ABOUT WATER |
CLIMATE CHANGE & THE GLOBAL WATER CRISIS
Since the Paris Climate Summit of 2015, the world and the general public have finally focused more directly on the realities of Climate Change.
However, water experts agree that even if our dependence on fossil fuels is reduced and we do begin to reverse greenhouse gas emissions, if we continue to abuse our planet's fresh water and its water systems, we will not be able to stop climate change.
It is for this reason that we believe that now is also the time for the global conversation about Water.
At first glance, climate change seems like just an environmental issue, but in fact it concerns so many things. It is a resource issue, namely of water, but it equally affects issues from food security, socio-economic conditions, population movements, to gender and human rights. Climate change, just as the global water crisis, can impact everything from human health, livestock mortality, crop failure, urban employment, resulting in everything from environmental refugee crises, economic instability and social conflict - all of which can lead to the destabilization of countries.
And just as climate change has finally come to be understood and be increasingly accepted by the general public as a pressing issue, the urgency of the world’s water crises are also increasingly reaching the headlines around the globe in the past few years. Moreover, the multiple perspectives of water have begun to be considered on the many complex levels that extend beyond the environmental angle.
Through this growing visibility of the world’s water issues, the direct connection between Earth's natural water cycle, the human need for water, and hydropolitics have become increasingly apparent.
POLITICS & THE GLOBAL WATER CRISIS
It is foreseen that extreme weather circumstances that are intensifying due to climate change, will play a role in the growing threat of widespread water shortages. Today, water crises around the world have been rated as the greatest risk facing the world in terms of global instability and potential geo-political impact on international peace and security.
As water is central to the environmental politics of the moment, in order to fully understand the global water crisis and the struggles of all types of water activists around the world, it is important to have the full picture of water
as a political subject.
There are countless global water issues have been increasingly brought to the forefront of public conscience by water activists worldwide that are linked to international and local politics, such as: actions in favor of the return to public and community control of water and sanitation services; actions against mega-water projects that displace populations and endanger cultural heritage sites; actions carried out against the contamination of watersheds, against water grabs and so on.
Global crises interlinked with the politics surrounding water issues are many, and can range from geopolitical conflict, national boundary definition, the exploitation by multi-national companies of water supply systems, the concept of water as a ‘commons’, to the widespread violation of the human right to clean water and sanitation.
A RANGE OF WATER-RELATED ISSUES & CONCEPTS
Public demonstrations over the human right to clean water and sanitation (water democracy); evident inequities and discrimination of access between the rich and poor, both in developed and in ‘developing’ countries (water inequality); the ethical link between water resources, protecting life, fighting global inequality and preserving the environment within the Papal ‘eco-encyclical’ policy report (water and climate justice); the growing need for action regarding the allocation of water resources to ensure sustainability both for people and for the environment (water management); groundwater extraction regulation and water useage restrictions (water legislation); non-traditional water scarcity solutions such as seawater desalinization, treatment of brackish water and wastewater etc (water technology); current dangers faced by the increasing connection between water, energy use and food production (water, food, energy nexus); drought-driven or sea level rise dislocation of populations (water refugees); recognition for the need of international action and policy responses to address water security challenges worldwide (water security agreements); absence of comprehensive international water-sharing treaties (water competition vs water cooperation); need for coordinated nation-state policies and international rules to cover water trade, pollution, pumping, abuse etc. (international water ethics).
Water-system privatization schemes (water capitalism); corporate action in the Global South (water imperialism), exploitation through ownership by multinationals (water colonialism); water supplies polluted by corporate development projects (watershed contamination); manipulation of riparian cross-border flows and exploitation of transboundary basin resources (water appropriation); increased indication of future conflicts between nations due to growing shortage of water for drinking and irrigation (water security threat); ensuing national competition for rivers, lakes, shorelines, and glaciers (water wars); effect of degrading water supply conditions on the health and well-being of humans, ecosystems, and resulting social economic impacts (water quality);
the extraction of groundwater supplies at a rate greater than natural recharge and during drought conditions (water depletion); human, industrial and agricultural useage of water exceeding the available amount (water stress), causing deterioration of fresh water resources in terms of quantity and quality (water degradation); militant and terror groups pursuit of territory with water resources as a means to gain control and/or chemical/biological threat to sabotage water supplies (water terrorism); retail price of bottled water being higher than the international spot price of crude oil (water industry); the soaring market-value of water as an international commodity (water as ‘blue gold’).
