosystem.
Doing so would not only harm fish and wildlife in the Green River watershed, it would also encourage new water storage projects — for example, dams and reservoirs — farther upstream that would destroy the character of the river.
But the real problem is this: What water grows on the Front Range is development, nothing else. Mr. Million’s claims to be building an environmentally acceptable pipeline completely omit the fact that there is nothing environmentally sound or sustainable about encouraging new development in an already overpopulated region with already inadequate water supplies.
The path to sustainability for the Front Range is less development, not more.
Mr. Million’s plan faces many obstacles along the way — enough, we hope, to kill it dead. Drawing up an environmental impact statement will take at least three years. But the critical role will be played by the public and its comments.
If the gathering that took place last week in Green River is any indication, opposition to the pipeline will be fierce, and rightly so.
Dorf rutscht ab
Braunwald im Glarnerland bewegt sich stetig hangabwärts. Während man im Dorf das Thema meidet, raten Experten zur Umsiedlung. Seit 100 Jahren wird Braunwald künstlich gestützt, um das Abgleiten des Dorfs zu bremsen.Jede Minute treffen im Vermessungsbüro Terra in Zürich die neusten GPS-Daten aus Braunwald ein. Daten, die den Ingenieuren sagen, was Braunwald bewegt – im wahrsten Sinn des Wortes. Jedes Jahr rutscht der Boden, auf dem das Dorf steht, ein paar Zentimeter abwärts Richtung Tal. Die Bewegung liess sich bis jetzt bloss bremsen, nicht aber stoppen. Und sie wird gemäss Fachleuten auch nie zu stoppen sein.
Braunwald ist ein Bergdorf hinten im Glarnerland, auf einer Terrasse gelegen, auf 1300 Metern über Meer, nur per Standseilbahn erreichbar, sonnige Holzchalets und atemberaubendes Bergpanorama. An einigen Häusern zeugen Risse oder leicht geneigte Fussböden vom unruhigen Untergrund. Wie andere Leute ihre Fotoalben zeigen die Braunwalder, welche Spuren der Berg an ihren vier Wänden hinterlässt. «Es ist hier auf der anderen Seite», sagt Landschaftsgärtner und Familienvater Hansruedi Schnyder und geht rund um das Haus. Er schaut auf den schwarzen Strich, der wie eine Börsenkurve an der Hauswand emporklettert, und sagt: «Mich beunruhigt dies nicht.»
So wie Hansruedi Schnyder sind auch die anderen Braunwalder, deren Häuser in der roten Zone stehen. Der ehemalige Dorflehrer Jakob Frey, 87-jährig, hebt den orangefarbenen Teppich und zeigt die Lücke zwischen Haus und angebautem Windfang. Volg-Ladenbetreiber Ueli Oester zeigt den Spalt an einer Säule im Keller seines Geschäftes und Markus Zweifel vom Backpacker-Hotel «Adrenalin» die Verschiebung zwischen Terrasse und Hotel.
Auch an der Fassade des Gemeindehauses sind ein paar Risse zu sehen. Drinnen im Besprechungszimmer sitzen Gemeindepräsident Heinrich Schiesser und Ingenieur Hans Marti. An der Wand vor ihnen hängt die Zonenkarte von Braunwald. Rot ist das Gebiet schraffiert, in dem seit 2004 Baustopp herrscht. Und die blaue Schraffur bedeutet: Bauen nur unter bestimmten Bedingungen. «Solange die Häuser mit dem Untergrund gleiten und nicht beschädigt werden, ist die Rutschung eigentlich kein Problem», sagt Marti. «In Braunwald ist einzig und allein die Kanzellage ungünstig.» Das bedeutet: der Terrassenboden, der über die Felskante gleitet. 600 Höhenmeter sind es hinunter ins Tal.
Wieso nehmen dies die Braunwalder so gelassen? Der Gemeindepräsident, Landwirt von Beruf und so schnell nicht aus der Ruhe zu bringen, zuckt mit den Schultern. «Es gibt nichts anderes, als damit zu leben», sagt er. Es werde ja alles bestens überwacht. Ingenieur Hans Marti, seit mehr als 30 Jahren mit Braunwald vertraut, sagt: «Wegen der Rutschungen wird es hier oben keine Toten oder Verletzten geben, denn grössere Bewegungen kündigen sich an.»
Auch der letzte grosse Rutsch hatte sich angekündigt. Ende Februar 1999 stürzten die ersten Steinblöcke ins Tal. Im Gelände bei «Bätschen» öffnete sich ein Riss in der Erde. Dann stürzten am 11. März, abends um acht Uhr, Bäume und Erdmasse über die Felskante – zwischen 20 000 und 30 000 Kubikmeter Erde glitten ins Tal. Nur 200 Meter entfernt liegt der Dorfkern von Braunwald, in dem es in dieser Nacht einige Einwohner rumpeln und krachen hören. Auch Landschaftsgärtner Hansruedi Schnyder hört es. Er dreht eine Runde um sein Haus, schaut sich den Börsenkurven-Riss in der Hauswand an. Als er diesen unverändert antrifft, geht er schlafen. Ja, er habe gut geschlafen in jener Nacht.
Auch am Stammtisch in der Dorfbeiz «Adrenalin» sagen die Braunwalder, dass weder die grosse Rutschung von 1999 noch die kleinen permanenten Bewegungen ein Thema bei ihnen seien. Bestenfalls reissen sie einen Witz. Ein Adler-Bräu vor sich auf dem Tisch und eine Zigarre zwischen den Fingern, fragt der Mitarbeiter der Sportbahnen, Martin Bernet: «Seid ihr im Dunkeln angekommen? Ja? Dann habt ihr also nicht gesehen, dass auf der Strecke überall bereits abgerutschte Häuser stehen?» Die Runde lacht.
Wie auf einer Crèmeschnitte
Bereits als das Dorf Anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts entstand, bemerkten die Bauleute Bewegungen des Terrains. Da sich Braunwald mit der 1907 eröffneten Standseilbahn rasch von einer Bauernsiedlung zu einem gefragten Kurort entwickelte, wurden zur Sicherung des Geländes Stützmauern gebaut und Entwässerungskanäle ausgehoben. Allerdings ging man, wie der Geologe Conrad Schindler 1982 in einer Schrift über die Geschichte Braunwalds schrieb, bis in die 1960er Jahre davon aus, dass sich nur der vorderste Teil unmittelbar über der Felskante bewegt. Als man schliesslich feststellte, dass mehrere Quadratkilometer des Hanges talwärts gleiten, sei man sehr überrascht gewesen, schreibt Schindler.
Bohrungen und Messungen geben schliesslich Aufschluss über Braunwalds Boden: Verschiedene Schichten aus der letzten Eiszeit liegen einer Crèmeschnitte gleich über dem harten Fels. Am meisten Schuld für die Bewegung trägt jedoch ein blauer, schmieriger Lehm, auf dem die oberen Schichten dahingleiten. Je mehr Wasser den Weg durch diese Schichten sucht, je grösser der Gleiteffekt.
Jakob Schuler, Präsident der Entwässerungskorporation, öffnet den Deckel zu einem 18 Meter tiefen und 7 Meter breiten Entwässerungsstollen. Einer, wie sie Anfang der 1980er Jahre in einem gigantischen Projekt in den Boden verlegt wurden. Für 4 Millionen Franken wurde der Hang, auf dem das Hotel «Bellevue» stark in Schräglage kam, entwässert. Das Gelände beruhigte sich daraufhin weitgehend. «Damals plante man für den Dorfkern ebenfalls ein solches Bewässerungssystem», sagt Gemeindepräsident Schiesser, «doch die Finanzen fehlten.»
Eigentlich reden die Braunwalder lieber über das Dorf selbst und nicht über seinen geologischen Untergrund. Sie verweisen lieber auf die schönsten Aussichtspunkte, geben Restaurant-Tipps und schwärmen von tollen Freizeitangeboten. Sie geben einem Karten und Prospekte mit, kreuzen darauf das aus ihrer Sicht Beste an und schreiben Hinweise dazu. Das ist ihr Dorf, wie es für sie zählt und wie sie es gerne den Gästen zeigen, die sich im Sommer und Winter hier in den Bergen erholen.
Gerne hätte die Dorfbevölkerung noch ein paar Gäste mehr. Der Tourismus ist in Braunwald vor einigen Jahren ins Stocken geraten. Eine «Quo Vadis»-Gruppe hat sich deshalb in den letzten drei Jahren mit der Zukunft des Dorfes befasst. Sie hatten sich drei Ziele gesteckt: die Hotellerie wieder in Schwung bringen, die finanziell in Schwierigkeiten steckenden Sportbahnen retten und das Dorf langsam, aber sicher an einen stabilen Ort weiter oben am Berg verlegen. Mittlerweile sind die Sportbahnen gerettet, und in Sachen Hotellerie kamen neue Projekte in Gang. Aber die Frage nach der Verlegung des Dorfes steckt noch immer in ihren Anfängen.
Die Bevölkerung zerbricht sich darob nicht gross den Kopf. Im Dorfladen reiht Annarös Gisler Pommes-Chips ins Regal. Die Verlegung der Bahn würde für sie wie auch für die anderen Geschäfte bedeuten, dass sie auf einmal nicht mehr im Zentrum sind. «Man kann sich nicht partout dagegen sträuben und muss die Situation anschauen, wenn es so weit ist», sagt sie. Für Ueli Oester vom Volg-Laden bedeutet die Neuansiedlung der Bergstation, dass «das Dorf hier unten tot ist». Wollten sie weiter existieren, müssten sie dann ebenfalls den Laden verlegen. «Aber dies wird dann eine finanzielle Frage», sagt er.
Bergstation wird versetzt
Kurt Müller, Präsident der «Quo Vadis»-Gruppe, sagt: «Wenn es um die Zukunft von Braunwald geht, ist man sich uneinig, wie schnell man handeln muss.» Die Gruppe war der Meinung, man müsse rasch handeln. Da eine Dorfverlegung gemäss Müller erst dann in Gang kommt, wenn die Bergstation im neuen Gebiet steht, unterbreitete die Gruppe dem Kanton einen entsprechenden Vorschlag. «Wir finden die Idee grundsätzlich gut», sagt Regierungsrat Robert Marti, «doch haben wir die bestehende Bahn Mitte der 1990er Jahre für mehrere Millionen revidiert.» Der Trost für die progressive «Quo Vadis»-Gruppe: Die Behörden haben sich darauf festgelegt, dass die Bergstation bei der nächsten anstehenden Grossinvestition – also in frühestens zehn Jahren – in ein sicheres Gebiet versetzt wird, zum Beispiel in den «Hüttenboden».
Auch die Gemeindebehörde blieb gegenüber der Idee eher zurückhaltend. «Ein Dorf umzusiedeln, ist nicht so einfach», sagt Gemeindepräsident Heinrich Schiesser. «Ich bin nicht sicher, ob es jemals so weit kommt oder überhaupt kommen soll.» Schiesser ist noch bis Ende Juni im Amt. Danach geht Braunwald als Politische Gemeinde auf in der aus 17 Dörfern fusionierten Gemeinde Glarus Süd. Der neu gewählte Gemeinderat für diese «grösste Gemeinde der Schweiz» ist bereits parallel zu den alten Gemeinden an der Arbeit.
Neubeginn als Chance
Einer von den Neuen ist Peter Zweifel aus Braunwald. Für ihn ist eine Umsiedlung sehr wohl ein Thema. Mit einem in ein Leintuch gewickelten Bild unter dem Arm kommt er in die Dorfbeiz. Sorgfältig legt er das Bild auf einen Tisch, wickelt es aus: eine Flugaufnahme von 1926 von Braunwald. «Hier sieht man gut, dass es bereits damals Rutschungen gab», sagt er und zeigt mit dem Finger auf einen Hangrutsch im Bild. «Doch wenn Braunwald sein grosses Potenzial ausschöpfen will, braucht es eine Veränderung.» Zweifel ist überzeugt, dass eine Umsiedlung der richtige Weg ist. Am neuen Standort soll auch ein vom Stararchitekten Peter Zumthor entworfenes Hotel stehen und weitere Investoren anziehen.
Ob er die Bevölkerung für diesen Schritt gewinnen wird? Vor acht Jahren habe er von Fachleuten das erste Mal gehört, dass man Braunwald besser weiter oben neu aufbaue, sagt er. «An diesen Gedanken musste ich mich zuerst gewöhnen.» Wer verlässt schon gern den Heimatboden, auch wenn es nur wegen 500 Metern ist? «Ich hoffe», sagt er und wickelt sein Braunwald-Bild behutsam wieder ins Tuch, damit er es später wieder im Schlafzimmer aufhängen kann, «dass die restliche Bevölkerung diesen Gedanken nun ebenfalls langsam reifen lässt.»
Sarah Fasolin ist freie Journalistin.
of water threatens Iraq's long-term stability
By Serena Chaudhry
RAMADI, Iraq, June 6 (Reuters) - Abdullah Hasan blames chronic water shortages for ruining his crops and has little faith a new government will be able to revive Iraq's agriculture sector, shattered by war and starved of investment.
The 50-year-old father of five from Falluja in western Anbar province was forced to abandon his 50 acres of land and take a job in construction after years of drought killed off his wheat, barley, tomato, cucumber and watermelon harvests.
He has little hope of returning to farming -- his primary source of income for 35 years -- and plans to sell some of his land as water levels in rivers and reservoirs continue to drop, increasing the concentration of pollutants in the water.
"Day after day, the soil situation is deteriorating because the level of salt is increasing and fertility is decreasing. It's like a cancer hitting the human body," Hasan said.
Already damaged by decades of war and sanctions, Iraq has acute water shortages which are expected to worsen as its population of around 30 million grows.
A country dominated by arid desert landscapes, it has one of the most extensive irrigation systems in the world but years of war, underinvestment and sanctions have prevented it from properly harnessing what little water it has left.
Iraq's main rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris, provide little relief to the parched plains as hydroelectric dams in neighbouring Turkey, Iran and Syria have stemmed the water flow.
Investment in dilapidated infrastructure like water pumps is vital for key industries like agriculture and oil, as well as the broader reconstruction effort seven years after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
Parched Anbar province, a vast desert area, has been hit particularly hard. Large areas of formerly arable land by the Euphrates have become unusable because of insufficient methods to pump clean water through the soil.
The United Nations says around 83 percent of sewage is being discharged untreated into waterways, while the government estimates 24 percent of Iraqis do not have access to safe water.
Working with U.S. experts, the government is trying to build treatment plants and biological lagoons to clean polluted water.
In Anbar, a Provincial Reconstruction Team -- a unit set up by the United States to help rebuild Iraq -- has spent over $100 million to build and maintain treatment facilities and expects 97 percent of residents to have clean water by year's end.
Around 90 percent of Anbar's 1.4 million people live along the Euphrates, where water levels have dropped dramatically. The river had an average flow rate of 1,000 cubic metres per second before being dammed and slowed to 290 cubic metres per second last August -- its lowest level in six years.
Iraqi officials say sewage facilities in Anbar are insufficient. A sewage system for the town of Ramadi would cost at least $400 million, they say.
"Where are we going to find investors who will come and invest $400 million in a project like that?" said Ibrahim Madlool, the director general of water for Anbar province.
"We are looking for support from the central government to support us in projects of this magnitude."
