24 May 2010

"For Want of a Drink," The Economist issues a special report on water

The 22 May 2010 issue of The Economist includes a special report on water around the world, from the perspectives of numerous sectors, and written entirely (it seems) by researcher John Grimond, with whom they also provide a video interview. This follows closely on the heels (though not necessarily in response to) the special April 2010 issue of National Geographic that was devoted entirely to water. If one combines the editorials and overview essays in this issue of The Economist with the photography and journalism in that issue of National Geographic, you would have a pretty nice publication to pass around.

The list of sources for Grimond's work in The Economist is impressive and wide-ranging. In the special report, he starts with an editorial piece ''For want of a drink'' on the basics of water resources, and then delves more deeply into the various sectors and issues at hand:
  • ''Enough is not enough: It must also be clean'' about the water - sanitation - hygiene (WASH) linkages, and the results of such practices, so prevalent in developing countries where water quality remains a challenge of such paramount importance that it's one of the Millennium Development Goals.
  • ''Business begins to stir: But many water providers still have a long way to go'' about the growing sense of responsibility in corporate environmental ethics, whether from consumer pressure or their own sense of longevity, as well as the difficulties in utilities' pricing of a water supply because this often bears little relation to its necessity and value.
  • ''Every drop counts: And in Singapore every drop is counted'' about the innovative efforts toward hydro-independence in this island nation that is quite a beautiful place, speaking from my own experience, and somehow still only about two-thirds developed since British colonial occupation.
  • ''Making farmers matter: And monitor, budget, manage - and prosper'' about the overwhelming use of ground water for agriculture in many developing countries, where irrigation accounts for as much as 90% of consumptive use, and aquifer overdrafts worldwide are leading to sharp declines in well yields.
  • ''China’s peasants look to the skies: But the science of yields is unyielding'' about finding the balances in this country's efforts at more efficient use of available ground water supplies against agricultural expansion to feed the burgeoning population, and in transporting water supplied to even out the spatial disparities between the more populous and urbanized, but dry, northern regions and the more water-blessed, rural and agriculturally productive southern regions.
  • ''The ups and downs of dams: Small projects often give better returns'' begins with the assertion that ''the trouble with water is that it is all politics, no economics'' and goes on to demonstrate that big infrastructure projects, while more often wasteful and poorly managed, grab attention and are attractive to the leaders of developing countries, while rich countries generally favor smaller, more useful and efficient efforts such as run-of-the-river hydroelectric generation and irrigation-oriented farm-scale reservoirs that just aren't as centralized in their development and operation.
  • ''Trade and conserve: How to make tight supplies go further'' attempts to address those economics of supply-and-demand and valuation-in-use that might be brought back into the consideration of water as a commodity for the providers, who could thus trade water on a market basis, the consumers who prefer lower tariffs and greater consistency in their utility bills, the farmers who convert that water to food and otherwise non-recoverable uses, and the industries who strive for greater efficiency and profit margins in their operations.
  • ''To the last drop: How to avoid water wars'' about the seemingly inevitable conflicts to come over water supplies and their source regions, which have become increasingly explicit factors of high-profile international (and sometimes domestic) negotiations.
Finally, Grimond provides an overall assessment of the world's water crisis as ''A glass half empty: It won’t fill up without lots of changes on the ground - and much greater restraint by users.'' Not at all pessimistic, in my opinion, but likely so overly (and overtly) realistic that most decision-makers cannot wrap their minds around the issue all at once, not least because the reliability of water resources impacts almost every aspect of our lives. The moral of the stories here: reductionism no longer works as policy, individuals need leadership in the right directions, and our piece-wise approach to water issues has hurt the global population for too long already. A new and holistic approach to the scientific, economic and societal aspects of global water issues has at least a chance to help, or these issues will remain crises for a long time to come.

08 May 2010

Guest Post: ''The Connection: Water and Energy Security'' by Dr. A. Hoffman, U.S. Dept. of Energy

This article is reprinted with permission of the original author from the 13 August 2004 issue of Energy Security by the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security. In general, Dr. Hoffman's work relates to the interconnected dynamics of water and energy resources in the U.S. and worldwide, and in this case he also presents some of the national security implications of these connections.

