Archive for the ‘Water’ Category

Sep22

Innovation of the Week: A Low-Cost Composting Toilet

Share
Pin It

By Sarah Alvarez

Across the Asia-Pacific region, millions of people have inadequate access to sustainable sanitation infrastructure—in other words, they don’t have a safe and sanitary place to go to the bathroom. In the Philippines alone, 28 million people do not have access to the sanitation services needed to prevent contamination and disease. As a result, millions of people suffer from preventable diseases like dysentery.

Low-cost composting toilets can improve sanitation in less developed areas. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The Water, Agroforestry, Nutrition and Development Foundation (WAND), a Philippine-based organization focused on eco-based solutions to human development challenges, has developed a low-cost composting toilet called Ecosan (Ecological Sanitation) that uses local materials to minimize water contamination and create fertilizers from human waste.

The WAND Foundation has developed several dry composting toilet models, some of which were recognized at the 2011 Tech Awards at Santa Clara University. At the conference, Cora Zayas-Sayre, executive director of the WAND Foundation, explained that by using local materials, the organization has been able to build 275 toilets at a cost of US$30 per toilet. She added that this innovation has already impacted the lives of 3,000 people.

This innovation simultaneously addresses two challenges that prevail in developing countries: the unsustainable and costly use of water-sealed toilets, and the hygienic management of human waste. Water-sealed toilets require pumping mechanisms to transport water and sewage between 300 and 500 meters away from the home, a method that is economically and environmentally unsustainable. Inadequate management of human waste can lead to a host of health problems in developing areas, and dramatically impact quality of life.

(more…)

Aug29

Cities Can Work with Farmers to Meet Growing Need for Water

Share
Pin It

By Sophie Wenzlau 

As world population grows, meeting the demand for clean freshwater can be a serious challenge, especially for arid and semi-arid cities such as Los Angeles and Dubai. According to a report published in Water Policy earlier this year, cities around the world are struggling to access the water they need to support continued growth.

Half of all cities with populations greater than 100,000 are located in water-scarce basins. (Photo Credit: Business Insider)

According to UN Water, world population is projected to grow from 6.9 billion in 2010 to 8.3 billion in 2030 and to 9.1 billion in 2050. At the same time, urban population will increase by 2.9 billion, to a total of 6.3 billion in 2050, as a result of urban population growth and movement into urban centers. Growth in cities has led to a dramatic increase in urban water use; since 1950, global water use in cities has increased five-fold as a result of increasing domestic and industrial demand.

To meet the growing demand for water, many cities—such as San Antonio, Adelaide, Phoenix, and San Diego—have had to supplement the use of local water resources with significant water imports from major rivers or aquifers. As a result, urban water use has contributed to the depletion of many important freshwater sources, such as the Colorado, Yellow, and Amu Darya rivers, and resulted in significant ecological damage.

In response to increasing water scarcity, some cities are promoting innovation, efficiency, and conservation in water use. For example, the city of San Diego—which is largely dependent on the depleted Colorado River—has taken steps to promote conservative use of local water resources and decrease reliance on imported water by diversifying local water supplies. In San Diego, these measures have included the development of a water recycling system, a desalinization system, urban conservation policy, and, most notably, an urban-rural water conservation partnership in which the city compensates farmers in surrounding areas for implementing agricultural water conservation measures.

According to Water Policy, San Diego’s agricultural conservation partnership is an innovative model worthy of consideration by other cities, for “half of all cities with populations greater than 100,000 are located in water-scarce basins, and in these basins agricultural water consumption accounts for more than 90 percent of all freshwater depletions.” San Diego’s model is innovative in that it frees up water for metropolitan consumption by addressing inefficiencies in the region’s most water-intensive sector. According to the San Diego County Water Authority, agricultural conservation measures are expected to provide 37 percent of city water supply by 2020.

(more…)

Mar27

Aquaponics: An Interview with Sweet Water Organics’ Matt Ray

Share
Pin It

Nourishing the Planet’s Kimberlee Davies spoke recently with Matt Ray, the principal farmer for Sweet Water Organics, an aquaponics training organization in Milwaukee, about his experience in the field of aquaponics.

Sweet Water Organics uses aquaponics technology to grow food in downtown Milwaukee.

What is aquaponics? How did you become involved?

Aquaponics has been around for centuries. It was traditionally a technique in tropical climates, using floating bamboo rafts with vegetation in fresh water pools. This was simply the adaptation of agriculture to the tropics. The technique has become cutting edge over the last 20 years. We can adapt aquaponics to today’s geographies and culture.

Aquaponics is a blending of aquaculture (the raising of aquatic animals) and hydroponics (growing plants in water without soil). In aquaponics, aquatic animals serve as the nutrition base for the plants. The great thing about aquaponics is that it is a closed system; it doesn’t have to flow in one pipe and out of another.

