July 12, 2010

This Weekend's News: Much About H20

When water is mentioned in several articles throughout the week, it is noticeable. It played major and minor roles in two different New York Times pieces yesterday, with a Boston Globe piece last week leading the charge.

On July 7, 2010, the Globe ran an article about Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, commenting on the effects of climate change on the maritime environment. “Roughead joked that lots of water is great for a Navy guy, but he otherwise was quite serious,” the reporter scribed. This piece fits nicely with the next two in that it is a stark reminder that the world’s waters are changing – what resources are found where, the physical conditions, and what people are doing to adjust. We cannot safely plan around the oceans as though they are a static resource.

And yet, there is a growing trend toward reliance on desalination around the world, including in China, the United States, and especially Australia, the subject of said Times article yesterday. This piece is great in presenting the downsides of investing in this energy-intense technology, however it could have noted that many researchers are at work on cheaper, less energy-intense mechanisms than the giant plants Australia is now investing in – a few were highlighted in the recent National Geographic special water issue. The Times piece notes:

Australia’s five largest cities are spending $13.2 billion on desalination plants capable of sucking millions of gallons of seawater from the surrounding oceans every day, removing the salt and yielding potable water. In two years, when the last plant is scheduled to be up and running, Australia’s major cities will draw up to 30 percent of their water from the sea.

You can do the conversions of population and water demand, but price tags in that range will likely make this an expensive means of obtaining sufficient water supplies beyond the reach of, for example, Yemen, the subject of other said Times article, from yesterday’s magazine. While the article is not focused on Yemen’s resource issues, this is vital background reading for any natural security types for our understanding of how resource factors are comingling with other factors to destabilize some spots of the Earth. It states ominously that Yemen is “running out of oil and may soon be the first country in the world to run out of water.”

Given their dual energy/water woes, when I spoke with a group of Yemeni officials earlier this year, our water discussions focused most heavily on improving rainwater capture, detection capabilities, and other low-energy means of hedging against this fate – that is, running out of water. But no one seemed very hopeful. I won’t retread this ground much, but as a reminder, we recently had a Yemen week here at the blog, and you can access all of our work on the subject here, or by hitting the cleverly-titled “Yemen” tag on the left.

This Week’s Events

In addition to the series finale of The Hills, there are a few good natural security events that may be worth your time this week. Today at 8:30 AM at the Woodrow Wilson Center check out “China and the Persian Gulf,” which I know I’ll try to webstream later. If you’re into security-building through agriculture and food programs, head back to the Wilson Center again on Tuesday at 9:00 AM for “U.S. Food Assistance Programs,” where they will assess what is and is not working for U.S. food programs. Wednesday at 10:00 AM you can slide on over to USIP for their very timely event on “High-Value Resource Contracts, Conflict, and Peace in Afghanistan” – she doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to send Alex to this one, so tell her hello if you attend too. I’m not seeing anything on the Hill scheduled for the week, but we’ll let you know if anything pops up.

Have a great Monday everyone! Go forth, and stay cool out there.