Category: Water

Citizens unite in Cape Town’s water crisis

Citizens unite in Cape Town’s water crisis

By Leonie Joubert

With Cape Town’s water crisis so bad that its taps may soon run dry, Capetonians are working together to avert a shared disaster. The people of this city are preparing for Day Zero – a water shortage expected four months from now as Cape Town’s water crisis intensifies, likely to be so severe that the reservoirs will be virtually empty.

It sounds like a grim prospect. If it happens, it probably will be. But the good news is that across the city, regardless of differences of wealth and class, South Africans are working together to try to ensure that Day Zero never dawns.

São Paulo, Melbourne and Cape Town are three cities with one thing in common: they’ve all recently faced critical water shortages. Swelling populations, water infrastructure upgrades that aren’t keeping pace, and severe drought are on a collision course to become an urban manager’s worst nightmare, with fresh water and sanitation systems threatening to run dry – literally.

As climate change continues to ratchet up around the world, making rain patterns less predictable, and heatwaves and droughts harsher and stronger, many more cities will face similar intersecting challenges in future.

Surprising co-operation

But a study of water use behaviour amongst Cape Town residents over the past three years shows surprising levels of co-operation around efforts to conserve the city’s “common pool resource”, its municipal water reserves. And the story is one which belies the media reports that people are selfishly panic-hoarding ahead of the prospect of the water being turned off to most of the city.

This February, Cape Town announced the possible arrival of Day Zero, an emergency response measure that the city says it will put in place, should the dams run down to their last remaining 13.5% of available water.

To conserve the dams’ final dregs, the city says it will shut off water to homes and businesses, and trickle-feed the remaining reserves through to critical services like hospitals. Residents will have to queue at communal water distribution points around the city to get a daily ration of 25 litres of water.

Media reports immediately said residents of the city appeared to be panic-buying bottled water and installing bulk water storage tanks.

Pulling together

The concern was that those who had the means to install these tanks would fill them from the municipal water system, to stock up ahead of Day Zero. This would mean vastly exceeding their current daily ration of 50 litres of water per person per day, and would result in a hefty fine or higher water bills.

But a recent analysis by a behavioural economist at the University of Cape Town (UCT) shows that Capetonians’ behaviour has actually been the opposite: that they have been pulling together in the past few years, in response to various measures by the city to get people to reduce their water use.

Martine Visser, from UCT’s Environmental Policy Research Unit, has been tracking water use behaviour amongst Cape Town’s residents, to see how effective various measures by the city have been in getting people to change their behaviour: media education campaigns, dramatic tariff increases, daily limit restrictions and fines for those who break the restrictions – and a few more.

Looking at 400,000 homes across the city, Visser and her colleagues saw an overall decrease in household water use of nearly 50% in just three years, dropping from 540 litres per household per day in January 2015 to 280 litres in January 2018.

“The worst possible outcome right now would be if people lost faith in each other’s ability to safeguard the remaining water”

It took drought-crippled Melbourne a decade to reduce residential water use by 40% from 2000 to 2010 during Australia’s “millennium drought”. In California similar water behaviour measures resulted in a per person reduction of 63% – from 1995 to 2016.

Most interesting in the analysis, says Visser, is the fact that wealthier Capetonians are doing their bit. Since the height of summer 2015 the richest households have cut their water use to that of the lowest income households, who have much less scope to reduce their water consumption further.

This dramatic drop is partly explained by the fact that wealthier families can in fact afford to invest in drilling boreholes or wells and installing bulk water storage tanks, which have helped reduce demand on the municipal supply. But it is also a consequence of sharp water reduction efforts by individuals.

Together, this has helped push back the arrival of Day Zero until early July. Hopefully, by then, the winter rains will have returned and begun recharging dams and groundwater.

More committed

So behavioural economics suggests that if people believe they are rallying around a common good, like saving water, they become more committed to doing it. But there’s a warning too, says Professor Visser: if people lose faith in each other they will turn to selfish, hoarding behaviour. There is evidence to suggest this twin pattern may apply not only with water-saving but in the case of other shared resources as well.

