Category: Water

This New Climate – Episode 2: Running dry – dealing with water scarcity

This New Climate – Episode 2: Running dry – dealing with water scarcity

In the second episode of This New Climate, host Will Bugler explores why it is so difficult to manage water resources and presents Water2Invest – a new tool that helps decision makers make smarter choices about managing water supply and demand. The world’s population has tripled over the last 100 years, but according to the UN, water demand has been growing at more than twice that rate making water scarcity one of the defining challenges of our time. And climate change will only compound the problem. Water2Invest, aims to help decision makers to take the right choices when investing in solutions to tackle water scarcity, potentially providing a powerful new tool to help tackle this crisis.

Episode guests: Gisela Kaiser from the City of Cape Town, Mark Bierkens from Utrecht University, and Daniel Zimmer from EIT Climate-KIC.

This New Climate is an Acclimatise production.

Water2Invest is an EIT Climate-KIC supported innovation initiative.

Further information:

Water2Invest

City of Cape Town

Utrecht University

Climate-KIC

Why wastewater matters, and innovation is indispensable

Why wastewater matters, and innovation is indispensable

By Christian Walder, Asian Development Bank

Human nature is wired to forget what it does not see, and to ignore what it does not deem as attractive. In our urban systems, that would be wastewater.

Who takes a second to think about where all water discharged, flushed, or processed goes? Hardly anyone, and yet this is a vital piece in the machinery that makes our world go round.

Even data on wastewater generated globally is not systematically monitored. For municipal and industrial wastewater in 2015, estimates put it at 940 cubic kilometer per year.

What is certain, on the other hand, is that 80% of the world’s wastewater is released to the environment without treatment, and this number goes up to over 95% in some least developed countries, according to the UN.

On a recent stroll around Chinatown in Manila, that statistic became all too real. My family and I were initially fascinated with the flurry of activity, the crowds, the shops and Chinese restaurants, as well as the gold and jade dealers. But when we came to a bridge crossing one of the small estuaries of the Pasig River that feeling and excitement from the exotic suddenly stopped. We were faced not with an idyllic creek but a gray, almost blackish body of water full of garbage.

Megacities such as Metro Manila, despite important appearances of progress, still do not have adequate sanitation and wastewater treatment. It is estimated that more than 11 million of Metro Manila’s population is using on-site sanitation facilities and that there are more than two million septic tanks installed in the Philippines’ capital region.

The technical design and construction quality of the septic tanks is often poor, and they are not regularly emptied. That’s when the effluent typically flows into open drains and water bodies. In neighboring Indonesia, 64% of households have septic tanks, but only 4% of the septage is treated.

Water systems are already beset with immense challenges such as water scarcity, increasing demand due to urbanization and population growth, and climate change impacts. Increased discharges of untreated wastewater add to the pollution of water sources, and further diminish water quality.

To address these issues, radical changes within the water sector are required. Promising examples include innovative solutions for wastewater treatment, distributed or on-site treatment of wastewater, resource recovery, and institutional and organizational reforms that can make the “out of sight, out of mind” practice obsolete.

In Biñan, a city just south of Metro Manila in Laguna province, there is a wastewater treatment plant that has begun using an alternative approach. The facility is located in a densely populated area and has applied a nature-based technology—comprised of plants, microorganisms, biofilms, and engineered media—to break down the wastewater in a biological process that requires less energy and produces less sludge compared to a conventional centralized treatment plant.

Watch the video below to find out more:

Why wastewater matters, and innovation is indispensable from ADB Knowledge on Vimeo.


Christian Walder is an Urban Development Specialist (Water Supply and Sanitation) at ADB’s Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department. He is excited about infrastructure financing and the application of innovative, high-level technologies for urban development projects. Before joining ADB in 2018 he worked in the private sector on projects in Central and Eastern Europe, Namibia, Egypt, and India in the various fields of urban water management: water supply, municipal and industrial wastewater treatment, and plant operations.

