16 December 2007

China's Hydro Campaign

Primary sources:
12 January 2000: International Water Power & Dam Construction
Iran funds dam completion
1 June 2002: People's Daily Online (China)
China Wins Contract to Build Another 'Three Gorges' Dam in Africa
12 August 2002: BBC News
Work starts on giant Ethiopian dam
1 December 2002: International Water Power & Dam Construction
China provides funds for new dams
May 2003: World Rainforest Movement
Villagers Mount Unprecedented Protest Against Dam in Laos
23 April 2004: International Water Power & Dam Construction
One horse race for Peruvian Olmos bid
28 July 2004: International Water Power & Dam Construction
Sudan projects underway
9 September 2004: VOA Lao
Construction of Nam Mang 3 Dam Is Near Completion
22 September 2004: America's Intelligence Wire
Kyrgyz leader invites China to invest in hydro plants in Kyrgyzstan
24 November 2004: EurasiaNet.org
Central Asia: China's Mounting Influence - Xinjiang's Thirst Threatens Kazakh Water Resources
26 March 2005: The New Light of Myanmar
Paunglaung Multi-purpose Dam... (pdf)
1 November 2005: Pambazuka News (Africa)
Ghana: All Set For Bui Dam To Take Off
2007: Kachin Development Networking Group
Damming the Irawaddy (pdf)
2007: Salween Watch
Under the Boot (pdf)
2007: Mon Youth Progressive Organization
In the Balance (pdf)
3 March 2007: Bangkok Post (Thailand)
Villagers want end of Salween dams
11 April 2007: International Water Power & Dam Construction
Myanmar pushes ahead Thanlwin hydro projects
2 October 2007: Planet Ark
Mozambique Plans US$1.7 Bln Hydro-Electric Project
10 November 2007: Tehran Times (Iran)
China to finance world's highest dam in Iran
15 November 2007: Bangkok Post (Thailand)
Cambodia raps Laos over Mekong dams
21 November 2007: The Nation (Thailand)
Chinese make move: MDX, Ratchaburi face threat in huge power schemes
2 December 2007: Bangkok Post (Thailand)
Dammed Angry
3 December 2007: Monsters & Critics
Activists petition China to regulate dam projects in Myanmar (Roundup)
3 December 2007: Reuters
China dam project a boost for Myanmar junta: report
4 December 2007: International Water Power & Dam Construction
Works well advanced at Myanmar's Yeywa RCC dam
6 December 2007: ModernGhana.com
China Urged To Build Capacity Of Ghanaians
10 December 2007: KNG News
Despite protests, Burma's junta and China pushing ahead with first dam on the Irrawaddy
You may need Acrobat Reader for some of the links above. Additional sources include Wikipedia and specific links provided below.

A few weeks ago I sent to Tom Barnett an article link that seems in both of our interests. It was a very short blurb from the Tehran (Iran) Times, listed above, that mentioned a deal for Chinese funding of a new hydropower project that would end up as the "highest dam in the world." I don't know if that means base elevation, crest elevation, the difference between those...my interest was piqued more by the linking of those two countries in such a deal.

Mr. Barnett has discussed more than once on his blog that China seems to be stepping up into the role of "System Administrator" (a.k.a. SysAdmin) where American efforts at shrinking the Gap are lacking. (If you are not familiar with these terms, check out the Barnett Glossary. For a more complete explanation of how these things fit together, read Mr. Barnett's books listed there and at left.) China has stepped in economically where America seems to function only militarily, at best: the New Core invests eagerly where the Old Core remains complacent, or has lost its expertise. This is especially the case in Africa, where Chinese investment has focused on the energy sector but, as I wrote earlier, encompasses much more of the target society in order to win the "hearts and minds" of locals in the regions of interest.

It got me wondering where else the Chinese hydropower industry was finding new markets, so I did a little more checking, and found some interesting things. These are hydropower projects outside of China in which Chinese companies (funding, labor, construction, operation, and maintenance) and/or the Chinese government (primarily funding) have become involved over the past several years:
  • 1997
    • Kajbar, Nile River, Sudan (US$270M, 300 MW)
  • 2002
    • Bui, Black Volta River, Ghana (US$500M, 400 MW)
    • Tekeze, Tekeze River, Ethiopia (US$224M, irrigation + 200 MW)
    • Ifrane*, Melloulou River, Morocco (irrigation)
    • Chefchaouen*, Laou River, Morocco (drinking water)
    • Al-Hoceima*, Rhis River, Morocco (drinking water)
  • 2004
    • Merowe, Nile River, Sudan (1,250 MW)
  • 2005
    • Nam Mang 3, Nam Ngam River, Laos (US$63M, 40 MW)
    • Paunglaung, Paunglaung River, Myanmar (140 MW)
  • 2006
    • Hutgyi, Salween River, Myanmar (US$1.0B, 1,200 MW)
    • Shweli 1*, Shweli River, Myanmar (600 MW)
  • 2007
    • Bakhtiari, Bakhtiari River, Iran (€1.2B, 1,500 MW)
    • Myitsone, Irawaddy River, Myanmar (3,600 MW)
    • Tasang, Salween River, Myanmar (US$24B, 7,110 MW)
    • Tete, Zambezi River, Mozambique (US$1.7B, 1,300 MW)
    • Upper Thanlwin, Salween River, Myanmar (2,400 MW)
    • Yeywa, Myitnge River, Myanmar (790 MW)
  • Unknown date, or in planning stages
    • Chibwe*, N'Mai River, Myanmar (2,000 MW)
    • Dagwin, Salween River, Myanmar (792 MW)
    • Khaunlanphu*, N'Mai River, Myanmar (1,700 MW)
    • Laiza*, Mali River, Myanmar (1,560 MW)
    • Lakin*, N'Mai River, Myanmar (1,400 MW)
    • Pashe*, N'Mai River, Myanmar (1,600 MW)
    • Phizaw*, N'Mai River, Myanmar (1,500 MW)
    • Shweli 2, Shweli River, Myanmar (460 MW)
    • Shweli 3, Shweli River, Myanmar (360 MW)
    • Weigyi, Salween River, Myanmar (US$6B, 4,540 MW)
* = actual site name unknown

A note to readers: if you find mistakes in this list or updated information on any of these or other projects, please let me know and I'll update as necessary.

Numerous Chinese organizations and companies have been mentioned specifically in the press in relation to these projects:
  • China Export-Import Bank (Paunglaung, Yeywa and Tasang in Myanmar; Merowe in Sudan; Nam Mang 3 in Laos)
  • Farsighted Investment Group Co. (Upper Thanlwin, Myanmar)
  • Gold Water Resources (Upper Thanlwin, Myanmar)
  • Sino Hydro (Bui, Ghana; Salween projects, Myanmar)
  • China National Water Resources and Hydropower Engineering Corp. (Tekeze, Ethiopia)
  • Harbin Power (Merowe, Sudan)
  • Gezhouba Water and Power (Yeywa and Salween projects, Myanmar)
  • Yunnan Joint Power Development Co. (Shweli, Myanmar)
  • Zhejiang Fuchunjiang Hydropower Equipment (Hutgyi, Myanmar)
  • Dalang (Yunnan) United Hydropower Developing Co. (Yeywa, Myanmar)
I'd guess that list is woefully incomplete, however. Interestingly, one Russian company was mentioned in relation to a couple of the projects in Myanmar:
  • Power Machines (Yeywa and Hutgyi, Myanmar)

There are two distinct regions of Chinese investment in the hydropower projects listed here, both of which are in the Non-Integrating Gap described by Mr. Barnett: Africa, and Southeast Asia. More specifically, Myanmar is a neighbor of China to the south, and the planned projects there and in other Southeast Asian countries are intended to strengthen the power grid in that region and, ultimately, to feed back and provide some of the energy that China demands in its current cycle of rapid population and urban growth in the southern provinces. Even more hydropower project are planned in China itself, including thirteen dams on tributaries of the Salween River, and several others on the upper Mekong River and its tributaries throughout Southeast Asia.