“The blame game that has dominated media forums is largely inaccurate and counter-productive, and it perpetuates free-riding and selfish behaviour which threatens this common resource pool”, warned Visser recently in the local press.

“The worst possible outcome right now would be if people lost faith in each other’s ability to safeguard the remaining water as part of a common pool resource, and instead rather started withdrawing water from the municipal supply for their own bulk storage.”

The message for drought-stressed cities in future, in terms of encouraging residents to willingly adopt more sustainable behaviour, is to rally them around a common cause, and build mutual trust by showing that people are cooperating towards everyone’s shared wellbeing.

Leonie Joubert is a freelance science writer and author, whose books include Scorched: South Africa’s changing climate, and Boiling Point: people in a changing climate. This article was originally published on Climate News Network.

Cover photo by Shiva Creations/Pixabay.
Climate change could cause more severe droughts in ‘98% of European cities’

Climate change could cause more severe droughts in ‘98% of European cities’

By Daisy Dunne

More than 500 European cities could face sharp increases in droughts, floods and heatwaves if climate change continues to rise unabated, a new study finds.

The UK and Ireland could experience the largest rise in urban flood risk out of any region in Europe, the research shows, while the greatest heatwave temperature increases could be felt in Austria and Germany.

The findings also show that more than 100 cities could face a rise in the risk of two or more types of extreme event by the second half of the century, with Leeds, Cardiff and Exeter featuring in the top 20% of cities at risk of both heatwave and flooding increases.

The study is “an example of what might happen if we don’t start cutting our carbon emissions in a timely fashion”, a scientist not involved in the study tells Carbon Brief.

City concerns

More than 75% of the European Union’s population live in urban areas and this figure is expected to rise to 82% by 2050.

The new study, published in Environmental Research Letters, estimates how climate change could affect the risk of flooding, drought and heatwaves in 571 European cities by the second half of the century.

For the study, the researchers used a collection of climate models to simultaneously assess the risk of floods, droughts and heatwaves for every city.

Using a high-emission pathway known as RCP8.5, the models produced “low”, “medium” and “high” impact scenarios for each location.

The researchers estimated changes in risk by comparing the likelihood of extreme events from 1951-2000 to a future period of 2051-2100.

The research shows that every European city will face an increase in extreme weather event risk as the climate warms, says lead author Dr Selma Guerreiro, a researcher in hydrology and climate change from the University of Newcastle. She tells Carbon Brief:

“The British Isles have some of the worst overall flood projections. Southern European cities will see the biggest increases in the number of heatwave days. However, the greatest heatwave temperature increases are expected in central European cities.”

Heating up

Global warming is expected to cause an increase in the number of people exposed to heatwaves in the coming centuries.

The new research defines heatwaves as three consecutive nights where temperatures are in the top 5% of the 1951-2000 average for each city.

The maps below show how the proportion of heatwave days in the summer (top) and maximum temperature (bottom) of heatwaves could change in European cities under a low, medium and high-impact scenario. On the maps, each dot shows the results for one city – with impacts ranging from small (green) to large (dark red) increases.

Change in the proportion of heatwave days in the summer (left) and maximum heatwave temperature (right) in European cities in 2051-2100 compared to 1951-2000 under a low (left), medium (middle) and high (right) scenario. Source: Guerreiro et al. (2018)

The research finds that both the number and maximum temperature of heatwaves is likely to increase for every city under all of the scenarios.

Cities in southern Europe are expected to see the greatest increase in the number of heatwave days per year, with Lefkosia and Lemesos in Cyprus facing a 69% in heatwave days by 2050 under the high scenario.

Meanwhile, the largest increases in maximum heatwave temperature are expected to occur in central European cities, with some areas experiencing a rise of 14C above previous maximum temperatures. Under the high scenario, 72% of European cities could see an increase in maximum heatwave temperature by 2050.