A RANGE OF ISSUES IN TODAY'S WATER NEWS
The issue of the world’s expanding water crisis is finally being understood globally on its multiple and complex levels. From the past few years, here are just a few examples that show the range of issues in today’s global water news:
• 2014: the UN special representatives who descended upon Detroit in October 2014 after the city’s water shut-off debacle, to remind the authorities of the human right to water;
• the widespread citizen protests in resistance to austerity policies, for example in the Republic of Ireland regarding the government’s consolidation in early 2015 of water services into one single company in charge of handling the introduction of water charges;
• the affirmation by the Vatican’s Cardinal Peter Turkson, the top official who has lead the Pope’s aggressive ‘Green Agenda’, that water is the archetypal “gift from God” that should not be polluted by the profit motive of privatization - water justice is part of the moral imperative and call for environmental stewardship in the Laudato Si papal encyclical of May 2015;
• and at the other extreme, the bold claim by Daesh that they aim to gain control of Arab water sources from Istanbul to the headwaters of the NIle as a means to exert pressure order to guarantee the water supply of its self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate, already evidenced since 2013 by its seizing of rivers and dams in Syria and Iraq;
• in Sao Paulo, the financial center of Brazil, currently in a drought of historic proportions, water reserves have entered the ‘dead level’ such that its electric utility company communicated tariff warnings about electricity rate price adjustments according to the level of water in the reservoirs which provide not just drinking water, but more than three-quarters of the area’s electricity-generating capacity;
• the strategic territorial gains of al-Houthis in Yemen helped the militants secure water as a key resource for political power leverage, while at the same time causing acute shortage of drinking water in the city of Sanaa (already predicted to be the first national capital to run out of groundwater reserves in this century), and putting at risk free passage of oil shipments through the strategic Bab al-Mandab waterway;
• the tension and pending crisis of attrition between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, surrounding the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam which is under construction on the Blue Nile; despite the agreement of principles between the three countries, signed in March of 2015, the Ethiopian government's plans to inaugurate the first stages of the mega-hydro project in Oct 2016 runs the risk, according to water experts in Egypt of jeopardizing the downstream countries share of the Nile waters;
• although not the case even just a couple of decades ago, Asia is now the driest continent, where availability of freshwater is less than half the global annual average estimated per inhabitant; moreover, the fastest-growing Asian economies with growing industrial demand for water and expanding urban populations are all at or near water-stressed conditions, including India, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and China;
• currently China in particular is in extreme danger of water stress because of inefficient water use and large projects such as the Three Gorges Dam scheme; rivers and lakes have dried up, groundwater aquifers have been over-pumped, and countless species of aquatic life have disappeared - all which have impacted both human and ecosystem health;
• the daily struggle for water in host countries, such as Jordan, of the Syrian refugee crisis over the last 4 years has exacerbated the region’s chronic scarcity - water shortages have reached emergency levels, and are at best as low as 30 liters per person per day - one-tenth of what the average American uses. Water stress is a main factor in the ongoing migration crisis;
• in the USA, over the past year, there has been a heightened awareness about water as ‘politics’ in the news media, about future water-wars, such as the opening statement of the ‘60 Minutes’ presentation of November 2014 that “the wars of the 21st century may well be fought over water”;
• 2014-15: recurring references in mainstream shows such as Jon Stewart and John Oliver’s late-night HBO comedy seriesto issues such as water-depletion, water ‘hoarding’, and exceptional drought in California where unprecedented statewide water restrictions have been imposed on state water agencies, businesses and residents;
• ongoing climate change-denying in Florida - by its state government, by its republican senator and its former governor, both presidential candidates - despite both severe drought in the southern part of the state and evident sea level rise which has dangerously increased flood threat to the coastal cities of the peninsula’s Southeast;
• in Aug. 2015 the latest expansion of the Suez Canal - a 22-mile channel - opened to shipping; it allows 97 ships to pass through each day, however, also opens a wider path for invasive species from the Indian and Pacific Oceans to flood through the Red Sea into the Mediterranean. Scientists have identified more than 450 alien species of fish, invertebrates and algae not part of the Mediterranean’s natural ecosystem. Experts from Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, Israel and Lebanon say this invasion has also drastically altered fisheries and undermined the complex ecosystems of the Levant Basin;
• the Sept. 2015 scientific study which found that 414 towns and cities in the US have already passed their lock-in date - the point at which it's guaranteed that more than half the city's populated land will eventually be underwater - even with strict carbon emissions legislation, including New Orleans, Miami, Philadelphia, New York, Virginia Beach, Sacramento, and Jacksonville, FL;
• just days after the terrorist attack in Paris on 13 Nov 2015, the City Water Board Services, the public water company Eau de Paris adopted stringent security measures, fearing a biological or chemical attack on the city’s water-supply by jihadists;
• while the leaders of the world were talking about climate change at the U.N. Paris Climate Change Summit, the city of Chennai, India faced its worst flooding in over 100 years, with rainfall measurements of epic proportions, 34 times the daily average, and led to destruction and great loss of life. Among other reasons for the city’s disaster (such as over-development and choked river channels), was the explanation from scientists that this extreme weather was the result of dramatically raised temperatures in the Indian Ocean, an indication of worldwide climate changes;
