Archive for August, 2011

August 23, 2011

Stockholm: Green Economy Report Outlines Investment Strategies to Help Reduce Water Scarcity

UNEP and Fredrick Mugira
August 23, 2011

Investing 0.16 per cent of global GDP in the water sector could reduce water scarcity and halve the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation in less than four years, according to United Nations research released today.

Currently, the failure to invest in water services and to collect, treat and re-use water efficiently, is exacerbating water shortages in many parts of the world and contributing to a situation where global demand for water could outstrip supply within 20 years.

There is increased need for investing in sanitation and water supply in LDCs to end water scarcity

In the water chapter of its ground-breaking Green Economy Report, released during the World Water Week conference in Stockholm, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said investing in sanitation and drinking water, strengthening local water supply systems, conserving ecosystems critical for water supply, and developing more effective policies can help avert the high social and economic costs resulting from inadequate water supplies.

Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, for example, lose an estimated US$9 billion a year, or 2 percent of their combined GDP, due to problems caused by poor sanitation, such as water-borne diseases.

“Improving access to cleaner drinking water and sanitation services is a cornerstone of a more sustainable, resource-efficient society”, said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director.

“The Green Economy Report shows how accelerated investment in water-dependent ecosystems, water infrastructure and water management, coupled with effective policies, can boost water and food security, improve human health and promote economic growth,” added Mr Steiner.

With no improvement in efficiency of water use, water demand is expected to outstrip supply by as much as 40 per cent by 2030.

The Green Economy Report shows that improvements in water productivity, as well as increases in supply (from new dams and desalination plants as well as more recycling) are expected to narrow this gap by about 40 per cent, but the remaining 60 per cent will have to come from infrastructure investment, water policy reform and the development of new technologies.

“Without this investment and policy reform, water supply crises will become increasingly common,” said Professor Mike Young of the University of Adelaide, lead author of the water chapter of the Green Economy Report.

Improving the efficiency and sustainability of water use is also vital if the world’s increasing energy demands are to be met. As countries become wealthier and more populous, industrial demand for water is expected to increase. In China, for example, more than half of the increase in demand for water over the next 25 years is expected to result from a significant expansion in its industrial sector.

Under the green investment scenario outlined in the Green Economy Report, global water use could be kept within sustainable limits and the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by half the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, could be met by 2015.

With an annual investment of US$198 billion, or 0.16 per cent of global GDP by 2030, water use could be made more efficient, enabling increased and sustainable agricultural, biofuel and industrial production. Under this scenario, the number of people living in water-stressed regions is 4 per cent less than under the business-as-usual scenario, and 7 per cent less by 2050.

With no improvement in efficiency of water use, water demand is expected to outstrip supply by as much as 40 per cent by 2030

The report highlights several case studies where green water investments are producing economic and environmental benefits.

As part of its Five-Year Plan for Green Growth, the Republic of Korea, for example, announced a US$ 17.3 billion investment in its Four Major Rivers Restoration Project in 2009. The five key objectives of the project are to secure water resources against water scarcity, implement flood control measures, improve water quality whilst restoring river-basin ecosystems and develop local regions and cultural and leisure space around major rivers.

Overall, it is expected that the project will create 340,000 jobs and generate an estimated US$ 31.1 billion of positive economic effects as rivers are restored to health.

August 15, 2011

Water in an Urbanising World

Fredrik Mugira
August 15, 2011

The Executive Director, UN-HABITAT Dr. Joan Clos laments that the supply of water resource in most cities around the world has not kept pace with the high demand created by economic activity and rapid population growth.

This, he says is mostly being witnessed in less developed regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Outdated infrastructure caused by low investments, poor planning, weak and un-enforced legislation and poor governance are some of the major challenges confronting those charged with the responsibility of providing water in our cities,” notes clos further stressing that, “climate change, including disruptive events such as flooding and drought also calls for urgent water-related mitigation and adaptation measures.”

Expanding and upgrading water and basic sanitation services in urban centers in developing countries remains a big challenge. The above photo was taken in Mbarara town, Uganda.