Editor's Note: This Guest Post follows on the topical overview of the water - energy nexus introduced in an earlier post, ''Water and Energy – Inseparable Issues'' by the same author. I selected, and asked specifically for permission to reprint in its entirety, this article by Dr. Hoffman because he goes into greater detail here on the tradeoffs presented by the connections between water and energy, including some descriptions of the energy costs of water treatment and transport. He also addresses here the vital roles that water and energy play in American economic and national security, justifiably recognized by the Dept. of Homeland Security as components of the nation's Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources (CIKR) in their National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP).


The Connection: Water and Energy Security
by Dr. Allan Hoffman, Senior Analyst, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Energy Security
Institute for the Analysis of Global Security
13 August 2004


The energy security of the United States is closely linked to the state of its water resources. No longer can water resources be taken for granted if the U.S. is to achieve energy security in the years and decades ahead. At the same time, U.S. water security cannot be guaranteed without careful attention to related energy issues. The two issues are inextricably linked, as this article will discuss.

Energy security rests on two principles – using less energy to provide needed services, and having access to technologies that provide a diverse supply of reliable, affordable and environmentally sound energy. Many forms of energy production depend on the availability of water – e.g., the production of electricity at hydropower sites in which the kinetic energy of falling water is converted to electricity. Thermal power plants, in which fossil, nuclear and biomass fuels are used to heat water to steam to drive turbine-generators, require large quantities of water to cool their exhaust streams. The same is true of geothermal power plants. Water also plays an important role in fossil fuel production via injection into conventional oil wells to increase production, and its use in production of oil from unconventional oil resources such as oil shale and tar sands. In the future, if we move aggressively towards a hydrogen economy, large quantities of water will be required to provide the needed hydrogen via electrolysis.

Water security can be defined as the ability to access sufficient quantities of clean water to maintain adequate standards of food and goods production, sanitation and health. It is of growing importance because the world is already facing severe water shortages in many parts of the developing world, and the problem will only become more widespread in the years ahead, including in the U.S. Just as energy security became a national priority in the period following the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973-74, water security is destined to become a national and global priority in the decades ahead. Central to addressing water security issues is having the energy to extract water from underground aquifers, transport water through canals and pipes, manage and treat water for reuse, and desalinate brackish and sea water to provide new water sources.

Other, indirect, linkages between energy and water exist as well. Energy production and use produces emissions that can pollute surface and underground water supplies. The ability to move freight via inland waterways impacts the amount of energy required to move our nation’s goods because movement by waterway is much less energy intense per ton than the alternatives of rail and truck. If competing water uses limit use of such waterways, we will use more energy to move our goods and energy security will be impacted.

Water and energy are linked in yet another way. Energy, in absolute terms, is not in short supply in the world. The world’s total annual use of commercial energy is on the order of 400 quadrillion BTUs (Quads), and the sun pours about 6 million Quads of radiant energy into the earth’s atmosphere each year. What is in short supply is cheap energy, energy that people can afford to buy. Exactly the same can be said about water. Water, in absolute terms, is not in short supply in the world. The earth is a water rich planet, and annual human and animal consumption is much less than 1% of the world’s total water supply. What is in short supply is cheap potable water, clean water that people can afford to buy.

Energy and water policy can also be expressed in similar terms. The first priority of energy policy should be the wise, efficient use of whatever energy supplies are available. The same is true of water – priority should be given to the wise, efficient use of whatever water supplies exist. It is after focusing on efficient use of existing resources that attention must be focused on new energy and water supplies that meet sustainability and environmental requirements.

It is important to understand that water security is a growing threat in the 21st century, and to understand the implications for energy supply. We begin with a brief review of the global water situation.

The earth’s total water supply is estimated to be 330 million cubic miles, and each cubic mile contains more than one trillion gallons (see Fig. 1).