So if local power production explains much or all of the $30B Chinese investment in Myanmar, against much local opposition, and if wholistic development strategies explain much or all of the investment in various African countries, what about this new project in Iran? Most likely it's part of a larger negotiation over oil resources, Iranian exports to China to feed the demands of the growing population there. China has also sought agreements with the former Soviet countries of Central Asia, especially around the Caspian Sea. However, as far as I can find, there is no known Chinese investment in hydropower projects in Central Asia, possibly because of competition from Russia in the former Soviet states. This possibility stands in distinct opposition to the apparent cooperation between Chinese and Russian companies on hydromachinery equipment at two projects in Myanmar. It all suggests to me that, if there is still some "Great Game" afoot in Central Asia, it's not necessarily Russia that has taken the part of the northern player. It might just be Kazakhstan, which is already in disagreement with China over water resources from the Irtysh and Ili Rivers that both originate in China and cross their common border, and from which China has been drawing resources for development in its western provinces.

A partnership between Kyrgyzstan and China was formed in September 2004 through which the Kyrgyz leadership hoped to obtain US$2.0B from China for construction of two hydroelectric sites on the Naryn River that were expected to produce 1,600 MW. The Tien Shan range, which effectively separates Kyrgyzstan from China, provides a seemingly endless supply of meltwater rivers, and hydropower potential, to Asia's interior. However, a revolution in Kyrgyzstan in March 2005 resulted in the removal of President Akayev's regime and his replacement with ostensibly pro-democracy leadership, though some recent reforms there show a regression to earlier political practices. The current status of the Kyrgyz development agreement with China is unknown.

Both Kyrgyzstan and neighboring Tajikistan, two Central Asian countries of the former Soviet Republic with abundant water resources, have claimed China as a potential investor in the construction of hydropower projects. However, some analysts see the resurgence of Great Power politics in the region between Russia, China, and now the U.S. I'll attempt to address that issue in a later post on this blog. Part of that difficult seems to involve the bloc mentality of the former Soviet states in Central Asia, the idea that all must work together and decide collectively on development opportunities rather than each acting on their own. In this case, both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are oil-rich, water-poor downstream neighbors of the water-rich, oil-poor Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Both of the latter countries have sworn off aid to terrorists in any manner, and have effectively entered America's good graces. To leave their Gap status behind, however, they'll need to develop, and have identified their most valuable commodity. If they can stand up to their downstream neighbors and approach the economic negotiating table with autonomy and confidence, they'll do well for themselves and the region. If they choose to remain subordinate to those neighbors, who remain stuck in their oil-resource and deficit-agriculture traps (the first is defined by Paul Collier in his brilliant The Bottom Billion, and the latter is coined here by me, as far as I know), the upstream countries will stay trapped there too, and their water resources will remain spoken-for as a legacy of the Soviet era. As an example, look at the Aral Sea, bordered by both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and a prime example of Soviet-era resource mismanagement. Look also at the massive, thirsty, and finally shrinking cotton fields in Uzbekistan, another legacy of the Soviet top-down model of economic development.

Finally, as far as I can find, there has been no apparent investment in North Korean hydropower projects in the past decade, though two of those projects in N.K. have made the news for completely different reasons: one is on a tributary of the Han River, which flows into South Korea and thus threatens cross-border water security on the peninsula. The other is close to the N.K. border with China, and in September 2004 was the site of two large explosions that triggered fears of small-scale nuclear tests. Apparently they were just excavating the dam site...

23 November 2007

The USAID Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET)

Primary Sources:
5 August 2005: New York Times
Malnutrition Is Ravaging Niger's Children
2 February 2006: BBC
Ethiopia's food aid addiction
7 February 2006: IRIN Africa
ETHIOPIA: Struggling to end food aid dependency
7 February 2006: NASA Earth Observatory
Aiding Afghanistan
16 October 2007: Reuters
Cost of food aid soars as global need rises
Additional sources include Wikipedia and specific links provided below. All information used here is available from public sources.

Are you ready for a peek behind the curtain? This is operational hydrology, in one aspect at least...

A number of agencies in the US government participate in an operational endeavor called the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET), which is oriented almost entirely on the evaluation of food security in areas of the world where drought and crop failures are chronic issues. The main partners are:
The FEWS was started in 1986 in the US in response to the devastating 1984-5 famine in Ethiopia, in which an estimated 1M people died of starvation due to drought and political instability. The system was expanded to a network across several countries in Africa in 2000 and currently covers 22 countries on that continent, as well as one in Central Asia (Afghanistan) and four in Central America and the Caribbean. At NOAA, this latter extension of FEWS NET activities is known separately as the Mesoamerica FEWS (MFEWS).

NOAA also operates, by another extension, the Asia Flood Network (AFN). The AFN includes monitoring of cyclones and tsunami, especially in the Indian Ocean, and could be linked with the NOAA/USAF Joint Typhoon Warning Center, based in Guam, to provide an overwatch for almost all of coastal Asia and the Maritime Continent.

But the focus here with FEWS is not flooding and the problems those natural disasters provide. Drought is different: it's something more of a creeping disaster, with various definitions and thresholds that depend on your location, your business, the population and resource stress, etc. Areas in the Sahara are not considered in drought, perpetually - we call that desert. At the southern edge of the desert, however, many Africans make their livelihoods in a region known as the Sahel, a grassy savanna that provides marginal support. With climate change, droughts, unsustainable farming practices, and a lack of water supply for irrigation, these areas can turn to desert, and the Sahara advances. With the monsoon season, however, rapid greening is often observed in the Sahel and the farmers advance to reclaim the land. In some places the advance-and-retreat goes on an annual cycle, but longer-term trends such as drought and a warming climate tend to favor the desertification of the Sahel.

In other areas of Africa, the monsoons are not so much at issue, and it is beyond the margins of the rainforests in Sub-Saharan Africa that most of the problems with drought and famine occur. Before we go much farther, let's look briefly at the different types of drought:
  1. Meteorological drought, in which precipitation totals fall below a statistical threshold or there is a complete lack of precipitation for a measurable time period.
  2. Agricultural drought, in which precipitation and/or irrigation is insufficient for crop growth and production.
  3. Hydrological drought, in which water resources in rivers or reservoirs fall below a statistical threshold.
  4. Economic drought, in which commodity (food) stores and prices are affected, and foreign aid is often requested.
This is far different from the observation of tropical and mid-latitude storm events, which are described with wind speeds and wave heights, precipitation totals and various measures of severity such as the Saffir-Simpson scale. The storm events are finite and the damage can be evaluated not long after the event has passed. Not so, with a drought. In civil engineering, storm events are often ranked in order of precipitation depth and assigned a recurrence interval (e.g. ''the 100-year storm'') according to the length of record-keeping. With droughts, however, the severity is measured in various ways: precipitation can be rendered as an absolute or as a deficit from normal, and the time period of the drought is often at issue, primarily because recognition of the drought does not occur until it has already started. With a rainstorm, we can see it coming, we can watch The Weather Channel, we know when it arrives, and we know when it leaves. With a drought, a few days of rain are missed here and there, we figure it will be made up for later, and the next thing we know the plants are wilting and there's still not a storm in the forecast for weeks to come. By the time the reservoirs are down to half-capacity and our water rations have run out, it's already too late to save the crops, but maybe the people can survive on what remains, with help.

And that's where FEWS NET comes in. With early warning of a drought, an impending crop failure, or a full famine crisis, the primary goal is the acquisition and positioning of food aid, mostly cereal grains, for those affected. In 2006 USAID administered more than $1.5B in two categories related to food assistance, the International Disaster and Famine Assistance program and the P.L. 480 Food for Peace initiative.

In the areas of Africa covered by FEWS NET, Ethiopia has been the main beneficiary of international food aid for the past 30 years, and USAID has provided the majority of that assistance. Given rising populations and a steady decline in agricultural production, some have suggested that Ethiopia and other parts of Africa are addicted to such foreign aid. Some nations, however, remain under foreign and domestic political pressure. Sudan and Ethiopia have been threatened by Egypt upon any hint or suggestion in the direction of water resource development in the upper Nile River basin. Numerous countries in the FEWS NET area remain politically unstable, mired in civil conflicts and under the control of warlord factions who dictate the distribution of such aid. The word for these regimes, a term marked as potentially biased on Wikipedia, is kleptocracy.

Nevertheless, countries like Ethiopia and Somalia watch the weather and keep tabs on climate indicators, such as the western Pacific ENSO index and the Indian Ocean dipole. The Ethiopian highlands, where African easterly waves that sometimes turn into Atlantic hurricanes are born, also foster coffee plantations in the rich volcanic soil. But they can't eat coffee, and Egypt has warned them off of building big dams on the upper Blue Nile because Ethiopia provides as much as 90% of the total flow in the Nile River north of Khartoum, so every drought becomes a disaster because there remains no security in the country's water resources. The government reaches for agricultural development, some measure of sustainability with a reduction of foreign aid, but USAID's website indicates that the country has remained in Warning or Emergency status since July 2002.

