This is outside my usual range of topics but given water’s importance in our survival I am inclined to feature this new UN (United Nations) report on water. From a Feb. 22, 2015 UN University (UNU) Institute for Water, Environment and Health (INWEH) news release on EurekAlert,
A new UN report warns that without large new water-related investments many societies worldwide will soon confront rising desperation and conflicts over life’s most essential resource.
The news release describes the situation,
Continued stalling, coupled with population growth, economic instability, disrupted climate patterns and other variables, could reverse hard-earned development gains and preclude meaningful levels of development that can be sustained into the future.
Says lead author Bob Sandford, EPCOR Chair, Canadian Partnership Initiative in support of the UN Water for Life Decade: “The consequence of unmet water goals will be widespread insecurity creating more international tension and conflict. The positive message is that if we can keep moving now on water-related Sustainable Development Goals we can still have the future we want.”
Published in the run-up to the adoption this September of universal post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the report provides an in-depth analysis of 10 countries to show how achieving water and sanitation-related SDGs offers a rapid, cost effective way to achieve sustainable development.
The 10 countries given the analysis are not the ‘usual suspects’ (from the news release),
The countries included in the study cover the full range of economic and development spectrum: Bangladesh, Bolivia, Canada, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Singapore, Uganda, Vietnam, and Zambia.
Based on the national case studies, the report prescribes country level steps for achieving the global water targets.
No US. No China. No Middle Eastern countries. No Australia. No India. No Japan. No European countries. There is one North American country, two African countries and one South American country in addition to the Asian countries. To my knowledge none of the included countries is strongly associated with desert regions.
It’s an interesting set of choices and the report offers no explanation as to why these 10 countries rather than 10 others. You can check if for yourself on p. 29 (the introductory first page of Part Three: Learning from National Priorities and Strategies) of the 2015 Water in the World We Want report.
Water scarcity hurts everybody
Moving on to the report’s recommendations as noted in the news release,
Among top recommendations: Hold the agriculture sector (which guzzles roughly 70% of world water supplies), and the energy sector (15%), accountable for making efficiencies while transitioning to clean energy including hydropower.
Prepared in association with the Global Water Partnership and Canada’s McMaster University, the report says the success of global efforts on the scale required rests in large part on a crackdown on widespread corruption in the water sector, particularly in developing countries.
“In many places … corruption is resulting in the hemorrhaging of precious financial resources,” siphoning an estimated 30% of funds earmarked for water and sanitation-related improvements.
The report underscores the need for clearly defined anti-corruption protocols enforced with harsh penalties.
Given accelerating Earth system changes and the growing threat of hydro-climatic disruption, corruption undermining water-related improvements threatens the stability and very existence of some nation states, which in turn affects all other countries, the report says.
“Corruption at any level is not just a criminal act in its own right. In the context of sustainable development it could be viewed as a crime against all of humanity.”
The report notes that the world’s water and wastewater infrastructure maintenance and replacement deficit is building at a rate of $200 million per year, with $1 trillion now required in the USA alone.
To finance its recommendations, the report says that, in addition to plugging the leakage of funds to corruption, $1.9 trillion in subsidies to petroleum, coal and gas industries should be redirected by degrees.
The estimated global cost to achieve post-2015 sustainable development goals in water and sanitation development, maintenance and replacement is US $1.25 trillion to $2.25 trillion per year for 20 years, a doubling or tripling of current spending translating into 1.8 to 2.5 percent of global GDP.
The resulting benefits would be commensurately large, however – a minimum of $3.11 trillion per year, not counting health care savings and valuable ecosystem service enhancements.
Changes in fundamental hydrology “likely to cause new kinds of conflict”
Sandford and co-lead author Corinne J. Schuster-Wallace of UNU-INWEH underline that all current water management challenges will be compounded one way or another by climate change, and by increasingly unpredictable weather.
“Historical predictability, known as relative hydrological stationarity … provides the certainty needed to build houses to withstand winds of a certain speed, snow of a certain weight, and rainfalls of certain intensity and duration, when to plant crops, and to what size to build storm sewers. The consequence is that the management of water in all its forms in the future will involve a great deal more uncertainty than it has in the past.”
“In a more or less stable hydro-climatic regime you are playing poker with a deck you know and can bet on risk accordingly. The loss of stationarity is playing poker with a deck in which new cards you have never seen before keep appearing more and more often, ultimately disrupting your hand to such an extent that the game no longer has coherence or meaning.”
“People do not have the luxury of living without water and when faced with a life or death decision, people tend to do whatever they must to survive … Changes in fundamental hydrology are likely to cause new kinds of conflict, and it can be expected that both water scarcity and flooding will become major trans-boundary water issues.”
Within 10 years, researchers predict 48 countries – 25% of all nations on Earth with an expected combined population of 2.9 billion – will be classified “water-scarce” (1,000 to 1,700 cubic meters of water per capita per year) or “water-stressed” (1,000 cubic meters or less). [emphases mine]
And by 2030, expect overall global demand for freshwater to exceed supply by 40%, with the most acute problems in warmer, low-resource nations with young, fast-growing populations, according to the report. [emphasis mine]
An estimated 25% of the world’s major river basins run dry for part of each year, the report notes, and “new conflicts are likely to emerge as more of the world’s rivers become further heavily abstracted so that they no longer make it to the sea.”