• in the same month extreme rainfall over Wales, Northern Ireland, North-west England and Scotland brought devastating flooding across the northern Great Britain. As the wettest December since records began for the region in 1910, breaking records for both heat and rainfall, with the mean temperature double the long-term average. Three major storms created “extraordinary” hydrological conditions with experts linking the unprecedented conditions to long-term and human-induced global warming;
• also part of this extreme worldwide weather system over this period were usual winter storms in the Midwest of the USA that sent torrents of floodwaters into major rivers (Mississippi R. and its tributaries, such as the Meramec R.; the Arkansas and Illinois Rivers) causing massive historic floods in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and other southern states, affecting cities downstream, and with countless counties declared disaster areas. The flooding was exacerbated by over-construction, constricted river channels, and shrinking floodplains;
• parallel to this, more than 100,000 people in four South American countries were forced to evacuate their homes in areas bordering Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina after the worst floods in over 50 years due to heavy summer rains brought on by the El Nino weather phenomenon which has intensified the frequency and intensity of rains and is linked to global climate fluctuations;
• the ongoing drinking water contamination crisis in Flint, MI: water became poisoned by toxic water from corrosive pipes as a result of the city switching its water source as a money-saving measure (the impoverished Michigan city of which 41% of the 100K residents live at or below the poverty line). In April 2014, the city stopped using Detroit’s water system (fresh glacial lake water of Lake Huron) and switched to the Flint River (where toxins from GM & DuPont factories have been dumped for over a 100 years), resulting in up to 100K citizens being exposed to dangerously high levels of lead that cause severe health problems such as long-term brain damage. On 16 Jan 2016, President Obama declared a state of emergency for the city;
• 2016: in a report released 19 Jan 2016 by the World Economic Forum at the annual Davos meeting, projects that current research indicates that by the year 2050 if we continue in our ways, plastic trash in the ocean will outweigh all the fish. According to the WEF, at least 8 million tons of plastics (one garbage truck per minute), leak into the ocean each year. Given the projected growth in consumption, in just 34 years our oceans will contain more plastics than fish by weight;
• in January, nearly 2 years after Iraqi and Kurdish forces reclaimed Iraq’s largest dam, the Mosul Dam from Daesh fighters, the structure faces threat of collapsing by the spring season, due to insufficient maintenance and serious erosion. This could potentially release 12 billion cubic meters of the Tigris’ waters swollen by winter’s rain and melting snow, which would flood downstream communities, especially the residents of Mosul 50km south, and put the lives of over 500k at risk with a wall of water could be as high as 80 feet. More than a million could be rendered homeless and the country’s supply of clean water and its irrigation system could be disrupted or contaminated;
• in a paper published 12 Feb. by the journal Science Advances, shows that the global water shortage risk is worse than scientists previously thought. The study - which considers multiple variables including climate records, population density, irrigation and industry - indicates that two-thirds of the world’s population lives without sufficient access to fresh water for at least one month of the year. Among some of their findings: as severe scarcity occurs when water consumption is twice as high as available resources, half of those suffering from water scarcity are in the world’s two most populous countries, India and China;
• due to an ongoing drought, water resources across Southern Africa are being depleted at an alarming rate; it has already been declared a national disaster in Zimbabwe. As a result of this situation, food supplies have reached critical on the continent, it is expected to affect 49 million people from Malawi to Namibia, South Africa and Botswana, and leave about 14 million hungry. South Africa, a key source of food for the wider region, suffering its worst drought in a century, where dams have dropped 16% since last October, it is believed that this drought is not part of a normal drought cycle but a result of climate change, which will be the future cause of rising temperatures, erratic rainfall, extreme weather, reduced food production, rising food prices etc;
• a new NASA study published in March, found that the drought in the eastern Mediterranean Levant region (Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey) which began in 1998 is likely the worst one in the past 900 years. The recent drought (1998-2012) stood out as about 50% drier than the driest period in the past 500 years, and 10-20% drier than the worst drought since 1100 b.c. Scientists believe that the Mediterranean is going to be one of the areas that will face more drought in the future due to man-made climate change, with the potential to cause disruption of food systems, and future conflict over water resources;
• March 11th marked the fifth anniversary of the 2011 tsunami disaster in Japan and the Tokyo Electric Power Co. team dealing with radioactive water leaks at the Fukushima nuclear plant - now exceeding 760K tons- announced it will need 4 more years to finish the job. Contaminated water in the basements, mixes with groundwater, and although the company has cut groundwater infiltration to 150 tons per day, nearly one-third of the amount 2 years ago, radioactive water continues to leak into the ocean, although at a far lesser rate than it did early in the disaster;
• according to an Associated Press-GfK tap water poll published in March, about 7 in 10 people in the USA drink it, about half of them first run it through a filter; while 30% of Americans buy bottled water. The poll found only 47% are extremely/very confident about the safety of their drinking water; 33% moderately so; 18% not very/not at all. Trust is weakest among minorities and people with lower incomes. Half of Americans say the federal government should do more to ensure safe drinking water; 40% that the government’s role is about right. More than half of Americans believe that the Flint lead-contaminated water is a sign of widespread problems of tap water in the U.S.