This article was originally published on Asian Development Blog, access it by clicking here.

Cover photo by Mike Gonzalez/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0): A shanty town in Manila, beside the Manila City Jail. This picture was taken from Recto LRT Station.
‘Eternal’ Swiss snow is melting faster

‘Eternal’ Swiss snow is melting faster

By Paul Brown

Scientists say stretches of “eternal” Swiss snow are melting faster than 20 years ago, with serious impacts for water supply and tourism.

Parts of Europe’s alpine mountain chain are undergoing accelerating melting, as the “eternal” Swiss snow thaws ever faster, threatening both the skiing industry and the nation’s water supply.

Over a period of only 22 years, thousands of satellite images have provided irrefutable evidence that an extra 5,200 square kilometres of the country are now snow-free, compared with the decade 1995-2005.

Researchers from the University of Geneva and the United Nations Environment Programme have used data from four satellites which have been constantly photographing the Earth from space, compiling a record published by the Swiss Data Cube, which uses Earth observations to give a comprehensive  picture of the country’s snow cover and much else besides, including crops grown and forest cover.

It is the loss of snow cover that most disturbs the scientists. What they call “the eternal snow zone” still covered 27% of Swiss territory in the years from 1995 to 2005. Ten years later it had fallen to 23% – a loss of 2,100 sq km.

The eternal snow line marks the part of Switzerland above which the snow never used to melt in summer or winter. It is also defined as the area where any precipitation year-round has an 80-100% chance of being snow.

“We have stored the equivalent of 6,500 images covering 34 years, a feat that only an open data policy has made possible”

Other parts of the country, including the Swiss Plateau (about 30% of Switzerland’s area), the Rhone Valley, the Alps and the Jura mountains are also losing snow cover, adding up to the 5,200 sq km total. These areas, below the eternal snow line, have until now usually had lying snow in the winter.

The study was launched in 2016 on behalf of Switzerland’s Federal Office for the Environment. Knowing the extent of snow cover and its retreat is essential for developing public policies, the researchers say.

Beyond the economic issues linked to the threat to ski resorts – a familiar area of concern, heightened by this latest research, as many of them now face shortened seasons or outright abandonment – other problems such as flood risk and water supply are coming to the fore. Snow stores water in the winter for release in spring and summer, for both agriculture and drinking water.

Currently the increasing loss of ice from glaciers in the summer is making up for the missing snow, but previous work by scientists has shown that in the future, when glaciers disappear altogether, Switzerland could face a crisis.

The researchers have relied on the information available from the Data Cube to establish what is happening on the peaks. By superimposing repeated pictures of the same place over one another they have been able to observe small changes over time.

Wealth of data

The data was made freely available to researchers. One of them, Grégory Giuliani, said: “We have stored the equivalent of 6,500 images covering 34 years, a feat that only an open data policy has made possible. If we had had to acquire these images at market value, more than 6 million Swiss francs would have been invested.

“Knowing that each pixel of each image corresponds to the observation of a square of 10 by 10 meters, we have 110 billion observations today. It is inestimable wealth for the scientific community.”

Apart from snow cover scientists are worried about many other changes taking place in Switzerland because of climate change. They already know that glaciers are melting at record speeds and plants, birds and insects are heading further up the mountains, but there is much else to be gleaned from the new data base.

The Data Cube offers the possibility of studying vegetation, the evolution and rotation of agricultural areas, urbanisation and even water quality, as satellite images can be used to monitor three essential indicators in lakes and rivers: suspended particles, whether organic or mineral; chlorophyll content; and surface temperature.

The data are freely accessible, not only to scientists worldwide but also to the public, making it easy to compare data for specific areas of the territory at different times. “Our ambition is that everyone should be able to navigate freely in Swiss territory to understand its evolution”, said Grégory Giuliani.


Paul Brown, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former environment correspondent of The Guardian newspaper, and still writes columns for the paper.