Figure 1

The problem is that 96%, or 317 million cubic miles, is found in the oceans and is saline (35,000 ppm of dissolved salts). Another 7 million cubic miles is tied up in icecaps and glaciers, and 3.1 million in the earth’s atmosphere. Ground water, fresh water lakes, and rivers account for just over 2 million cubic miles of fresh water. The net result is that 99.7% of all the water on earth is not available for human and animal consumption. Of the remaining 0.3%, much is inaccessible due to unreachable locations and depths, and the vast majority of water for human and animal consumption, much less than 1% of the total supply, is stored in ground water.

An important feature of the earth’s supply of fresh water is its non-uniform distribution around the globe. Water, for which there are no substitutes, has always been mankind’s most precious resource. The struggle to control water resources has shaped human political and economic history, and water has been a source of tension wherever water resources are shared by neighboring peoples. Globally, there are 215 international rivers and 300 ground water basins and aquifers shared by two or more countries.

Water-related tensions around the world can have significant implications for U.S. national security. In the Middle East, for example, water is a source of conflict not only between Israel and its Arab neighbors, but also between Egypt and Sudan, and Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. Many have forgotten that the progression towards the 1967 War, whose impact lingers to this day, was triggered by the water dispute between Israel and Syria over control over the Jordan River. Water conflicts add to the instability of a region on which the U.S. depends heavily for oil. Continuation or inflammation of these conflicts could subject U.S. energy supplies to blackmail again, as occurred in the 1970s.

Population growth and economic development are driving a steadily increasing demand for new water supplies, and global demand for water has more than tripled over the past half century. Globally, the largest user of fresh water is agriculture, accounting for roughly three quarters of total use. In Africa this fraction approaches 90%. In the U.S. agriculture accounts for 39% of fresh water use, the same fraction used for cooling thermal power plants.

Future prospects are not encouraging. Global water withdrawal in 2000 is estimated to be 1,000 cubic miles (4,000 km3), about 30% of the world’s total accessible fresh water supply. By 2025 that fraction may reach 70%. Over pumping of ground water by the world’s farmers already exceeds natural replenishment by more than 160 km3, 4% of total withdrawals.

How serious is the situation today? The World Health Organization estimates that, globally, 1.1 billion people lack access to clean water supplies, and that 2.4 billion lack access to basic sanitation. 1,000 m3 is the per capita annual amount of water deemed necessary to satisfy basic human needs. In 1995 166 million people in 18 countries lived below that level. By 2050 potable water availability is projected to fall below that level for 1.7 billion people in 39 countries. Water shortages now plague almost every country in North Africa and the Middle East.

There are significant health impacts of water shortages. Water-borne diseases account for roughly 80% of infections in the developing world. Nearly 4 billion cases of diarrhea occur each year. 200 million people in 74 countries are infected with the parasitic disease schistosomiasis. Intestinal worms infect about 10% of the developing world population. It is estimated that 6 million people are blind from trachoma, and that the population at risk is 500 million.

How much energy is needed to provide water services? As stated earlier, energy is required to lift water from depth in aquifers, pump water through canals and pipes, control water flow and treat waste water, and desalinate brackish or sea water. Globally, commercial energy consumed for delivering water is more than 26 Quads, 7% of total world consumption. Some specific examples follow:
  1. Lifting ground water
    power needed = (water flow rate)x(water density)x(head)
    For example, lifting water from a depth of 100 feet at a flow rate of 20 gallons per minute, and assuming an overall pump efficiency of 50%, requires one horsepower.

  2. Pumping water through pipes
    power needed = (water flow rate)x (water density)x(H+HL) where H is the lift of water from pump to outflow and HL is the effective head loss from water flow in the pipe.
    For example, moving water uphill 100 feet at 3 feet per second through a pipeline that is one mile long and 2 inches in diameter, requires 4.8 horsepower.

  3. Energy needed to treat water
    Average energy use for water treatment drawn from southern California studies is 652 kWh per acre-foot (AF), where one AF = 325,853 gallons.