So let's talk guts. The FEWS NET evaluation process is supported by several input datasets, including:
  • Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), an indicator of plant growth and health, from NOAA satellite imagery and NASA processing procedures.
  • Meteosat Rainfall Estimation (RFE), based on processing of visible and infrared imagery from the EU's Meteosat geostationary sensors. The most recent RFE algorithm for use in FEWS was implemented by NOAA researchers in 2001.
  • A Water Requirements Satisfaction Index (WRSI) map based on imagery of crop areas at the beginning of the growing season, known crop-specific watering requirements from UN FAO datasets, and measured precipitation over the area within the growing season up to the time of evaluation.
  • The 10-day average latitudinal position of the African Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), provided by NOAA, which suggests areas of recent and current rainfall.
  • Country- and region-specific Livelihood Maps, a product that employs evaluations of predominant livelihood activities (agriculture, livestock, pastoralism, fishing, and labor) in combination with known and forecast food availability in order to provide a relative context to the concepts of security and scarcity.
The first four of these are geophysical datasets, observable from space or estimated from a combination of space-based and ground observations. Two of these, the NDVI and WRSI, require both outside datasets and consistent updates on a monthly or dekadal (10-day) basis throughout the growing season. The other two, Meteosat RFE and the ITCZ position, are monitored constantly and rendered to dekadal time scales for analysis and dissemination. Much of the processing and combination of these geophysical datasets is performed by the USGS at their Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) data center. Sources of individual datasets include several NASA sites, such as the NASA Land Processes (LP) Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC) and the Goddard Earth Sciences (GES) Data and Information Services Center (DISC).

The last dataset listed seems, by far, the most complicated to produce and keep up-to-date on a regular basis. As described on the main FEWS NET site,
"The livelihoods lens has shaped project work from early warning reporting to emergency needs assessments to special studies of affected populations. The livelihoods framework was adopted in order to provide essential baseline material for interpreting early warning indicators. The main advantage to a livelihood-based early warning system is that the focus is now on understanding the context of survival. Once this context is understood, the analyst can better judge the impact of a shock on household food access."
Basically, the orientation of FEWS analysis shifts from absolute indicators of food security, provided by the geophysical information collected and processed above, to a relative assessment based on the "normal" food security in a particular region or country. A "food gap" can be identified and addressed with warnings, preventative measures, and if necessary, foreign aid. As described further on the site, "the livelihood vision keeps FEWS NET staff focused on the essential questions during a food crisis, and that is: how, and to what extent, have households’ normal patterns of food access been affected?"

Naturally, NASA is also involved in this area through a partnership with Columbia University in the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC). The SEDAC is a veritable treasure trove of maps and geospatial information on both natural (vegetation, land cover, natural resources, environmental sustainability) and human aspects (locations, population density, urbanization, economic indicators, census details) of the problems at issue.

The end results of all this processing and evaluation are the analyses and food security status warnings issued on the main USAID FEWS NET site. Each country in the program's coverage is observed constantly, and the analyses are updated on a monthly basis or more frequently depending on recent events, especially rains and at harvest times. In the countries and regions of interest, USAID's monitoring and reporting activities are translated to on-the-ground responses through the well-defined FEWS NET Contingency and Response Planning Framework. The elements of this framework are enabled in direct cooperation with the authorities and major stakeholders in the target countries and regions, providing contingencies and responses that are tailored to the specific resources and needs there.

19 November 2007

A "circle of blue"

Primary Sources:
19 June 2007: New York Times
Climate-Change Scorecard Aims to Influence Consumers

It would seem that I now have some competition in the realm of water-related news analysis: check out circle of blue when you have the chance. Pretty fancy graphics and all that, nice busy layout, certainly a great deal of journalistic resources that I do not hope to provide. Of course, what do you expect from a fully-staffed foundation with contributors like The Pacific Institute, the Ford Foundation, the Coca-Cola Company, and several other foundations, including some with research activities in China?

When I looked it up a while ago, I found that Coca-Cola was one of the few large international companies not oriented primarily on the engineering sector that has a Vice President for Environment and Water Resources. In a recent survey on consumer company efforts toward addressing climate-related issues, Coca-Cola scored higher than Starbucks, PepsiCo, and McDonald's in the food-service category. You might say that this blog is already sponsored by three of those four companies, in a round-about way. Oh, and just as an aside, I am sure many of you know that you can send money to people by e-mail now...

Look for more news from circle of blue on water issues in our changing world, both on their own website and in this blog.

10 November 2007

US Water Resources Development Act of 2007

Primary sources:
23 October 2007 (presented to President Bush): THOMAS (Library of Congress)
Water Resources Development Act of 2007
3 November 2008: New York Times
Bush Vetoes Water Bill, Citing Cost of $23 Billion
7 November 2007: New York Times
Republicans Join Vote to Override Water Bill Veto
9 November 2007: New York Times
Congress Turns Back Bush’s Veto in a Test of Power
10 November 2007: New York Times
Hope for the Everglades (Editorial)
Additional sources include Wikipedia and specific links provided below.

The US Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007 was just passed into law by veto-overriding votes in the House and Senate. It was the first such legislation in seven years: the last WRDA was passed before President Bush entered office, the phrase "Global War on Terror" entered the media lexicon, and Hurricane Katrina became one of the largest natural disasters to drive internal migration in this country since the Mississippi floods of 1927.

The WRDA of 2007 is truly a massive piece of legislation, detailing $23B in federal budget authorizations for more than 900 US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) projects at a rate of approximately $5B per year over the next five years (FY 2008 through FY 2012). The actual rate of allocations (spending) on the projects will be a bit slower, with about $11B to be spent during the allocation period and another $12B in the ten years after that. A very small amount of the costs will be offset by about $12M in revenues from land transfers, debt restructuring, and other minor provisions.

The USACE is tasked primarily with water resource studies and capital projects in flood control, inland navigation, shoreline protection, and environmental restoration. The WRDA authorizes some large amounts for high-profile projects: $3.5B for projects in Louisiana, including a dedicated Hurricane Protection Project, and $2B for restoration work in the Florida Everglades. A total of $3.6B is authorized for a combination of navigation-oriented and ecosystem restoration projects in the Upper Mississippi River basin. About 50 projects authorized in previous legislation were removed from the USACE slate with this WRDA.

Overall, specific construction and restoration projects in 24 states were authorized in the WRDA, and studies for future projects were directed for many more locations:
  • Flood damage reduction studies in 20 states.
  • Emergency streambank protection studies in eleven states.
  • Navigation studies in eight states.
  • Environmental quality improvement studies in seven states.
  • Aquatic ecosystem restoration studies in 21 states.
  • Shoreline protection, sometimes known as "beach-building," studies in six states and in the US Protectorate of Guam.
  • Channel dredging and clearing studies in one state.
  • Studies toward the prevention and mitigation of damage due to previous navigation projects in two states.
  • Assessments of river basins and watersheds in five states.
Numerous amendments to previous WRDA legislation (1986, 1996, 1999, 2000), Flood Control Acts (1946, 1948), and the River and Harbor Act (1960) were included. One important new rule is that the USACE is directed to "expedite any authorized planning, design, and construction of a flood damage reduction project for an area that, within the preceding five years, has been subject to flooding that resulted in the loss of life and caused damage of sufficient magnitude to warrant a declaration of a major disaster by the President." Basically that means areas on the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, areas that suffered floods and debris flows in California in 2005 and 2006, and a large number of individual storm-related flood events in many areas of the country, but mostly in the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River basins.

Looking toward a future in which water resources are an increasingly contentious issue in many areas of the US, the WRDA authorizes the USACE, "at the request of a governmental agency or nonfederal interest, to provide technical assistance in managing water resources, including the provision and integration of hydrologic, economic, and environmental data and analyses." Numerous additional provisions specify how this is to be undertaken, including the adoption of risk analysis approaches to project feasibility and cost estimates and the consideration of alternatives in water resource problem assessments to promote integrated water resources management (IWRM) concepts.