This article was originally published on Climate News Network.

Cover photo by Steve Evans/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
What can other cities learn about water shortages from ‘Day Zero’?

What can other cities learn about water shortages from ‘Day Zero’?

By Lucy Rodina, University of British Columbia and Kieran M. Findlater, University of British Columbia

Cape Town was set to run dry on April 12, 2018, leaving its 3.7 million residents without tap water.

“Day Zero” was narrowly averted through drastic cuts in municipal water consumption and last-minute transfers from the agricultural sector. But the process was painful and inequitable, spurring much controversy.

The city managed to stave off “Day Zero,” but does that mean Cape Town’s water system is resilient?

We think not.

This may well foreshadow trouble beyond Cape Town. Cities across the Northern Hemisphere, including in Canada, are well into another summer season that has already brought record-setting heat, drought and flooding from increased run-off.

Water crises are not just about scarcity

Water scarcity crises are most often a result of mismanagement rather than of absolute declines in physical water supplies.

In Cape Town, lower than average rainfall tipped the scales towards a “crisis,” but the situation was worsened by slow and inadequate governance responses. Setting aside debates around whose responsibility it was to act and when, the bigger issue, in our view, was the persistence of outdated ways of thinking about “uncertainty” in the water system.

As the drought worsened in 2016, the City of Cape Town’s water managers remained confident in the system’s ability to withstand the drought. High-level engineers and managers viewed Cape Town’s water system as uniquely positioned to handle severe drought in part because of the vaunted success of their ongoing Water Demand Management strategies.

They weren’t entirely mistaken — demand management has cut overall daily consumption by 50 per cent since 2016. So what went wrong?

Limits to demand management

First, Cape Town’s approach to water management was not well-equipped to deal with growing uncertainty in rainfall patterns — a key challenge facing cities worldwide. Researchers at the University of Cape Town argued recently that the conventional models long used to forecast supply and demand underestimated the probability of failure in the water system.

Second, Cape Town’s water system neared disaster in part because demand management seemed to have reached its limits. Starting late last year, the city imposed a limit on water consumption of 87 litres per person per day. That ceiling thereafter shrunk to 50 litres per person per day.

Despite these efforts, Cape Town consistently failed to cut demand below the 500-million-litre-per-day citywide target needed to ensure that the system would function into the next rainy season.

The mayor accused the city’s residents of wasting water, but her reprimanding rhetoric should not be seen as a sign that the citizens were non-compliant. The continuously shrinking water targets were an untenable long-term management strategy.

Buffers are key to water resilience

In the end, “Day Zero” was avoided primarily by relying on unexpected buffers, including temporary agricultural transfers and the private installation of small-scale, residential grey-water systems and boreholes in the city’s wealthier neighbourhoods. The former increased water supply and the latter lowered demand from the municipal system. These buffers are unlikely to be available next year, however, as the water allocations for the agricultural sector will not be renewed and there is uncertainty in the long-term sustainability of groundwater withdrawals.

For more than a decade, Cape Town has levelled demand, reduced leaks and implemented pressure management and water restrictions. This made Cape Town’s water system highly efficient and therefore less resilient because there were fewer reserves to draw from in times of unusual scarcity.

The UN Water 2015 report found that most cities are not very resilient to water risks. As water managers continue to wait for climate change models to become more certain or more specific, they defer action, paralyzing decision-makers.

If we really want our cities to be water-resilient, we must collectively change long-held ideas about water supply and demand. This will require technological and institutional innovation, as well as behavioural change, to create new and more flexible buffers — for example, through water recycling, green infrastructure and other novel measures.

Although Cape Town avoided disaster this year, that does not make it water-resilient. Despite the arrival of the rainy season, Cape Town is still likely to face Day Zero at some point in the future.