• A report released by the international charity Water Aid stated that India has the world's highest number of people without access to clean water - 75.8 mil Indians - or 5% of the country's 1.25 billion population are forced to either buy water at high rates or use supplies that are contaminated with sewage or chemicals. This accounts for more than a tenth of the 650 mil people worldwide - more than any single country in Africa or China, where 63 mil have no access;
• Thomson Reuters Foundation has revealed that Papua New Guinea is the most difficult and expensive place in the world to access clean water, forcing the poor to spend more than half their income on this essential resource. Roughly 650 million people do not have access to clean water, and must make do with much less than the 50 liters per person per day the WHO deems necessary for domestic use and to maintain health and hygiene. Papua New Guinea, Equatorial Guinea and Angola have the lowest percentage of households with access to clean water in the world;
• a newly published study by MIT scientists has found that economic and population growth on top of climate change could lead to “high risk of severe water stress” across a broad swath of Asia by the year 2050, an area that is home to roughly half the world’s population. And while climate change is expected to be a source of the shortage, the study underscores the extent to which industrial expansion and population growth may by themselves exacerbate water-access problems;
• in April, a Drought-stricken California in the fifth year of drought, fell just short of the state's mandated water conservation target - even though an El Nino weather system delivered a near-average year of rain and snow in some parts of the state, and residents statewide used over 23% less water than years before - by reducing irrigation, fixing leaks, taking shorter showers, letting lawns turn brown, flushing toilets less, and other strict measures to save precious water resources;
• Thailand’s Songkran Water Festival which celebrates the country’s New Year and water, began as the region suffers its worst drought in decades and is forced to cut back on the festival. Critics say that rising temperatures have been exacerbated by China’s extensive damming of the Mekong River - which also runs through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. According to a report by the UN Disaster Risk Management Team, the worst hit has been Vietnam, where the water level has dropped to its lowest in 90 years and nearly 1 million citizens do not have enough to drink;
• a new analysis published by the trade union UNISON about the pay brackets at the UK’s 19 water companies reveals a worrying gulf between those at the top and those at the bottom of the wages league - even on the proper living wage, it would take nearly 130 years for the lowest paid employees in the water industry to earn the same as the highest paid director in the sector does in 12 months. The average water company employees currently makes less than the living wage of £8.25 per hour (£9.40 in London);
• this April, over 4,100 people in Catalonia, Spain were sickened with a virus spreading from an unlikely source: bottled water, raising the concern of how a virus find its way into the exact product that people usually drink to avoid getting sick from a local water supply? This was the first time that 'norovirus' has been found in bottled water according to a microbiology professor at the University of Barcelona;
• an University of Miami study this May found that Florida’s coral reefs, due to the stress of accelerating climate change, are disintegrating far more quickly than previously thought, with warming, acidifying oceans causing a “wasting away” of the coral structures that support an abundance of marine life. Scientists had previously thought that Florida’s reef, the only barrier reef in the continental US, wouldn’t start to break up until around 2050, but the with the falling ocean pH, Florida reefs are already being pushed into structural decline;
• although Californians were ordered to cut their water use because of a historic drought in the state, Nestlé extracted 36 million gallons of water from the San Bernardino national forest in 2015 to sell as Arrowhead bottled water (compared with 28 mil gals in 2014), rankling residents and environmental groups, who want the U.S. government to cut off Nestlé’s access to the water until an environmental study can be conducted. Nestlé has had the legal rights the water since 1894, but although the firm’s permit to operate its water pipeline in the mountains expired in 1988, since it pays its yearly $524, the license is still considered valid by the US Forest Service and by Nestlé;
• since Israel took over the West Bank in 1967, it has remained in near full control over Palestinian water resources in the occupied West Bank through water-sharing agreements that have prevented Palestinians from maintaining or developing their water infrastructure. This Ramadan, as temperatures rose the Israeli national water company Mekorot was accused of restricting water supply to villages and towns in northern West Bank. According to UN-OCHA, daily water access: Israelis: 240-300L per person per day; WHO minimum 100L; Palestinians: 73L, and often water consumption can drop to 20L as people have to buy expensive trucked water;
• this June, the River Seine in France burst its banks, and some areas reported the worst flooding seen in a century, declaring a state of natural disaster for the hardest-hit areas. In Paris, rapidly rising storm waters, at around 6.30 m above normal, forced thousands of people out of their homes, while museums scrambled to protect world-famous artworks, with the Louvre moving 150,000 pieces of art - mostly ancient Islamic, Greek and Italian artifacts;
• in the same month, the summer sea ice cover over the Arctic sea crashed to reach a new record low, with ice cover disappearing at an average rate of 29K miles a day, about 70% faster than the typical rate of ice loss. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the Arctic sea ice extent was a staggering 260K sq km below the previous record for June, set in 2010. The loss of the reflective white ice cover in the polar regions exposes more of the absorptive dark ocean to solar heat, causing the water to warm up, raising air temperatures, and melt more ice. Scientists warn the extra heat is the equivalent of 20 years of carbon emissions;