The wait may be long. Iraq has been in political limbo since a March 7 election produced no outright winner.
It could take months before a new government is formed and that means delays in new projects that need cabinet approval.
The new government is expected to focus on improving basic services, including negotiating more water supplies from neighbours and focusing on efficient use of the little water Iraq has.
The lack of water threatens development of the oilfields. Iraq has the world's third-largest reserves and struck deals last year which could propel it to major producer status.
But large volumes of water must be pumped under ground to maintain pressure as oil is extracted. Production of a barrel of oil requires around 1.6 barrels of water.
Developing agriculture and the oil sector, which employs more people than any other industry, are seen as crucial for keeping unemployed youth away from the insurgency as Iraq recovers from the sectarian bloodshed of 2006 and 2007.
But Hasan, who earns 2,000 dinars ($1.71) a day in construction, expects little improvement from a new government.
"I don't believe that a conscious government awakening will happen, especially after more than seven years of this deterioration," he said. "I am not optimistic." (Additional reporting by Fadel al-Badrani and Waleed Ibrahim; Writing by Serena Chaudhry; Editing by Noah Barkin)
River Is Withering, and Iraq Has No Answer
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
SIBA, Iraq — The Shatt al Arab, the river that flows from the biblical site of the Garden of Eden to the Persian Gulf, has turned into an environmental and economic disaster that Iraq’s newly democratic government is almost powerless to fix.
Withered by decades of dictatorial mismanagement and then neglect, by drought and the thirst of Iraq’s neighbors, the river formed by the convergence of the Tigris and the Euphrates no longer has the strength the keep the sea at bay.
The salt water of the gulf now pushes up the Faw peninsula. Last year, for the first time in memory, it extended beyond Basra, Iraq’s biggest port city, and even Qurna, where the two rivers meet. It has ravaged fresh-water fisheries, livestock, crops and groves of date palms that once made the area famous, forcing the migration of tens of thousands of farmers.
In a land of hardship and resignation and deep faith, the disaster along the Shatt al Arab appears to some as the work of a higher power. “We can’t control what God does,” said Rashid Thajil Mutashar, the deputy director of water resources in Basra.
But man has had a hand in the river’s decline. Turkey, Syria and Iran have all harnessed the headwaters that flow into the Tigris and Euphrates and ultimately into the Shatt al Arab, leaving Iraqi officials with little to do but plead for them to release more from their modern networks of dams.
The environment problem became particularly acute last year when Iran cut the flow entirely from the Karun River, which meets the Shatt south of Basra, for 10 months. The flow resumed after the winter rains, but at a fraction of earlier levels.
In the 1980s Iran and Iraq fought over the Shatt al Arab, which forms the southernmost border between the countries and is still littered with the rusting hulks of sunken ships from that war. Now, despite improved relations after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the river has once again become a source of diplomatic tension.
A man submerged himself in water from a tank during evening prayers at a temple in Basra, Iraq, because the river-fed canal outside was too polluted. Holly Pickett for The New York Times
“The water is from God,” said Mohammed Sadoon, a farmer and fisherman in the village of Abu Khasib, who sold two water buffaloes last year because he could no longer provide them with potable water from the Shatt. “They shouldn’t seize it from us.”
Iraq’s minister of water resources, Abdul Latif Jamal Rashid, said that the environmental problems and the disputes over water rights were a lingering legacy of dictatorship.
Mr. Hussein diverted the southerly flow of water into a trench during the war with Iran and drained the marshlands of southern Iraq in the 1990s. His belligerence toward Iraq’s neighbors also left the country isolated — and then weakened — when those countries built their dams, siphoning off what for millenniums flowed through Mesopotamia, the land of the two rivers.
“Iraq was in a position neither to reject nor to cooperate with them,” he said in an interview in his office in Baghdad. “They did what they wanted to do.”
In Basra and in the villages that cling to the Iraqi shore of the Shatt, the impact of the disaster has been profound. The fresh waters that once flushed the canals of Basra — the Venice of the Middle East, it was called, though long ago — are fetid and filled with garbage.
The encroaching salt has so polluted supplies of drinking water that the government has scrambled to dig canals from the north that bypass the Shatt — Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki inaugurated one ahead of this year’s national election — and to truck in fresh water to much of the region. Anyone who can afford it avoids tap water, which is salty enough to leave spots on a glass when it dries.
Mr. Mutashar said that Iraq’s acceptable level of salt in the Shatt’s fresh water was 1,500 parts per million; last year the level reached 12,000.
Faris Jassim al-Imara, a chemist at the University of Basra’s Marine Science Center, said he had recorded levels as high as 40,000 parts per million, as well as heavy metals and other pollutants flowing from the north and from Iran’s oil refinery at Abadan, where enormous pipes steadily discharge waste water.
“It’s killing the river and the people,” he said. Here in Siba, across the river from Abadan, the salt water is slowly destroying agriculture, the primary source of income other than oil.
Jalal Fakhir, who with his brothers farms a plot of land that has been in his family for decades, lost his grape vines, five apricot trees, and his entire crop of okra, cucumbers and eggplants. The new date palms he planted two years ago have died; the older ones have held on, but their branches are yellowing, while the annual crop of dates has become meager.
Walking in his emaciated groves, he said, “This used to be paradise.”
Iraq’s leaders, struggling first with the post-Saddam Hussein strife and now with a political impasse that has delayed the formation of a new government, have so far been unable to do much to avert the catastrophe unfolding here, let alone reverse it.
Efficient water management throughout the country remains more a goal than a reality. The government is drafting plans to build its own dam on the Shatt — to keep the sea water out — but the cost and complexity of the idea remains prohibitive, according to Mr. Mutashar.
Iraq has held repeated talks with neighboring countries to increase the river’s flow, resulting in pledges of cooperation, but with a drought hitting the region in recent years, not much more water.
“If our government was good and strong, we would get our rights,” said Hassam Alwan Hamoud, the 71-year-old patriarch of a Bedouin family that lives in reed huts on the marshlands adjoining the Shatt near Abu Khasib. Instead, they move with their water buffaloes as the salt water dictates. “Our government just talks. They are weak.”
Mr. Rashid, the minister of water resources, said the problem was decades in the making and would take decades to address.
One benefit of the country’s democracy, he said, was that the problems had become public, something that did not happen under Mr. Hussein’s rule. “It has come to the surface now,” he said, “because Iraq is a free country.”
Zaid Thaker contributed reporting.
for a Once-Lovely Waterway
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
The polluted Shatt al Arab waterway south of Basra, on Iraq’s border with Iran. Holly Pickett for The New York Times
An oil refinery in Abadan, Iran, can be viewed in the distance. It was plaintive the way that Jabbar Amin Jabbar, chairman of the provincial council in the Iraqi city of Basra, pulled up old photographs of the Shatt al Arab on his computer. More than anything else, it is this waterway that shapes this port city in southern Iraq.
Unnaturally colored postcards from the 1960’s and 70’s showed a pristine waterway – an economic and cultural lifeline in the blazing desert – that no longer exists today.
“They were so beautiful,” he said of the cafes and parks along Basra’s Corniche.
That sense of an irretrievable past makes the environmental and economic disaster facing the Shatt al Arab all the more poignant.
This river, formed by convergence of the Tigris and Euphrates, has been
the contested border between the Arab world and Persia for centuries. It
was the front line of the war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980’s, and
as I note in an article in The Times, the devastation of that war remains
evident in the shattered buildings along its banks and the rusting, half
sunken wrecks of ships in its water.
The fall of Saddam Hussein after the American invasion in 2003 did not end the dictatorial abuse of Iraq’s water resources, and its grave consequences for the Shatt Al Arab exposes that for all the world to see.
While Iraq withered in diplomatic isolation under Mr. Hussein’s rule, Turkey, Syria and Iran built dams that restricted the headwaters of the Tigris, Euphrates and other rivers. Then, after his fall, came more conflict and then drought. The “sweet water” that flushed the Shatt al Arab into the Persian Gulf 120 miles south no longer keeps the salt water of the sea from encroaching.
The effect – on agriculture, on fishing, on supplies of drinking water, on cultural traditions that extend to the beginning of civilization – has been ruinous and is likely only to get worse.
The withering of the Shatt has also compounded the hardship of a badly persecuted and dwindling community of Mandeans, followers of a Gnostic faith that adheres to the preaching of St. John the Baptist.
The canal that passes in front of the community’s only temple here in Basra is no longer flushed clean, making it unfit for worshipers’ rites. They use a pool indoors instead. Engraved script in Aramaic cites a religious duty: “Prepare the flowing water and baptize yourself.”
“Our history here extends back to Adam,” Mazin Naif Rahim, the sect’s only remaining priest, said. The biblical site of the Garden of Eden is believed by many to have been situated at the place where the Shatt al Arab begins, in modern day Qurna.
The notion that pollution and persecution could finally drive out the last of the Mandeans, many of whom have already emigrated, underscores the enormity of the problem.
Any government would be challenged to slow, let alone rectify, the disaster. But Iraq’s new democracy remains weak, its politics fractured and still quick to fuel violence and its corruption and lethargy paralyzing.
“The problem of wars has been solved,” Faaq Fadhil, the director of irrigation in Abu Khassib, a village south of Basra, said. “Now we must solve the problem of the environment.”
By Uttam Kumar Sinha
While Tibet raises a number of controversial questions, one dimension will assume increasing political significance: its water resources. The Tibetan Plateau, known to many as the "Third Pole," is an enormous storehouse of freshwater, believed by some to be the world's largest. It is the headwaters of many of Asia's mighty rivers, including the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Brahmaputra, Indus and Sutlej. These vast water resources are of course vulnerable to environmental challenges, including climate change, but they are subject to an array of political issues as well.
Should China be the lone stakeholder to the fate of the waters in Tibet? What happens in the downstream nations that depend heavily on these rivers? China has exploited all but two rivers from the Tibetan Plateau; an exception is the Nujiang River, which flows through Yunnan province and enters Burma, where it is known as the Salween. China's north-south diversion plans on the Yarlung Zangbo (known in India as Brahamaputra), the other untouched river, are bound to worry India, a downstream state.
China's rise in recent years has been displayed in military capability, economic pace and, now, water diversions. By 2030, China is expected to fall short of its water demands by 25 percent. Its increasingly aggressive hydrobehavior is intended to secure its massive water requirements in its northern and western regions. But control over such a valuable natural resource gives Beijing enormous strategic latitude with its neighbors; when one of those countries is a rival, such as India, it becomes an effective bargaining tool and potential weapon.
Chinese nationalism is based on its aspiration of great-power status and its historic territorial claims. Such claims, for example, over Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh, a state in northeast India, are being driven by China's water needs. Mao Zedong observed in 1952, "The south has a lot of water, the north little. . . . If possible, it is ok to lend a little water." China is looking to exploit the water resources of Tibet and its hardening position on Arunachal -- Beijing considers the northeast Indian state part of its territory and made frequent military forays there this year -- is not merely rhetoric. In laying claims to Arunachal, it is claiming almost 200 million cubic feet per second of water resources in the state.
China, well-accustomed to brinkmanship, is likely to maintain a strategic silence on its river diversion plans, to keep downstream states guessing. (China denies any activity on the Yarlung Zangbo, but publicly reported satellite imagery shows otherwise.) And with no legally binding international treaty on such water-sharing, there is nothing to stop China from manipulating river flows and increasing downstream dependency.
More than 2 billion people in South and Southeast Asia depend on the waters flowing out of Tibet. Building a lower riparian coalition of, say, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam would help cement recognition of Tibet's water as a common resource. India has a diplomatic opportunity here and, given its downriver position, needs to take the initiative. One plus is that India has experience dealing with river treaties. But Tibet's unresolved political status will affect any proposals on how to sustainably manage its water resources and ensure its rivers' natural flow are not disturbed by Chinese diversion plans.
China's moves to encroach on Tibet's water need to be countered by downriver solidarity that includes agreement on multipurpose beneficial use of these resources. Downriver states need to work through legal norms of equitable utilization, "no-harm" policies and restricted Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. This pressure and international attention to defining such vital resources as common would go a long way toward preserving and sharing the waters of Tibet. While such redefinition is politically sensitive, as it clashes with national jurisdiction, it merits attention now given the current and future water requirements of South and Southeast Asia. Collective political and diplomatic pressure over a sustained period will be needed to draw in China to regional arrangements on "reasonable share of water" and frame treaties accordingly.
The concerned downstream states need to raise the issue internationally while also supporting local Tibetans and Chinese environmental lobbies' efforts to highlight the rampant ecological destruction of Tibet brought by dams and artificial diversion plans. A larger debate on basin resource management is needed; it is increasingly clear that rivers are not merely for water provisions but also have ecological functions. One need only look at China's Yangtze and Yellow rivers, both unfit for human use, to understand how important it is to follow the laws of nature regarding Tibet's waters rather than force economic development.
The writer is a research fellow at the nonpartisan Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi.
solami wrote 6/15/2010 11:49:24 AM:
Thinking things over: View from Switzerland
43 year ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson, welcomed some 3500 delegates to the first Water for Peace Conference he had called in Washington. Uttam Kumar Sinha’s commendable „Tibet’s watershed challenge“ (WP, 6/14/10) reminded me of that memorable conference and on various debates we’ve had, over the past decades, on multiple aspects of international river basin developments. Beginning, in the early sixties, with UNESCO’s save the Nubian monuments campaign, the attempt by two riparian states – Sudan and Egypt – to lock in their rights to the Nile water with an agreement focussed on the Aswan High Dam, and efforts to resolve the Nile River Basin’s overall hydrological, ecological, economic and archeological problems with a politically more inclusive and technically more advanced comprehensive alternative approach, i.e. the Gabgaba Project.
Then came the International Law Association’s 1966-adopted «Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers”. The Soviets sought – and then gave up as impractical all plans - to divert some of Siberia’s North-bound rivers southwards by way of nuclearly-dug canals. The Chinese, early on, refused to think out of the box: they stuck to traditional on-river control by building the Three Gorges Dam, instead of seeking to relieve the Yangtze River’s downstream plains by diverting it partially into the upper part of Vietnam’s Red River Basin. Turkey started to built the GAP system without much concern for other riparians. And Iraq, under its current leadership or lack of it, is now too weak to secure its legitimate riparian rights, depends on water handouts by its upstream neighbors. Too busy fighting each other and defending their perks, most of Saddam’s political heirs don’t recognize the opportunities at hand and prove unable to work out comprehensive strategic long-term oil-for-water and other deals which Turkey and other partners could find difficult to reject (www.solami.com/UNGA.htm).
What advice emanates from all these experiences and considerations for visionaries and policy-makers concerned with Asia’s water castle Tibet? In my waning years, I’ve asked myself this question before for Europe’s water castle, my home country Switzerland. And the answers seem to be essentially the same: Assume, think and act in line with the special responsibility that comes with living at the top, and all else falls naturally into place. In others words and as an example, see to it that the quality, quantity and time-pattern of the runoff from your territory is as close as or better than what falls onto or comes into your territory, recognize your downstream riparians’ legitimate related interests, and genuinely consult with them on any related measure you, in execising your sovereign rights, might take (www.solami.com/wasser.htm#Trinkwasser).