The challenge now lies in expanding and upgrading water and basic sanitation services to keep pace with urban growth, says Clos.

“With large sections of the urban population living in informal settlements where water and basic sanitation are severely deficient, the challenge is how to expand and upgrade these services to keep pace with urban growth, while ensuring access to an adequate level of services for the poor,” notes clos.

Clos’ remarks come ahead of the World Water Week to be held from 21-27 August 2011 in Stockholm, Sweden.

UN –Water designated UN-HABITAT to coordinate the organisation of World Water Day 2011 under the theme “Water and Urbanization.” UN-HABITAT will now continue the water and urbanisation debate in Stockholm, Sweden during the World Water Week.

“The 21st session of the annual World Water Week in Stockholm under the theme “Responding to Global Challenges: Water in an Urbanizing World” provides a good opportunity to build on the outcome of this year’s World Water Day celebrations coordinated by UN-HABITAT in Cape Town South Africa,” notes Clos.

A group of artists performing during the 2011 World Water Day celebrations in Cape Town South Africa

The Cape town even whose final report was released by UN-HANITAT last week, focused international attention on the impact of rapid urban population growth, industrialization and uncertainties caused by climate change, conflicts and natural disasters on urban water systems.

It also encouraged action by governments, organisations, communities, and individuals around the world to engage actively in addressing urban water, management challenges.

To further this, during the World Water Week in Sweden, UN-HABITAT and its partners will convene a number of seminars to discuss important issues such as building water related resilience in urban areas, bench-marking governance and partnerships of water operators, the human rights based approach and community involvement in public water supply and getting the “Five Year Drive for Sanitation” on track among others.

August 14, 2011

Kenya: Severe climatic changes push millions into the brink of death

Joyce Chimbi
August 14, 2011

Millions face starvation in Northern part of Kenya as a combination of failed rains, conflict in Somali and over-dependence on livestock compromises food security.

This comes as drought continues to ravage countries such as Somali, Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia

“What we are seeing here is almost a perfect storm, conflict in Somali, rising fuel and food prices and lack of rain,” explains Antony Lake the Executive Director UNICEF having toured the region where millions are facing imminent death due to starvation.

Antony Lake the Executive Director UNICEF

Reports by UNICEF indicate that this is not simply a refugee crisis but a situation that is being replicated in other communities across the arid and semi-arid regions in the Horn of Africa.

Although drought has affected everyone in these regions, the impact has been extreme on women and children especially expectant and breastfeeding mothers.

According to UNICEF, in Turkana alone, in a population of about 850,000 people, more than 385,000 children and 90,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women are suffering from acute malnutrition increasing the number of new admission of children suffering from malnutrition to a staggering 78 percent.

In Kenya alone, Abbas Gullet the Secretary General of the Kenya Red Cross says that an estimated 5 million people in various part of the country are facing starvation. This is amidst a crisis in Daadab complex as 1,400 refugees from the Central and Southern Somali find their way into the camp forcing the government to open a second camp.

“The needs of these new arrivals are growing so fast that MSF is rushing to bring in additional staff and resources. Last month, staff at the health posts gave 11,963 consultations. They are seeing large numbers of patients with respiratory tract infections, diarrhoea, tuberculosis, malnutrition and trauma, and an increasing number of complicated cases,” according to reports by Medecins San Frontieres (MSF).

MSF further notes that “a new health post was opened in March, in the middle of the area where the newcomers are settling, which is already doing an average of 110 consultations a day. We have taken on more than 50 extra staff since October, bringing its total number in Dagahaley camp to 458.”

This comes less than two months after President Kibaki declared drought a national disaster as the lives of people in areas such as Moyale, Turkana, Wajir, Marsabit and Mandera hang in the balance due to lack of food and water.

Further, the aid agency had stated that children who are severely malnourished are at nine times more likely to die than healthy children.

“This is a very serious situation, across the region (Horn of Africa) millions of people are affected. Of this, 2 million children are severely affected with half a million of them suffering from severe acute malnutrition and at the brink of death,” UNICEF Executive Director, Antony Lake emphasizes.