Projections under the high scenario also suggest that cities in the UK could face maximum heatwave temperature increases of up to 12C as the climate warms, says Guerreiro:

“The UK is less affected than most of continental Europe for the low-impact scenario, where UK cities can expect changes in maximum temperature during a heatwave between 2C and 5C. However, for the high-impact scenario the maximum temperature during a heat-wave for UK cities could increase from 7C to 12C.”

Drying out

Changing rainfall patterns as a result of climate change is expected to lead to more droughts in some parts of Europe.

For the study, the researchers used a measure known as the drought severity index (DSI), which gives a picture of drought risk over a one-year period.

The charts below show the probability of drought risk for each city in 2050, when compared to risk from 1951-2000. On the maps, light blue indicates no change, while yellow shows a small increase and dark red shows a high increase.

Probability of drought risk in European cities in 2051-2100, compared to risk from 1951-2000. Light blue indicates no change, while yellow shows a small increase and dark red shows a high increase. Source: Guerreiro et al. (2018)

The findings show that the largest increases in drought risk are expected to affect southern European cities, including Lisbon and Faro in Portugal and Seville and Barcelona in Spain, says Guerreiro:

“For the low-impact scenario, cities in the south of Iberia, such as Malaga and Almeria, are expected to experience droughts that are more than twice as bad as today. While for the high impact scenario, 98% of European cities could see worse droughts in the future.”

The research also shows that, under the high-impact scenario, 21 cities in southern Europe may experience droughts that are up to 14 times worse than the extreme droughts of 1951-2000.

Spilling over

Climate change is expected to cause an increase in flood risk in much of Europe, although the scale of this impact is likely to affected by a range of factors, such as urban planning.

To understand changes in flood risk, the researchers estimated changes to maximum river flow (or “discharge”) over a ten-year return period for each city.

This shown on the chart below, where green shows a small increase in river flows and dark red shows a large increase.

Changes in river flow (discharge) over a ten-year return period in European cities in 2051-2100, compared to 1951-2000. Green shows a small increase in flood risk and dark red shows a large increase in flood risk. Source: Guerreiro et al. (2018)

The findings show that cities in the UK and Ireland could face the largest increase in river flows out of any region in Europe, with Glasgow, Wrexham, and Aberdeen being among the most at-risk cities.

Under the low scenario, 85% of UK cities could face increased river flooding, says Guerreiro:

“The British Isles are a future hotspot for river flooding in Europe. The cities predicted to be worst hit under the high-impact scenario for the British Isles are Cork, Derry, Waterford, Wrexham, Carlisle, and Glasgow. For the low-impact scenario, Derry, Chester, Carlisle, Aberdeen, and Glasgow could be worst affected.”

‘Substantial challenge’

The findings also show that more than 100 cities in Europe could face a rise in the risk of two or more types of extreme event by the second half of the century.

In the UK, Cardiff, Exeter, Leeds and Newport fall within the top 20% of European cities at risk of both heatwave and flooding increases as the climate warms, Guerreiro says:

“We hope to highlight the substantial challenge cities face in managing climate risks and provide an encompassing view of possible future changes in climate.”

The new research advances our understanding of extreme weather risks in European cities by “considering all these hazards together,” says Dr Dann Mitchell, a researcher in climate change, extreme events and human health at the University of Bristol, who was not involved in the study.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that the research uses a high emissions trajectory for its analysis, he tells Carbon Brief:

“It would also be interesting to see how sensitive their analysis is to other greenhouse gas emissions. The emission scenario used in their study is much higher than that which would be consistent with the Paris Agreement and so their study could be thought of as an example of what might happen if we don’t start cutting our carbon emissions in a timely fashion.”