The Colorado River’s Future
Last month, Ken Salazar, the secretary of the interior, committed $1.5 million to establish a study group focusing on the Colorado River basin. Modest as the dollar amount sounds, this is a very good investment. The study will be the first of three river basin studies — called the WaterSMART program — aimed at measuring the nation’s water demands and resources, including the potential impacts of climate change.
Starting with the Colorado River makes sense. Since 1922, its water has been allocated among seven Western states under a legal compact. The amount each state can draw from the river is based on water levels measured in 1922, after several wet years.
There is a big gap between the amount of water flowing then — about 16.4 million acre-feet per year — and the actual flow in normal years, which averages about 13.5 million acre-feet. The situation has been made even worse by 11 straight years of drought. The average annual flow in the heart of the drought (2000 to 2004) was 9.6 million acre-feet.
Historical tree-ring samples, whose growth patterns indicate rainfall, suggest that the recent drought is not an anomaly and that drought has been the normal condition in much of the river basin for centuries. And droughts are likely to continue as the climate warms.
So far the states have been making do, thanks to water stored in reservoirs along the river. But they are managing a depleted resource with a forbidding future. Lake Mead, near Las Vegas and the largest reservoir on the river, is at its lowest level since it was first filled 75 years ago. The river’s flow is approaching the low-level mark that would allow states in the upper basin to withhold water from states in the lower basin — a change that would hit Nevada hardest.
The seven states have already begun intensive water conservation efforts. It seems clear that these efforts will have to be redoubled, not only to meet human needs but also to protect the diverse ecosystems the river nourishes on its way from its headwaters in the Colorado Rockies to the Gulf of California. The study will help chart that course, and, from the looks of things, its findings cannot come a moment too soon.
Fall für die Landschaftsdetektive
Von Janina Dörmann
Das Oberharzer Wasserregal ist das bedeutendste vorindustrielle Energiesystem der Welt und war bislang selbst Einheimischen kaum bekannt. Doch das wird sich ändern. Denn die Unesco hat es zum Weltkulturerbe erklärt.Die Kraft des Wassers: Sechzehn Bäume braucht man, um eines der haushohen Räder zu bauen.
08. November 2010 Die Straße führt kurvenreich immer steiler nach oben, das Auto scheint neben den imposanten Tannen mehr und mehr zu schrumpfen, und die Ohren fallen vom wachsenden Höhenunterschied zu. Der Weg in den Harz ist wie die Fahrt in eine Märchenwelt, in der man jeden Moment damit rechnet, dass eine Hexe auf ihrem Besen über den dunklen Tann reitet. Doch heute sollen keine Geisterwesen im Zentrum des Interesses der Kinder stehen. Heute geht es allein um ein herausragendes Zeugnis menschlicher Schöpfungskraft. So hat die Unesco das Harzer Wasserregal genannt. Das macht Eindruck auf die Kinder, auch wenn sie momentan noch dem Irrtum unterliegen, beim neuen Weltkulturerbe handle es sich um eine Art Weinregal, wie sie es aus dem großväterlichen Keller kennen, das anstatt mit Wein mit Mineralwasserflaschen gefüllt ist. Sie sollen im Laufe des Tages schon noch schlauer werden.
Ausgangspunkt der Entdeckungsreise ist das Bergwerks- und Heimatmuseum in Clausthal-Zellerfeld. Dort fragen neuerdings jeden Tag Besucher nach dem Welterbe und suchen eine Art Kassenhäuschen, an dem die Besichtigungstour beginnt. Doch um einen Eindruck von diesem riesigen Wasserwirtschaftssystem zu bekommen, das die Menschen vor achthundert Jahren zu bauen begannen, um die Kraft des Wassers für den Bergbau zu nutzen, muss man sich auf eine zweistündige Wanderung begeben. Die Kinder schlüpfen dabei in die Rolle von Spurensuchern, ausgestattet mit einem Minicomputer und dem Fahndungsspiel "Emil und die Landschaftsdetektive". Sofort sind alle Feuer und Flamme, sind sie doch geübte Kindergeburtstagsbesucher und damit Kenner sämtlicher Variationen von Schatzsuchen. Wie ferngesteuert laufen sie los, jeder ihrer Schritte ist das Ergebnis der Anweisungen aus dem kleinen Kasten, der für sie zu einem Schlüssel zu einem verborgenen Schatz wird: dem mit Abstand größten und ältesten Energiepark der Welt.
Das Geheimnis des Striegels
Was macht die Hütte im See? Eine Anglerunterkunft ist sie nicht, sondern etwas viel Spektakuläreres.
Die sonst ziemlich wanderfaulen Kinder stürmen vorneweg, und die Eltern haben Mühe, hinterherzukommen. Es geht durch eine Landschaft voller Wälder und Teiche, mehr als hundertvierzig Gewässer drängen sich hier auf engem Raum. Dass es sich dabei um ein System zur Energiegewinnung handelt, offenbart sich dem Naturliebhaber aber erst auf den zweiten Blick. Wer ohne "Emil" durch den Harz wandert und die gelben Informationstafeln am Wegesrand ignoriert, könnte sich völlig ahnungslos in einer romantischen Natur wähnen und den ersten Teich mit dem ulkigen Stelzenhäuschen in der Mitte für nichts weiter als einen kristallklaren Bergsee halten. Doch aufgeregt erklären die Kinder ihren Eltern, dass hier nichts ist, wie es scheint: Dort, wo heute der See ist, war früher einmal ein Tal, das geflutet wurde, um Wasser zu speichern. Wäre der künstliche Teich leer, könnte man sehen, dass es am Boden eine Art Stöpsel gibt, den sogenannten Striegel, den man anheben und senken kann, um wie in einer Badewanne das Wasser abzulassen und zu stauen. Jetzt bekommt auch das überdimensionierte Vogelhäuschen auf dem See einen Sinn. Darin befindet sich eine Kurbel, mit der der Striegel betätigt wurde.
Mit staunenden Augen sehen die Kinder das Bild, das nun auf ihrem Bildschirm erscheint: Es zeigt genau die Szenerie, vor der sie gerade stehen, allerdings vor hundert Jahren. Auf der Schwarzweißfotografie erkennen sie den See und das Häuschen, anstelle der hohen Tannen liegt hinter dem Teich jedoch eine kahle Industrielandschaft mit Halden und den Betriebsgebäuden der Bergwerke. Nun soll die Detektivbande herausfinden, was mit dem Wasser passiert, das aus dem Teich läuft. Dazu schickt sie der kleine Navigator zu einem "WWW". Die drei Buchstaben haben allerdings nichts mit dem weltweiten Informationsnetz zu tun, an das die Eltern sofort denken, sondern stehen hier für "Wasser Wander Wege". Die Kinder müssen nach einer Öffnung im Boden suchen, dem Ende eines unterirdischen Grabens. Er läuft auf ein riesiges Rad zu, das durch das abfließende Wasser zum Laufen gebracht wird. Auf diese Weise wurde Energie für den Bergbau erzeugt. Da es im Harz kaum natürliche fließende Gewässer gibt, brachten die Menschen einfach das Regenwasser dazu, die Hänge hinabzurauschen. Was aus den Wolken kam, speicherten sie in Teichen, die kaskadenförmig angeordnet waren, zogen bei Bedarf den Stöpsel und ließen das Wasser über Gräben ablaufen.
Das Recht des Königs
Dieses Energiesystem wurde im Mittelalter angelegt und bis ins achtzehnte Jahrhundert weiterentwickelt. Fünfhundert Kilometer Länge maß zum Schluss das Netz der Wassergräben, die sich durch eine kahle Landschaft ohne einen einzigen Baum zogen. Denn für den Bau des Wassersystems benötigten die Menschen sehr viel Holz. Für ein einziges der haushohen Wasserräder waren sechzehn ausgewachsene Bäume notwendig. Und bis eine Tanne die richtige Größe erreicht hatte, dauerte es achtzig Jahre. Da sind nicht nur die Kinder beeindruckt.
Als sich die Entdeckungstour ihrem Ende nähert, haben die Landschaftsdetektive die beschauliche Seenlandschaft als riesiges Wasserkraftwerk enttarnt. Auch das Rätsel um das vermeintliche Möbelstück zur Sprudelaufbewahrung ist gelöst: Regal leitet sich vom lateinischen "regis" ab, Wasserregal bedeutet also so viel wie das Königsrecht, Wasser für den Bergbau zu nutzen. Nun, da die Kinder ihre Rallye durch die Geschichte erfolgreich abgeschlossen und die Eltern wieder zurück zum Museum gelotst haben, reklamieren die Spurensucher ihren Schatz. Die bemühten Erklärungen der Eltern, das neu erworbene Wissen sei doch eigentlich Belohnung genug, wischen sie ungeduldig beiseite. Wissen ist gut. Aber Schokoladentorte ist besser.
Informationen: Ausgangspunkt für die Wanderung zum Harzer Wasserregal ist das Oberharzer Bergwerksmuseum in Clausthal-Zellerfeld (Telefon: 05323/98950, Internet: www.oberharzerbergwerksmuseum.de, täglich geöffnet von 9 bis 17 Uhr). Dort kann man sich den elektronischen Wanderführer mit dem Suchspiel „Emil und die Landschaftsdetektive“ für fünf Euro ausleihen. Ein tragbarer Klein-Computer für jede weitere Person kostet zwei Euro.
AGREEMENT ON WATER SHARING AT NILE COM MEETINGS
Passed to the Telegraph by WikiLeaks 8:22PM GMT 15 Feb 2011
Ref ID: 09CAIRO1506
Date: 8/4/2009 15:14
Origin: Embassy Cairo
Header: VZCZCXYZ0004PP RUEHWEBDE RUEHEG #1506/01 2161514ZNY SSSSS ZZHP 041514Z AUG 09FM AMEMBASSY CAIROTO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3337
S E C R E T CAIRO 001506 SIPDIS DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ELA, AF/SPG, AF/E, OES FOR SALZBERG E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/29/2019 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, EG SUBJECT: NO AGREEMENT ON WATER SHARING AT NILE COM MEETINGS Classified By: Minister Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs Donald A. Blome for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1.(C) Key Points: -- The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) ministers failed to reach consensus on a Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) for water sharing during July 27-28 meetings in Alexandria, but agreed to a Sudanese proposal to continue CFA negotiations for six months. -- The seven upstream countries and two downstream countries appear far from agreement. Egypt insists on a "guarantee" of its water quota and upstream countries reject this because they want to increase their use of Nile water to develop agricultural industries. -- Numerous meetings between Ethiopian and Egyptian representatives during and subsequent to the conference may signal the possibility for Addis Ababa to play a moderating role between upstream and downstream countries. -- A cooperative mood prevailed at the Nile Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) meetings on July 25-26. Many participants hope that the future focus of the NBI will be on technology transfer and benefit-sharing. -- The British, Canadian, and UNDP representatives all support the creation of a formal government institution as the best way to manage the NBI process.
2.(S) Comment: Egyptian officials were extremely tense during the conference. PM Ahmed Nazif, Minister of Water Resources Mohamed Nasr Al Din Allam, Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Aboul Naga, and the assistant and deputy assistant ministers from the Egyptian MFA's Africa and Sudan offices attended. The broad senior-level participation reflects the paramount importance that the GoE places on the Nile waters issue and its concern over the direction of the NBI. Egypt views access to its quota of Nile waters as a national security issue, and creation of a system that threatens this quota will be seen as an existential threat, possibly forcing Egypt to withdraw from the NBI. Based on discussions among donor countries, there may be an opportunity for Ethiopia to play a moderating role in the current impasse as the only country that has a level of trust from among both upstream and downstream countries. End Comment. ----------------------------------- No Agreement; Negotiations Extended -----------------------------------
3.(C) NBI ministers failed to reach consensus on a CFA for water sharing during July 25-28 meetings in Alexandria, but agreed to continue CFA negotiations for six months. However, the seven upstream countries and two downstream countries are far from reaching an acceptable agreement. Egypt opposed an agreement, proposed by seven upstream countries, to create a Nile Basin Commission to decide on water usage and allocation because it failed to guarantee Egypt's access to 55.5 billion cubic meters of water annually, as guaranteed by the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement. Upstream countries led by Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda argued that climate change has changed the circumstances, making it difficult to rely on rain-fed agriculture, and they need to use Nile water for agriculture, power, fisheries, and other water-dependent industries necessary for their "security." Egypt, with some support from Sudan, maintained that downstream countries must approve any water use by upstream countries that could reduce their "guaranteed quotas" of water and threaten their existence.
4.(C) Mohamed El Mullah, Egyptian MFA cabinet advisor for African Affairs told Poloff on July 30 that Tanzania presented a paper in closed door meetings agreeing to a six-month delay in signing an agreement during which the TAC and negotiation committee will propose solutions on the way forward. However, the Tanzanian paper states that the Kinshasa and Nairobi conferences will serve as the basis for future negotiations. According to El Mullah, Egypt will present a counter-paper stating that Egypt and Sudan believe that the Kinshasa and Nairobi conferences were "improper" and "illegal" and cannot be the basis for any negotiations. Egypt will also assert that article 14 (b) of the CFA on water usage and allocation must be included in a CFA and cannot be part of an annex. -------------------------- Sudan: A More Nuanced View --------------------------
5.(C) Sudan's Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Ali Kamal said on July 27 that "extreme" Nile Basin countries should reconsider attempts to sign the CFA to give time for "cool down" and further negotiations. Kamal El Din Ali, the head of the Sudanese National Congress Party (NCP) office in Cairo told us on July 30 the Government of Sudan proposed the delay in negotiations in Alexandria to avert problems. He said upstream countries listened because they "trust Sudan more than Egypt." Ali acknowledged Egypt is in the most precarious position because it relies on the Nile for 95% of its water needs, while Sudan only gets 60% of its water from the Nile. However, he said Egypt needs to show more flexibility by not insisting on its "historical rights," and blocking Nile development projects in Sudan and other upstream countries. Ali said Egypt should use its expertise to assist upstream countries to better manage water resources and help them to meet their water needs. (Note: Egypt engages in development projects in upstream countries aimed at increasing water flow and reducing evaporation. End Note). --------------------------------------------- -- Egypt and Ethiopia: Compromise or Confrontation --------------------------------------------- --
6.(C) The Egyptian and Ethiopian water ministers met bilaterally behind closed doors on July 26. This meeting was followed by an Eastern Nile (Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan) ministers meeting. Egyptian MFA's El Mullah told us Ethiopia's stated concern with the legality of the Kinshasa and Nairobi meetings earned it Egypt's confidence and respect. According to the African Infrastructure advisor at the British Department for International Development, the successful Eastern Nile meeting showed that there may be growing trust in Ethiopia's role as a broker between the upstream and downstream countries. She said that this could lead to the creation of multi-purpose dams in Ethiopia, which would allow Egypt to draw down Lake Nasser and reduce evaporation in the Nile Basin. (Note Lake Nasser loses more than 10 billion cubic meters per year to evaporation. End Note). A Canadian Emboff who attended the conference told us that Ethiopian Minister of Water Resources Asfaw Dingamo appeared to play a moderating role between Egypt and Sudan on one side and Kenya and Tanzania on the other during the July 28 closed door session.
