November 06, 2009

Weekly News Roundup: Water Security

Countries all over the world are beginning to feel the impacts of water security in its many forms. Yemen has become a prime example of what happens when water mismanagement, overpopulation, and an unlucky geographic location collide. Currently, poor farming practices (and the growing of qat, a cash crop, in particular) have substantially depleted the ground water reserves in Yemen. In fact The New York Times has characterized the problem as “a crisis that threatens the very survival of this arid, overpopulated country, and one that could prove deadlier than the better known resurgence of Al Qaeda here.” The interplay between the falling water supply and insurgency has created a truly tenuous situation.

In Africa, colonial water sharing agreements that favored Egypt and the Sudan are being challenged. As countries in upper portions of the Nile continue to experience droughts that create food instability, they are attempting to create agreements that will allow for further irrigation of dry regions. Uganda’s proposed projects in particular have created tensions along the Nile. Egypt has stated that their water use is paramount because more than 80 million depend on water from the river. With little to no rainfall irrigation, water supplies are gleaned from the Nile, which could mean increased stress on the Nile as a viable water resource as other countries move to boost their irrigation.

Meanwhile, India is discussing dramatic action to prevent increasing drought inside its borders. A plan to link India’s rivers is seriously being considered in order to expand the total land area under irrigation. The environmental impacts, however, would be substantial. Short-run increases in water supplies may help increase access to food, but the long term price of destroyed ecosystems should be calculated into India’s policies.

As global warming accelerates the melting of glaciers, communities that rely on glacial runoff could become severely hampered. The Nepalese government is doing its best to draw attention to the problem by holding a cabinet meeting on Mt. Everest. According to the government, melting glaciers threaten both traditional ways of life as well as the 1.3 billion people that depend on the Himalayan glaciers for water. Some predict that a rapid meltdown would create the one-two punch of increased flooding followed by a severe drought.

Meanwhile, back in the United States the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working to restructure the levees along the west bank of the Mississippi river to prevent flooding from future storms. Though not your typical water security issue, surging flood waters have become a major concern in the region, which has regained its pre-Katrina population level. Predictions indicate that a major storm could put up to 70% of the area underwater without a restructuring of the new levee system.