• this July, the flat wetlands of southern Florida have been hit by an “unprecedented” outbreak of blue-green algae causing miles of waterways and beaches to be swamped with foul-smelling toxins with levels 20x higher than a safety threshold set by the WHO. This area has been extensively re-engineered with canals and man-made lakes, and the algae is a result of chronic problems with water management that developed over decades: a redirection of natural water flows, an influx of nutrients from farm and lawn fertilizers, urban runoff and septic tanks, and joins a growing list of harmful algal blooms and oxygen-deprived “dead zones” that are killing fish, poisoning fresh water supplies, harming ecosystems around the world;
• a study by the University of Eldoret and Ghent University, Belgium, found that the drinking water in Nairobi, Kenya is contaminated with antiretrovirals (ARVs), pain killers, antibiotics, hormones and anti-depressants, and were found in rivers, waste and ground water;
• a new Israeli study published in the International Journal of Cardiology finds that drinking desalinated water lacking magnesium is a significant contributing factor to hundreds of deaths per year among heart patients. Israel desalinates more of its water supply than any other country in the world, with 75% of the country’s tap water now being desalinated, and yet in the four years since its approval, Israel has failed to implement a pilot program to restore to drinking water the magnesium lost in the desalination process, and this is a significant contributing factor to hundreds of deaths per year among heart patients;
• July’s severe flooding across central and southern China killed almost 130 people, damaged more than 1.9 million hectares of crops and led to direct economic losses of more than $5.70 billion and another 295,000 hectares had been destroyed, and water in 43 rivers in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River had exceeded warning levels;
• researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report that a global coral bleaching event began in June 2014 and is the longest on record. It has sapped the color out of vast areas of coral, and now threatens their health. These normally colorful undersea ecosystems are under increasing stress, mostly because of warming oceans, as heat stress has made corals eject algae that feed them and give them color. Several climate conditions have combined to foster the long bleaching event - the long-term warming of the planet, the short-term period of warmer surface waters in the Pacific Ocean (El Niño);
• a new U.S. Geological Survey study presented this July, indicates that of more than 20,000 wells assessed nationwide shows that untreated groundwater in 25 states has a high prevalence of being potentially corrosive. In other words, groundwater is potentially corrosive in half of the USA, in states located primarily in the Northeast, the Southeast, and the Northwest;
• experts have warned that an increase in natural disasters due to global warming is a “threat multiplier” for armed violence. Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that 23% of the armed conflicts in ethnically divided places were linked to climate disasters, compared to just 9% of all armed conflicts. According to the research, a quarter of the violent struggles in ethnically divided countries were preceded by extreme weather, and the role of severe heatwaves, floods and storms in increasing the risk of wars has been controversial, particularly in relation to the long drought in Syria;
• according to the UN, this August 2 million people are without water as the battle for Aleppo between the Syrian government and opposition groups intensifies, heavily damaging the city’s electric and water infrastructure. These cuts come amid a heat wave, leaving people without safe drinking water as what is still available through wells and tanks is not enough to sustain the population’s needs, and puts children at a grave risk of waterborne diseases;
• in the same month, catastrophic flooding has swallowed swaths of the US state of Louisiana, in a deluge that the governor calls “unprecedented” with 6,900,000,000,000 gallons of rainfall in one week, in as disaster that is the worst to hit the USA since Superstorm Sandy, and storm conditions considered once-every-1,000-year events. More than 40K homes have been damaged, and the cost of the destruction will exceed $30 million and Federal assistance to victims over $120 million;
• NOAA will classify the Louisiana disaster as the eighth flood considered to be a once-in-every-500-years event to have taken place in the USA in little over 12 months. Since May of 2015, dozens of people have been killed and thousands of homes have been swamped with water in extreme events in Oklahoma, Texas, South Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland. NOAA climate scientists consider these floods extreme because, based on historical rainfall records, they should be expected to occur only once every 500 years, and warn will become even more common as the world continues to warm;
• according to a new report by Zillow, an online real estate database, released this August, almost 1.9 million homes in the USA - roughly 2 percent of the nation’s housing stock, worth $882 billion - could be underwater by 2100, with six feet of sea level rise. One in 8 Florida homes, representing $413 billion in property value, could flood by the end of the century. In Hawaii, one in 10 homes are at risk, in New Jersey, one in 13, and more than 1 in 6 Boston homes. The new analysis is based on climate projections and mapping from NOAA, and found coastal cities, such as Miami and Honolulu, are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise;
• according to an archaeologist at Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, the impressive pyramids of the ancient city of Teotihuacan in Mexico, may have been built to worship the water that the city’s inhabitants depended on for agriculture. The city declined 1,400 years ago, and researchers have long believed that the pyramids were designed to worship deities representing the sun and moon;