7.(C) David Grey, Head of Global Water Resources for the World Bank, doubted that Ethiopia and Egypt could reach an agreement on Nile waters in the near future. He said Egyptian President Mubarak and Ethiopian President Meles have taken public positions on Nile water issues that impinge upon their ability to compromise. Grey stated that concessions by either leader would be viewed as a capitulation by their respective populations. ----------------------------------------- Spirit of Cooperation Prevails in the TAC -----------------------------------------
8.(C) All nine countries praised the work of the Nile TAC, which preceded the ministerial meetings on July 25-26, in implementing development projects. According to Egypt's TAC chair Wael Khairy, the NBI currently has 25 development projects in numerous Nile Basin countries. However, he noted privately that none were in Egypt. Mirey Atallah, Regional Team Leader at the UNDP, said the future of the NBI must focus on concept of technology transfer and benefit-sharing under the auspices of the TAC. She stated that even if future water quotas are reduced, different technologies that can increase "production per drop" would help enhance agricultural production throughout the Nile Basin. Atallah stated that Egypt is the most technologically advanced of the NBI countries, possesses the "best economy," and must realize the responsibilities that come with being the basin's "hegemon." She said the NBI stresses regional cooperation, which she contends is intended to level the playing field and benefit the less developed countries. El Mullah stated the GoE is anxious to continue helping with development projects in other NBI countries, but in return it needs to guarantee its water rights. Otherwise, Egypt fears "the NBI is all give and no take." --------------------------------------------- --------- Need for an Regional Institution to Manage the Process --------------------------------------------- ---------
10.(C) The British, Canadian, and UNDP representatives all support the creation of a formal government institution as the best way to manage the NBI process. The World Bank's Grey said the Bank is not opposed to the formation of a formal institution before resolving the status of water rights, but opined that Egypt will never agree. Egyptian MFA's El Mullah told us that Egypt may consider supporting the formation of a formal Nile Basin institution that made decisions based on "consensus." However, he expressed concern that if the GoE engages in upstream development and agrees to defer work on water usage and allocation, it will be left hanging without a future "guarantee" that it can obtain its water rights. ------------------------------------------ Egyptian Water Minister Attempts To Engage ------------------------------------------
11.(C) Dr. Abdel Fattah Metawie, Chairman of the Nile Water section in the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources said the African delegations are often difficult to engage with because they have a "racial and tribal orientation." However, he told us Minister Allam had a made it a priority to reach out to the Africans to work cooperatively on riparian issues. Allam was very friendly to all participants and he personally greeted all people in the room. He made a proactive effort to engage with African delegations. However, Grey blamed Allam for the current impasse. He said Allam's "harsh approach" in Kinshasa where he "demanded Egypt's historical rights" and the DRC's poor management had created a "divided group." SCOBEY
Admits Problems With Three Gorges Dam
By MICHAEL WINES
The Three Gorges Dam faces problems involving pollution and geological disaster prevention. Reuters
BEIJING — The Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric project and a symbol of China’s confidence in risky technological solutions, is troubled by urgent pollution and geologic problems, a high-level government body acknowledged Thursday.
The statement came as technicians were certifying the very last of the dam’s array of generators as suitable for hydroelectric generation, the final step in a contentious 19-year effort to complete the project in defiance of domestic and international concerns over its safety as well as threats to the environment, displaced people, historical areas and natural beauty.
According to official figures, the venture cost China about $23 billion, but outside experts estimate it may have cost double that amount. The dam has been plagued by reports of floating archipelagoes of garbage, carpets of algae and landslides on the banks along the vast expanse of still water since the 600-foot-tall dam on the Yangtze River was completed in 2006. Critics also have complained that the government has fallen far short of its goals in helping to resettle the 1.4 million people displaced by the rising waters behind the dam.
China’s State Council, a coordinating body often likened to the United States president’s cabinet, said in a vague statement that the project suffered from a wide range of serious problems. “Although the Three Gorges project provides huge comprehensive benefits, urgent problems must be resolved regarding the smooth relocation of residents, ecological protection and geological disaster prevention,” the statement said.
The huge dam is meeting the government’s goal of producing pollution-free electric power, the government said, generating 84 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity last year. But critics say the sheer weight of water backed up in the 410-mile-long reservoir behind the dam has increased the danger of earthquakes and landslides. The government has acknowledged that risk, but denied that the project played any role in China’s powerful May 2008 quake in Sichuan Province, in which at least 87,000 people died.
Environmentalists say the lake has become a repository for the waste dumped by cities and industries.
Even the dam’s ability to regulate the notoriously changeable flow of the 3,900-mile-long Yangtze, one of China’s two major rivers, has been called into question. Faced with a historic drought this spring, cities downstream of the dam have been unable to accommodate oceangoing vessels that usually visit their ports, and about 400,000 residents of Hubei Province lost access to drinking water this month.
Although no link has been proved, critics say the dam has changed regional water tables, contributing to the shortage.
The government statement on the dam was released after a meeting led by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, seen by many outsiders as more responsive to average citizens’ complaints than many others in the nation’s leadership. The statement said that some problems were anticipated during the dam’s construction, but that others “arose because of new demands posed by economic and social development.”
China’s rulers may be most concerned by the impact of the dam on the displaced masses, many of whom appear to have failed to rebuild their lives after being evicted from the land covered by the reservoir. By 2020, the statement promised, displaced residents would enjoy living standards equal to those who had not been displaced.
The Three Gorges project has been dogged by skeptics, even within China’s bureaucracy, since it was approved in 1992. Environmentalists said it would destroy a stunning landscape of limestone cliffs regarded as one of the world’s most scenic sites, and skeptics warned that the new lake would lead to geologic and pollution problems.
Orville Schell, an environmental expert who leads the Asia Society’s Center on United States-China Relations, said he hoped that the government’s statement signaled a commitment to address the dam’s problems.
“There’s a kind of a balance sheet of benefits and liabilities that have come out of this project,” Mr. Schell said. “My sense is that the Chinese government is getting better and better at collecting information about things like this.” He added, “They know if they don’t fix these problems there will be dire consequences.”
Ambitious Plan for China’s Water Crisis Spurs Concern
By EDWARD WONG
DANJIANGKOU, China — A chronic drought is ravaging farmland. The Gobi Desert is inching south. The Yellow River, the so-called birthplace of Chinese civilization, is so polluted it can no longer supply drinking water. The rapid growth of megacities — 22 million people in Beijing and 12 million in Tianjin alone — has drained underground aquifers that took millenniums to fill.
Not atypically, the Chinese government has a grand and expensive solution: Divert at least six trillion gallons of water each year hundreds of miles from the other great Chinese river, the Yangtze, to slake the thirst of the north China plain and its 440 million people.
The engineering feat, called the South-North Water Diversion Project, is China’s most ambitious attempt to subjugate nature. It would be like channeling water from the Mississippi River to meet the drinking needs of Boston, New York and Washington. Its $62 billion price tag is twice that of the Three Gorges Dam, which is the world’s largest hydroelectric project. And not unlike that project, which Chinese officials last month admitted had “urgent problems,” the water diversion scheme is increasingly mired in concerns about its cost, its environmental impact and the sacrifices poor people in the provinces are told to make for those in richer cities.
Three artificial channels from the Yangtze would transport precious water from the south, which itself is increasingly afflicted by droughts; the region is suffering its worst one in 50 years. The project’s human cost is staggering — along the middle route, which starts here in Hubei Province at a gigantic reservoir and snakes 800 miles to Beijing, about 350,000 villagers are being relocated to make way for the canal. Many are being resettled far from their homes and given low-grade farmland; in Hubei, thousands of people have been moved to the grounds of a former prison.
“Look at this dead yellow earth,” said Li Jiaying, 67, a hunched woman hobbling to her new concrete home clutching a sickle and a bundle of dry sticks for firewood. “Our old home wasn’t even being flooded for the project and we were asked to leave. No one wanted to leave.”
About 150,000 people had been resettled by this spring. Many more will follow. A recent front-page article in People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, said the project “has entered a key period of construction.”
Some Chinese scientists say the diversion could destroy the ecology of the southern rivers, making them as useless as the Yellow River. The government has neglected to do proper impact studies, they say. There are precedents in the United States. Lakes in California were damaged and destroyed when the Owens River was diverted in the early 20th century to build Los Angeles.
Here, more than 14 million people in Hubei would be affected if the project damaged the Han River, the tributary of the Yangtze where the middle route starts, said Du Yun, a geographer at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan, the provincial capital.
Officials in provinces south of Beijing and Tianjin have privately raised objections and are haggling over water pricing and compensation; midlevel officials in water-scarce Hebei Province are frustrated that four reservoirs in their region have sent more than 775 million cubic meters, or 205 billion gallons, of water to Beijing since September 2008 in an “emergency” supplement to the middle route.
Overseers of the eastern route, which is being built alongside an ancient waterway for barges called the Grand Canal, have found that the drinking water to be brought to Tianjin from the Yangtze is so polluted that 426 sewage treatment plants have to be built; water pollution control on the route takes up 44 percent of the $5 billion investment, according to Xinhua, the official news agency. The source water from the Han River on the middle route is cleaner. But the main channel will cross 205 rivers and streams in the industrial heartland of China before reaching Beijing.
“When water comes to Beijing, there’s the danger of the water not being safe to drink,” said Dai Qing, an environmental advocate who has written critically about the Three Gorges Dam.
“I think this project is a product of the totalitarian regime in Beijing as it seeks to take away the resources of others,” she added. “I am totally opposed to this project.”
Ms. Dai and some Chinese scholars say the government should instead be limiting the population in the northern cities and encouraging water conservation.
The project’s official Web site says that the diversion “will be an important and basic facility for mitigating the existing crisis of water resources in north China” and that sufficient studies have been done. Wang Jian, a former environmental and water management official with the Beijing government and the State Council, China’s cabinet, agreed that the project “carries huge risks,” but he said there were no other options given the severity of the current water shortage.
The middle route is to start major operations in 2014, and the eastern route is expected to be operational by 2013. The lines were originally supposed to open by the 2008 Summer Olympics, but have been hobbled by myriad problems.
The diversion project was first studied in the 1950s, after Mao uttered: “Water in the south is abundant, water in the north scarce. If possible, it would be fine to borrow a little.”
In a country afflicted by severe cycles of droughts and floods and peasant rebellions that often resulted from them, control of water has always been important to Chinese rulers. Emperors sought to legitimize their rule with large-scale water projects like the Grand Canal or the irrigation system in Dujiangyan.
After the initial studies in the 1950s, the government did not look seriously again at the project until the 1990s, when north China was hit hard by droughts. In 2002, the State Council gave the green light for work to start on the middle and eastern routes; the western route, which would run at an average altitude of 10,000 to 13,000 feet across the Tibetan plateau to help irrigate the Yellow River basin, has been deemed too difficult to start for now.
Officials in Tianjin are so skeptical of the eastern route’s ability to deliver drinkable water that they are looking at desalinization as an alternative. Planners have more hope for the middle route, though the engineering is a much greater challenge — the canal has to be built entirely from scratch, with 1,774 structures constructed along its length to channel the water, since there is no pre-existing waterway like the Grand Canal to follow.
At the start of the route, the water level of the Danjiangkou Reservoir on the Han River has been raised 43 feet to 558 feet so that the water can flow downhill to Beijing. The government said the rising waters and a need to combat soil erosion necessitated moving 130,000 farmers last year from around the reservoir. Similar relocations are taking place all along the main channel, which runs through four provinces.
About 1,300 residents of Qingshan township have been moved to Xiangbei Farm, desolate land where a prison once stood. The villagers now live in sterile rows of yellow concrete houses 125 miles east of their abandoned ancestral homes. A government sign in the middle of the settlement says: “The land is fertile and has complete irrigation systems.”
The farmers know better. Each person is supposed to get a small plot of land free, but the soil here is well known to be exceedingly poor. The people also complain that in the government’s compensation formula, their old homes were undervalued, so many have had to pay several thousand dollars to buy new homes.
“There’s nothing here,” said Huang Jiuguo, 57. “There’s no enterprise. Our children are grown, and they need something to do.”
For three days last November, thousands of residents of a resettlement area in Qianjiang city blocked roads to protest poorly built homes and lack of promised compensation, according to a report by Radio Free Asia. Officials ordered the police to break up the rally, resulting in clashes, injuries and arrests.
Forced relocations, though, could pale next to larger fallouts from the project.
“We feel that we are still unsure how the project is going to impact on the environment, ecologies, economies and society at large,” said Mr. Du, the geographer in Wuhan, who carefully added he was not outright opposed to the project.
The central question for people in Hubei is whether the Han River, crucial to farming and industrial production hubs, will be killed to keep north China alive.
In a paper published in the Bulletin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Mr. Du and two co-authors estimated that the diversion project would reduce the flow of the middle and lower stretches of the Han significantly, “leading to an uphill situation for the prevention of water pollution and ecological protection.” Though the study first appeared in 2006, the government has not altered its original plan, Mr. Du said.
Central planners decided on the amount of water to be diverted based on calculations of water flow in the Han done from the 1950s to the early 1990s; since then, the water flow has dropped, partly because of prolonged droughts, but planners have made no adjustments, Mr. Du said. The amount to be diverted is more than one-third of the annual water flow. “That will exert a huge damaging impact on the river,” he said.
The Han River is already facing enormous challenges — industries are discharging more and more pollutants, companies are dredging sand to feed construction needs in nearby cities and algal bloom has hit the river hard. The diversion of water to Beijing will add to the pressures. “If the water quality cannot be ameliorated effectively, the aquatic life populations will be further decimated,” Mr. Du and his co-authors wrote.
The diversion from the Han is necessitating more complex projects to raise water levels. One side diversion brings water from the Yangtze to the Han. Another would bring water from the Three Gorges reservoir to the Danjiangkou reservoir.
Government officials in the south are keenly aware of the changes coming to the Han. In Xiangfan, officials have shuttered some small factories like paper producers and forced others to use more nonpolluting materials, said Yun Jianli, director of the environmental advocacy group Green Han River. “The local government is very concerned about the river and impact of the diversion project,” she said.
The political conflicts are obvious. Mr. Du, a member of the provincial consultative legislature, said officials in Hubei had been in constant negotiations with officials in Beijing for compensation. In the 1990s, the central government proposed a package of water projects valued at $50 million at the time to help Hubei. After rounds of negotiations, the current proposal for supplemental water projects is estimated at more than $1 billion.
The demands of the north will not abate. Migration from rural areas means Beijing’s population is growing by one million every two years, according to an essay in China Daily written last October by Hou Dongmin, a scholar of population development at Renmin University of China. “With its dwindling water resources, Beijing cannot sustain a larger population,” Mr. Hou said. “Instead, it should make serious efforts to control the population, if not reduce it.”
Beijing has about 100 cubic meters, or 26,000 gallons, of water available per person. According to a standard adopted by the United Nations, that is a fraction of the 1,000 cubic meters, or 260,000 gallons, per person that indicates chronic water scarcity.
The planning for Beijing’s growth up to 2020 by the State Council already assumes the water diversion will work, rather than planning for growth with much less water, said Mr. Wang, the former official.
City planners see a Beijing full of golf courses, swimming pools and nearby ski slopes — the model set by the West.
“Instead of transferring water to meet the growing demand of a city, we should decide the size of a city according to how much water resources it has,” Mr. Wang said. “People’s desire for development has no end.”