All of this sounds good, right? Greater guidance, responsibility and oversight for a federal agency in search of its original purpose. Peer review of project studies, and the review of certain flood-related project design and construction activities by independent experts. A seemingly proactive treatment of serious water- and flood-related issues around the country. Potential relief for the drought-stricken Southeast and water-poor West of the US. And the first such legislation to do all of this in seven years, during which time we've seen the most costly flood-related disasters in US history and had our glimpse of the future of water issues in the US by way of the IPCC climate change studies and related research.

Alas, President Bush's veto message was read on 5 November before the House of Representatives, and included the following text:
"This bill lacks fiscal discipline. I fully support funding for water resources projects that will yield high economic and environmental returns to the Nation and each year my budget has proposed reasonable and responsible funding, including $4.9 billion for 2008, to support the Army Corps of Engineers' (Corps) main missions. However, this authorization bill makes promises to local communities that the Congress does not have a track record of keeping. The House of Representatives took a $15 billion bill into negotiations with a $14 billion bill from the Senate and instead of splitting the difference, emerged with a Washington compromise that costs over $23 billion. This is not fiscally responsible, particularly when local communities have been waiting for funding for projects already in the pipeline. The bill's excessive authorization for over 900 projects and programs exacerbates the massive backlog of ongoing Corps construction projects, which will require an additional $38 billion in future appropriations to complete.

"This bill does not set priorities. The authorization and funding of Federal water resources projects should be focused on those projects with the greatest merit that are also a Federal responsibility. My Administration has repeatedly urged the Congress to authorize only those projects and programs that provide a high return on investment and are within the three main missions of the Corps' civil works program: facilitating commercial navigation, reducing the risk of damage from floods and storms, and restoring aquatic ecosystems. This bill does not achieve that goal. This bill promises hundreds of earmarks and hinders the Corps' ability to fulfill the Nation's critical water resources needs--including hurricane protection for greater New Orleans, flood damage reduction for Sacramento, and restoration of the Everglades--while diverting resources from the significant investments needed to maintain existing Federal water infrastructure. American taxpayers should not be asked to support a pork-barrel system of Federal authorization and funding where a project's merit is an afterthought.

"I urge the Congress to send me a fiscally responsible bill that sets priorities. Americans sent us to Washington to achieve results and be good stewards of their hard-earned taxpayer dollars. This bill violates that fundamental commitment. For the reasons outlined above, I must veto H.R. 1495."
So $23B for this bill, plus $38B in future appropriations, for a total of $61B in long-term funding requests. That's still less than the additional $70B that the President wants for the next six months of military operations just in Iraq, and far less than the $459B non-combat Defense funding bill upon which the House and Senate just agreed. The President says that he had about $5B in the last annual budget for the types of projects authorized for the USACE. That means that, over the next fifteen years, discounting inflation and increases in the requested amount, the President's plans would cost more and be planned less well; annual budget requests, with their high variability and changing priorities, would likely inhibit continuity in the development and execution of long-term projects, and would not allow the lead time that the WRDA presents to the USACE to get their projects and priorities in order.

The President claims concern for federal water infrastructure, but has not put forward a bill to address those issues. I see two problems with such an unlikely prospect:
  1. There is no single federal agency tasked with assessing, managing, and fixing that infrastructure.
  2. The bill, meaning both the legislation and the costs, will be HUGE!
We must assume that the figure quoted by the President for future appropriations includes the "funding for projects already in the pipeline," which should have been paid for in the bills that authorized those projects in the first place. This is a telling reference to the cost overruns emblematic of USACE projects. But let us not forget that the USACE is an agency of the Executive branch, not the Congress. If they can't finish the work on-schedule and on-budget, then they really need to look at how they do what they do. According to an editorial in the New York Times (listed above), "the water bill’s biggest shortcoming is the absence of far-reaching reforms of the Corps’ operations that were proposed by Senator Russell Feingold but rejected by the House. The reforms sought to impose discipline on a notoriously dysfunctional agency."

I get the impression, following some of the USACE work that has made the news over the years, that the Corps' SOP runs approximately as follows:
  1. USACE receives or generates a project request in collaboration with stakeholders, including congressional representatives for the project's location.
  2. USACE scopes a project and takes bids from contractors; in a fair system, the lowest bid wins the contract.
  3. USACE submits a cost estimate to the Department of Defense, which generates the WRDA budget request.
  4. USACE gets less than the cost estimate from Congress.
  5. USACE issues contracts, which have been waiting at the ready, for the full project scope.
  6. USACE runs out of money for the project.
  7. Contractors, and thuse the USACE, leave the work unfinished; it's a free-market economy, and construction engineers and workers won't work on it if they don't get paid for it.
  8. Project stakeholders and beneficiaries, when they realize what just happened, complain and campaign for more funding.
  9. Go to step 2 above and repeat the process for the remaining work.
Now don't get me wrong: I have friends at the Corps who do great work, and USACE contributions to science in hydrology, hydraulics, and other areas are legion. It's the bureaucracy that needs some adjustment. Actually, I think that earmarks (a.k.a. "pork") in the funding bills are the only way to go about it in a fair manner. Sounds a little strange, but here's my reasoning: provision of a general appropriation for those three main missions of the Corps' civil works programs creates, basically, a slush fund, and whomever is the fastest at laying out their project plans gets the money they need, regardless of merit. Once the money runs out, that's all there is, and any merited projects that come up for consideration after that time just get to wait for the next WRDA. With an earmark strategy, the merit of a given project is evaluated and debated at several levels of stakeholder and representative involvement, and then it's inclusion in the WRDA is available for fair debate in Congressional Committee and then in the House or Senate chamber upon presentation of the bill. Projects that make it that far must have some merit, and many of those go a long way toward the restoration and maintenance of the very infrastructure that the President laments. Prioritization is provided by competition; now it's up to the USACE to decide the order of projects, not their priority.

Finally, a comment on the "backlog" of USACE projects: hire more people and write more contracts!

30 October 2007

Iraq's Water Crisis, Part 2: Mosul Dam

Primary Sources:
5 May 2003: Engineering News-Record
Iraqi Dam Has Experts On Edge Until Inspection Eases Fears
9 September 2005: US Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region Division
Mosul Dam Repairs Benefit Tigris Basins
11 September 2005: PortAl Iraq
Mosul Dam repairs progress with safety, electricity, irrigation for Tigris Basins
September 2007: US Army Corps of Engineers, Engineer Research and Development Center
Geologic Conceptual Model of Mosul Dam (pdf)
September 2007: US Army Corps of Engineers, Engineer Research and Development Center
Geologic Setting of Mosul Dam and its Engineering Implications (pdf)
30 October 2007: US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction
October 2007 Report to Congress
30 October 2007: Bloomberg.com
Project to Reinforce Iraq's Largest Dam Mismanaged, Audit Says
30 October 2007: New York Times
Lack of Security Limits Iraq's Recovery
30 October 2007: Washington Post
Iraqi Dam Seen In Danger of Deadly Collapse
You may need Acrobat Reader for some of the links above. Additional sources include Wikipedia and specific links provided below.

The largest dam in Iraq was completed in 1983, under Saddam Hussein's regime and thus named the "Saddam Dam" until 2003, about 50 km upstream of Mosul on the Tigris River. The dam is primarily an earth embankment, with concrete reinforcement, 131 m tall and approximately 3.5 km wide at the base. Now named the Mosul Dam, the structure impounds approximately 12B cubic meters of water, provides irrigation and drinking water to the surrounding region and downstream through Baghdad, and generates more than 300MW in electricity for the region.

But it seems the dam is in danger of catastrophic failure. More than 500,000 residents downstream, in Mosul and Baghdad and numerous smaller cities and villages, are in danger of a drowning flood wave. Of course, after the flood wave passes, the survivors in the service area (more than 1.7M in Mosul, and innumerably more downstream through Baghdad) will be without electricity and clean water for some time. It is both an infrastructure and humanitarian emergency in the making.

It turns out that we've known this for at least a couple of years. The Mosul Dam was built on top of a gypsum formation. According to MinDat.org, gypsum is a "marine evaporite" sedimentary mineral, flexible but inelastic and brittle. What do these mean? It collapses under stress, and it dissolves in water. Apparently, the dam started showing signs of leakage as soon as it was built, and engineers have been injecting grout (a mixture of concrete and gravel, with cement to hold it all together) into the foundation of the dam ever since. New sinkholes appear frequently, and at one point the dam engineers had 24 pumps working 24 hours a day to inject that grout. In the meantime, larger stabilization efforts at the site are either suspect or incomplete. A recent audit of post-war reconstruction expenditures in Iraq says that the $27M US-led effort to reinforce the dam has been "mismanaged" and, in the process, exposed the extent of the danger to the dam's structural integrity.