• Guanabara Bay in Rio, Brazil, site of the Olympic sailing events, has attracted international attention as one of the most polluted water bodies on Earth. An AP investigation in early August found that this Bay and other Rio water bodies also are “contaminated with raw human sewage teeming with dangerous viruses and bacteria.” However, Rio’s waters are just most visible example of the planet’s polluted bays and rivers, and are similar to so many other places around the world afflicted with calamitous water pollution – a confrontation between rapid urban population growth, polluting industries, and inadequate or non-existent wastewater treatment;
• according data released just by the U.S. Beverage Marketing Corporation, sales of bottled water are set to outstrip soda sales in the U.S. for the first time since it began tracking the water industry in the 1970s. Industry leaders view this as a public health victory, saying that rising health concerns linked to sugary-laden sodas are largely driving the trend. However, critics point out that bottled water’s surge in popularity, is a result of consumers fear of tap water following public health crises such as Flint, MI. Moreover, is the disturbing danger of beverage companies - like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, which each benefit from the rise in sales through their own water brands - taking control of America’s drinking water;
• according to a new study form scientists at Columbia University, MIT and Hanoi U. of Science, large-scale groundwater pumping is leading to dangerously high levels of arsenic entering some of Southeast Asia’s aquifers, with water now seeping in through riverbeds with arsenic concentrations more than 100X the safety limits. Arsenic in groundwater is a problem in many countries, including parts of the USA, but it is widespread in SE Asia, where its impact on poor communities has been described as the largest mass poisoning in history. Long-term exposure can cause liver and kidney damage, skin cancers, and can also dramatically affect crop yields;
• in a research published in The Lancet Global Health journal, between the years 2010-13, Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt lost 3 months of the average person’s life expectancy, while war in Syria has erased 6 yrs off. The consequences of Arab Spring uprisings and the subsequent conflicts in the Middle East and N. Africa have jeopardized 2 decades of health gains, indicating that health and social systems are in failure; fighting has damaged basic infrastructure, with millions at risk of disease outbreaks caused by water shortages and poor sanitation;
• over 25 years ago when the the 5 former Soviet Republics of Central Asia - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, their relations provided security of water from the upstream republics to downstream ones, who in turn provided gas and coal. But since then, that system has collapsed and has often led to confrontations over water - indicating a danger that relations could deteriorate to the point of future water wars in central Asia - as the more water poor of the nations scramble to find the resources to built dams and man-made lakes to achieve future water security for generating electricity and food production;
• in August, Germany, currently on high alert after two Islamist attacks, recently announced measures to spend considerably more on its police, security forces, and a special unit to for cyber crime and terrorism in a “Civil Defense Plan”. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the German Interior Ministry will reveal plans to tell citizens to stockpile food and water in case of an attack or catastrophe - the population will be obliged to stockpile individual supply of food for 10 days, and enough drinking water to last for 5 days;
• this September, the government of Kenya announced that it plans to restore trees and vegetation across almost 9% of its land mass by 2030, in a progressive move to combat climate change, poverty, food insecurity and to conserve biodiversity. As 3/4 of Kenya's landscape is arid or semi-arid, the E. African country experiences repeated droughts, which trap millions in poverty and hunger. The program will target 5.1 million hectares of deforested and degraded land for: reforestation of degraded natural forests, planting trees on farms and ranchlands, and planting vegetation as buffers along waterways and roads to create what has been called a “green dress” for the nation;
• the Middle East as a whole has the lowest per capita water availability in the world, while it also has one of the highest rates of population growth. Experts are again warning that water supplies in war-torn Syria are deteriorating fast, as warring parties use control over power and water infrastructure is used as a weapon. This water insecurity, due to conflict, and has triggered migration and disease, and stoked a pollution crisis in neighboring Lebanon, as the extra pressure put on its water supplies and sanitation by the sudden 30% increase in population and is now critical. The amount of renewable water available has dropped from more than 1,000 m3 a year per person – considered the threshold of water poverty – to around 700m3 per person since the refugees arrived;
• a study in the journal Current Biology, released in Honolulu at the World Conservation Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world’s largest environmental and nature conservation event, shows that since the early 1990s, about 1.27 million square miles of wilderness - an area 2x the size of Alaska - been destroyed. In other words, in only 20 years humans have have wiped out 10% of Earth’s wilderness. (hardest hit, the Amazon, losing 30%; and Central Africa 14%, of total wilderness area vanished since the early 1990s). The study defined “wilderness” as “biologically and ecologically largely intact landscapes free of human disturbance”. Today, only about 23% of the world’s land area consists of intact wilderness, and the current rate of loss is nearly double the current rate of protection efforts;
• according to the UN, nearly 2 million people in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, the country’s largest city and onetime commercial center, and now the epicenter in recent months of fighting in the 5-year civil war, are now without water. UNICEF spokesman explained that water has been used as a weapon of war by all sides in the conflict, with water pumping stations being bombed, and others turned off - an action condemned on 25 Sept. at the 71st UN General Assembly in NY. Now, residents of Aleppo have had to resort to contaminated water, and are at risk from waterborne diseases;