I saw it begin to pop up in the late 1980s, starting with the Virgin Islands, Australia, and even Asia, where fish are grown symbiotically with rice paddies. Forward-thinking farmers and activists began to develop the practice in non-tropical climates, and academics began researching the field. Twenty years later, we have a lot more people doing it. Scientific data has emerged to support the spread and success of this technique. It’s possible to take the nuts and bolts and adapt them to wherever you are. It’s going to work and it can be replicated.

(more…)

Mar22

The Looming Threat of Water Scarcity

Share
Pin It

By Supriya Kumar

Some 1.2 billion people—almost a fifth of the world—live in areas of physical water scarcity, while another 1.6 billion face what can be called economic water shortage. The situation is only expected to worsen as population growth, climate change, investment and management shortfalls, and inefficient use of existing resources restrict the amount of water available to people. It is estimated that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, with almost half of the world living in conditions of water stress.

Global water scarcity map. (Photo credit: International Water Management Institute)

Water scarcity has several definitions. Physical scarcity occurs when there is not enough water to meet demand; its symptoms include severe environmental degradation, declining groundwater, and unequal water distribution. Economic water scarcity occurs when there is a lack of investment and proper management to meet the demand of people who do not have the financial means to use existing water sources; the symptoms in this case normally include poor infrastructure.Large parts of Africa suffer from economic water scarcity.

(more…)

Feb28

To Combat Scarcity, Increase Water-Use Efficiency in Agriculture

Share
Pin It

By Sophie Wenzlau

This blog was originally published as part of an online consultation organized by The Broker  on the role of water in the post-2015 development agenda. Click here to read the original post. 

Photo Credit: World Bank

The South Centre has argued that “as oil conflicts were central to 20th century history, the struggle over freshwater is set to shape a new turning point in the world order.” Water scarcity, which already affects one in three people on earth, is set to increase in magnitude and scope as the global population grows, increasing affluence drives up demand, and the climate changes. According to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), “half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030, including 75 to 250 million people in Africa.” In the Sahel region of Africa, desertification caused by overgrazing, unsustainable farming, and the collection of wood for fuel is already responsible for systemic crop failure, soil erosion, and devastating famine. Failure to act on water scarcity will lead to more of the same.

Though water scarcity will surely play a defining role in the 21st century, the assumption that ‘water wars’ are inevitable is overly deterministic and assumes the worst of people. Historically, the need to manage trans-group or trans-boundary water basins has actually tended to facilitate cooperation between groups with competing interests. In the last fifty years, there have been only 37 incidents of acute conflict over water, while during the same period, approximately 295 international water agreements were negotiated and signed. According to Nidal Salim, director of the Global Institute for Water, Environment, and Health, the potential to peacefully overcome water scarcity does exist; it depends on political will, trust between nations, and real manifestations of cooperation.

To peacefully overcome water scarcity, leaders at all levels must prioritize efforts to cooperatively increase water-use efficiency, reduce water waste, and manage demand.

Increasing efficiency in irrigation—which is responsible for the consumption of 70 percent of the world’s total water withdrawal—would be a sensible place to start. Improved water management in agriculture could increase global water availability, catalyze development, reduce soil erosion, and lead to increased and diversified agricultural yields, augmenting our ability to feed a population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050.

(more…)

Feb19

An Interview with Tilahun Amede: Improving Water Resource Management in the Nile Basin

Share
Pin It

By Carol Dreibelbis

In October 2012, Nourishing the Planet’s Carol Dreibelbis spoke with Tilahun Amede of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). ICRISAT aims to empower people living in drylands around the world to overcome poverty, hunger, and a degraded environment through better agriculture.

Tilahun Amede, systems agronomist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. (Photo credit: ILRI/Ewen Le Borgne)

For the past several years, Dr. Amede has been involved in research-for-development projects on rainwater management strategies in the Nile River Basin. He has worked for the International Water Management Institute and the International Livestock Research Institute to lead the CGIAR Challenge Programme on Water & Food’s Basin Development Challenge for the Nile.

Dr. Amede has also worked as a senior research fellow at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and as an assistant professor at Hawassa University in Ethiopia. He has been making a valuable contribution to the fields of agronomy and water management in Africa for over 20 years, and has published more than 40 papers in peer reviewed journals.

What is a “Basin Development Challenge,” and what makes these research programs effective?

Each Basin Development Challenge (BDC) works at the river-basin level to identify one big agricultural challenge. Research then focuses on developing interventions that can improve livelihoods and ecosystem services in ways that benefit all countries in the river basin. BDCs emphasize collective action and cooperation to achieve these goals. In the drought-prone Nile basin, rainwater management has the potential to increase agricultural productivity and improve water access for all member countries.