Based on: Guerreiro, S. B. et al. (2018), Future heat-waves, droughts and floods in 571 European cities,

This article was originally published on Carbon Brief, read the original here (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

Cover photo by M-CARLOS/Pixabay: Dangerously low water level of the Ebro river flowing through Zaragoza, Spain, with the “Puente de Piedra” (engl. Stone Bridge) in the background.
Water scarcity threat to India and South Africa

Water scarcity threat to India and South Africa

By Alex Kirby

Water scarcity is now a real threat in two developing countries at the forefront of efforts to reduce climate change, India and South Africa. This is not the tragically familiar story of extreme weather, stunted crops and foreshortened lives. It is a different sort of threat: to urban life, to industrial development, and to attempts to end poverty.

More than 80% of India’s electricity comes from thermal power stations, burning coal, oil, gas and nuclear fuel. Now researchers from the US-based World Resources Institute, after analysing all of India’s 400+ thermal power plants, report that its power supply is increasingly in jeopardy from water shortages.

The researchers found that 90% of these thermal power plants are cooled by freshwater, and nearly 40% of them experience high water stress. The plants are increasingly vulnerable, while India remains committed to providing electricity to every household by 2019.

Between 2015 and 2050 the Indian power sector’s share of national water consumption is projected to grow from 1.4 to nine per cent, and by 2030, 70% of the country’s thermal power plants are likely to experience increased competition for water from agriculture, industry and municipalities.

Power sector choking

“Water shortages shut down power plants across India every year,” said O P Agarwal of WRI India. “When power plants rely on water sourced from scarce regions, they put electricity generation at risk and leave less water for cities, farms and families. Without urgent action, water will become a chokepoint for India’s power sector.”

Between 2013 and 2016 14 of India’s 20 largest thermal utility companies experienced one or more shutdowns because of water shortages. WRI calculates that shutdowns cost these companies over INR 91 billion ($1.4 billion) in potential revenue from the sale of power.

It says water shortages cancelled out more than 20% of the country’s growth in electricity generation in 2015 and 2016.

The report offers solutions, including notably a move towards solar and wind energy. India already has a target for 40% of its power to come from renewables by 2030, under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“Renewable energy is a viable solution to India’s water-energy crisis,” said Deepak Krishnan, co-author of the report. “Solar PV and wind power can thrive in the same water-stressed areas where thermal plants struggle…”

A policy brief produced by WRI and the International Renewable Energy Agency details ways for India’s power sector to reduce water usage and carbon emissions by 2030.

“The challenge exceeds anything a major city has had to face anywhere in the world since the Second World War or 9/ll”

In Africa the dangers of water scarcity for one of the continent’s best-known cities, Cape Town, are imminent and, some believe, almost apocalyptic.

The city faces the prospect within three months of becoming the world’s first major city to run out of water, al-Jazeera reports.

It says the city’s water supplies are now so low that in late April it will declare “Day Zero”, the day when its reservoirs fall below a combined capacity of 13.5%.

This will mean Cape Town turning off the taps, except in the poorest neighbourhoods, and installing around 200 water collection sites across the city.

Water usage in the Western Cape province, which includes Cape Town,  is now limited to a daily ration of 87 litres per person. If Day Zero dawns, that will drop to about 25 litres. The World Health Organisation says about 20 litres should be enough “to take care of basic hygiene needs and basic food hygiene”.

Rains start later

The province has had three years of drought. Kevin Winter, a senior lecturer in environmental science at the University of Cape Town, told al-Jazeera that as a winter rainfall region, people would normally expect rainfall to start somewhere around April.

“But that’s no longer the case, it comes a whole lot later at the end of June, or in early July, if we are lucky,” he said. “We are experiencing a rapid change in our weather patterns, which is increasingly evident of a climate change…”

Bridgetti Lim Bandi, who has lived in the city all her life, said Cape Town’s rainfall pattern had changed dramatically within the last two decades. “We don’t have a traditional Cape Town winter any more,” she told al-Jazeera.

Helen Zille is premier of the Western Cape province. She wrote on 22 January in the Daily Maverick: “The question that dominates my waking hours now is: When Day Zero arrives‚ how do we make water accessible and prevent anarchy?