There’s a good chance that the city is not alone.The Conversation


Lucy Rodina, PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia and Kieran M. Findlater, , University of British Columbia. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover photo from Pixabay (public domain).
First ever assessment of climate change influence on India’s hydropower plants points to increased generation potential

First ever assessment of climate change influence on India’s hydropower plants points to increased generation potential

Will Bugler

Climate change will have a significant impact on India’s hydropower plants, according to a new study. Changes in rainfall patterns, snowmelt and streamflow in India’s major rivers however, will affect the design and operation of India’s planned and current hydro plants. Amazingly however, the role of climate change on hydroelectric facilities in the country remains largely unexplored.

India is the world’s 7th largest producer of hydropower, and the predictable, low-carbon energy source is vitally important for the country’s ambitions to improve energy supplies and cut greenhouse gas emissions. With India’s population continuing to grow, the demand for clean energy will rise in the coming years. Hydropower offers considerable potential to meet some of this demand. Estimates suggest that the country uses less than 20 % of its total hydropower potential.

Dams must be built to last

As with other large infrastructure developments, proper consideration of climate change on hydroelectric facilities is essential. The lifespan of a large, concrete dam can extend to well over 100 years. A hydropower dam built today will be operational in a considerably different climate in its later life.

The study, undertaken by researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology, provides the first-ever assessment of climate change impacts on the hydropower potential of 7 large hydropower projects in India. Each facility has an installed capacity of over 300 MW, and most are among the top 10 largest hydropower projects in the country.

The study found that all 7 reservoirs studied are projected to experience greater levels of overall rainfall by the end of the century, with some being up to 18% wetter than today. However, the increase in rainfall will not be evenly spread throughout the year. The authors expect that much of the increase will fall as heavy, monsoon rains. This means that the hydro-electric dams may have to withstand more severe flood events than have been previously experienced. It also means that streamflow will not increase throughout the year, meaning that the increased rainfall is unlikely to be matched by a similar increase in electricity generation potential.

The study also found that snow cover is likely to decline affecting several catchments of hydroelectric facilities. This decline in snow cover will mean reduce its contribution to streamflow in the winter season.

Other factors affect streamflow

Overall, the study found that that there would be an increase in streamflow for the 7 hydropower facilities, and that with good planning, India could increase its overall generation from hydropower. Planners should take account of climate-driven changes in streamflow to best capitalise on these changes.

To do this, it will be important to consider other factors, notably the changing demand for irrigation. Increased irrigation demand can have a significant effect on streamflow and reduce hydropower production capacity. If rain falls over shorter periods of time and in more intense bursts, the demand for irrigation in the longer dry periods is likely to rise. This could offset some of the potential increase in generation.

Other factors such as changing land-use patterns will also have significant impacts on India’s hydropower production capacity. However, it is clear from this study that climate change will have significant influence on the streamflow that reaches each facility. As streamflow is highly localised, and dependent of many contributing factors relating to local geography, assessments should be carried out on all current and proposed hydropower plants to assess how they will operate under various climate scenarios.

The study Projected Increase in Hydropower Production in India under Climate Change can be found here.


Kumar, A., Kumar, K., Kaushik, N., Sharma, S. & Mishra, S. Renewable energy in India: Current status and future potentials. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 14, 2434–2442 (2010).

Cover photo by Thangaraj Kumaravel/Flickr (CC BY 2.0): Sharavathi hydroelectric power plant view.
Kerala floods kill hundreds & cause close to $3 billion in damages

Kerala floods kill hundreds & cause close to $3 billion in damages

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Floods in the Indian state of Kerala have killed over 320 people, caused at least $2.7 billion in damages, and displaced over 700,000. Authorities estimate that 20,000 homes have been destroyed, 40,000 hectares of farmland are under water and 83,000 km of roads have been damaged.

Between 8 and 15 August the state, which already receives a lot of rainfall, experienced over 250% more precipitation than normal. Water from 35 dangerously filled dams had to be released by state authorities, which in turn led to surges in rivers and overflowing banks.