  4. Energy needed for desalination
    There is broad agreement that extensive use of desalination will be required to meet the needs of a growing world population. Energy costs are the principal barrier to its greater use. Worldwide, more than 15,000 units are producing over 32 million cubic meters of fresh water per day. 52% of this capacity is in the Middle East, largely in Saudi Arabia where 30 desalination plants meet 70% of the Kingdom’s present drinking water needs and several new plants are under construction. North America has 16%, Asia 12%, Europe 13%, Africa 4%, Central America 3%, and Australia 0.3%. The two most widely used desalination technologies are reverse osmosis (RO; 44%) and multi-stage flash distillation (MSF; 40%). Energy requirements, exclusive of energy required for pre-treatment, brine disposal and water transport, are: RO: 5,800-12,000 kWh/AF (4.7-5.7 kWh/m3) and MSF: 28,500-33,000 kWh/AF (23-27 kWh/m3).

U.S. water withdrawals in 2000 are shown in Fig. 2. Power plant cooling is the largest user, when total withdrawals (fresh plus saline) are counted. A 500 MWe closed-loop power plant requires 7,000 gallons per minute (10.1 million gallons per day). Of the 195 million gallons per day used in 2000 for cooling thermal power plants, 70% was fresh water, and 30% saline (only about 3% of this water is actually consumed through evaporation). Nationally, power plant cooling and agricultural irrigation each accounted for 39% of fresh water use.

Figure 2

Sustainable withdrawal of fresh water is currently an issue in the U.S. The fast growing demand for clean water, coupled with the need to protect and enhance the environment, has already created shortages in some parts of the U.S. and will make other areas of the U.S. vulnerable to water shortages in the future. For example, California’s allocation of Colorado River water has been reduced because competing urban, agricultural and environmental interests could not agree on a conservation plan. The Ogallala fossil water aquifer in the Central Plains is being depleted by agricultural and urban extraction, with no effective recharge. An increasing number of water disputes are taking place as well in the eastern U.S. - between Virginia and Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina, and among Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Large-scale sea or brackish water desalination is being implemented in Tampa, Florida, and is being planned for sites in California, Texas, Utah and Hawaii.

Competition for fresh water is already limiting energy production. For example, Georgia Power lost a bid to draw water from the Chattahoochee River, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered a Massachusetts power plant to reduce its water withdrawals, Idaho has denied water rights requests for several power plants, Duke Power warned Charlotte, NC to reduce its water use, and a Pennsylvania nuclear power plant is planning to use wastewater from coal mines. Other utilities are warning of a power crunch if water availability is reduced.

In response, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the research and development arm of the private electric utility sector, has initiated a major new research program that will address the connection between fresh water availability and economic sustainability. As a first step, EPRI, which has projected that the world will need 7,000 GW of additional electrical generation capacity by 2050 (today’s total is just over 3,000 GW), undertook a screening study aimed at characterizing the probable magnitude of the quantity of water demanded and supplied, as well as the quality of such water, in the U.S. for the next half century (2000-2050). This screening study, published in 2002, concluded that ''...the water budget of the United States in the next 50 years is more uncertain than the currently available predictions suggest,'' that ''...the cost of insufficient water availability over the next 50 years can be huge,'' and that ''...water availability can severely constrain electricity growth.''

Concluding Thoughts

It is important to emphasize again that we can no longer take water resources for granted if the U.S. is to achieve energy security in the years ahead. This is true of other countries as well, and reflects the strong linkage between water and energy, as well as a growing water security crisis world-wide. Water and energy are also the critical elements of sustainable development, a major goal of U.S. foreign policy. Without access to both, economic growth and job creation cannot take place and poverty cannot be averted.

If our nation is to achieve water and energy security, the linkage between the two must be recognized and acted upon. This will require an enhanced partnership between the federal government, which has primary responsibility for energy security, and the states, where water issues have historically been addressed. The federal government and the states both have much to contribute to such a partnership, which is urgently needed.

06 May 2010

Guest Post: ''Water and Energy – Inseparable Issues'' by Dr. A. Hoffman, U.S. Dept. of Energy

This article is reprinted with permission of the original author from the May 2010 e-newsletter of the Clean Water America Alliance. It relates to the interconnected dynamics of water and energy resources in the U.S. and worldwide. The industrial and commercial entities that comprise the CWAA, including water and electric utilities, are slowly coming around to realize this ''nexus'' between water and energy.