• an ambitious pilot project in China, funded by central, local government and private sector, is to create 16 “sponge cities” that will reduce flooding by implementing green infrastructure such as permeable pavement, green spaces, and interconnected waterways. The program aims to address challenges including increased urbanization, accurately incorporating local hydrology (urban water system, urban drainage system, solutions for excessive run-off discharge) to make up a make up a sponge city storm-water system. It takes inspiration from low impact development in the U.S., water-sensitive urban design in Australia, and sustainable drainage systems in the UK;
• According to the 2016 Food, Water, Energy and Climate Outlook report released by researchers at MIT, by the year 2050, an additional 1.5 billion people around the globe will experience stressed water conditions by 2050, even if emission reduction goals under the 4 October 2016 ratified Paris Climate Agreement are met. The report indicated that both water use efficiency and water storage will need to improve in order to match future supplies with demand;
• an UN Environment Report that looks at the impact of climate change on the Kilimanjaro mountain region in Tanzania, indicates that climate change has destroyed 13k hectares of its forests, due to higher temperatures which increased the number of wildfires. Because of fewer trees to trap water from clouds, the annual amount of dew on the mountain is believed to have fallen by 25% - equivalent to losing a year's supply of drinking water for 1 million people year. Mt Kilimanjaro’s forests are a vital source of water for the surrounding towns and the wider region, so according to the report, reforesting the continent’s highest mountain could help protect vital water supplies that are under threat across large parts of East Africa.
• at Standing Rock in N. Dakota, the standoff since last April over construction of a 1,172-mi, $US 3.8 bil oil pipeline pit thousands of protesters against the fossil fuel industry and its allies in government and finance, to safeguard a sole source of the Sioux tribe’s sacred land drinking water. Since then, thousands of people across the US, joined historic demonstrations in their support. In Dec, the Obama administration denied the company a final permit. Although the final outcome is unknown due to the election of D. Trump, this example of environmental advocacy and water rights is unique in that never before has such an expensive industrial project encountered opposition significant enough to threaten its opening;
• the ruling of the Obama administration to halt the N. Dakota access oil pipeline construction was reversed by executive order by 'President' Trump in 24 Jan 2017, essentially signalling a sharp turn in the federal government’s environmental policy, also clearing the way the Keystone XL pipeline project, which had been rejected by Obama in 2015. Despite ongoing lawsuits by Native American tribes against the Dakota pipeline, a U.S. District Court Judge ruled in favor of the Energy Transfer Partners Company to continue working on the crossing beneath the Dakota reservoir, threatening the contamination of the broader region’s drinking water;
• 14 February 2017, the Trump administration granted the requests from state regulators regarding the exemption from a water protection rule of 3 aquifers near the Fruitvale, Round Mountain and Tejon oilfields in California. This order now gives oil companies permission to dump contaminated waste fluid into the underground water sources - essentially indicating that this administration’s EPA will help oil regulators give California’s water away to the petroleum industry and allow them to operate injection wells and dump waste (often containing benzene and other pollutants) into underground drinking water supplies;
• in eastern Mosul, Iraq, following 100 days of street combat in which Iraqi security forces drove Daesh fighters out of the city, water and sewage systems collapsed and left residents without any running water for basic daily activities. Residents have taken to cracking the sidewalk pavement with sledgehammers and dig with shovels, sometimes over 30 ft deep. These improvised ‘wells’ now provide muddy sluggish water, only safe for washing and cleaning dishes. For drinking water, residents must search for secure areas to buy bottled water, as well as fruit, vegetables or other food;
• Kenya currently faces a national disaster as a result of a devastating drought brought on by a failed rainy season that is affecting not only wildlife, livestock, but 2.7 million people are now in need of food, and conflicts are growing due to fighting over natural resources. Likewise, many locals accuse the government of diverting water from the Tana River, Kenya's longest waterway in which new hydroelectric dams, irrigation schemes and large agricultural projects are fast straining the river’s resources, and causing much lower water levels downstream - poor water management is compounding the effects of the drought;
• on 16 Feb, the Trump administration dismantled another environmental protection, potentially impacting the drinking water sources of millions of Americans. By voiding the Stream Protection rule that monitored the water polluting activities of coal mining companies, he made it far easier for coal companies to dump mining waste in rivers, lakes and streams, endangering clean water and public health. This rule had covered 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forest;
• on 1 June, President Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States, the Earth’s second-largest polluter, from the Paris climate accord, weakening efforts to combat global warming and global carbon emissions. This decision to abandon the agreement signed by 195 nations is a remarkable rebuke of global environmental action and a unified world community on this issue. Many of the most dire effects of climate change are expected to manifest in water through more extreme droughts, floods, and rising seas;