While the rains have eased, poor sanitary conditions and widespread contamination of water could lead to the outbreak of several diseases, especially in relief camps where 724,000 people have taken refuge. The state requested $285 million in immediate assistance, however, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government would provide $71 million for immediate assistance and additional funds in the future.

Even though Kerala is one of India’s most prosperous states, the floods highlight how vulnerable South Asia is to climate change related altered rainfall patterns. Last year alone over 1,200 people died and an estimated 20 million were affected in some of the worst monsoon floods India, Nepal and Bangladesh have ever experienced. Megacities like Mumbai flood regularly leading to widespread infrastructural damage, death and disease, and leaving poor residents with even less than they had, increasing their vulnerability to adverse climate events or other risks and hazards.

As Kerala starts its recovery efforts, it will not just be important to build back but build back better, keeping in mind the shifting thresholds of a changing climate, but also putting a special emphasis on more vulnerable members of the population. As this year’s and past years’ extreme weather events have shown, India, and South Asia in general, are facing many challenges making the need for climate resilience more pronounced than ever.


To learn about measures that are already being taken in South Asia to adapt to climate change, head to the Action On Climate microsite and find out about the programme’s work to climate proof growth and development in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Afghanistan: http://www.acclimatise.uk.com/collaborations/action-on-climate-today/

Cover photo by Akbarali/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0): Kerala flood – Cheruvannur mosque disappeared, 17 August 2018.
New report: practical guidance for using climate information for climate resilient water management

New report: practical guidance for using climate information for climate resilient water management

A new paper released by the Action on Climate Today (ACT) programme, shows how climate information can be used effectively to inform decisions related to climate resilient water management (CRWM). The paper provides practical recommendations on how best to use and integrate climate information into decision-making processes, coupled with case studies showing what this looks like in a variety of different contexts. The paper argues that while using the best available climate information can help decision-makers to go beyond business-as-usual practices in water management, good decisions can be made even in the absence of good climate information and data.

Since 2014 the ACT programme has been actively working in five South Asian countries to help national and sub-national governments mainstream adaptation to climate change into development planning and delivery systems. As part of that work, the programme is introducing CRWM into the water resources management and agriculture sectors. As presented in an earlier learning paper “Climate-Resilient Water Management: An operational framework from South Asia”, one major factor to take CRWM beyond business-as-usual approaches is using the best available climate information and data.

CRWM needs to be informed by reliable information about physical exposure and social vulnerability to climate shocks and stresses in order to create a comprehensive narrative of the impact that climate extremes, uncertainty, and variability can have on water resources management. This requires combining different types of climate information. ACT’s new paper seeks to inform government agencies and individual officials, practitioners and donors, researchers and wider civil society on:

  • How to understand the role of climate information in producing analysis including a typology of different types of climate information; and
  • How to best use climate information to inform and guide the policy-making processes.

Based on experience and learning from ACT projects, the paper presents 10 key recommendations for integrating climate information into water resources management. This is targeted at those seeking to design and implement CRWM programmes and initiatives, to help overcome some of the critical challenges to accessing and using climate information.

Climate change is already impacting the water cycle. In particular, climate change is thought to be making the monsoon more erratic and unpredictable, and decreasing the number of rainfall days while, at the same time, increasing their intensity.[1] Additionally, climate change is projected to increase the frequency and severity of both floods and droughts.[2] At same time, in South Asia, as in much of the world, water demand is increasing and accelerating in response to population growth, urbanisation, increased industrial demand, and the relatively high dependence on agriculture for livelihoods. The latter is especially problematic as rising temperatures and less rainfall decrease soil moisture, forcing farmers to water their crops more. Changes in the hydrologic cycle coupled with increased water demand will have manifold impacts on food and livelihood security, agriculture and urbanisation, industrialisation and, hence, the economy at large. As a result, there is a need for the South Asian water resources sector to plan for climate change.

Click here to access the full ACT learning paper “Using climate information for Climate-Resilient Water Management: Moving from science to action” and a learning brief.