Needless to say, the original engineering reports on site selection are unavailable. An examination of the geologic formations underlying the dam, and some of its safety implications, was originally published in 1991 and reprinted in the text of Water Resources Engineering in Karst by P.T. Milanović in 2004 (available on Google Books). Extensive mineral dissolution and water leakage, also known as "karstification," beneath the dam was observed during the initial filling period (1983-1986), and the recommendation in that text was that "grouting maintenance should be systematically and continuously applied" throughout the life of the dam. A recent report by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) indicated that "grouting at one location causes the flow path (seepage) of subsurface water to move to another location, but does not stop the seepage." The report also indicated that "the rate of subsurface dissolution increases markedly" at a reservoir depth that is 12 meters below the overall dam height, leading to a recommendation that the reservoir remain limited to this depth and, effectively, eliminating some of the design capacity and margin of safety, especially in flood control operations, for the site.

When coalition forces first invaded Iraq in early 2003, there was a great deal of concern over the safety of dams on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. It was believed that Saddam Dam, on the Tigris River, and Haditha Dam on the Euphrates River had been fitted with explosives to be detonated by retreating Iraqi forces. The Haditha Dam was captured US Army Rangers and came under coalition control early in the invasion. Mosul Dam, as it was renamed by the locals, was not captured in the initial invasion, but rather inspected later by the USACE. In April of 2003, during the conflict, the site was found to be free of explosive devices. Moreover, it was found that the dam was already under protective control: more than 500 laborers and engineers were still hard at work at the site, a month after the government had stopped paying them, under guard by Kurdish militia. It makes me wonder if that protective move was in the invasion plans for our cooperation with the Kurds all along, or whether it was a unilateral decision on their part as a matter of Kurdish, and larger Iraqi, security.

So instead of malicious intent, the Mosul Dam and many Iraqis remain in danger due to poor engineering and management, both in the Saddam era and now, as the safety and viability of the dam is addressed by the USACE. One of their proposals has been to build another dam downstream, to catch the flood wave if and when the Mosul fails. Though such a plan should be feasible as an intentional and eventual replacement for the Mosul Dam, planning for an incidental replacement is dubious: it is a risky proposition to "catch" a 110-meter flood wave crest, as the engineering reports suggest could occur. It is also not at all a short-term solution: in order to avoid the same mistakes made in the original site selection, extensive geological testing and exploratory engineering for a new site will take a long time, and only then would the actual construction of a new dam begin. On the positive side, there is a partially-completed dam at Badush, on the Tigris River between Mosul Dam and the city of Mosul, that has been recommended by the USACE to the Iraqis for completion. However, much uncertainty surrounds both the "stabilization" of Mosul Dam and the construction of new facilities, either at Badush or another location, for lack of planning and funding. That uncertainty comes primarily from finger-pointing between the US and the Iraqi parliament.

Should the politics of the US-led occupation of, and eventual withdrawal from, Iraq take precedence over the safety and security of the country's infrastructure and natural resources? Of course not. One would think that an increase, even a doubling, from the $27M already allocated to the Mosul site stabilization would be but a drop in the bucket (no pun intended) of large-scale post-conflict reconstruction efforts in Iraq. But many Iraqis, especially outside of Kurdistan, remain without consistent supplies of water, food and electricity, and it's not necessarily because of the new Iraqi government's planning efforts.

24 October 2007

Global Warming and Climate Change,
Part 1: The Nobel Peace Prize?

Primary sources:
12 October 2007: Reuters
Gore, U.N. climate panel win Nobel Peace Prize
12 October 2007: The Guardian (UK)
An inconvenient peace prize
19 October 2007: ScrippsNews
U.S. must establish a new global narrative
Additional sources include Wikipedia and specific links provided below.

Who or what really won the Nobel Peace Prize this year? The environment did, and the IPCC and Mr. Gore were just its agents of representation. What these efforts really have to do with the promotion of national and international peace are, as yet, unclear to me. However, I do intend to address some of the aspects of conflict and international security on this blog in the near future. Some of those implications and anticipated impacts are very clear already...

Discussions and news items on the environment and global climate change (a.k.a. "global warming") have not likely been more in vogue as now, after the Nobel Committee's awards. Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist a few years ago and the focused follow-up Cool It earlier this year, wrote a reaction (listed above) that effectively and properly splits the awardees. In that, he said:
"This year's Nobel peace prize justly rewards the thousands of scientists of the United Nations climate change panel (the IPCC). These scientists are engaged in excellent, painstaking work that establishes exactly what the world should expect from climate change. The other award winner, former US vice-president Al Gore, has spent much more time telling us what to fear. While the IPCC's estimates and conclusions are grounded in careful study, Gore doesn't seem to be similarly restrained."
For those of you who have not yet read Cool It, the premise of that short treatise on the climate change issue is essentially as written by Lomborg in his reaction editorial: "The IPCC has magnanimously declared that it would have been happy if Gore had received the Nobel peace prize alone. I am glad that he did not. Unfortunately, Gore's prize will only intensify our focus on climate change to the detriment of other planetary challenges." To explain further, Mr. Lomborg wrote:
"While we worry about the far-off effects of climate change, we do nothing to deal with issues facing the planet today. This year, malnutrition will kill almost 4 million people. Three million lives will be lost to HIV/Aids. Two and a half million people will die because of indoor and outdoor air pollution. A lack of micronutrients and clean drinking water will claim two million lives each. With attention and money in scarce supply, we should first tackle the problems with the best solutions, thereby doing the most good throughout the century. Focusing on solving today's problems will leave communities strengthened, economies more vibrant, and infrastructures more robust. This will enable us to deal much better with future problems - including global warming - whereas committing to massive cuts in carbon emissions will leave future generations poorer and less able to adapt to challenges."
Mr. Barnett wrote a column recently (also listed above) which he declared an "attempt to contextualize this year's Nobel Peace Prize." In a brief commentary on his weblog, he explained further:
"After finishing Bjorn Lomborg's Cool It!, I have to pull back on my commendation of Gore's (and the IPCC's) Nobel for Peace...Again, I say on global warmimg: read Lomborg or remain cowed by the fear mongers. There is a reasonable debate on courses of action to be had. We simply haven't had that debate yet, and this Nobel award will not help that debate...Do yourself a favor and read this book."
I wrote a comment to Mr. Barnett's weblog that contained the following:
"...I think the Nobel Academy conflated the issue by awarding both Mr. Gore and the IPCC and not explaining why--that is left for the community to realize on their own, apparently.

"I certainly second the recommendation of Cool It by Bjorn Lomborg as essential reading for anyone with interest in the climate debate. If I recall correctly Mr. Barnett's comment to me during a couple of posts on the topic a short while ago, it is 'intellectually devastating' on the Kyoto Agreement. Lomborg also criticizes Mr. Gore's alarmist tendencies and use of hyperbole, while relying heavily on the IPCC reports and the Copenhagen Consensus for the facts of the issue. Lomborg's narrative essentially demonstrates how Gore raised the issue of climate change so long ago in public discourse, though polarized the issue in doing so, and was then followed by the IPCC with more moderate predictions (which are, indeed, peer reviewed ad infinitum) which bring some reality to the debate. The interplay of these two deserves a prize, Nobel or otherwise, but neither one would stand on its own as a Nobel recipient: The IPCC members are just doing their jobs as scientists, while Mr. Gore's alarmist rhetoric has brought peace to no one. I believe that it's the dialogue pushed forward by these two parties that earned their award, and not the actions or efforts of either in particular."
In summary, I agree with both Mr. Lomborg and Mr. Barnett that other, more immediate issues warrant greater attention and funding. The results of the 2004 Copenhagen Consensus outline these:

However, I also extend proper congratulations to Mr. Gore and the IPCC for their award. Their interactions, and presentations to the public, have advanced the debate on global climate change well beyond the US government's own effort, or that of any other national government for that matter.

22 October 2007

Guest post: "Loss of Knowledge" by Dr. A. Askew, IAHS President

This report is reprinted with permission of the original author from the September 2007 issue of the IAHS Newsletter. It relates to the Workshop on the Loss of Knowledge that was convened by IAHS and WMO as a part of the XXIV General Assembly of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics held in Perugia, Italy, on 13 July 2007.