Li Bibo, Jonathan Kaiman and Jimmy Wang contributed research from Beijing.
the Nile Runs Dry
By LESTER R. BROWN, Washington
A NEW scramble for Africa is under way. As global food prices rise and exporters reduce shipments of commodities, countries that rely on imported grain are panicking. Affluent countries like Saudi Arabia, South Korea, China and India have descended on fertile plains across the African continent, acquiring huge tracts of land to produce wheat, rice and corn for consumption back home.
Some of these land acquisitions are enormous. South Korea, which imports 70 percent of its grain, has acquired 1.7 million acres in Sudan to grow wheat — an area twice the size of Rhode Island. In Ethiopia, a Saudi firm has leased 25,000 acres to grow rice, with the option of expanding. India has leased several hundred thousand acres there to grow corn, rice and other crops. And in countries like Congo and Zambia, China is acquiring land for biofuel production.
These land grabs shrink the food supply in famine-prone African nations and anger local farmers, who see their governments selling their ancestral lands to foreigners. They also pose a grave threat to Africa’s newest democracy: Egypt.
Egypt is a nation of bread eaters. Its citizens consume 18 million tons of wheat annually, more than half of which comes from abroad. Egypt is now the world’s leading wheat importer, and subsidized bread — for which the government doles out approximately $2 billion per year — is seen as an entitlement by the 60 percent or so of Egyptian families who depend on it.
As Egypt tries to fashion a functioning democracy after President Hosni Mubarak’s departure, land grabs to the south are threatening its ability to put bread on the table because all of Egypt’s grain is either imported or produced with water from the Nile River, which flows north through Ethiopia and Sudan before reaching Egypt. (Since rainfall in Egypt is negligible to nonexistent, its agriculture is totally dependent on the Nile.)
Unfortunately for Egypt, two of the favorite targets for land acquisitions are Ethiopia and Sudan, which together occupy three-fourths of the Nile River Basin. Today’s demands for water are such that there is little left of the river when it eventually empties into the Mediterranean.
The Nile Waters Agreement, which Egypt and Sudan signed in 1959, gave Egypt 75 percent of the river’s flow, 25 percent to Sudan and none to Ethiopia. This situation is changing abruptly as wealthy foreign governments and international agribusinesses snatch up large swaths of arable land along the Upper Nile. While these deals are typically described as land acquisitions, they are also, in effect, water acquisitions.
Now, when competing for Nile water, Cairo must deal with several governments and commercial interests that were not party to the 1959 agreement. Moreover, Ethiopia — never enamored of the agreement — has announced plans to build a huge hydroelectric dam on its branch of the Nile that would reduce the water flow to Egypt even more.
Because Egypt’s wheat yields are already among the world’s highest, it has little potential to raise its agricultural productivity. With its population of 81 million projected to reach 101 million by 2025, finding enough food and water is a daunting challenge.
Egypt’s plight could become part of a larger, more troubling scenario. Its upstream Nile neighbors — Sudan, with 44 million people, and Ethiopia, with 83 million — are growing even faster, increasing the need for water to produce food. Projections by the United Nations show the combined population of these three countries increasing to 272 million by 2025 — and 360 million by 2050 — from 208 million now.
Growing water demand, driven by population growth and foreign land and water acquisitions, are straining the Nile’s natural limits. Avoiding dangerous conflicts over water will require three transnational initiatives. First, governments must address the population threat head-on by ensuring that all women have access to family planning services and by providing education for girls in the region. Second, countries must adopt more water-efficient irrigation technologies and plant less water-intensive crops.
Finally, for the sake of peace and future development cooperation, the nations of the Nile River Basin should come together to ban land grabs by foreign governments and agribusiness firms. Since there is no precedent for this, international help in negotiating such a ban, similar to the World Bank’s role in facilitating the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan, would likely be necessary to make it a reality.
None of these initiatives will be easy to implement, but all are essential. Without them, rising bread prices could undermine Egypt’s revolution of hope and competition for the Nile’s water could turn deadly.
Lester R. Brown is the president of the Earth Policy Institute and the author of “World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse.”
in Farm Runoff Rattle States on the Mississippi
By LESLIE KAUFMAN
Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, right, with Gordon Wassenaar during a visit to his farm in Prairie City, Iowa - Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
As the surging waters of the Mississippi pass downstream, they leave behind flooded towns and inundated lives and carry forward a brew of farm chemicals and waste that this year — given record flooding — is expected to result in the largest dead zone ever in the Gulf of Mexico.
Dead zones have been occurring in the gulf since the 1970s, and studies show that the main culprits are nitrogen and phosphorus from crop fertilizers and animal manure in river runoff. They settle in at the mouth of the gulf and fertilize algae, which prospers and eventually starves other living things of oxygen.
Government studies have traced a majority of those chemicals in the runoff to nine farming states, and yet today, decades after the dead zones began forming, there is still little political common ground on how to abate this perennial problem. Scientists who study dead zones predict that the affected area will increase significantly this year, breaking records for size and damage.
For years, environmentalists and advocates for a cleaner gulf have been calling for federal action in the form of regulation. Since 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency has been encouraging all states to place hard and fast numerical limits on the amount of those chemicals allowed in local waterways. Yet of the nine key farm states that feed the dead zone, only two, Illinois and Indiana, have acted, and only to cover lakes, not the rivers or streams that merge into the Mississippi.
The lack of formal action upstream has long been maddening to the downstream states most affected by the pollution, and the extreme flooding this year has only increased the tensions.
“Considering the current circumstances, it is extremely frustrating not seeing E.P.A. take more direct action,” said Matt Rota, director of science and water policy for the Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental advocacy group in New Orleans that has renewed its calls for federally enforced targets. “We have tried solely voluntary mechanisms to reduce this pollution for a decade and have only seen the dead zone get bigger.”
Environmental Protection Agency officials said they had no immediate plans to force the issue, but farmers in the Mississippi Basin are worried. That is because only six months ago, the agency stepped in at the Chesapeake Bay, another watershed with similar runoff issues, and set total maximum daily loads for those same pollutants in nearby waterways. If the states do not reduce enough pollution over time, the agency could penalize them in a variety of ways, including increasing federal oversight of state programs or denying new wastewater permitting rights, which could hamper development. The agency says it is too soon to evaluate their progress in reducing pollution.
Don Parish, senior director of regulatory relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, a trade group, says behind that policy is the faulty assumption that farmers fertilize too much or too casually. Since 1980, he said, farmers have increased corn yields by 80 percent while at the same time reducing their nitrate use by 4 percent through precision farming.
“We are on the razor’s edge,” Mr. Parish said. “When you get to the point where you are taking more from the soil than you are putting in, then you have to worry about productivity.”
Dead zones are areas of the ocean where low oxygen levels can stress or kill bottom-dwelling organisms that cannot escape and cause fish to leave the area. Excess nutrients transported to the gulf each year during spring floods promote algal growth. As the algae die and decompose, oxygen is consumed, creating the dead zone. The largest dead zone was measured in 2002 at about 8,500 square miles, roughly the size of New Jersey. Shrimp fishermen complain of being hurt the most by the dead zones as shrimp are less able to relocate — but the precise impacts on species are still being studied.
The United States Geological Survey has found that nine states along the Mississippi contribute 75 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus. The survey found that corn and soybean crops were the largest contributors to the nitrogen in the runoff, and manure was a large contributor to the amount of phosphorus.
There are many other factors, of course, that determine what elements make it from crops into river water, for example, whether watersheds are protected by wetlands or buffer strips of land.
John Downing, a biogeochemist and limnologist at Iowa State University, said structural issues were also to blame. Many farms in Iowa, he said, are built on former wetlands and have drains right under the crop roots that whisk water away before soils can absorb and hold on to at least some of the fertilizer.
Still, overapplication of fertilizers remains a key contributor, he said. “For farmers, the consequences of applying too little is much riskier than putting too much on.”
Hemmed in by the antiregulatory mood of Congress and high food costs, the Obama administration has looked to combat Mississippi River pollution through an incentive program introduced in 2009 by the Department of Agriculture that encourages a variety of grass-roots solutions, from wetlands creation to educating farmers on just-in-time application.
The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative provides $320 million in grant money, which has so far been spread among 700 projects in 12 states, projects proposed by farmers, environmental groups and local governments. So far, the department says the results are quite promising. Phosphorus and nitrogen found in surface runoff from 150,000 acres enrolled in the program have decreased by nearly 50 percent.
That amount of land is just a drop in the bucket for the vast Mississippi watershed, but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack thought it was promising enough to invite the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa P. Jackson, to visit one of the farms in the program.
“There is fear, real fear, in Iowa that we’ll take what we’re doing in Chesapeake Bay and transfer it here without regard to what’s already happening on the ground,” she said during her trip in April, adding she appreciated the opportunity “to ensure that isn’t our approach.”
Mr. Vilsack said that farmers had come a long way toward understanding their effect on ecosystems downstream and that what they needed were government incentives and creation of private markets — where, for example, farmers who do a lot of conservation could receive payments from farmers who do not — to help them improve environmental safeguards while they also keep food production high.
“A lot of folks are basing criticism and concerns on the way agriculture was, not the way it is now,” Mr. Vilsack said in a phone interview. “We as a nation have an expansive appetite for inexpensive food. To produce more, you have to turn to strategies like chemicals and pesticides.”
That stance infuriates Dave Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now!, an Iowa nonprofit that advocates for smaller organic farms. He argues that voluntary programs are a subterfuge.
“As is standard in Iowa and other states, voluntary regulation by the polluters and the industry themselves is the preferred method of getting around any serious environmental enforcement,” he said.
Even some farmers do not disagree. Chris Petersen, president of the Iowa Farmers Union, which represents small farmers, said the country’s policy were not working. “We’ve been trying to do this for years, and we are just not turning the corner.”
This article has been revised
to reflect the following correction:
Correction: June 3, 2011
An earlier version of this article used an incorrect spelling of a chemical that runs off into rivers from crop fertilizers and animal manure. It is phosphorus, not phosphorous.
The Return of the Elwha River
Over the next three years, two huge hydroelectric dams on the Elwha River in Washington State, built early in the last century, will be dismantled to restore ancient salmon runs. This is a tribute to the tenacity of the citizens and environmental groups who helped make it happen. It is also an example of the good that can be done with genuine bipartisan collaboration.
President George H. W. Bush signed the original bill authorizing restoration of the Elwha River ecosystem in 1992. President Bill Clinton persuaded Congress to provide the money to tear down the dams. Regulators in three administrations conducted the environmental studies and the detailed negotiations with local communities and the dams’ private owners.
The dams have long outlived their usefulness as power generators. But their presence has taken a huge environmental and economic toll. Runs that once numbered about 400,000 salmon a year dropped to fewer than 3,000 after the dams blocked migratory routes, robbing Indian tribes of income and the region of tourists and sportsmen.
The project’s eventual cost is estimated at $350 million. That includes dismantling the dams and revegetating 70 miles of newly free-flowing river. Some biologists believe the fish will eventually reach their pre-dam peak.
Rather than celebrate this progress, Republicans in Congress are determined to gut the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which jump-started the Elwha project. And they are blocking the nomination of Rebecca Wodder to be assistant secretary of the interior, in part because of her advocacy for dam removal as president of the conservation group American Rivers.
The Elwha project is a reminder that there was a time when Republican leaders cared about the environment and understood that protecting it could also be good business. Where have they gone?
Wie ein Schweizer Ingenieur auch kleine Stufen in Flüssen nutzbar machen will
Ein neuartiges Kraftwerk könnte die Nutzung von Wasserkraft verändern. Es sei billiger und umweltfreundlicher als herkömmliche Kraftwerke, versprechen die Entwickler. Erste Pilotanlagen sind in Planung.Wasserkraft ist in der Schweiz die wichtigste erneuerbare Energie. Auf dem Bild: Die Staumauer Lago da l'Albigna in der Nähe von Vicosporano. (Bild: Keystone/Alessandro Della Bella)
Wasserkraft ist in der Schweiz die wichtigste erneuerbare Energiequelle. Sie deckt fast 60 Prozent des Strombedarfs. Doch auch wenn sie als CO 2 -arme Energie zum Klimaschutz beiträgt und Ressourcen schont, ist die Wasserkraft lokal meist mit erheblichen Eingriffen in die Gewässerökologie verbunden. Bei herkömmlichen Kraftwerken wird entweder ein Teil des Wassers zu einem Kraftwerk hingeleitet, oder der Fluss wird auf seiner ganzen Breite von einem Stauwerk abgesperrt.
Hilfe für Fische
Die Eingriffe gehen nicht spurlos am Ökosystem vorüber. Fische beispielsweise haben oft keine Möglichkeit, die Absperrungen zu passieren. Zwar haben die Wasserbauer die Aufwärtswanderung von Fischen durch Fischtreppen mittlerweile gut im Griff. Die Abwärtswanderung hingegen überstehen die Tiere oft nicht. Sie folgen nämlich der grössten Strömung, und die führt naturgemäss durch die Turbinen. Grosse Fische werden gegen den Rechen gedrückt und dabei verletzt, kleine schlüpfen hindurch, kommen dann aber in der Turbine zu Schaden. Die Nutzung von Wasserkraft ist nicht zuletzt deshalb durchaus umstritten.
Nun haben Forscher der Technischen Universität in München (TUM) einen Kraftwerkstyp patentieren lassen, der sowohl ökologisch verträglich als auch besonders wirtschaftlich sein soll: das sogenannte Schachtkraftwerk. Es kommt ohne Ausleitungen oder die komplette Absperrung eines Gewässers aus und kann auch an Orten eingesetzt werden, wo ein herkömmliches Kraftwerk nicht wirtschaftlich wäre, weil die hydraulische Leistung des Flusses im Vergleich zu den Baukosten zu gering ist.
Möglich macht das eine neue Architektur (siehe Grafik). Der Einlass zur Turbine ist in die Sohle des Flusses integriert, nicht in die Staumauer wie bei herkömmlichen Kraftwerken. Die nötige Fallhöhe von mindestens einem Meter ergibt sich durch bereits bestehende Abstürze – zum Beispiel Wehre an früheren Mühlenstandorten oder Schwellen, die Flüssen im alpinen oder voralpinen Gelände ihre erosive Kraft nehmen. Vom Kraftwerk selbst ist von aussen nichts zu sehen. Turbine und Generator befinden sich in einem Schacht vor dem Absturzbauwerk.
Einer der Vordenker des neuartigen Kraftwerks ist der Schweizer Peter Rutschmann, seit 2007 Professor am Lehrstuhl für Wasserbau der TUM. In einem Modellversuch in der Versuchsanstalt am Walchensee in Bayern haben Rutschmann und sein Team das Kraftwerk einem Testlauf unterzogen. Vorstellen muss man sich das Modell im Massstab 1:5 wie eine überdimensionale Badewanne aus Beton, an deren einem Ende das Wasser eine Wehrmauer überströmt. Genau davor liegt der quadratische, aus Beton gegossene Einlaufschacht des Kraftwerks, der an Lichtschächte im Keller erinnert.