[1] Loo, Y., Billa, L., and Singh, A. (2015). Effect of climate change on seasonal monsoon in Asia and its impact on the variability of monsoon rainfall in Southeast Asia. Geoscience Frontiers, Volume 6, Issue 6, 817-823.  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S167498711400036X

[2] Kundzewicz, Z.W., L.J. Mata, N.W. Arnell, P. Döll, P. Kabat, B. Jiménez, K.A. Miller, T. Oki, Z. Sen and I.A. Shiklomanov, 2007: Freshwater resources and their management. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 173-210. https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter3.pdf

Cover photo my Dr Michel Royon/Wikimedia (public domain).
How can cities reduce water-energy nexus pressures?

How can cities reduce water-energy nexus pressures?

By Robert C. Brears

Cities over the past century have become the driving force of the global economy. Accounting for over half the world’s population and generating around 80% of global GDP, cities provide numerous opportunities for development and growth. Cities however bring about risks and challenges to people and the environment. By 2050, demand for water is projected to increase by 55% mainly due to increased demand from urban populations. At the same time demand for energy in providing water and wastewater treatment services will increase.

Water and energy interconnected

Energy and water are interlinked in two ways, first, water is used in the production of nearly all types of energy (coal, geothermal, hydro, oil and gas, nuclear), and second, energy is the dominant cost factor in the provision of water and wastewater services (extracting and conveying water, treating water, distributing water, using water and collecting and treating wastewater). In fact, energy can account for up to 30% of total operating costs of water and wastewater utilities: in some developing countries this can be as high as 40% of the total operating cost. Meanwhile, on average 15% of the world’s total water withdrawals are used for energy production.

Reducing water-energy nexus pressures

Cities around the world have nonetheless initiated innovative processes that attempt to disconnect rising urban populations from increased demand for water and energy. Examples include Dubai of the UAE and Phnom Penh of Cambodia using technological and management innovations to reduce urban water-energy nexus pressures.

Case 1: Smart meters in Dubai

In its pursuit of being water and energy smart the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) is installing smart meters across the Emirate enabling customers to receive real-time information on water and energy consumption. This will enable them to monitor actual consumption to better understand and manage bills. Specifically, in addition to providing current consumption data, DEWA’s smart meters will provide customers with historical consumption data as well as a breakdown of consumption processes that use water and energy. This will enable customers to identify water and energy efficiencies in their homes. The smart meter data is delivered to customers’ smartphones or tables via DEWA’s Smart App, allowing them to view billing information, graphs to check and compare consumption as well as set caps for both water and electricity consumption. Overall DEWA aims to have 1.2 million meters installed within 5 years. The installation of the smart meters will be in two stages:

  1. Smart meter installation: 200,000 smart meters will be installed all over Dubai which will be connected to a new advanced computerized system and software.
  2. DEWA will install the remaining smart meters. Enhancements of the operating system will be performed in conjunction with increasing the number of installed meters.

Case 2: Phnom Penh reducing its leakage rate

Phnom Penh’s Water Supply Authority has a non-revenue water (NRW) rate of around 7%, which is one of the lowest rates in the world. To reduce leakage, as well as energy required in treating water to potable standards – nearly 45% of the Authority’s operating cost is attributed to energy consumption – the Authority has installed a telemeter system that detects high leakages and illegal connections in different zones of the water supply system. To detect leakages more efficiently the city has been divided into 58 sub-zones each with its own local leak detection system. To ensure leaks are fixed rapidly the utility has leak repair teams on standby that operate 24/7, with the response time being two hours after a leak is detected. To ensure the utility is proactive in detecting leaks the Authority has established leak detection teams that are offered incentives to find leaks throughout the water supply system: to become more efficient in its operations incentives have become an important element of the Authority’s staff remuneration.  At the end of each year the utility’s NRW Committee reviews all leakage work and analyses each leak detection teams’ performance. The most efficient teams – based on the ratio of leaks at the start of the year with the end of the year – are rewarded monetarily, with some technicians having received rewards of up to 25% of their annual salaries.