Having endured a long drawn sociopolitical crisis for about 20 years, the situation has led to the escalation of poverty, food insecurity and instability which has impacted negatively on the lives of many Somalis. UNICEF confirms that that one in every three Somalis is living through a humanitarian catastrophe.

The situation in Somali has spilled over to the neighboring countries particularly Kenya and Ethiopia who are themselves dealing with millions of people who require urgent food and water relief.

This has led to an influx of refugees into both countries provoking animosity among the host communities who feel that the refugees are competing with them for scarce food aid.

“The host community is now expressing frustration for what they see as negligence as the government and Aid agencies rush to the rescue of the refugees,” explains Lake.

It is significant to note that Northern Kenya is home to Daadab complex which is the largest refugee site in the world and even though its structures were designed to accommodate about 90,000 people, there are only three refugee camps which constitute the Daadab complex and each was meant to accommodate 30,000 asylum seekers.

Daadab complex is the largest refugee site in the world

Nonetheless, it is now home to an estimated 423,000 thousands refugees. With UNICEF estimating that an additional 50,000 refugees are living on the outskirts of the camp.

However, reports by various aid agencies reveal that the refugees might just be fleeing into the camp of death as disturbing images of people literally at the brink of death begin to emerge.

This is due to the fact that there is no longer space to accommodate any more refugees into Daadab, and neither is there enough food and water to meet their needs. The camp was officially declared full in 2008.

Sanitation is therefore a problem whose consequences might lead to a break up of diseases escalating the mortality rates in the camp.

The British government has in light of the bleak circumstances provided emergency assistance for more than 1 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somali as the humanitarian situation continue to escalate in the Horn of Africa.

“People in Britain have responded with great generosity but the situation is getting worse-and is most severe in Somali, where families have to cope with living in one of the most insecure countries in the world, we are calling to everyone to respond with such support and generosity to enable us to meet the needs of those in dire need of our help,” says Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development (UK).

August 9, 2011

Scientists Pinpoint River Flow Associated with Cholera Outbreaks, Not Just Factors Related to Global Warming

Water Journalists Africa Team
August 09, 2011

An examination of the world’s largest river basins found nutrient-rich and powerful river discharges has led to spikes in the blooms of plankton associated with cholera outbreaks.

These increased discharges often occur at times of increased temperature in coastal water, suggesting that predicting global warming’s potential temperature effect on cholera will be more complicated than first thought, according to a new study published today in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Phytoplankton such as this one are microscopic plants

The findings by the authors will help give public health authorities another critical clue toward predicting future outbreaks of cholera based on climatic and environmental models in the hopes of preventing the spread of the deadly and highly infectious disease that currently plagues several countries.

The study began in the Bay of Bengal where researchers aimed to solve a mystery: When sea temperatures rise, phytoplankton—microscopic plants that live in the ocean and provide a food source for zooplankton, with which cholera bacteria are associated—decrease. So why had past studies found sea temperatures rising and numbers of phytoplankton also increasing?

The authors analyzed twelve years of data, including images from NASA satellites, and pinpointed the large flows from the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers, carrying nutrients from soil, as the cause of a bloom of phytoplankton. This is followed by zooplankton blooms and thus contributes to outbreaks of cholera.

“We weren’t satisfied with just this result, so we then went to test this finding in other places—the Orinoco (in South America), the Congo, and the Amazon river basins, and we found the same thing: The positive relationship between phytoplankton blooms and ocean temperature is related to large river discharges,” said Shafiqul Islam, PhD, the lead investigator of the study and a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford/Somerville, Massachusetts. “The main significance is that finding an association between sea surface temperatures and cholera outbreaks should not lead us to conclude that with global warming, cholera will definitely go up.”

But Islam said that global warming may play a role in other ways in outbreaks of cholera, including contributing to droughts and high salinity intrusion in the dry season and floods in the wet season. Both of those conditions have been found also to contribute to cholera epidemics, as published recently in the journal Water Resources Research. “If river flows are more turbulent, if droughts are more severe, if flood is more severe, cholera is more severe,” he said. “But cholera may not have direct linkage with rising sea surface temperatures.”