“And if there is any chance of still preventing it‚ what is it we can do? …the challenge exceeds anything a major city has had to face anywhere in the world since the Second World War or 9/ll.”

This article originally appeared on Climate News Network and is shared under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.

Cover photo by Marcelo Novais on Unsplash.
Video: Waters of Paradise – Climate change adaptation in the Maldives

Video: Waters of Paradise – Climate change adaptation in the Maldives

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

The Maldives is located in the Indian Ocean and comprised of 1192 coral islands, it is also the world’s lowest lying country. At its highest point it is only 2.4 meters above sea level. As such, water has been the lifeline of the islands for most of the past. With climate change, however, it is increasingly becoming a threat. On the one hand parts of the Maldives ae experiencing drinking water shortages, while others are regularly being flooded. Rising ocean temperatures and acidification are also affecting coral reefs, which are crucial for many local livelihoods.

In this United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) video, we see the efforts undertaken in the Maldives to help vulnerable communities with climate change induced water shortages. The “Supporting vulnerable communities in Maldives to manage climate change-induced water shortages” project is being implemented by the Ministry of Environment and Energy. The project targets 49 islands across of 13 atolls that experience water shortages linked to low rainfall and extended dry periods, brought on by a changing climate. It aims to provide safe and reliable freshwater to 105,000 people, roughly 30 percent of the island nation’s residents.

Watch the video below to learn more about this project and howthe Maldives are adapting to climate change related water shortages:

Climate change is shrinking the Colorado River

Climate change is shrinking the Colorado River

By Brad Udall, Colorado State University and Jonathan Overpeck, University of Arizona

The nation’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead on the Arizona/Nevada border and Lake Powell on the Arizona/Utah border, were brim full in the year 2000. Four short years later, they had lost enough water to supply California its legally apportioned share of Colorado River water for more than five years. Now, 17 years later, they still have not recovered.


The Colorado River is about 1,400 miles long and flows through seven U.S. states and into Mexico. The Upper Colorado River Basin supplies approximately 90 percent of the water for the entire basin. It originates as rain and snow in the Rocky and Wasatch mountains. Source: USGS

This ongoing, unprecedented event threatens water supplies to Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson, Denver, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque and some of the mostproductive agricultural lands anywhere in the world. It is critical to understand what is causing it so water managers can make realistic water use and conservation plans.


While overuse has played a part, a significant portion of the reservoir decline is due to an ongoing drought, which started in 2000 and has led to substantial reductions in river flows. Most droughts are caused by a lack of precipitation. However, our published research shows that about one-third of the flow decline was likely due to higher temperatures in the Colorado River’s Upper Basin, which result from climate change.

This distinction matters because climate change is causing long-term warming that will continue for centuries. As the current “hot drought” shows, climate change-induced warming has the potential to make all droughts more serious, turning what would have been modest droughts into severe ones, and severe ones into unprecedented ones.

How climate change reduces river flow

In our study, we found the period from 2000 to 2014 is the worst 15-year drought since 1906, when official flow measurements began. During these years, annual flows in the Colorado River averaged 19 percent below the 20th-century average.

During a similar 15-year drought in the 1950s, annual flows declined by 18 percent. But during that drought, the region was drier: rainfall decreased by about 6 percent, compared to 4.5 percent between 2000 and 2014. Why, then, is the recent drought the most severe on record?

The answer is simple: higher temperatures. From 2000 to 2014, temperatures in the Upper Basin, where most of the runoff that feeds the Colorado River is produced, were 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the 20th-century average. This is why we call this event a hot drought. High temperatures continued in 2015 and 2016, as did less-than-average flows. Runoff in 2017 is expected to be above average, but this will only modestly improve reservoir volumes.

High temperatures affect river levels in many ways. Coupled with earlier snow melt, they lead to a longer growing season, which means more days of water demand from plants. Higher temperatures also increase daily plant water use and evaporation from water bodies and soils. In sum, as it warms, the atmosphere draws more water, up to 4 percent more per degree Fahrenheit from all available sources, so less water flows into the river. These findings also apply to all semi-arid rivers in the American Southwest, especially the Rio Grande.