Editor's Note: I selected, and asked specifically for permission to reprint in its entirety, this article by Dr. Hoffman because I felt that it provided a concise overview of the issues most prevalent in the complex water - energy nexus and would be a gentle introduction to my own series on the subject. Dr. Hoffman has also graciously provided permission for me to reprint an earlier, more detailed article on water - energy connections that I will post soon.


Water and Energy – Inseparable Issues
by Dr. Allan Hoffman, Senior Analyst, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Clean Water America Alliance
May 2010 e-newsletter


Water is mankind’s most precious resource. There are no substitutes and the struggle to control water resources has shaped human history. ''The human right to water is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite to the realization of all other human rights.'' (UN, 2002)

Water security is a growing global crisis. Many parts of the developing world already face significant water shortages, with serious implications for health and poverty reduction, and in coming years the problem will become more widespread.

Complicating this crisis is the linkage between water and energy. Energy is needed to lift water from underground aquifers, transport water through canals and pipes, manage and treat impaired water for reuse, and desalinate brackish and sea water to provide new fresh water supplies. In addition, many forms of energy production depend on the availability of water — hydroelectricity, cooling of thermal power plants, processing of crude oil, tar sands and oil shales, growing of biomass, coal slurries, carbon capture and sequestration, and water as a source of hydrogen in a hydrogen economy.

Indirect linkages include the contamination of surface and underground water supplies associated with energy production and use, impacts on precipitation patterns of global climate change associated with the combustion of fossil fuels, and if competing water uses limit use of waterways for transport of goods, rail and truck will require more energy to move those goods.

Water and energy are linked in yet another way. Neither water nor energy, in absolute terms, are in short supply in the world. What is in short supply is water and energy that people can afford to buy.

Energy policy and water policy can also be expressed in similar terms. If one recognizes that energy is a means to an end and not an end in itself – i.e., energy is important only as it allows us to provide the services that are important to human welfare (heating, cooling, illumination, communication, etc.) - it follows that energy security rests on using the least amount of energy to provide a given service as well as access to technologies providing a diverse supply of reliable, affordable and environmentally benign energy sources. The first priority of energy policy must then be the wise, efficient use of whatever energy supplies are available. Exactly the same is true of water. Only after ensuring the wise, efficient use of existing resources must we focus on harvesting new energy and water supplies that meet sustainability requirements.

The bottom line is that water and energy issues are inextricably linked. No longer can U.S. and global water security be guaranteed without careful attention to related energy issues, and no longer can energy security be guaranteed without attention to related water issues. The linkage between the two is clear and must be explicitly recognized and acted upon.

05 May 2010

A South Asian Tri-axis, part 2: The Indus Waters Treaty

In 1960, an agreement over the water resources originating in Jammu - Kashmir (which, again, I will refer to as JK) was brokered by the World Bank between Pakistan and India. In the Indus Waters Treaty, uses of the waters of the Indus River and several of its principal tributaries that originate in or pass through the disputed JK area were divided between the two countries. The map of the Indus tributaries to the right was authored by Kmhkmh for the Wikimedia Commons. Six major rivers were identified in the Indus Waters Treaty and divided categorically, to be known as the Western and Eastern Rivers. Specifically,
  • the Indus River was to be controlled exclusively by Pakistan, despite its origination in southwestern China and passage through the Indian area of JK before entering the Pakistan area of JK and then Pakistan proper;
  • the Jhelum River was to be controlled exclusively by Pakistan, despite its origination in the Indian area of JK and passage through the Pakistan area of JK before entering Pakistan proper and eventually merging with the Chenab River;
  • the Chenab River was to be controlled exclusively by Pakistan, despite its origination in Himachal Pradesh (the northern-most province of India, outside of JK) and passage through the Indian area of JK before entering Pakistan and, eventually, joining the Indus;
  • the Sutlej, Beas (tributary to the Sutlej), and Ravi, all Eastern Rivers and relatively minor in flow volume, were to be controlled exclusively by India, with a one-time financial compensation paid to Pakistan for the Indian consumptive use of those waters before all three rivers pass into Pakistan and eventually join the Chenab River.
The thing is, the Treaty was meant originally to assuage Pakistani fears over the availability of water resources that originate in India or disputed regions, especially if a war between the two countries should occur. In fact, India has not revoked or violated the Treaty in three conflicts (two over JK territory) between the two countries since the Treaty was signed, even during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965 while the Treaty was still in its specified Transition Phase. However, disputes and unilateral actions on the Western Rivers have led to continued differences between the two countries. Specifically, the Treaty allows domestic, specified agricultural and other non-consumptive use of the Western Rivers by India, including limited hydropower generation, before they cross into Pakistan. India is far more limited in its development of storage capacity on the Western Rivers, however: ''Except as provided in Annexures D and E, India shall not store any water of, or construct any storage works on, the Western Rivers.'' (see Indus Waters Treaty, Article III, paragraph 4)