Der weitaus grösste Teil des Wassers fliesst durch den Schacht ab zur Turbine und dann unter dem Wehr hindurch zurück in den Fluss. Eine geringe Wassermenge strömt aber weiterhin über das Wehr. Dies ist nötig, weil sich sonst über dem Rechen ein Wirbel bilden würde – so wie beim Ausfluss der Badewanne. Das würde die Turbine erheblich schädigen. Wie die Forscher herausgefunden haben, reicht schon eine kleine Überströmung von 5 Prozent des Abflusses, um eine solche Wirbelbildung zu vermeiden. Der nützliche Nebeneffekt: Fische lassen sich mit dem Wasser über die Dammkrone treiben und folgen dem Flusslauf ganz natürlich.
Aussparungen in der Dammkrone erhöhen die Durchlässigkeit für Fische zusätzlich. So können auch grössere Tiere das Hindernis überwinden. Ein Versuch mit unterschiedlich grossen Aiteln, Forellen und Barben zeigte, dass keiner der Fische an den Rechen angepresst und dadurch geschädigt wurde. Zwei Drittel der Fische wanderten über Nacht vom Ober- ins Unterwasser ab. So können auch die strengen Vorgaben der EU-Wasserrahmenrichtlinie erfüllt werden. Sie fordern, dass alle Querbauwerke an Flüssen, die höher als 30 Zentimeter sind, durchgängig sein müssen.
Das Herz des Schachtkraftwerks bilden neuartige Turbinen, die für Windkraftanlagen entwickelt wurden: Ihre Laufräder sind direkt mit Permanentmagnet-Generatoren gekoppelt. Der Wartungsaufwand für die Turbinen ist äusserst gering. Hinzu kommt, dass sie kaum Verluste aufweisen und den in den Laufwasserkraftwerken sonst häufig verwendeten Kaplan-Turbinen im Wirkungsgrad nur um weniges nachstehen.
Mit dem kleinen Generator im Modell lässt sich immerhin ein Tauchsieder mit 1,6 Kilowatt Leistung betreiben. Schon bald soll hier eine Turbine mit einer Leistung von 30 Kilowatt laufen. Rutschmann kann sich vorstellen, dass dieser Kraftwerkstyp mit Turbinen mit einer Leistung von bis zu 3,5 Megawatt betrieben werden kann. Ist der Fluss breit genug, liessen sich sogar mehrere dieser Turbinen parallel schalten.
Für das neue Kraftwerk wird weniger Beton und Stahl gebraucht als für ein herkömmliches, ausserdem lassen sich Schacht, Turbine und Generator in Serie fertigen. Das senkt die Kosten deutlich. Um bis zu 50 Prozent billiger komme das Schachtkraftwerk gegenüber herkömmlichen Kraftwerkstypen, haben die Münchner Forscher errechnet.
Erste Planungen für Kraftwerke des neuartigen Typs laufen bereits. Eine Pilotanlage soll spätestens 2014 an einer bestehenden Wehranlage an der Loisach in Oberbayern in Betrieb gehen. Das Kraftwerk wird eine Leistung von 500 Kilowatt haben und damit mehr Strom liefern, als die 1500 Einwohner des nahen Grossweil verbrauchen. Auch für eine Pilotanlage am Fluss Iller laufen die Planungen. Dort wurde die herkömmliche Lösung aus ökologischen Gründen abgelehnt. Das Schachtkraftwerk hingegen scheint genehmigungsfähig. 2013 könnte auch dort mit den Bauarbeiten begonnen werden.
Nicht zuletzt wegen der niedrigen Baukosten und des wartungsarmen Betriebs könnte das Schachtkraftwerk auch für die Entwicklungshilfe interessant sein. «Wasserkraft ist generell wichtig für die Energieversorgung in Entwicklungsländern, weil sie kostengünstig und 24 Stunden am Tag verfügbar ist. Ausserdem können damit im Gegensatz zur Solar- und Windenergie auch grössere Handwerksgeräte betrieben werden», sagt Sascha Thielmann, Berater für erneuerbare Energien bei der Deutschen Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit.
Rutschmann sieht noch grösseres Potenzial. In Laos sollen am Mekong in den nächsten Jahren 14 Kraftwerke entstehen. Wird der Fluss abgeriegelt, würde an seinem Unterlauf Geschiebe fehlen. Die Folge wären starke Erosionen. Weil am Mekong viele Menschen vom Fischfang leben, würde ihnen durch den Kraftwerksbau die Lebensgrundlage entzogen. Mit einem angepassten Schachtkraftwerkskonzept könnte hier auf schwere Eingriffe in die Natur verzichtet werden.
Anton Paschke (22. September 2011, 04:08) Kleinkraftwerke
Vor etwa 20 Jahren gab es eine Welle der Begeisterung fuer Kleinkraftwerke. Danach kamm die Gewaesserschutzinitiative und legte die Restwassermengen fest. Ende der Begeisterung. Jetzt geht es wieder los mit der Begeisterung. Was es wirklich braucht ist Rechtssicherheit.
Markus Pieterlen (21. September
2011, 19:13) Herr Rickert
voll und ganz Ihrer Meinung.
Bernd Rickert (21. September
2011, 11:12) Wer auf einem Stuhl sitzt, darf auch
Dieser Typ Wasserkraftwerk ist uralt. Auf Kosten anderer wird ein Professor gefördert und geehrt, der über gute Kontakte und Beziehungen verfügt. Korruption und Innovationsverweigerung in der Schweiz und anderer europäischer Länder hängen mir zum Hals heraus.
may suffer clean water crisis in 15-20 years
By Aseel Kami
BAGHDAD, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Millions of Iraqis may have no access to clean water in 15 to 20 years if Baghdad fails to resolve its long-standing dispute over water resources with neighbouring countries, Iraqi government officials said on Wednesday.
Iraq, already struggling with water shortages, says hydroelectric dams and irrigation in Turkey, Iran and Syria have reduced the water flow in its main rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris. "Our expectation is that after 15 to 20 years the people in the provinces will wake up to find no safe water for drinking and agriculture in the Tigris and Euphrates," Iraq's Agriculture Minister Izzedine al-Dawla told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with U.N. officials in Baghdad.
Dawla said Iraq was trying to introduce modern farming and irrigation methods to ration water and overcome the shortages.
Ross Nouri Shawis, a deputy prime minister at the meeting, said water shortages would get worse in the years to come if no deal with its neighbours was reached. "The problem will grow in the future and it will become an essential life issue for Iraq and the Iraqi people," he told reporters.
Shawis said Iraq would need 70 billion cubic metres of water annually in 2015, when only 44 billion would be available.
Iraq has been in talks with both Turkey and Syria since the 1960s for a bigger share of the water, but no agreement has been reached so far, he said. Water shortages pose a big challenge for Iraq due to a rising population, depletion of resources, lack of rainfall and advancing desertification, officials said.
Wheat and rice production have suffered in the past two years, due in part to rising temperatures, along with a dearth of water in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Iraq started to suffer from drought almost two decades ago with its worst year in 2008, and global warming could mean Iraq faces another three years of drought, Iraqi officials say. (Reporting by Aseel Kami; editing by Rania El Gamal)
est un droit de l’homme." Mais sans
prix, l'eau est gaspillé
«Le capitalisme est un modèle théorique qui n’existe pas en réalité»
Rencontré lors du 42e Forum économique mondial (WEF) à Davos, Peter Brabeck, président du conseil d’administration de Nestlé, parle du capitalisme et de la problématique de l’eau«Wir tun heute so, als wäre Wasser eine gottgegebene Sache, die es in unendlicher Menge für immer gibt»: Nestlé-Verwaltungsratspräsident Peter Brabeck. Bild: Keystone (Tages-Anzeiger, 29.1.12)
Les liensLe Temps: Comment évaluez-vous la crise du capitalisme dont on a parlé cette semaine à Davos? S’agit-il d’une crise du système ou d’une crise de gouvernance?
L’exemple suédois présenté comme l’alternative
Mise en bouteilles, l’eau vaut de l’or – critique du film «Bottled Life» (25.1.12)
«Wenn wir einen Liter Wasser abfüllen, ist die Welt entrüstet» (Tages-Anzeiger, 29.1.12)
Nestlé-Topmanager: Biotreibstoffe treiben Millionen in Armut (Tages-Anzeiger, 22.8.11)
– C’est le cas des Etats-Unis?
– Pas seulement, aussi en Europe nous avons des dettes privées qui grimpent jusqu’à 145% du PIB (Danemark). Il faut impérativement se désendetter! Le secteur privé comme les gouvernements doivent faire des efforts.
– Pour vous, ce n’est donc pas une crise
philosophique du capitalisme en lui-même?
– Je pense que le capitalisme en tant que tel n’a jamais été appliqué. C’est un modèle théorique qui n’existe pas en réalité. On utilise ce thème du «capitalisme en crise» pour susciter des débats. Mais le problème actuellement est un problème de dette. Nous avons dépensé trop et aujourd’hui il faut trouver l’équilibre. Ça va être pénible, ça ne va pas se faire d’un jour à l’autre, ça demandera surtout un engagement clair et net de la part des gouvernements mais également de tous les consommateurs.
– Un thème vous est cher, l’eau.
Vous associez les pouvoirs publics et privés pour mieux gérer
cette ressource. Comment se fait-il que le problème soit aussi difficile
– Dans le secteur de l’eau, l’offre est limitée à 4200 kilomètres cubes qui peuvent être utilisés par l’humanité de manière soutenable à long terme. Cette quantité d’eau était largement suffisante quand la population était de 3 milliards et quand elle consommait essentiellement de manière végétarienne. Mais cela a dramatiquement changé. Non seulement nous sommes 7 milliards mais nos habitudes de consommations ont évolué. Il faut 1 litre d’eau pour produire 1 calorie végétale. Mais il faut 10 litres d’eau pour produire 1 calorie animale. Vous pouvez faire le calcul… Les Indiens, les Chinois consomment davantage de viande aujourd’hui. Pour cette consommation de viande, la demande en eau a été multipliée par dix. Et si tout le monde mangeait comme les Européens ou les Américains, on n’aurait pas assez d’eau pour produire assez de viande. Il faut sérieusement penser à une utilisation plus efficace de l’eau. Autre problème: jusqu’à maintenant, la grande partie de production d’énergie était faible en consommation d’eau. Mais toutes les nouvelles technologies consomment beaucoup d’eau. Pour les sables bitumineux, vous avez besoin de 4 à 5 litres d’eau pour 1 litre de pétrole. Au problème de l’agriculture s’ajoute donc un problème énergétique. Or les deux sont tout aussi nécessaires. Nous n’aurons donc pas assez d’eau. Et comme l’offre est fixe, il faut travailler sur la demande.
– Pour qu’on fasse un bon usage de l’eau,
il faut qu’elle ait un prix, une valeur, car si elle n’a pas de valeur
on la gaspille. Mais politiquement et socialement, c’est délicat.
On pense que l’eau est gratuite…
– Oui, l’eau est un droit de l’homme. Mais ce droit est de 25 litres par personne par jour. 5 litres pour l’hydratation et 20 litres pour l’hygiène. Ce droit correspond à 1,5% de l’utilisation de l’eau disponible. Ces 1,5%, c’est le droit de l’homme. Les 98,5% restant, ce ne sont pas les droits de l’homme.
– Si j’étends ce raisonnement, on
pourrait croire que vous êtes en faveur de taxes incitatives à
l’image de la taxe carbone?
– En Suisse, en Europe, on paye pour l’eau. En Suisse, jusqu’à 5 francs le mètre cube! Même en Afrique du Sud, l’eau a un prix. Ceux qui ne paient pas le prix, dans la plupart des cas, ce sont les agriculteurs. L’eau est subventionnée. Les fermiers en Espagne ne paient même pas 2% de ce qu’ils utilisent.
– Cela veut dire aussi que les prix des
biens tels que la nourriture vont augmenter…
– Le prix de notre nourriture n’a rien à voir avec son coût. Notre système européen fonctionne avec de nombreuses subventions à l’agriculture. On ne paye pas le prix juste en Suisse, on paye un prix qui subventionne l’agriculture locale. Le système de l’agriculture reste faussé et protégé par les subsides.
– Ce débat va être très
sensible, très difficile à mener. On aura tendance à
accuser les multinationales de vouloir mettre la main sur certaines ressources…
– Vous parlez du film qui vient de sortir… [ndlr: Bottled life]. J’espère qu’après avoir passé trois heures ici à Davos vous arriverez à remettre les choses dans leur dimension. Comment est-ce possible de dépenser de l’argent de la Confédération pour une heure et demie d’accusation idéologique sur une compagnie sans une seule présentation du problème réel, sans proposition d’une seule solution et en attaquant l’activité d’une entreprise qui utilise seulement 0,0009% des prélèvements mondiaux d’eau douce. Que croyez-vous que les gens qui sont ici pensent de ce problème? Pour des raisons idéologiques, on dit qu’une multinationale ne doit pas être impliquée dans un bien comme de l’eau. Vous préféreriez que je mette un peu de colorants et de sucre dans l’eau? Le problème n’existerait plus? Pour produire des boissons sucrées, il faut environ trois fois plus d’eau que pour de l’eau naturelle. Est-ce que quelqu’un a réfléchi au message que donne ce film? Quand on vend de l’eau naturelle, saine, qui lutte contre l’obésité, on est les mauvais et quand on vend de l’eau avec des colorants et du sucre, on est les bons gars?
Autre chose. On nous accuse dans ce film de surexploiter nos sources, de faire du capitalisme sauvage comme exprimé par votre journaliste [ndlr: critique du film parue dans nos colonnes mercredi]. En même temps, on dit que l’on vend de l’eau embouteillée dans le Maine depuis 150 ans. Si nous exploitions nos sources brutalement, elles ne dureraient pas 150 ans. Comment Nestlé peut recevoir un prix de l’environnement en France pour la source de Vittel alors qu’on nous dit que l’on gaspille. Ce film ne se concentre que sur un infime problème.
En outre, il est faux de dire que Nestlé n’a pas voulu s’exprimer. A l’équipe du film, nous avons répondu: le problème de l’eau est vaste. Vous ne pouvez pas faire un film sur l’eau sans parler par exemple des consommateurs principaux que sont les agriculteurs. «Non, ça ne nous intéresse pas», ont-ils répondu. «Eh bien si vous voulez polémiquer, faites-le sans nous.»
Le film nous a donné raison. Ce n’est pas un film qui veut parler de la pénurie de l’eau comme nous en discutons ici. C’est un film idéologique qui n’a qu’un seul objectif: polémiquer. Mais c’est son droit.
Weil die Quellen der wichtigsten europäischen Ströme in den Schweizer Alpen liegen, gilt die Schweiz als das Wasserschloss Europas
Die Schweizer Alpen sind Quelle und kontinentale Wasserscheide: Der Rhein fliesst in die Nordsee, die Rhone ins westliche Mittelmeer, der Tessin (Po) in die Adria und der Inn (Donau) ins Schwarze Meer. Die Schweiz ist somit das Wasserschloss Europas.Der Rheinfall, Europas grösster Wasserfall, macht auch bei Nacht etwas her. (Bild: Karin Hofer / NZZ)
Ein Binnenland ohne Rohstoffe – so präsentiert sich die Schweiz. Tatsächlich verfügt das Land aber über einen «Rohstoff», den es dank seiner Lage im Herzen Europas seit eh und je gewinnbringend einzusetzen verstand: Wasser. Diese «Commodity» findet sich hierzulande im Überfluss. Mehr als 1500 Seen, Flüsse und Gewässer sowie zahlreiche Gletscher zeugen vom Wasserreichtum der Eidgenossenschaft. Sie gilt deshalb als «Wasserschloss Europas». Obschon sie flächenmässig nur knapp vier Promille am Kontinent ausmacht, befinden sich auf ihrem Boden sechs Prozent der Süsswasservorräte der Alten Welt.