Cholera is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which produces a toxin that causes severe diarrhea. Cholera occurs most frequently in areas with poor sanitation, crowding, and social instability. It creates intense fear because of the sudden onset of diarrhea with the potential for high numbers of deaths.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a raging cholera outbreak that started nine months ago has killed hundreds and sickened more than 100,000 people, the World Health Organization reported in July. Haiti is currently seeing a fresh upsurge in cholera cases since the rainy season started this spring. That epidemic, which began in October 2011, has caused illness in more than 300,000 people, killing nearly 5,000.

“We don’t know for sure if Haiti’s cholera outbreak is related to its river system, but its rivers were severely impacted by the earthquake,” said Rita R. Colwell, PhD, co-author of the study and a professor at both the University of Maryland and the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It’s a system we should study in Haiti. I’m intrigued to see this relationship between cholera and river flow. It gives us much more detail about what can trigger cholera outbreak.”

Peter J. Hotez, MD, PhD, President, American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, said the study underscored the “complex ecology associated with cholera,” adding that researchers’ work in understanding cholera outbreaks is critically important now.

“Cholera seems to be gaining a foothold in more places than it used to be,” Hotez said. “We used to see shorter outbreaks, but in Africa, and now in Haiti, we’re seeing nationwide epidemics lasting months or more than a year. We obviously need to be taking a different approach.”

The study’s authors include: Antarpreet S. Jutla, Water and Environmental Research, Education and Actionable Solutions Network (WE REASoN), Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tufts University; Ali S. Akanda, Water and Environmental Research, Education and Actionable Solutions Network (WE REASoN), Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tufts University; Jeffrey K. Griffiths, Director, Global Health, Public Health and Professional Degree Programs, Tufts University School of Medicine, Associate Professor of Public Health and of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine, Adjunct Associate Professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Engineering, Adjunct Associate Professor, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University; Rita Colwell, Institute for Advanced Computer Studies and the Maryland Institute of Pathogen Research, University of Maryland College Park and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Shafiqul Islam, Water and Environmental Research, Education and Actionable Solutions Network (WE REASoN), The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tufts University.

August 1, 2011

Independent UN expert urges Namibia to expand access to sanitation services

UN News Center
August 1, 2011

The United Nations independent expert on the right to water and sanitation has taken note of Namibia’s success in expanding access to water and urged the Government to make similar efforts to ensure that proper sanitation is available to more people in the southern African country.

At the end of a week-long visit to the country, Catarina de Albuquerque noted that Namibia has over the past 20 years achieved significant progress in extending its water network across the country.

Catarina de Albuquerque

“It is time for sanitation to get the same attention,” she said, adding that Namibia would have to make an important choice between wet and dry sanitation.

“Wet sanitation risks making unaffordable water even more unaffordable. In the dry climate of Namibia, wet sanitation uses precious water, while dry sanitation offers a more sustainable path forward. However, dry sanitation solutions will only work with widespread awareness-raising efforts,” she added.

Ms. Albuquerque noted that access to improved water sources appeared to be very high, especially in urban areas, but that water points were still far away from households and water remained too expensive.
“When water is too expensive, those with lower incomes are forced to make unacceptable trade offs – choosing between water and medicine or food for their child, for instance,” she said.

The UN Special Rapporteur stressed that access to water and sanitation are human rights, and while that did not mean that the two services must be offered free of charge, it meant that systems must be in place to ensure availability to those who face economic barriers to access.

Ms. Albuquerque said community participation in the design and implementation of water and sanitation projects was indispensable.
“Communities have important perspectives which must be taken into account in the design and implementation of water and sanitation projects,” she said. “They also play an important role in monitoring quality.”

Ms. Albuquerque was received by the Namibian Prime Minister, representatives from Government ministries, the private sector and civil society. She also visited informal settlements in Windhoek, the capital, the Windhoek central prison, as well as communities in Outapi and Epupa.

She will prepare a report to be presented at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next year, describing her main findings and providing recommendations.

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