(more…)

Jan08

Reforming Energy Subsidies Could Curb India’s Water Stress

Share
Pin It

By Alyssa Casey

Water scarcity is a global problem, as demonstrated by the recent droughts across the U.S. Midwest and the Horn of Africa. And it is projected to become increasingly widespread in the coming years: the 2030 Water Resources Group estimates that by 2030, one-third of the world’s population will live in regions where demand for water exceeds supply by more than 50 percent.

Energy subsidies in India perpetuate inefficient water use in agriculture. (Photo Credit: Kolli Nageswara Rao)

The rapidly growing and urbanizing global population will need more natural resources, especially water, to feed and sustain itself in the coming years. The effects of climate change will only exacerbate water scarcity. A rise in sea levels will increase the salinity of already-limited freshwater resources. Changing weather patterns will further polarize rainfall levels around the world: according to climate experts, many wet regions will see more rain and increasing flood risk, while many dry regions will experience less rainfall, increasing the frequency of drought.

India’s water woes

Although water scarcity is a global concern, some countries, such as India, are more affected than others. Home to 1.2 billion people, India struggles to feed 17 percent of the world’s population with just 4 percent of the world’s freshwater resources. More than 85 percent of India’s villages and over half of its cities rely on groundwater for agriculture, domestic use, and industry, but overuse has resulted in sinking water tables. Despite relative scarcity, India is the largest freshwater user in the world.

Water levels of India’s dams are falling to record lows. According to an analysis by NASA hydrologists, India’s water tables are declining at a rate of 0.3 meters per year, and between 2002 and 2008 more than 108.37 cubic kilometers of groundwater disappeared—double the capacity of India’s largest surface water reservoir. Decreasing levels of dams and rivers could lead to political conflict within the country, as well as conflict with neighboring countries, such as Bangladesh and Pakistan.

(more…)

Dec18

New World Bank Report Warns That “A 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided”

Share
Pin It

By Carol Dreibelbis

The global mean temperature is now approximately 0.8 degrees Celsius (°C) above pre-industrial levels, and it continues to rise. In a recent report prepared for the World Bank, Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided, researchers with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics examine what the world would look like if it warmed another 3.2 degrees Celsius. The report discusses the effects of warming that are already being seen around the world and explores the likely impacts and risks of future warming.

Turn Down the Heat outlines likely consequences of climate change. Here, Greenland surface melt measurements vary drastically from July 8 (left) to July 12 (right), 2012. (Photo credit: NASA)

The researchers project that a warming of 4°C would bring potentially devastating consequences, including “the inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production potentially leading to higher under and malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased intensity of tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems.”

Like similar previous studies, the report predicts that many of these effects would have the largest impact in the poorest regions of the world, particularly in Asia and Africa. The authors’ warnings about projected impacts on agriculture are particularly concerning given that, irrespective of climate change, a growing human population is projected to put unprecedented strain on the global food system.

Heat events will be more extreme and more frequent in a 4°C-warmer world, putting crops and the people who grow them at risk, the report notes. Some of the most extreme warming is projected to occur in the sub-tropical Mediterranean, the Middle East, northern Africa, and the contiguous United States. In these locations, most summer months are likely to be warmer than today’s most extreme heat waves.

In the Mediterranean, for example, temperatures during the warmest July between 2080 and 2100 are expected to approach 35°C—about 9 degrees warmer than today’s warmest July. Such intense heat would threaten agriculture: one study cited in the report finds that crop yields decrease by 1 percent for each “growing degree day” spent above 30°C. While there is potential for the carbon dioxide fertilization effect to boost crop yields in some regions, the report concludes that these gains will likely be offset in the face of higher temperatures.

In addition to heat stress, the global food system will face increasing water scarcity in a 4°C-warmer world. The report finds that northern and eastern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia face severe risks related to reduced water availability, noting that the Ganges, Nile, and other river basins are particularly vulnerable. One study cited in the report projects that 43 to 50 percent of the global population will be living in water-scarce countries by 2080.

Meanwhile, wetter conditions in northern North America, northern Europe, Siberia, and some monsoon regions, may reduce water stress, the report notes. Still, because of expected sub-seasonal and sub-regional changes to the hydrological cycle, flooding and drought may increase significantly even if annual averages undergo little change.

The report also predicts that hotter weather and water shortages will contribute to both lower agricultural yields and concerns about food security. Drought, which already affects 15.4 percent of global cropland, may affect around 44 percent of cropland by 2100. The most severe impacts will be felt in southern Africa, the United States, southern Europe, and Southeast Asia over the next 30 to 90 years. Together with sea-level rise, which will cause contamination of coastal aquifers used for irrigation, the changes associated with a 4°C-warmer world “could substantially undermine food security,” the report concludes.