The combined contents of the nation’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, since their initial fillings. The large decline since 2000 is shaded brown for 2000-2014, our 15-year study period, and pink for the continuing drought in 2015-2016. The loss was significantly influenced by record-setting temperatures, unlike a similar 15-year drought in the 1950s which was driven by a lack of precipitation. Bradley Udall, Author provided

A hotter, drier future

Knowing the relationship between warming and river flow, we can project how the Colorado will be affected by future climate change. Temperature projections from climate models are robust scientific findings based on well-tested physics. In the Colorado River Basin, temperatures are projected to warm by 5°F, compared to the 20th-century average, by midcentury in scenarios that assume either modest or high greenhouse gas emissions. By the end of this century, the region would be 9.5°F warmer if global greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced.

Using simple but strong relationships derived from hydrology models, which were buttressed by observations, we and our colleagues calculated how river flows are affected by higher temperatures. We found that Colorado River flows decline by about 4 percent per degree Fahrenheit increase, which is roughly the same amount as the increased atmospheric water vapor holding capacity discussed above. Thus, warming could reduce water flow in the Colorado by 20 percent or more below the 20th-century average by midcentury, and by as much as 40 percent by the end of the century. Emission reductions could ease the magnitude of warming by 2100 from 9.5°F to 6.5°F, which would reduce river flow by approximately 25 percent.

Large precipitation increases could counteract the declines that these all-but-certain future temperature increases will cause. But for that to happen, precipitation would have to increase by an average of 8 percent at midcentury and 15 percent by 2100.

The American Canal carries water from the Colorado River to farms in California’s Imperial Valley. Adam Dubrowa, FEMA/Wikipedia

On a year-in, year-out basis, these large increases would be substantial. The largest decade-long increases in precipitation in the 20th century were 8 percent. When such an increase occurred over 10 years in the Colorado Basin in the 1980s, it caused large-scale flooding that threatened the structural stability of Glen Canyon Dam, due to a spillway failure not unlike the recent collapse at California’s Oroville Dam.

For several reasons, we think these large precipitation increases will not occur. The Colorado River Basin and other areas around the globe at essentially the same latitudes, such as the Mediterranean region and areas of Chile, South Africa and Australia, are especially at risk for drying because they lie immediately poleward of the planet’s major deserts. These deserts are projected to stretch polewards as the climate warms. In the Colorado River basin, dry areas to the south are expected to encroach on some of the basin’s most productive snow and runoff areas.

Moreover, climate models do not agree on whether future precipitation in the Colorado Basin will increase or decrease, let alone by how much. Rain gauge measurements indicate that there has not been any significant long-term change in precipitation in the Upper Basin of the Colorado since 1896, which makes substantial increases in the future even more doubtful.

Megadroughts, which last anywhere from 20 to 50 years or more, provide yet another reason to avoid putting too much faith in precipitation increases. We know from tree-ring studies going back to A.D. 800 that megadroughts have occurred previously in the basin.

Several new studies indicate that with warmer temperatures, the likelihood of megadroughts skyrockets in the 21st century, to a point where the odds of one occurring are better than 80 percent. So while we might have periods with average or above-average precipitation, it also seems likely that we will have decades with less flow than normal.

Source: USEPA

Planning for lower flows

March of 2017 was the warmest March in Colorado history, with temperatures a stunning 8.8°F above normal. Snowpack and expected runoff declined substantially in the face of this record warmth. Clearly, climate change in the Colorado River Basin is here, it is serious and it requires multiple responses.

The ConversationIt takes years to implement new water agreements, so states, cities and major water users should start to plan now for significant temperature-induced flow declines. With the Southwest’s ample renewable energy resources and low costs for producing solar power, we can also lead the way in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, inducing other regions to do the same. Failing to act on climate change means accepting the very high risk that the Colorado River Basin will continue to dry up into the future.