Editor's Note: I selected, and asked specifically for permission to reprint in its entirety, this report by Dr. Askew because I felt that it represented a commonality with much of the rest of the scientific and government community, or as near to a proper expression of that as could be conveyed to the public on these issues. We are currently seeing the retirement of elders and a coming shift to significantly younger leaders. It is important that we figure out a way to carry on the best of what has been learned by the previous and current leaders in science, as well as ways to interact more efficiently with other fields. Dr. Askew's commentary on this particular workshop at Perugia conveys those needs in a manner appropriate to the outward- and forward-looking scientist from the fields of hydrology and water resources. In the U.S., it's happening in politics, government, diplomacy, military affairs, and much of science: the Baby Boomer generation is reaching retirement age, and Generation X is stepping up.


Loss of Knowledge
by Dr. Arthur Askew, IAHS President

2007 IAHS Scientific Assembly
Workshop HW 3009


This Workshop was organized as a co-operative venture between IAHS and WMO and was planned very much as a workshop in the sense that comparatively few papers were accepted, each author being given 30 minutes for presentation, and the last third of the session was devoted to a general discussion with the aim of summarizing the problems reported and seeking for solutions.

The last day, and particularly the last afternoon of an Assembly, is not the most auspicious time for a meeting. We were therefore pleased that 20 to 30 participants attended and that two or three leading members of the hydrological community joined us for the discussions, even though they did not present papers themselves. One, perhaps erroneous, conclusion is that it is good to convene sessions on the 13th of the month if they fall on a Friday.

The seven papers presented reported on a wide range of causes for the loss of hydrological knowledge. The authors came from six countries and four continents. Their presentations helped to stimulate the lively debate that brought to light the following facts:
  • Stations are closed because of a lack of funding or simply a lack of fuel for transport.
  • Even when the problems faced because of a lack of data are clearly recognized, those who hold the purse strings still cut funding for data collection, storage and interpretation.
  • A lack of accurate data has often led to legally binding agreements being made, e.g. for sharing a water resource, which are impossible to implement.
  • Politicians have little interest in the matter because benefits from the collection of data only accrue after many years, i.e. well beyond the next parliamentary elections.
  • Data collected at regional and national level are not interpreted for use at local/village level.
  • Past records are lost because they are on paper and rot or are eaten by rats – or even used as wrapping paper in the local market – one reason being that those in charge of their storage are not trained and do not appreciate the value of what they are storing.
  • On the other hand, computers and CDs may be stolen or destroyed in time of war, whereas paper records may go untouched because they have no street value.
  • New methods of collecting information on freshwater resources, in particular those based on remote sensing, can appear so attractive to those who do not have a sound understanding of the subject that old traditional methods are abandoned in favour of the new, without consideration of the errors and uncertainty thereby being introduced.
  • In developed countries, technical education is being scaled down in favour of degree courses and so few, if any, young people are being trained as hydrological technicians.
  • In some developing countries, more children now go to school but they then leave the village to work in the neighbouring town and fathers and mothers no longer have the opportunity to pass on to their sons and daughters the old wisdom of the ages.
  • Many Hydrological Services have neither the resources to train staff nor the salaries that would retain them once trained.
The major conclusion was that the basic cause of the loss of knowledge is a lack of appreciation by those in higher authority, above all within the relevant Ministries, of the importance of maintaining long-term programmes for the collection of hydrological data and information and for their safe storage. Consideration of the present situation led to the following comments:
  • Efforts must continue to change government policy, possibly by convincing politicians that their projects will fail if the design data are inadequate.
  • For this purpose, it is important to identify what design and operational data are needed for each facet of the project, including hydrological, technical, social and economic data.
  • From this, an assessment can be made of the uncertainty and likely operational risks resulting from the data shortage.
  • This can lead to evaluation of additional project costs that need to be incurred to overcome the data shortage.
Proposals for action, some old and some new, were put forward including:
  • A set percentage of the cost of any water project could be given to the Hydrological Service which supplies the information used to design the project. This would not immediately provide the data required by the project in question but, over the years, it would ensure that the Service concerned was well enough funded to provide the data and information required for all future projects.
  • Volunteer gauge readers should be given the public recognition that they deserve for their vital role in assessing and monitoring freshwater bodies.
  • There should be greater interaction between Hydrological Services and the users of hydrological data and information because it is the users who benefit from this information
  • Water supply authorities, hydropower companies and other organizations which sell water-related services could be obliged to pay for the collection of data and information that are needed to support their activities.
  • An effort might be made to synthesize the material that is available on estimating the value of hydrological data and information. This synthesis could then be made available to Hydrological Services as an aid to their efforts to increase national funding for such work.
The results of IAHS’s PUB initiative would compliment this and could be distributed as associated material. Professional economists and statisticians should be invited to participate in this work. One proposal of interest was for formal legislation to be introduced that would oblige all those who develop plans for water resource or flood control projects to include therein a quantitative estimate of the uncertainty in any of the design figures presented. This would be required in preliminary plans, detailed designs and in operational plans. Consultants who do not comply with this requirement would be excluded from bidding for future projects. The result would be that those who accept to fund and implement such plans would do so in the face of a clear statement as to uncertainty, and would feel obliged to adopt more conservative options with higher costs or lower productivity so as to reduce that uncertainty to levels which the public will accept. This would be a great step forward for project design in general but, in particular, it would demonstrate publicly the price that is being paid for giving so little support to acquiring and retaining hydrological knowledge. The hope is this would lead to more resources being channeled to data collection and storage and the training of technicians and professionals.

21 October 2007

Science in the US Presidential Race

Primary Sources:
4 October 2007
Scientific Integrity and Innovation: Remarks at the Carnegie Institution for Science

Finally, with only fourteen months to go, a US Presidential candidate in the running has spoken about their intended science policies, and guess who it was...yep, Ms. Hillary something something Clinton, former first lady and current Democratic Senator from New York. I believe her husband is at home doing the dishes right now...oh, wait, he's been out campaigning and at rallies for his wife. What a guy...

There were a couple of quotes worth noting here, the first a handful of campaign promises that I think we should hold her to, should she become the 44th President of the US: "I'll fully fund NASA's earth sciences program, launch a new, comprehensive space-based study of climate change..."

There was another autobiographical quote that was telling as well: "Some of you know that I even wrote to NASA asking how I could apply to be an astronaut and got back an answer saying that they weren't taking women...I have lived long enough to see that change!"

So Mrs. Clinton had ambitions in science as a kid! I wonder who squashed that, other than NASA itself, and whether he's still teaching in grade school. As for NASA, they finally saw the light and recognized that anyone can be a space monkey and work for a week on the shuttle or the ISS, but it takes certain special people to draw wider attention and foster the ambitions of younger generations. I, for one, was far more inspired by the female astronauts than the rest of the program, and I remember it being that much more poignant when the Challenger exploded in 1986 that there was a woman and mom on board, and only slightly less so that she was a teacher too.

So, should Mrs. Clinton re-enter the White House, should we expect a mandate for more women in space? I doubt it. But will we see better attention to girls in classrooms and women in science? I think you can bet safely on that.

Now, before you jump on me as a Hillary supporter or a Democrat or even (God forbid) a "liberal" in any sense of the word, first note that I'm just passing along the news here. This post and anything in it that could be misconstrued as an opinion should be reconsidered as neutral, and I'm registered as an "undeclared" voter. I'll make my decisions when the right time comes, and it's a long way to next November.

...coming back to life...

OK, so I've been away from the blog for a while. Life, family, work...you all know how it goes. Staying busy does not necessarily mean that the blog gets a respectable chunk of my time, unfortunately.

That's not to say, however, that there haven't been many events and topics on which I would like to have posted over that time. In fact, I've been a bit active on Tom Barnett's blog in the past several weeks, and I've been reading several books and watching the news, so I'm not altogether out of circulation. There are a few things on which in the near future you'll see posts and comments that hark back to mid-September, including some foreign policy and political issues, as well as some recent conferences and two symposia that I'll be attending this week in the DC area. The first is on Monday at the University of Maryland, and the latter on Saturday at the Smithsonian, at which Tom Barnett will be speaking.