Given a Treaty that seems to be constructed heavily in Pakistan's favor as the junior riparian state (having been partitioned from greater India in 1947), does it seem reasonable to allow India as the senior riparian some use of the rivers that originate in or pass through its own territories? At the time of the Treaty, India maintained six existing hydropower projects on Western Rivers, only one with more than 1 MW of generation, and was already constructing eight more with three larger than 10 MW, the largest with 15 MW of power generation. Annexure D to the Treaty allowed these projects to continue as planned or already constructed and for new run-of-the-river generations plants to be constructed under specified parameters, and according to storage rules specified in Annexure E, on the mainstem Western Rivers in India's territory. On tributaries to the mainstem rivers, India had different specifications for constructing new run-of-the-river generation facilities, and on irrigation canals that originate on a mainstem Western River still other specifications. In general, these run-of-the-river facilities constituted small amounts of true storage and non-consumptive overall use.

Storage allowances stipulated in the Treaty's Annexure E are strict, limiting India to the further construction of only 1.25 million acre-feet (MAF) of aggregate general storage capacity but with none allowed on the mainstems of the Jhelum and Chenab Rivers, 1.6 MAF of aggregate storage capacity for power generation but with none allowed on the mainstem of the Jhelum River, 0.75 MAF of additional capacity for flood control or other non-consumptive or domestic use but only on tributaries of the Jhelum River, and any storage determined necessary for flood control on the mainstem of the Jhelum River as long as the floodwaters are released as soon as possible after the flood event. By river, the numbers add up to 0.4 MAF of total storage on the Indus River, 1.5 MAF on tributaries to the Jhelum River but only flood control as necessary on its mainstem reaches, and 1.7 MAF on the Chenab River and its tributaries. Out of nearly 120 MAF in normal annual flow that exit the Himalaya - Karakoram Range through JK, India was allowed to retain only the smaller Eastern Rivers and approximately 3% of the Western Rivers. There are plenty of other details listed in the Treaty Annexures, including the minimum information that must be provided by India to Pakistan regarding all constructed works on the Western Rivers.

However well-regulated the sharing of Indus and tributary waters seems to be on the basis of the Treaty, differences and disputes have inevitably arisen since 1960. Most recently and publicly, India and Pakistan have pledged to improve relations overall, though the sides differ on what that really means for the agenda of renewed talks. With so much focus from the U.S. on support to Pakistan in the course of the Afghanistan conflict, India has been unwilling to resume ''composite dialogue'' that, despite leaving territorial claims in JK unchanged, has allowed India advancement on seemingly more important issues like bilateral trade and cross-border trust-building. India's stumbling block seems on the outside to be Pakistan's approach to reducing militant activity. In the meantime, Pakistan has recently lodged complaints against India regarding one operating hydropower project at Baglihar Dam, completed on the Chenab River in 2008, and numerous proposed hydropower projects in Indian JK. India has plans for these new projects on its frontier, while Pakistan suffers drought and diminishing water supplies for its burgeoning urban population and vast agricultural needs in Pakistani Punjab and the Indus delta, one of the largest irrigated areas in the world. Should Pakistan bring these complaints to the World Bank under the provisions stipulated in the Indus Waters Treaty, arbitration results would be legally binding for both countries, though how long it would take to reach a decision on one or more complaints, separately or in aggregate, is anyone's guess. Should Pakistan resort to measures outside of the Treaty, or bring up the possibility of renegotiating the Treaty in order to resolve the more modern issues, many feel that Pakistan would most surely lose the significant water concessions that the Treaty provides as well as anything else involved in such a confrontation.