Brad Udall, Senior Research Scientist, Colorado Water Institute, Colorado State University and Jonathan Overpeck, Director, Institute of the Environment, Distinguished Professor of Science, and Regents’ Professor of Geosciences, Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Cover photo by Bettina Damgaard/Pixabay (public domain): Horseshoe Bend of Colorado River, Arizona, USA.
Is warming behind India’s depleting groundwater?

Is warming behind India’s depleting groundwater?

By Athar Parvaiz

Changing rainfall patterns may be depleting India’s groundwater storage more than withdrawals for agricultural irrigation, says a new study published in January by Nature Geoscience.

While India’s diminishing groundwater is widely attributed to over extraction, especially in the northern agricultural belts of Punjab and Haryana, the study holds decline in rainfall caused by the rise in the temperatures in the Indian Ocean — a major factor in monsoonal rainfall patterns over the Indo-Gangetic Plain —  to be a more important cause.

“This study adds another dimension to the existing water management framework. We need to consider not just the withdrawals but also the deposits in the system,” says Yoshihide Wada, co-author of the study and deputy director, Water Programme, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria.

“This indirectly suggests that the declining trends may continue in the future because of this warming — which can affect water availability in the region.” – Vimal Mishra, lead author

Importantly, the study finds links between the rise in sea surface temperatures of the Indian Ocean and the declining monsoonal rainfall which the study’s lead author Vimal Mishra says may be linked to climate change, though this is yet to be scientifically proven.

“Rise in the sea surface temperature in the Indian Ocean affects the rainfall in the Indo-Gangetic Plain. The long-term decline in rainfall in the Indo-Gangetic Plain is related to temperature in the Indian Ocean. This indirectly suggests that the declining trends may continue in the future because of this warming — which can affect water availability in the region,” Mishra, who is also an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, tells SciDev.Net.

India relies heavily on groundwater for irrigation particularly in the dry northern regions where precipitation is scarce. Groundwater withdrawal has increased tenfold — from 10-20 cubic kilometres per year in 1950 to 240-260 cubic kilometres in 2009. Satellite imagery shows major declines in groundwater, particularly in northern India.

Punjab, as per the PAU report, accounts for only 1.5 per cent of India’s geographical area but contributes 35 per cent and 60 per cent of India’s rice and wheat granaries, respectively.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk. This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.
Cover photo by Gaurav Bhosle/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Early weather forecasts are key to saving lives during droughts

Early weather forecasts are key to saving lives during droughts

By Umberto Bacchi

With droughts set to become more frequent due to global warming, delivering timely, long-term weather forecasts to farmers in the developing world will be key to limiting damage and saving lives, the head of the U.N. food agency said on Monday.

Droughts have killed more than 11 million people worldwide since 1900 and now affect double the land area than in 1970, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Developing countries are the most exposed, with their agricultural sectors shouldering 80 percent of all damage caused by drought, FAO says.

Better access to reliable weather data and early warning systems could help farmers in rural areas get ready to endure long spells of no rain, said FAO director-general Jose Graziano da Silva. “Most of the times poor rural communities in developing countries don’t even know that a drought is about to strike,” he told a conference at the FAO headquarters in Rome. Measures such as planting resistant crops and building water reservoirs can greatly reduce the impact of droughts, but international responses too often focus on emergency relief, said Graziano da Silva. “People die because they are not prepared to face the impacts of the drought – because their livelihoods are not resilient enough,” he said.

In Rome, FAO and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) signed an accord to increase cooperation in the face of climate change, improving agro-meteorological services to help small farmers prepare for droughts. WMO secretary general Petteri Taalas said weather forecast accuracy had greatly increased in recent years thanks developments in satellite, computing and scientific research. “Weather forecasts are not anymore a joke, they are something you can very much rely on,” he told the conference.