With rapid urbanization increasing demand for water, and energy, cities around the world are exploring a variety of technological and management innovations to reduce urban water-energy nexus pressures.


Robert C. Brears is the author of Urban Water Security (Wiley). He is the founder of Mitidaption, Mark and Focus, is Director on the International Board of the Indo Global Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture, and a Visiting Fellow (non-resident) at the Center for Conflict Studies at MIIS, Monterey, USA.

This article originally appeared on The Water Blog and is shared with kind permission. Read the original article here.

Cover photo by eladg/Pixabay (public domain).

Japan experiences worst floods in decades

Japan experiences worst floods in decades

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

At least 179 people have died and 70 are still missing in Japan after the country experienced the worst floods in decades. More than 8.63 million people across 23 prefectures have been ordered to evacuate their homes in central and western Japan as torrential rains have led to widespread floods and landslides. The prefectures of Okayama, Hiroshima, and Yamaguchi suffered the most severe impacts.

Water and power have been cut off in many areas leaving thousands of homes without supply. The limited access to water is proving especially difficult to cope with, as temperatures in some areas of the country are rising to scorching 35C. Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government was spending two billion yen (£13 million) to speed up supply deliveries and other support for evacuation centres and residents.

According to remotely sensed data from NASA the areas with the most precipitation saw a rainfall accumulation of over 800mm from 3 a.m. (Japan Standard Time) on July 2 to 3 a.m. on July 9. However, local rainfall amounts can be significantly higher when measured from the ground.

The map above shows rainfall accumulation from 3 a.m. (Japan Standard Time) on July 2 to 3 a.m. on July 9, 2018. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

Teruo Sasai, resident of Kurashiki in Okayama, said “The floodwaters were up over my house, probably reaching 4 or 5 meters, up past the roof all the way to the TV antenna. Thankfully, I was OK and nobody in this neighborhood was severely injured.”

As rains started to dissipate on Sunday, search and rescue was rolled out on a massive scale with 70,000 workers deployed for relief efforts.

While it is too soon to attribute the event to climate change with certainty, it is worth noting that a 2012 study by the Japanese government found that the number of days with 100 millimetres or more of precipitation had been increasing since the 1970s. The study also found an “increasing risk of heavy-rain induced disasters” due to climate change.

 


Cover photo by Disaster Prevention Promotion Office, Planning Department, Geographical Survey Institute/Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0): Image from 2017 when Akatani River was overflowed by the Northern Kyūshū Heavy Rain in Asakura City, Fukuoka Prefecture on July 7.
How to fight desertification and drought at home and away

How to fight desertification and drought at home and away

By Andrew Slaughter, University of Saskatchewan

A growing human population and runaway consumption are putting unsustainable pressures on the natural resources we depend on for survival. Our misuse and abuse of land and water is changing fertile land into deserts.

The word “desertification” conjures up images of the spread of existing deserts, with tall dunes spilling into villages and farmer’s fields. But it is actually a term that describes the way land can be transformed by climate variation and human activities, including deforestation, overgrazing (which causes erosion), the cultivation of unsuitable land and other poor land-use management decisions. We see this now in southern Africa, which has already lost at least 25 per cent of its soil fertility.

But not only developing countries are at risk. Almost 1 billion tonnes of soil is lost every year because of erosion resulting from poor land management in Europe alone. Desertification is one of the biggest environmental problems facing humanity, and has already affected over 40 per cent of the world’s population — 3.2 billion people.

Given that climate change could cause more frequent droughts and that population growth puts more pressure on natural resources, land degradation is an increasing global threat to food security, a contributor to poverty and a barrier to achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

It is clear that desertification is a problem of global proportions, requiring a unified strategy among all countries. If action is not taken now, desertification will accelerate, resulting in further migration and conflict.