Viele wichtige Flüsse Europas – Rhein, Rhone, Inn (Donau) und Tessin (Po), Etsch (Adige) – nehmen ihren Ursprung hierzulande. Mit dem Rheinfall verfügt die Schweiz über den grössten Wasserfall Europas und mit dem Genfersee über den grössten Süsswasserspeicher des Kontinents; wobei sie dieses Gewässer mit Frankreich teilt. Die Mauer des Grande-Dixence-Stausees im Wallis zählt mit 285 Metern zu den höchsten Staumauern der Welt.
Diese Superlative dienen nicht nur der Wasser- und Elektrizitätswirtschaft. Sie werden schon lange auch mit Erfolg touristisch genutzt. Und weil sich das Angebot im Bereich «Wasser und Freizeit» schweizweit ständig erhöht, hat Schweiz Tourismus 2012 zum «Jahr des Wassers» erklärt und dieses Thema zum Leitmotiv des Tourismus gemacht.
So viel zum Wasserschloss Schweiz. Interessant ist auch das Wasserschloss der Schweiz. So heisst die Flusslandschaft im aargauischen Dreieck von Brugg, Turgi und Klingnau, in der sich gleich drei grosse Schweizer Flüsse vereinen: Zuerst nimmt die vom Grimselpass kommende Aare die aus dem Gotthardgebiet stammende Reuss auf, um kurz darauf am Limmatspitz sich mit der im Glarnerland entspringenden Limmat (anfänglich: Linth) zu vereinen. Reuss und Limmat enden in der Aare, welche mit einem Durchfluss von 320 Litern pro Sekunde (im Zehnjahresdurchschnitt) der wasserreichste der drei Flüsse ist. Ein Naturgesetz will es nämlich, dass, wenn zwei Flüsse sich vereinen, der wasserreichere seinen Namen behält.
Eigentlich besteht das Wasserschloss der Schweiz aus einem natürlichen Mosaik von Flussarmen, Kiesflächen und Auenwäldern. Deshalb nennen die Aargauer dieses unter Naturschutz stehende Feuchtgebiet gerne – und gar vorschnell – «Amazonas der Schweiz». Tatsächlich finden sich im Auenschutzpark Stellen, die wild, romantisch oder idyllisch wirken. Wer etwa im Frühling unter der Woche durch diese flache Uferlandschaft wandert und kaum andere Menschen antrifft, kann leicht vergessen, dass er sich in einem Naherholungsgebiet befindet – mit guten Wander- und Velowegen.
wie im Urwald
Quakende Frösche, zwitschernde Vögel und das leise Rauschen des Wassers vermitteln ein Gefühl totaler Abgeschiedenheit. Dank umgestürzten Bäumen, Biberbauten, Tümpeln und Weihern, aus denen Mücken und Libellen aufsteigen, und dank dem modrigen Geruch der dunkel-feuchten Natur fühlt man sich fast in einen Urwald versetzt. Der Hinweis auf einer Info-Tafel, dass auch Hunderte von Vogelarten ihr Quartier in diesem Auenwald aufschlagen, verstärkt diesen Eindruck. Erst der gelegentliche Flugzeug-, Auto- oder Eisenbahnlärm erinnert daran, dass die Zivilisation nicht weit ist und der Vergleich mit dem Amazonas somit hinkt.
Im Sommer kommt ein reger Besucherstrom dazu. Dann erfährt diese Oase der Stille grossen Zuspruch. Dann wird gepicknickt, gebraten und gespielt. Und die abwechselnd sonnigen und schattigen Uferabschnitte der Aare laden zum Bade. Dabei bleibt der Fluss stets unberechenbar und mit einem gewissen Risiko behaftet – obschon die Kraftwerke ihm viel Energie genommen haben, so dass er in seinem künstlich befestigten Unterlauf den Eindruck erweckt, er habe es gar nicht eilig. Dennoch: Schwimmwesten sind an den meisten Stellen obligatorisch. Und Warntafeln erinnern daran, dass das Mündungsgebiet von Aare, Reuss und Limmat regelmässig überflutet wird. Dass etwa das Hochwasser der Jahre 1999 und 2005 sehr gefährlich war und viel Schaden verursachte. Dennoch lebt dieses Naturschutzgebiet genau von und mit diesen natürlichen Zyklen. Im Übrigen eignet sich die Aare auch für Freizeit-Kapitäne – sie lässt sich im Paddelboot, im Kajak oder im Motorboot befahren. Das Flussnetz diente von der Römerzeit und bis ins 19. Jahrhundert hinein als Transportweg. Wenn immer die Strassen schlecht waren, wurden die Waren aufs Wasser verladen. Bereits die Alemannen wussten um dessen Wert: Der Name Aargau bedeutet nämlich so viel wie «Land am Wasser».
Doch kehren wir noch einmal zurück an den Limmatspitz. Dank dem Zufluss von Reuss und Limmat erfreut sich die Aare nun eines Durchflusses von 570 Kubikmetern pro Sekunde (im Zehnjahresmittel). Sie wird damit zu einem Strom – und nicht irgendeinem. Zusammen mit ihren Nebenflüssen entwässert sie fast die Hälfte der Eidgenossenschaft. Und nur ganz wenige Kantone geben kein Wasser an die Aare ab: etwa Schaffhausen, Thurgau, Genf, die beiden Appenzell sowie die zwei Basel.
Vom Wasserschloss aus steuert die Aare auf Koblenz zu, wo sie sich in den Rhein stürzt. Oder richtiger gesagt, wo sie diesen aufnimmt. Würde das oben erwähnte Naturgesetz angewandt, würde der Rhein, der an dieser Stelle mit bloss 430 Kubikmetern pro Sekunde unterwegs ist, in die Aare fliessen. Und diese würde ihren Namen bis zur Mündung in die Nordsee bei Rotterdam beibehalten. Die Folgen wären beachtlich: Die Loreley stünde an der Aare, und der Rheinwein hiesse Aarewein.
Doch welches sind die Gründe, die dazu führten, dass der Rhein bei Koblenz die Oberhand behalten konnte und das erwähnte Naturgesetz ausgehebelt wurde? Historiker tippen auf zwei Ursachen: Erstens war die Aare nie ein so bedeutender und umkämpfter Grenzfluss wie der Rhein. Und zweitens war der männliche Rhein der weiblichen Aare überlegen; besonders in einer Welt, die noch fast ganz von Männern dominiert war. Doch das ist eine andere Geschichte.
Weitere Informationen in der Broschüre «1A! Aargau» Nr. 13 vom Frühjahr 2012, die bei www.1aaargau.ch oder www.aargautourismus.ch zu beziehen ist. Informationen zu Führungen durch das Wasserschloss der Schweiz gibt es unter www.bruggtour.ch. Alle Angebote von Schweiz Tourismus zum Thema Wasser abrufbar unter www.myswitzerland.com/wasser.
Wasser wird nie knapp
von Christian Strunden
Die Ressource Wasser werde übernutzt und müsse geschont werden. Diverse Organisationen fordern, dass der Konsum eingeschränkt wird. Das ist sinnlos, denn Wasser kann man nicht wirklich verbrauchen. Es wird immer genug davon geben.Der Schauspieler Leonardo DiCaprio soll, so berichten Boulevardmedien, nur noch wenige Male die Woche duschen. Seine Freundin ist davon offenbar gar nicht angetan, aber DiCaprio will Wasser sparen. Er folgt damit einer zunehmenden Hysterie wegen der angeblich knapp werdenden Ressource Wasser.
2010 erklärte die Uno Wasser zum Menschenrecht, was immer auch
damit gemeint sein mag. Im Film «Bottled Life» wird Nestlé,
Weltmarktführer für Flaschenwasser, als «Wasserjäger»
bezeichnet, der auf der Suche nach dem letzten sauberen Wasser dieser Erde
sei, nur um Geld zu machen. Und manch ein Experte versteigt sich sogar
zur Prognose, dass Trinkwasser eines Tages so teuer sein werde wie Öl.
Kein Wunder, dass immer mehr Menschen bereits beim Frühstück
Gewissensbisse haben, da ihnen suggeriert wird, dass sie mit jeder Tasse
Kaffee 140 Liter virtuelles Wasser verbrauchen würden.
Wird Wasser wirklich zunehmend knapp? Und wenn ja: Kann man es sparen? Werfen wir einen Blick auf den Wasserkreislauf: Schätzungen beziffern das Volumen allen Meerwassers auf 1,3 Milliarden Kubikkilometer. Wollte man das gesamte Meerwasser wie einen Gürtel rund um den Äquator konzentrieren, erhielte man einen über 800 Kilometer breiten und 40 Kilometer hohen Wasserwall. In einem permanenten Kreislauf destilliert die Sonne Wasser vor allem aus den Meeren. Es kondensiert zu Wolken, wird vom Wind weggetragen, fällt woanders wieder nieder und fliesst am Ende wieder ins Meer.
Die Sonne leistet ganze Arbeit. Die Regenmengen sind gigantisch. Jeden Tag fallen 1350 Kubikkilometer Wasser vom Himmel. Davon treffen 300 Kubikkilometer (300 Milliarden Kubikmeter) auf die Landmassen der Erde. Könnte man dieses Wasser gleichmässig verteilen, entfielen auf jeden der 7 Milliarden Erdbewohner 43 000 Liter am Tag. Auf die Schweiz fällt mit 21 000 Litern pro Tag und Kopf nur die Hälfte des weltweiten Durchschnitts, trotzdem geniessen hier die Menschen ein Leben im Wasserüberfluss.
Auch der Süsswasservorrat in Gletscher- und Polareis, Seen, Flüssen und dem Grundwasser ist letztlich nichts anderes als gesammelter Regen und wird durch neuen Regen pausenlos im Fluss gehalten. Kurzum: Trinkwasser entstammt immer dem Regen und nicht etwa begrenzten, unterirdischen Reservoirs. Es gibt mehr als genügend Regen, für jeden von uns, auch in weit entfernter Zukunft. Trinkwasser ist ein unerschöpflicher Rohstoff.
Doch jeder hat in der letzten Zeit irgendwo gelesen, dass «70 Prozent des Wassers von der Landwirtschaft verbraucht werden» und dass diese Menge bald nicht mehr ausreiche, um die Nahrungsmittelnachfrage der wachsenden Weltbevölkerung zu befriedigen. Diese Aussage ist irreführend, weil sie sich nicht etwa auf die 300 Kubikkilometer tägliche Niederschläge bezieht, sondern nur auf das weltweit «vom Menschen für Bewässerung, Industrie und Haushalte entnommene Wasser». Die OECD schätzt die für die Landwirtschaft entnommene Wassermenge auf ganze 14 Kubikkilometer pro Tag. Die Bewässerungslandwirtschaft nutzt weltweit eine Wassermenge, die nur knapp 5 Prozent der Niederschläge entspricht.
Schwankungen der Natur
Die Landwirtschaft, die durch Regen bewässert wird, hat den weitaus grössten Anteil an der Ernährung der Weltbevölkerung: Nur etwa 5 Prozent der weltweiten Acker- und Weideflächen werden künstlich bewässert, vor allem zum Anbau von Reis. Doch praktisch aller Weizen, Mais und Futtergräser wird unter Regen angebaut, und auch die Weidewirtschaft findet ausschliesslich unter Regen statt. Tropenprodukte wie Bananen, Kaffee oder Kakao kommen aus Regionen mit extremem Wasserüberschuss. Die Regenwirtschaft ist allerdings den Klimarisiken voll ausgesetzt. Die aktuelle Dürre in den USA zeigt dies wieder einmal eindrucksvoll. Da es seit Jahresbeginn kaum geregnet hat, hat der Landwirtschaftsminister vor wenigen Tagen 39 Gliedstaaten zum Katastrophengebiet erklärt.
Extremen Schwankungen unterworfen sind auch die Regenmengen, die der Monsun bringt, je nachdem ob er eine andere Richtung einschlägt, schwächelt oder ausbleibt. Der Monsun ist ein Wind, der feuchte Meeresluft ins trockene und heisse Landesinnere führt. In Indien ist dieser lebenswichtige Wind seit Wochen überfällig, und schon jetzt zeichnen sich erhebliche Verluste für die Landwirtschaft ab. Das Gegenstück bildet das Himalajagebirge, das den Indus, den Ganges und den Brahmaputra mit Gletscherwasser füllt und zirka 350 Millionen Menschen mit Wasser versorgt.
In Trockengebieten kommt es zu Wasserknappheit, wenn mehr Bewässerungswasser aus dem Grundwasser entnommen wird, als via Regen nachgeliefert werden kann. Ägypten zum Beispiel hat mit seiner Bevölkerung von 83 Millionen Menschen ein jährlich nutzbares Wasserbudget von rund 55 Kubikkilometern Nilwasser. Davon geht der Grossteil in die Landwirtschaft. Das erlaubt die ganzjährige Bewässerung von etwa 3 Millionen Hektaren, was zur Versorgung der Bevölkerung aber bei weitem nicht ausreicht. Ergo ist Ägypten auf die Einfuhr eines Grossteils seiner Grundnahrungsmittel angewiesen, insbesondere Getreide, Viehfutter und Speiseöl. Ägypten ist heute mit 10 Millionen Tonnen pro Jahr der grösste Getreideimporteur der Welt. Wollte das Land den Importweizen lokal produzieren, hätte es ein Problem. Ohne die bisherige Agrarproduktion einzuschränken, müsste es ungefähr 10 Kubikkilometer Wasser zusätzlich einsetzen. Dies ginge nur mittels der Entsalzung von Meerwasser und würde pro Jahr etwa 25 Milliarden Dollar kosten, ein Vielfaches von den 3,9 Milliarden Dollar, die Ägypten ausgibt, um sein Getreide auf dem Weltmarkt einzukaufen.
Richtig ist, dass viele Länder für die Produktion von Grundnahrungsmitteln über ungenügende Niederschläge verfügen. Deshalb werden diese in regenreichen Regionen angebaut. Davon zeugen die gigantischen weltweiten Agrarhandelsströme. Die ölreichen, aber praktisch süsswasserfreien Arabischen Emirate importieren 98 Prozent ihrer Nahrungsmittel. Das funktioniert gut. Auch für weiteres Wachstum der Weltbevölkerung ist vorgesorgt, solange die Bewohner von Trockengebieten genügend Kaufkraft generieren, um auf dem Weltmarkt einzukaufen. In Kanada, den USA, der Ukraine, in Russland, Südamerika und Afrika stehen bisher weitgehend ungenutzt, Hunderte von Millionen Hektaren mit Regen gesegneter Flächen zur Verfügung.
Die Theorie vom Fussabdruck
Dennoch hält sich die These von der Wasserknappheit hartnäckig. Tony Allan, ein mittlerweile emeritierter Professor für Geografie, versah sie mit einem griffigen Schlagwort: «virtual water». Allan meinte in den neunziger Jahren im Nahen Osten eine Verschwendung riesigen Ausmasses entdeckt zu haben. Es ging ihm auf, dass die Produktion von einem Kilo Weizen 1000 Liter Wasser erfordert. Was er für eine weltbewegende Erkenntnis hielt, ist eine Banalität. Allan hat den Begriff «Wasserbedarf» zu «virtuellem Wasser» mystifiziert und damit eine internationale Anhängerschaft gewonnen.