Know-how related to long-term forecasts and prediction of major climate events like El Niño had to be shared between rich and poor countries, he added. The last El Niño, a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific that typically occurs every few years, subsided in 2016 and was linked to crop damage, fires, and flash floods.

Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Ros Russell. Article originally posted on Credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit
Cover photo by Faxial/Pixabay (Public Domain)
Urban resilience in a land of flood and drought

Urban resilience in a land of flood and drought

This is an excerpt from a newly published article on Atavist. To read the full article please click here

By Will Bugler

India has a tempestuous relationship with water. The seasonal monsoon winds drive dramatic changes to the country’s weather systems, blowing in wet weather from the south-west, or dry from the north-east. The rainfall brought by these weather systems does not fall uniformly across the country, with some areas suffering intense droughts, while others experience severe floods. The dualism of overabundance and scarcity of water presents huge challenges for the country’s growing urban population, whose health, homes and livelihoods are increasingly threatened by India’s water woes.

India’s urban population is expanding rapidly. Over the last twenty years, it has risen from 217 million to more than 377 million, and the pace of urbanisation shows no sign of abating. In fact, according to some, India may be on the brink of an ‘urban revolution’ that could mean that over 40 percent of its population – more than 600 million people – lives in cities by the 2030s.

Water issues affect India’s burgeoning cities in several ways. Surging demand for drinking, sanitation and industry, is putting pressure on scarce resources, while at the same time, the impact of severe flood events is felt most keenly by the poorest city dwellers, who often live in poor quality housing, and in low-lying areas. So what can be done to manage urban water resources in a land of floods and droughts?


Make sure you also read the first article of this series “Setting India’s Cities on the Road To Resilience“.

Cover photo from Road to Resilience Vol 1: Taru Leading Edge
From backyard sewage dumps to community-led waste water treatment solutions

From backyard sewage dumps to community-led waste water treatment solutions

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

India’s cities are growing fast. By 2030 the country’s urban population is expected to reach 600 million, as opposed to today’s almost 400 million. Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh is one of these fast-growing cities.

As is often the reality when urbanisation moves at such high rates, local and municipal governments have difficulties keeping up with the provision of essential infrastructure, especially in informal settlements. This leads to several problems, a very prominent one being missing sewerage systems.

In Gorakhpur, this has become a serious issue in the transitional areas between the city and the rural surroundings, i.e. the peri-urban areas. They have become dumping grounds for sewage and garbage that is collected from the streets. This not only pollutes arable land, but it also contaminates water. During heavy rainfall or floods, the sewage piles dilute and run off into nearby rivers and waterways. This has serious health implications for the local population.

Fortunately, change is underway. Communities in Gorakhpur have started treating their wastewater before releasing it into surrounding fields and rivers using Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Systems (DEWATS).

To learn more about these efforts, watch the short film below.

Stinking Backyard: Film on Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Systems. Film by TERI, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation and Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG)


Cover photo by McKay Savage (CC by 2.0)
Podcast: WMO’s Johannes Cullmann on why wastewater is the hot topic for this year’s World Water Day

Podcast: WMO’s Johannes Cullmann on why wastewater is the hot topic for this year’s World Water Day

By Will Bugler

Climate change impacts on water are well documented, from floods to droughts hydrological climate impacts affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of people around the world. One aspect of the issue that is, perhaps, less well reported is that of climate impacts on wastewater. In an effort to correct this, the UN has made wastewater its theme for this year’s World Water Day.

The issue of wastewater and water reuse is becoming increasingly important. The vast majority of wastewater entering the natural environment untreated, and with millions of people, mostly in developing countries, forced to drink wastewater that is contaminated with human faeces, the issue has serious implications for human health and development.

The recent UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set a target for reducing by half, the amount of wastewater that enters the environment untreated by the year 2030. But what can be done to achieve this? And how might climate change impact wastewater treatment and reuse? To find out more Acclimatise spoke with Johannes Cullmann, Head of Climate and Water at the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

Cover photo by Ashley Wheaton (CC by 2.0)