Seeing the threat

Not all areas are equally at risk of desertification. Drylands, like those in the Karoo of South Africa and the prairies of Canada, are regions where evapotranspiration (the transfer of water from land and plants to the atmosphere) far exceeds precipitation.

Under natural conditions, drylands are characterised by slow cycles of changing climate and vegetation, moving from one stable state to another. More frequent and severe droughts and human disturbances, such as agriculture, grazing and fire, cause more abrupt shifts that can be irreversible.

The threat of land degradation is so widely recognized that the UN established the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) nearly 25 years ago, in 1994. It is a legally binding agreement between the partner nations to work together to achieve sustainable land management.

All member countries of the UNCCD recently agreed to fight desertification and restore degraded land by 2030. On June 17, Ecuador hosted the World Day to Combat Desertification, under the slogan “Land has true value – Invest in it,” and used the occasion to showcase the use of sustainable land management in developing the country’s bio-economy.

A tentative pledge

Despite its initial commitment to combat desertification, Canada withdrew from the UNCCD in 2013. The reasons were unclear, but it may have been because membership was seen as too costly, without obvious benefits for the environment. The departure left Canada as the only country not party to the agreement.

However, Canada rejoined last year, acknowledging the link between desertification and many of Canada’s development priorities. The factors driving land degradation are interconnected and include population growth and migration, climate change and biodiversity loss.

Current rates of global land degradation are in the order of 12 million hectares per year. And yet food production must increase by up to 70 per cent by 2050 to feed the projected global population of 9.1 billion people. Current land-management practices are clearly unsustainable.

The threatened area is so large that halting land degradation and scaling up solutions — from farms and villages to watersheds and continents — requires globally coordinated solutions. By rejoining the UNCCD, Canada can take its rightful place within a coordinated global effort to combat desertification — and strengthen its own efforts nationally.

Why Canada should care

Canada has already cooperated on a regional level with other countries to combat drought and minimize the impacts of reduced agricultural productivity, wildfires and water shortages.

In 2016, for example, when droughts hounded North America, burning Fort McMurray, Alta. and adding to California’s long-running water shortage, Canada cooperated with the United States and Mexico to minimize their impacts. The resulting North American Climate Services Partnership (NACSP) facilitated an early drought forecasting system and drought impact assessments.

In addition, Canada faces its own land degradation challenges. Most people associate dryland regions with a hot and dry climate. However, large parts of the Canadian Prairie provinces — Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba — can be classified as drylands. They are also enormously important agricultural areas, accounting for 60 per cent of the cropland and 80 per cent of the rangeland in Canada.

The Prairies expect to see longer and more intense periods of drought interspersed with major flooding with future climate change. And although North America is one of five regions identified by the UN as facing relatively fewer challenges related to land compared to the countries most at risk, the region does face significant water stress challenges.

Way forward

The Paris Agreement recognized “safeguarding food security” as an important priority for climate change adaptation, which goes hand-in-hand with combating desertification.

The agricultural sector will play an important role in mitigating the impacts of climate change — and fighting land degradation. It can protect against drought, flooding, landslides and erosion, while maintaining natural vegetation, which helps store carbon in the soil. But agricultural production will also have to become more efficient. It will need to adapt to periods of lower water availability and take measures to preserve fertile soil. We must also look to how we manage our water resources to help agriculture adapt to climate change and stop desertification.

The University of Saskatchewan is currently developing tools that can be used by government and in research to predict and manage the water flow and water quality of Canada’s large river basins. This will allow water to be managed at the scale of entire river basins and help determine how industry, agriculture and mining can fairly share this limited resource.

The ConversationCanada has, for now, recognized the link between desertification and many of its development priorities, including agriculture, security, water and renewable energy. But we need to ensure the Canadian government remains committed to combating drought and desertification here — and in the rest of the world.


Andrew Slaughter is a visiting professor at the University of Saskatchewan. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cover photo by Brad Helmink on Unsplash.