Arjen Y. Hoekstra, Bauingenieur und heute Professor für interdisziplinäres Wassermanagement an der Universität Twente in den Niederlanden, ging noch einen Schritt weiter. Er entwickelte den Begriff «water footprint» - Wasser-Fussabdruck - und betreibt die Website www.waterfootprint.org. Hier kann jeder ausrechnen, wie viel Liter virtuelles Wasser er am Tag verbraucht, differenziert nach Vegetariern, Fleischessern und sogar nach Einkommen. Weil die Tierhaltung viel Wasser benötigt, verbraucht der typische Fleischesser gemäss diesen Berechnungen bis zu 5000 Liter virtuelles Wasser am Tag, der Vegetarier dagegen lediglich die Hälfte. Allein durch den Verzicht auf das Frühstücksei würde man, so Hoekstra, 135 Liter virtuelles Wasser sparen.
Auf unzähligen Workshops und Konferenzen werden die Konzepte des «virtual water» und des «water footprint» als neuer Ansatz verkauft. Organisationen wie «Waterfootprint Network» und die «Alliance for Water Stewardship» bieten in alarmistischer Sprache einen verwirrenden Mix aus Tatsachen, Fehlinterpretationen, Meinungen und moralischen Appellen. Am Ende wird unterschwellig eine kausale Verbindung zwischen dem Wassermangel in Trockengebieten und der Wassernutzung der Bevölkerung von Industrienationen hergestellt.
Über derart abstruse Konstruktionen schütteln Botaniker, Agrarwissenschafter und Bewässerungsingenieure die Köpfe. Für sie ist virtuelles Wasser nichts anderes als der natürliche Wasserbedarf einer Pflanze. Zwar scheint Laien eine Tonne Wasser zur Produktion eines Kilos Weizen extrem viel zu sein. Sobald man sich aber bewusst wird, dass auf die Felder der Weizenanbauregionen zwischen 4000 und 10 000 Tonnen Wasser pro Hektare und Jahr regnen, mit denen 4 bis 10 Tonnen Weizen erzeugt werden, stimmt die Relation wieder.
Der fundamentale Schwachpunkt des Konzepts des virtuellen Wassers ist die fehlende Differenzierung zwischen Regenlandwirtschaft und Bewässerungslandwirtschaft. In der Regenlandwirtschaft wird das Wasser nur dort verwertet, wo es ohnehin und umsonst niedergeht. In den allermeisten Fällen gibt es keine andere Nutzungsalternative als die landwirtschaftliche Produktion. Ausserdem verändert die Regenlandwirtschaft den Wasserhaushalt nur geringfügig. Der weitaus grösste Teil der Niederschläge gelangt ins Grundwasser oder verdunstet. Es handelt sich hier weder um virtuelle Verluste noch um virtuelle Verbräuche, sondern vielmehr um notwendige Bedingungen des Pflanzenwachstums.
Dagegen stammt das Wasser der Bewässerungslandwirtschaft aus Grundwasser, Flüssen oder Stauseen. Es ist nichts anderes als «alter» Regen. Ein Hauptmerkmal der Bewässerungslandwirtschaft liegt darin, dass Entstehung und Verwendung des Wassers Hunderte, manchmal Tausende Kilometer voneinander getrennt sind. Die Bewässerungslandwirtschaft verwendet also eine Ressource, die sowohl an verschiedenen Orten als auch zu verschiedenen Zwecken eingesetzt werden kann. Der Verzicht auf die Bewässerung von nur 6500 Hektaren beispielsweise erlaubt die Versorgung einer Millionenstadt mit Trinkwasser nach europäischem Standard. Die Bewirtschaftung einer Ressource mit so unterschiedlichen Verwendungsmöglichkeiten ist natürlich enorm schwierig.
Sparen bringt andern nichts
Halten wir fest: Wasser wird nie verbraucht, sondern verbleibt immer im Wasserkreislauf. Wassersparen in regenreichen Regionen kann keine höhere Verfügbarkeit von Wasser in regenarmen Gegenden bewirken. Die Verschmutzung von Trinkwasser aber hat mit fehlender Filterung zu tun, nicht mit Wassermangel. Das Konzept des virtuellen Wassers ist nichts anderes als eine undifferenzierte Darstellung der natürlichen Vegetationsprozesse. Dabei wird die Wassernachfrage dramatisiert, die Nachhaltigkeit und die Fülle des Wassernachschubs aber werden unterschlagen.
In Deutschland sind bereits die ersten negativen Auswirkungen der Wassersparhysterie zu verzeichnen: Die tägliche durchschnittliche Wasserverwendung ist von 144 Litern in den 90er Jahren auf mittlerweile 122 Liter pro Kopf gesunken. Das ist zu wenig, um die Abwassersysteme durchzuspülen, und führt in vielen Grossstädten zunehmend zu hygienischen Problemen mit der Kanalisation und infolgedessen zu Geruchsbelästigungen. Die Wasserwerke fluten deshalb die Kanalisation regelmässig mit aufbereitetem Trinkwasser.
Tragisch wäre es, wenn der Wassersparwahn dazu führen würde, zum Beispiel den Konsum von Bananen oder Kaffee und Schokolade in den Industrieländern zu verringern: Millionen von Kleinbauern der Tropen, deren Haupteinkommensquelle ihre Erträge aus ihren wenigen Bananenstauden, Kaffee- und Kakaobäumen darstellt, würden ihrer Lebensgrundlage beraubt. Angesichts der tropischen Niederschläge, die doppelt bis dreifach so reichlich wie die europäischen ausfallen, wäre es interessant zu hören, wie der Wasseraktivist dem Tropenbauern erklärt, dass man ihm aus Sorge um das Wasser seinen Kaffee und Kakao nicht mehr abkaufen könne.
Lassen wir uns nicht verwirren: Der Begriff virtuelles Wasser ist Unsinn. Wieso gerade die Schweiz, das regenreichste Land Europas, Wasser sparen sollte, bleibt ein Rätsel. Regenwasser ist der erneuerbare und unerschöpfliche Rohstoff par excellence.
Christian Strunden ist Agraringenieur und betreibt ein Ingenieurbüro in Basel. Er hat den Aufbau der ersten Weizenfarm in den Vereinigten Arabischen Emiraten geleitet, wo Weizen und Futterpflanzen mit entsalztem Meerwasser bewässert werden. Dort hat er auch ein innovatives Verfahren zur Wasserernte in Wüstengebieten eingeführt. Er arbeitet weltweit für Agrarbetriebe und -fonds.
Waste The Drought
WE’RE in the worst drought in the United States since the 1950s, and we’re wasting it.
By CHARLES FISHMAN
Though the drought has devastated corn crops and disrupted commerce on the Mississippi River, it also represents an opportunity to tackle long-ignored water problems and to reimagine how we manage, use and even think about water.
For decades, Americans have typically handled drought the same way. We are asked to limit lawn-watering and car-washing, to fully load dishwashers and washing machines before running them, to turn off the tap while brushing our teeth. When the rain comes, we all go back to our old water habits.
RelatedBut just as the oil crisis of the 1970s spurred advances in fuel efficiency, so should the Drought of 2012 inspire efforts to reduce water consumption.
Drought Forces Reductions in U.S. Crop Forecasts (August 11, 2012)
Times Topic: Drought (U.S. Drought of 2012)
Related in Opinion
Opinion: Hundred-Year Forecast: Drought (August 12, 2012)
Op-Ed Contributor: The Silver Lining in the Drought (August 8, 2012)
Our nation’s water system is a mess, from cities to rural communities, for farmers and for factories. To take just one example: Water utilities go to the trouble to find water, clean it and pump it into water mains for delivery, but before it gets to any home or business, leaky pipes send 16 percent — about one in six gallons — back into the ground. So even in the midst of the drought, our utilities lose enough water every six days to supply the nation for a day. You can take a shorter shower, but it won’t make up for that.
The good news: There are a number of steps that together can change, gradually but permanently, how we use water and how we value it. Some can be taken right now.
The average American uses 99 gallons of water at home each day. In the summer, half of that water goes to our lawns, way more than needed. There’s no reason to water in the middle of the day — when the sun steals so much of the water — or to water every day. The lawn-watering restrictions that cities impose during early drought should be made permanent, as Las Vegas and Fresno, Calif., have done.
Plumbing fixtures need to be smarter, and more fun. How come I can’t buy a toilet that reports how much water it has used today, this month, this year? How come I can’t buy a spigot that tells me how much water my daughter’s shower took? If we saw the amount we were using, we’d turn off the tap.
Building codes should be updated to require a new generation of buildings that use less water, in everything from toilets to air-conditioning systems. Zoning rules should be altered to require that all new buildings harvest the rainwater that falls on their land and roofs. The rainwater can be stored for use or returned to the ground. If a city with as primitive a water management system as New Delhi can require rainwater harvesting, so can we.
The nation’s 55,000 water utilities need to redesign incomprehensible water bills with iPad-style graphics that clearly show how many gallons each customer used this month; how that amount compares to last month, and the same month last year; and how it compares to average use by families in the neighborhood. Americans are naturally competitive: customers who know how much water they consume, compared with their neighbors, typically cut their use.
Golf courses are huge, often careless users of water. In the last decade, Las Vegas strictly limited the water its golf courses could use, and while the texture of the courses has changed, the golfing hasn’t. Other cities should follow Las Vegas’s example.
We also need to rethink where we grow crops. Rice farmers in Texas have howled about having their irrigation water cut off. Rice farming? In Texas? Based on rainfall patterns and projections, we need to be brutally realistic about what kind of crops we should be growing, and where.
Fixing leaky water mains should be a priority of every urban water utility. There are typically thousands of leaks in a municipal water system, but new digital technology can help utilities identify the biggest ones. Congress should approve a proposed infrastructure bank that would give municipalities low-interest loans to finance capital improvements for water management.
Finally, we must get over our aversion to recycled water. Dirty water can be made as clean as you want it, and for most communities, the water they’ve already got in their pipes — storm water, wastewater — is the easiest, cheapest source of “new” water. San Antonio recycles almost all of its water, but it’s an exception — only 7 percent of water in the United States is reused. Water recycling should be as routine as every other kind of recycling.
The pain of this drought, a slow-motion disaster, is very real. Drought can lead to paralysis and pessimism — or it can inspire us to fundamentally change how we use water. Water doesn’t respond to wishful thinking. If it did, prayer services and rain dances would be all we’d need.
Charles Fishman is the author, most recently, of “The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water.”
Cancer Cycle, From Here to China
By DAN FAGIN
MORE than one million people in the Chinese city of Handan awoke last week to the alarming news that an essential source of their drinking water, the Zhouzhang River, had been dangerously contaminated by a 39-ton chemical spill in the nearby city of Changzhi. What made the news even more shocking was that the leak, from a factory pipe, had started at least five days earlier but had been kept secret by government officials, who allowed millions of their neighbors to keep drinking.
The people of Handan reacted to these disclosures the same way almost anyone else would. First, they panicked, mobbing stores for bottled water. Then, they were furious, demanding to know why no one had told them they were drinking water laced with a probable carcinogen. If history is any guide, they will never get a satisfactory answer.
For me, reading about Handan prompted a sick feeling of déjà vu. For the last five years I have been writing a history of the chemical industry’s egregious 60-year involvement in the New Jersey shore town of Toms River, which gained unwanted notoriety in the late 1990s thanks to a remarkably well-documented cluster of childhood cancer cases and a long history of often hidden industrial pollution.
When news of the cancer cluster leaked in 1996, there was the predictable townwide panic, including a run on bottled water supplies. After a wrenching five-year investigation, state and federal health officials concluded that the sick children were more likely to have lived in parts of town where exposure to industrial chemicals — via drinking water and polluted air — were highest.
It was, by definition, an association, not a causal relationship, and it was statistically significant only for girls with leukemia. But in the murky world of neighborhood cancer cluster studies, that’s as close to a definitive finding as you’re ever likely to see. That same year, 2001, the families of 69 children with cancer won a multimillion-dollar legal settlement against two chemical companies and the water utility.
As in Toms River, so many things about last week’s debacle in Handan were infuriating, starting with the chemical involved: aniline. That was the compound that launched the synthetic chemical industry in 1856, when a precocious 18-year-old named William Henry Perkin, experimenting in his parents’ London attic, inadvertently discovered that aniline, dissolved in sulfuric acid and mixed with potassium dichloride, made a superb purple dye.
Soon London, Basel, Switzerland, and the Ruhr Valley in Germany were littered with aniline factories, many of which would morph into familiar corporate giants like CIBA, Geigy, Agfa and the German behemoth BASF, the industry leader. In Basel and London, it was said, you could tell which dyes were being made by the color of the nearby canals and rivers, where the factories dumped their waste. Factory bosses would send workers on clandestine midnight runs to the Middle Bridge in Basel to dump barrels of waste into the fast-moving Rhine.
Basel is a border city and the Rhine flows north, so the waste was Germany’s problem — just as last week’s spill was Handan’s problem, not Changzhi’s.
In 1895, a Frankfurt surgeon named Ludwig Wilhelm Carl Rehn began noticing unusual numbers of bladder cancers — he called them “aniline tumors” — among workers in dye plants. Whether aniline was the specific cause was hard to determine, since by then, chemical manufacturers had expanded well beyond aniline and were using dozens of compounds derived from coal and oil to make dyes and many other products. What was obvious was that these synthetic hydrocarbons were leaving a trail of tumors wherever they were manufactured.
The legacy of cancer followed the industry as it spread to America. In the 1950s, at Cincinnati Chemical Works, almost half of the long-term workers who handled a dye compound called benzidine got bladder cancer. Soon after, the Cincinnati factories closed and their Swiss owners transferred manufacturing to a huge new facility in a small town where there would be less scrutiny: Toms River.
Today, there is little left of the vast complex the Swiss operated in Toms River for more than 40 years. Manufacturing ended there in 1996, just as the cluster controversy was heating up. Now, after so many years of painful publicity about cancer and pollution, many residents of Toms River are happy to have moved on, and who can blame them. They are much more likely to be worried about the damage Hurricane Sandy recently inflicted on hundreds of local homes than about any lingering effects from decades-old water and air pollution.
The reality of 21st-century globalism, however, is that none of us can pretend that by pushing the chemical industry out of our communities we have stopped enabling its dangerous practices. The industry jobs that started in Basel, and then migrated to Cincinnati and Toms River, are now in Shanxi Province and other coal-rich areas of China. BASF alone now owns or invests in 45 Chinese ventures. Meanwhile, hundreds of smaller companies like the Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group, whose Changzhi factory was the source of last week’s leak, are busy turning coal into aniline and a host of other chemical products.
Business is booming. If you don’t believe me, head over to the Ocean County Mall in Toms River, where you can get a pair of jeans dyed just the right shade of faded blue, thanks to aniline-based indigo dye. They’re made in China, and they’re cheap — if you don’t count the long-term cost.
Dan Fagin, a professor
of science journalism at New York University, is the author of the forthcoming
book “Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation.”