I've also been thinking on many things, not the least of which have been my work (in the middle of the publication for one paper, and writing more than one more right now) and my plans for the future. Big dreams, big ideas, lots of little pieces coming together and lots more to be discovered, I am sure. In the meantime, I'll be thinking out loud sometimes, and it will be marked out as such. I think my original vision for this blog as a venue for coherent analysis of sometimes disparate and inscrutable facts, results, events and news was right on the mark, and so now I have built up quite a backlog of posting ideas and commentary. Each idea perks in its own time, though.

P.S. yes, the title of this post is indeed a pop-culture reference...look it up...

01 September 2007

China in Africa

Primary Sources:
14 November 2006: Christian Science Monitor
Pentagon imperative: a spotlight on Africa
5 January 2007: Christian Science Monitor
Pentagon to train a sharper eye on Africa
March 2007: Foreign Policy
A Different Kind of Great Game
9 March 2007: Foreign Policy in Focus
China Provokes Debate in Africa
9 March 2007: Foreign Policy in Focus
China in Africa: It’s (Still) the Governance, Stupid
15 March 2007: Foreign Policy in Focus
Into Africa
21 May 2007: Xinhua (China View)
DRC's finance minister: China's development model beneficial to Africa
5 June 2005: Xinhua (China View)
AU: proper delimitation of boundaries guarantees Africa's socioeconomic integration
July 2007: Esquire
The Americans Have Landed
6 July 2007: US Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Africa Command: U.S. Strategic Interests and the Role of the U.S. Military in Africa
26 July 2007: Foreign Policy in Focus
AFRICOM: Wrong for Liberia, Disastrous for Africa
3 August 2007: Foreign Policy in Focus
Hope in Darfur
4 August 2007: Xinhua (China View)
UN special envoy visits Chinese peacekeepers in DRC
13 August 2007: New York Times
China, Filling a Void, Drills for Riches in Chad
18 August 2007: New York Times
Entrepreneurs From China Flourish in Africa
20 August 2007: GlobalSecurity.org
CJTF-HOA Coordinates Humanitarian Aid for Somalia
21 August 2007: New York Times
China’s Trade in Africa Carries a Price Tag
21 August 2007: China Daily
Nod given to buying overseas shares
Blog Sources:
Thomas P.M. Barnett Weblog
26 August 2007: This week's column
26 August 2007: Two for this week's column
Enterprise Resilience Management Blog
23 August 2007: China in Africa: The Ups and the Downs
Additional sources include Wikipedia and specific links provided below.

A couple weeks ago I addressed in one post the possibility of newfound water resources in the contentious Darfur region of Sudan, and at the end of another post I mentioned China's increasing roles in Africa:
"Note the quote in ESA's news release about early use of the ENVISAT products by Chinese meteorological scientists. China has been investing heavily in resources throughout Africa, especially oil and metals, in order to feed their growing domestic demands. Some in the economic and security community see this (rightly, in my opinion) as Chinese support for development in Africa, which produces positive strategic feedback to China in support for increasing population and industrial demands. Others see China's work in Africa as economic and military competition for the US and the rest of the developed world, another Great Powers struggle that will bring us back to the Cold War. You know what? That's exactly what it is, except now it's dynamic economic investment in Africa instead of an ideological stalemate. It's the best kind of Great Powers competition: who can pour more money and manpower into African science, technology and development the fastest? Will it be the US, the EU, or China? In any case, all parties will benefit, none more so than the African community, and at least there's science in it--hydrology, no less!"

That mention just barely scratched the surface of the topic. In the time since those posts, New York Times reporters H.W. French and L. Polgreen have published a three-part series on the very topic of China's investments in African resources and security. China is going after some of the same natural resources in Africa that have been coveted by overseas colonial powers and native populations for more than a couple centuries: oil, minerals, timber, and gemstones. Proven oil reserves seems to follow the northern sub-Saharan tropical belt, both on-shore as in Chad and Sudan, and offshore as near Niger and the Gulf of Guinea. Industrial minerals including bauxite (aluminum), titanium, copper, and many others are found in abundance throughout the tropical portions of the continent. Timber comes primarily from old-growth tropical forests in the Congo basin, which is heavily logged by commercial and state interests. Gemstones, primarily diamonds in various quantity and quality, are found in select portions of western and southern Africa.

China's economic investment portfolio in Africa seems to follow similar patterns. China's energy and industrial demands at home have prompted exploration for oil reserves in far-flung, ripe-for-development areas, beyond the contentious East China and South China Seas. Some have viewed China's push into Africa as a neo-colonial drive for simple resource extraction and market expansion, and the part of both regional neighbors (India, Japan) and global competitors (US, EU) to band together as a counterbalance. As Tom Barnett suggested recently, this strategy smacks of Cold War containment and remains both politically reductionist and reactionary (I think it's too much of a compliment to call it neo-conservative) and economically counterproductive. Domestically, Chinese individuals have just gained the financial freedom to invest in foreign markets directly, instead of routing such investment through Chinese markets. This opening of the Chinese market could expand significantly the potential for Chinese investment in multinational companies with interests and operations in Africa and the developing world. I've read that tigers can indeed purr, though to most of us it sounds like a low growl...

What really caught my eye on this issue was a topic mentioned in the first article in a recent New York Times series on Chinese investment in Africa that discussed oil development in Chad. In the southern region of the country, where Chinese are immigrating in droves, oil companies have committed to wholesale development of communities in the region in order to support their own workers as well as the native population with necessary water, sanitation and power projects. These vital services will establish the base sustainability of China's presence there, allowing for continued access to energy sources in high demand as well as the employment of local people, the elevation of a regional population from poverty, and the opening of new markets for Chinese goods and services.

The Chinese interests in Africa are largely economic and commercial, but not necessarily in the colonial sense. China does maintain a small overt military presence on the continent, with a peacekeeping force in the DR Congo, but otherwise their military commitment to the continent remains limited to high-level advising to client states. On the commercial side, China has been identified as a major supplier of weapons to states and ruling groups in such areas as Sudan, where the arms trade and Sudan's exports of oil to China have become intertwined since the late 1990s. Given the history of cooperation and the exchange of commodities and weapons between China and Sudan, and the potential influence that China may be able to exert on the Islamic Sudanese government, Germany and Britain have recently called for the Chinese to help resolve the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

Despite the lack of military presence in Africa, China brings with it all of the culture and work ethic that can be expected in a population eager to effect growth in its industry, economy, and participation in global trade. China seems to approach Africa not as a problem but as a possibility; not as a mystery, which may or may not have a solution, but as a puzzle which has a solution, you just have to fit the pieces together right. China developed its culture over many centuries but its advanced industry and infrastructure over just a few decades, just as Africa needs.

The holistic approach that Chinese businesses and investors bring to new business in Africa seems entirely consistent with eastern ways of thinking that are explored in The Geography of Thought by Richard Nisbett, who found in numerous studies among US and Asian groups that cultural heritage affects strongly how one sees the world and deals with problems and opportunities. Eastern subjects had difference distinguishing foreground objects in a picture from their surroundings and were more likely to subject their personal wants and needs to those of a larger group, suggesting a greater focus on context and the interaction among system components, as well as a greater willingness to work in a collaborative setting on team-oriented projects. Conclusions about the western mindset tended toward individuality and an atomistic viewpoint, the willingness to break a problem or a picture or a project down to its component parts and to address each individually, in assumed isolation from influences by, and interactions with, the other parts.

Learning by example (and mistakes, and trial-and-error), changes in the American way of meeting the world may be coming too. The US presence on the African continent is growing with the recent establishment of the Combined Joint Task Force, Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), and the activation next year of a new DoD regional command dedicated to the continent. But it's no longer just about military interventions. The structures of these efforts is somewhat different than other, older DoD commands, as in Central Command (southwestern Asia) and Southern Command (South America). The new Africa Command (AFRICOM) is intended to combine both the warfighting and peacekeeping roles of the US government, with considerable input and participation from the US State Department and related agencies such as USAID. The presence of these groups was recently instrumental in the coordination of medical aid relief to Somalian hospitals, where supplies had come to critical levels and Somalis caught in the fighting there had remained untreated.