Despite these serious warnings, the authors remain optimistic that a 4°C-warmer world can be avoided with swift, cooperative, and sustained policy action. In the report’s Foreword, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim issues a call for international action, writing, “It is my hope that this report shocks us into action. Even for those of us already committed to fighting climate change, I hope it causes us to work with much more urgency.” The report calls for numerous preventative and adaptive initiatives, including investment in crop adaptation, which could “play a major role in ensuring food security in a changing climate.”

Click here to read more about Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

Dec11

Colorado Water Struggles Highlight Impact of Fracking on Farming

Share
Pin It

By Carol Dreibelbis

Fracking—known more formally as hydraulic fracturing—produces roughly 25 percent of the U.S. natural gas supply. This increasingly common practice uses pressurized fluid to release trapped oil or natural gas from a well, and has been praised for lowering energy prices. But concerns about fracking’s impacts on human health and the environment have caused many to question its expansion. And now, according to a recent article by Jack Healy of the New York Times, the debate has become even more contentious in the state of Colorado.

Fracking in the United States generates an estimated 8.1 trillion gallons of wastewater daily. (Photo credit: zhuda/Shutterstock)

Fracking requires pumping enormous quantities of water underground to crack dense rock and release stored energy. To meet this demand—up to 5 million gallons per well—energy companies in Colorado have been tapping into municipal water supplies. As Healy explains, “To fill their storage tanks, [the companies] lease surplus water from cities or buy treated wastewater that would otherwise be dumped back into rivers. In some cases, they buy water rights directly from farmers or other users—a process that in Colorado requires court approval.”

In light of last summer’s drought and the long history of water struggle in the West, many Colorado farmers worry that energy companies will outcompete them for precious water supplies. Local farmers pay between $30 and $100 per acre foot of water; recently, oil and gas companies have paid up to $2,000 for the same quantities of water. Fracking currently accounts for less than 1 percent of Colorado’s water usage, but the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission estimates that the state will require 16 percent more water for fracking within three years.

Colorado farmers are not alone in questioning the impact of fracking on agriculture. According to Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of the consumer rights group Food & Water Watch, fracking in the United States generates an estimated 8.1 trillion gallons of wastewater daily. One study by Ithaca College identifies a long list of toxic chemicals that are present in this wastewater, including arsenic and heavy metals.

These chemicals can contaminate local pasturelands and croplands, harming livestock, stunting crop growth, and reducing livestock and crop fertility. In Pennsylvania, 28 cattle were quarantined in 2010 after coming in contact with fracking wastewater that had leaked from a nearby holding pond. In addition to affecting livestock, the wastewater killed grass in the surrounding area. In this case, cattle were quarantined to prevent people from eating chemical-laced beef. In other instances, such as at the Park Slope Food Cooperative in New York, consumers are taking action themselves by refusing to eat food produced near fracking wells.

Evidence of fracking’s damaging impact on food production is accumulating across the country, and concern is growing as the practice expands around the planet. In a world where both energy production and food production are priorities, fracking remains a widely disputed issue.

Can fracking coexist with a safe and sustainable food supply? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

Dec04

Supporting Climate-Friendly Food Production

Share
Pin It

By Laura Reynolds

This summer, record temperatures and limited rainfall parched vast areas of U.S. cropland, and with Earth’s surface air temperature projected to rise 0.69 degrees Celsius by 2030, global food production will be even more unpredictable. Although agriculture is a major driver of human-caused climate change, contributing an estimated 25 to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, when done sustainably it can be an important key to mitigating climate change.

Agroforestry is one practice that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while adapting to the effects of climate change. (Photo credit: Christensen Fund)

Because of its reliance on healthy soil, adequate water, and a delicate balance of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, farming is the human endeavor most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But agriculture’s strong interrelationships with both climatic and environmental variables also make it a significant player in reducing climate-altering emissions as well as helping the world adapt to the realities of a warming planet.

The good news is that agriculture can hold an important key to mitigating climate change. Practices such as using animal manure rather than artificial fertilizer, planting trees on farms to reduce soil erosion and sequester carbon, and growing food in cities all hold huge potential for reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the global agricultural sector could potentially reduce and remove 80 to 88 percent of the carbon dioxide that it currently emits. By adopting more-sustainable approaches, small-scale agriculture in developing countries has the potential to contribute 70 percent of agriculture’s global mitigation of climate change. And many of these innovations have the potential to be replicated, adapted, and scaled up for application on larger farms, helping to improve water availability, increase diversity, and improve soil quality, as well as mitigate climate change. (more…)