Meanwhile, the magnitude of floods in Pakistan and Australia in 2010, and on the Great Plains of North America in 2011 and 2014, “suggests that the destruction of upstream flood protection and the failure to provide adequate downstream flood warning will enter into global conflict formulae in the future.”
The report cites the rising cost of world flood-related damages: US$53 billion in 2013 and more than US$312 billion since 2004.
Included in the global flood figures: roughly $1 billion in flood damage in the Canadian province of Manitoba in both 2011 and 2014. The disasters have affected the province’s economic and political stability, contributing to a budget deficit, an unpopular increase in the provincial sales tax and to the consequent resignation of political leaders. [emphases mine]
UNU-INWEH Director Zafar Adeel and Jong Soo Yoon, Head of the UN Office for Sustainable Development, state: “Through a series of country case studies, expert opinion, and evidence synthesis, the report explores the critical role that water plays (including sanitation and wastewater management) in sustainable development; current disconnects between some national development plans and the proposed SDGs; opportunities for achieving sustainable development through careful water management; and implementation opportunities.”
The report, they add, “fills a critical gap in understanding the complexities associated with water resources and their management, and also provides substantive options that enable us to move forward within the global dialogue.”
Juxtaposing the situation in Manitoba with the situation in warmer, low-resource nations emphasizes the universality of the problem. Canadians can be complacent about water scarcity, especially where I live in the Pacific Northwest, but it affects us all.
Corruption bites everywhere
As for the corruption mentioned in the news release and report, while there is no news of ‘water’ corruption here, the country does have its own track record with regard to financial boondoggles. For example, the Auditor-General reported in 2013 that $3.1B spent on measures to combat terrorism was unaccounted for (from an April 30, 2013 Globe & Mail article by Gloria Galloway and Daniel Leblanc),
The federal government cannot account for billions of dollars that were devoted to combatting terrorism after the Sept. 11  attacks, Canada’s Auditor-General says in a new report.
Between 2001 and 2009, Ottawa awarded $12.9-billion to 35 departments and agencies charged with ensuring the safety of Canadians to use for public security and fighting terrorism. The money allocated through the Public Security and Anti-Terrorism Initiative was intended to pay for measures designed to keep terrorists out of Canada, to prosecute those found in the country, to support international initiatives, and to protect infrastructure.
But Auditor-General Michael Ferguson said only $9.8-billion of that money was identified in reports to the Treasury Board as having been spent specifically on anti-terrorism measures by the departments and agencies. The rest was not recorded as being used for that purpose. Some was moved to other priorities, and some lapsed without being spent, but the government has no full breakdown for the $3.1-billion.
The time period 2001 – 2009 implicates both Liberal and Conservative governments, the Conservatives having come to power in 2006.
About Bob Sandford and EPCOR
One final note, the report’s co-lead author, Bob Sandford, is described as the chair for EPCOR Canadian Partnership Initiative in support of the UN Water for Life Decade, It’s a rather interesting title in that Sandford is not on the EPCOR board. Here’s how EPCOR describes Sandford on the company’s webpage dedicated to him and dated March 13, 2013,
Robert Sandford is the EPCOR Chair in support of the United Nations “Water for Life” Decade of Action initiative in Canada. We support his efforts as he speaks in plain language to policy makers, explaining how his work links research and analysis to public policy ideas that help protect water supplies and reduce water consumption.
We’re proud to sponsor his leadership efforts to educate Canadians and help local and international governments become better stewards of a most precious resource. Supporting Robert is just one of the ways EPCOR works to protect water in our communities.
The company which is owned solely by the city of Edmonton (Alberta) was originally named Edmonton Electric Lighting and Power Company in 1891. As they say on the company’s About page, “We provide electricity and water services to customers in Canada and the US.” They also develop some nice public relations strategies. I’m referring, of course, to the Sandford sponsorship which can be better appreciated by going to Sandford’s, from the homepage,
Bob Sandford is the EPCOR Chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative in support of United Nations “Water for Life” Decade. This national partnership initiative aims to inform the public on water issues and translate scientific research outcomes into language decision-makers can use to craft timely and meaningful public policy.
Bob is also the Director of the Western Watersheds Research Collaborative and an associate of the Centre for Hydrology which is part of the Global Water Institute at the University of Saskatchewan. Bob is also a Fellow of the Biogeoscience Institute at the University of Calgary. He sits on the Advisory Board of Living Lakes Canada, the Canadian Chapter of Living Lakes International and is also a member of the Forum for Leadership on Water (FLOW), a national water policy research group centred in Toronto. Bob also serves as Water Governance Adviser and Senior Policy Author for Simon Fraser University’s Adaptation to Climate Change Team. In 2011, Bob was invited to be an advisor on water issues by the Interaction Council, a global public policy forum composed of more than thirty former Heads of State including Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, U.S. President Bill Clinton, and the former Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Brundtland. In this capacity Bob works to bring broad international example to bear on Canadian water issues. In 2013, Alberta Ventures magazine recognized Bob as one of the year’s 50 most influential Albertans.
I guess Mr. Sandford knows his water.