Africa was a pass-through actor of the Cold War, a collection of pawns in the proxy maneuvering between superpowers who were more interested in preventing the loss of strategic allies to the opposition than in the development and exploitation of natural resources. I'm not saying that resources were not a goal of the superpowers at all; the armaments industry through much of the Cold War required continuous supplies of light metals and other materials such as industrial-grade diamonds, and population growth throughout the world required timber and the expansion of energy-producing regions. However, during the few low-intensity proxy conflicts and interventions of both Soviet and American powers in Africa throughout the Cold War, interests in the development of resources remained secondary to ideological and political posturing and, of course, the arms trade.

There seems now to be some new thinking on African involvement, and it is oriented on commercial investment and development instead of ideological and political positioning. Sure, there are sectarian and ethnic and logistical issues to be solved across the continent, and these may require all of the collective will of the interested in order to be overcome so that stability and peace can take root. Multinational corporations, and the yuan and the dollar, have taken the lead in one of the greatest challenges that both Tom Friedman's Globalization and Tom Barnett's Connectivity will face. The first steps are to stabilize the livelihood of the native populations, and that takes water and food before industry and productivity. Apparently, this is all well within China's plans for the forging of partnerships and the development of resources on the African continent.

31 August 2007

Iraq's Water Crisis

Primary Sources:
23 May 2007: San Francisco Gate
1 in 8 Iraqis dies before fifth birthday
25 June 2007: US Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Iraq: Reconstruction Assistance
13 July 2007: US Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Iraq: Post-Saddam Governance and Security
30 July 2007: Reuters India
Hunger, disease spread in Iraq - Oxfam report
7 August 2007: BBC
Iraq power system 'near collapse'
20 August 2007: Washington Post
Warming Will Exacerbate Global Water Conflicts
23 August 2007: New York Times
Report Cites Grave Concerns on Iraq’s Government
23 August 2007: Environmental News Network
Iraq calls for water treaty to avert crisis
Blog Sources:
Enterprise Resilience Management Blog
13 August 2007: Turkey, Kurdistan and Water
15 August 2007: Tragedy Knocks on Kurdistan's Door
20 August 2007: Fighting the Wolves at the Door in Kurdistan
22 August 2007: The Coming Water Wars?
Additional sources include Wikipedia and specific links provided below.

I previously posted a brief analysis on Kurdistan that covered both politics and natural resources in the region. As a self-governing, semi-autonomous region of Iraq with relatively little sectarian violence, that part of the country presents a clear contrast to the remainder of Iraq, especially the areas around Baghdad. I was certainly gratified to be quoted (extensively) by Mr. DeAngelis on his Enterprise Resilience Management Blog in the first of his posts listed above, and to have the support on my views of the importance and complexity of natural resources in that region from someone who is actually working with the Kurds on a consistent and progressive basis.

As in many areas where clean water and sanitation are scarce essentials, both hunger and disease are spreading in war-torn Iraq, as reported by Oxfam International. The diseases develop over time, from gastric symptoms and malnutrition, which might not have gone so long untreated if health care had been a primary objective of the current occupation and peace-making efforts. Water will remain scarce in Iraq, and it is up to the occupation force and its leadership to make something out of almost nothing. It sure is a good thing that Kurdistan remains peaceful, and that neighboring Turkey is open to cross-border negotiation on water allocation in the Tigris-Euphrates basin that supports most of Iraq.

Oh, wait, that's not correct...I think my well-developed senses of sarcasm and irony are showing (at least it's not cynicism...yet). Ethnic clashes have recently entered the normally peaceful Kurdish sector of Iraq, and the region remains under threat of invasion from neighboring Turkey as the Turkish military seeks to eliminate fleeing PKK (Kurdish Worker's Party) separatists in the eastern portion of their country. Syria, which at one time supported the PKK in Turkey while suppressing its own Kurdish population's nationalist ambitions, seems mute on the current flare-ups over Kurdish independence, but is not likely to remain so.

Why? Because of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. From my point of view, at least part of the problem comes back to the water again. Water is a fact of life in the region, and the people there don't forget it. Turkey, Syria, and Iraq share the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and these transboundary water resources are subjected to increasingly poor management in the current environment of constant conflict and patchy infrastructure. A fractious population, wolves on the borders, wolves in-country, and near-nonexistent government leadership have left much of Iraq's infrastructure and basic services in a shambles, and all of this as the US continues to throw money at the problem. The Iraqi oil ministry still functions, but the power grid and water supplies suffer from mismanagement and, essentially, ignorance. As New York Times op-ed columnist Tom Friedman wrote on 1 July 2007: "At best we are dog paddling in the Tigris. Which means at least we should start to think about what happens if we have to get out of the water."

To wit (number 1): Much of Baghdad receives consistent electric power for only about eight hours every day, on average. Infrastructure issues include normal repair and upkeep, as well as sabotage from militants and insurgents. Many in the capital have resorted to private generators for electricity. It is not apparent from news reports that the occupied "Green Zone" in Baghdad fares any better, and it can only be assumed that rural areas of Iraq find electric power both less accessible and less available.

To wit (number 2): This past week, the coalition government in Baghdad issued a plea for regional cooperation on water sources and the management of the Tigris and Euphrates River basin. Iraqis see a crisis already in place, where water supplies from upstream depend entirely on the benevolence of Syria and, primarily, Turkey. To add to Baghdad's problems, the water must be pumped out of the Tigris to reach much of the city's population, and the electricity to drive those pumps remains in short and sporadic supply. Both water supply and proper sanitation, basic requirements of life for the entire city, remain in jeopardy.

After $42B (and counting) in US spending for reconstruction efforts in Iraq, this is what we have to show for it? Saddam is gone, there are no longer any weapons of mass destruction to be found and eliminated, and yet the US occupation of Iraq has been compared to that of Vietnam in the mid-1960s by none other than our own president. If I recall correctly, Vietnam has been classified as a "quagmire" in the retrospective consensus of American history. It's almost as if the occupation force has given up on its continuing mission, which ought to be the establishment and improvement of "normal life" for the Iraqi people by now.

As a matter of fact, there is evidence to support that assessment too. Quoted in a BBC news item of 7 August 2007, listed above, "the general in charge of helping Iraq rebuild its infrastructure, Michael Walsh, said that although Iraqi authorities only have one-quarter of the money needed for reconstruction, solving the problem was now up to them. Gen. Walsh told the BBC that the US had jump-started reconstruction but that, working with donor nations, the Iraqi government needed to do the rest." It is disappointing to think that the occupying military, and especially its engineers, don't see the problems that already affect the very area that is most secure. Maybe the Green Zone has no power and water problems, because all the necessities came in with the troops, but I wouldn't know.

It is obvious, though, that the Iraqis are not ready to receive such responsibility for basic infrastructure maintenance and reconstruction, and the military forces have not done enough to bring those facilities back into operation following the initial invasion and subsequent insurgent phases of occupation in the country. General Walsh's statement seems out of line with independent observations of the situation, and reflects a lack of understanding of the situation "on the ground" where the basics of Iraqi survival are at stake. An inability, or refusal, to address such basic infrastructure issues with the available expertise and capability that the US occupation force brought to Iraq may leave the Green Zone the only place in Baghdad, and much of Iraq, not rendered a disease-infested slum where "hearts and minds" are lost. If the Iraqis don't trust the US forces and authority to bring improvement to their country, then who?

The US occupation in Iraq had followed many long and twisty paths, and one goal that seems to have been lost is the maintenance and improvement of day-to-day life for the Iraqi population. When the populace doesn't trust the occupation authority and their nascent, native government to provide the basics of life, the essential elements of survival, a siege mentality could set in, and then a full-scale revolt threatens all groups in authority. We already see rival Sunni groups fighting each other, as well as going after the Shi'ite majority and Kurdish minorities. The Kurds have taken many great steps toward recovery and development of their own region, but I doubt they'll be able to exert much authority in the larger portion of the country, and instead of looking to the Kurds for an example of "just get the job done" the other ethnic and religious groups in the country are too busy fighting for illusive power and political standing.

It's time for the occupation forces to flood the region with honest engineers, and eventually scientists, and then to train the Iraqis to do the jobs that basic infrastructure requires: power engineering, water engineering, sanitation engineering, power grid maintenance and expansion, and transportation engineering in order to bring in the people and the supplies, including food, for which the country is starving. It's time for the politicians in, and the envoys from, the US to jump in the deep end of foreign policy and broker a new water treaty among the Tigris-Euphrates riparians, so that reconstruction in Iraq can accelerate and not stagnate. It's time for the occupation forces to stop treading water and start moving it, for the good of the Iraqi people.