• 28 June, the anti-environmental Trump administration announces that its EPA will dismantle the Clean Water Act of 2015, that protects the drinking water of 117 Million Americans. This action by Scott Pruitt, who heads the EPA, would affect both water and public health by removing the needed protections for the streams that feed drinking water sources for one in every three Americans; it also protects against pollution reaching waterbodies and wetlands that provide essential habitats and protect US biodiversity;
• August, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, climate change may have contributed to the suicides of nearly 60,000 Indian farmers and farm workers over the past three decades. This new research examines the toll that rising temperatures are already taking on vulnerable societies. The ongoing risk remains if families in India are not helped to adapt to an increasingly warmer climate;
• in August, 3,695 refugees arrived on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, compared to 2,249 in the previous month. More than half of these refugees come from war-torn areas of Syria and Iraq. This unexpected increase in arrivals has left some refugees with limited access to water and sanitation, and the UN refugee agency has requested more international action and assistance;
• following the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria, people in Puerto Rico face a dire shortage of water. Due to ongoing power outages, communities across the island have lost access to running water, and with no immediate end to the shortage in sight, many residents are turning to rivers and springs for their water supplies for all their needs - to drink, to bathe, to wash up, to clean their homes;
• 21 Sept, an article in Bloomberg Businessweek outlines how Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company, which has roughly 100 bottled water factories in 34 countries around the world, makes $billions bottling water, now dominating this controversial industry. By going into economically depressed areas with lax water laws, or with the promise of jobs and new infrastructure, in exchange for tax breaks and access, this Swiss multinational bottles and sells a resource it pays little for around the globe.
ABOUT WATER & ARTISTS
THE ROLE OF ARTISTS WITHIN THE GLOBAL AWARENESS MOVEMENT
Recent studies have shown that there is a growing need for new models of communication in the context of communicating the most pressing issues of our time. The vital role of culture and creative production within this objective has become increasingly visible. It has been argued that the artist as messenger is not only a compelling communicator but can serve as the most important link to pass on scientific or complex information - through the combined expression of both intellectual and emotional concepts.
While water justice activists around the world engage with global water issues, socially and politically-engaged artwork exposing environmental issues and addressing real life situations and circumstances is also contributing to the safeguarding and preservation of the Earth’s most critical and irreplaceable natural resource. Together these two forces are a strong alliance in motivating the processes of change.
The activist-artists’ use of the combination of many fields of research creates a broader base of messengers for the mission. Leaders of the charge on climate and water issues already recognize the strength of art as a tactical approach and as entry point to drive potential change that can be translated into transformative and sustainable action.
The closing space between art, democracy and political action has been shown to be the most impactful of ways to sensitize and hence effectively mobilize public opinion, and to inspire in people from both the art and non-art worlds a personal conviction to a cause, through initiatives that combine reflection, analysis and action.
It is important to continue to communicate with impact the important connections between water and climate change, balance the needs of all citizens and the environment, and to convey to the world’s governments that they must pay heed to protect and preserve the Earth's most critical and irreplaceable natural resource: our water.
ACTIVATING ART & PEOPLE
The multidisciplinary approach of the activist-artist in contemporary art practices is vital in reinforcing how art can be a more visible vehicle for change, both locally and globally. By demonstrating that there is a direct connection of water to larger social, environmental and political issues, we see the potential impact that the artist’s voice and unique interpretation of important issues can have, to inform and activate other artists, the public and decision-makers alike.
To enable positive change through art and people regarding any important global issue, collective action is required in order to bring greater awareness to a wider audience worldwide; everyone can be involved in this process, and growing impact of the activist-artist in the movement demanding effective action within all levels of society is gaining increasing recognition.
By engaging all levels of society to realize the effect that collective decision-making and participation has on our daily lives but also on policy makers - who must define objectives and boost policy ambitions based on their potential electoral impact. By making climate change and water concerns into voting issues, we help build the social and the political impetus behind the critical need for immediate action. Indeed, increased citizen involvement has helped drive governments to make difficult choices and adopt necessary reforms.
For each of its international audiences and moreover for the general public, the Water Projects contribute to the many global discussions going on that are aimed at preventing the further pushing of our planet’s life-support systems beyond their limits. As an ongoing initiative, the projects are a declaration with a collective voice to raise water awareness, to both help mobilize civil society to request results from the world’s leaders.
In an effort to be a counterpart to the diplomatic and political challenges begun at the COP21’s Paris Agreement, and the global goals that have been agreed upon for the future, this ongoing water initiative shares the desire to inform the world of the water crisis within its larger context and contribute collective momentum to push potentially world-saving policies: into meaningful action.
Banner image: from Ravi Agarwal's 'After The Flood' series (2011)