Meanwhile, officials in the U.S. are projecting seriously mixed messages on relations between India and Pakistan. Within the past week, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy stated that American interests in Pakistan extend ''beyond Washington’s security interests in the region to wide-ranging areas including support for Islamabad’s key energy and water requirements.'' This is in direct contradiction to a sequence of diplomatic events around this most recent World Water Day: on 22 March 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered her remarks on the purposes of American foreign aid in the water sector:
''Access to reliable supplies of clean water is a matter of human security. It’s also a matter of national security. And that’s why President Obama and I recognize that water issues are integral to the success of many of our major foreign policy initiatives...

In the United States, water represents one of the great diplomatic and development opportunities of our time. It’s not every day you find an issue where effective diplomacy and development will allow you to save millions of lives, feed the hungry, empower women, advance our national security interests, protect the environment, and demonstrate to billions of people that the United States cares...

Water is actually a test case for preventive diplomacy. Historically, many long-term global challenges – including water – have been left to fester for years until they grew so serious that they could no longer be ignored. If we can rally the world to address the water issue now, we can take early corrective action, and get ahead of the challenges that await us. And in doing so, we can establish a positive precedent for early action to address other serious issues of global concern.''
Seems earnest enough, especially as Congress slowly works out the kinks on an update and expansion to the original Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 that just expired.

Barely two weeks after World Water Day, however, the Wall Street Journal reported that ''Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has signaled that Washington isn't interested in mediating on water issues, which are covered by a bilateral treaty.'' The Times of India quoted Secretary Clinton directly:
''We're well aware that there is a 50-year-old agreement between Pakistan and India concerning water... Where there is an agreement...with mediation techniques, arbitration built in, it would seem sensible to look to what already exists to try to resolve any of the bilateral problems between India and Pakistan... Let's see what we do to protect our aquifers. Let's see what we do to be more efficient in the use of our water. Let's see what we do to capture more rainwater; how do we actually use less of it to produce more crops? We think we have some ideas with our experts that we want to sit down and talk with your experts about and see where that goes''
First of all, Madam Secretary, you have contradicted yourself. Twice. On World Water Day you said that the U.S. ''cares,'' then when Kashmir was an explicit aspect of the issue you said that the U.S. didn't want to get involved, and then you offered expert technical assistance to Pakistan in a direct interview with their diplomatic delegation. While I certainly agree that an exchange of technical knowledge will help build capacity in Pakistan, and might even teach us a thing or two about resource management in our own country - remember, they've been at it about 5,000 years longer than we have - that's the Lexus resolution, while we would be leaving the Olive Tree (Kashmir conflict, Pakistani militants) to it's own devices (thanks again, Tom Friedman). Setbacks in ethnic and territorial issues can quickly and easily unravel any technical and technological progress in water management and food security. The U.S. needs to form and stick to a clearer message in our approach to Pakistan's issues and helping them with their priorities, not just our own.

Second, the Indus Waters Treaty is held in force by the World Bank and the sheer will of the signatories, but it is entirely possible that the terms of the Treaty are outdated and need revisiting. Third, the U.S. cooperates directly with India on numerous issues and now provides significant aid (monetary and otherwise) to Pakistan. And finally, it is the U.S. that nominates the President of the World Bank and holds a plurality of the votes, with the ability to block any opposing super-majority.

In the Kashmir issue and the responsible development of the region's resources, especially water, the U.S. has leverage, vested interests, and a call for help to be answered - means, motive and opportunity if we've ever seen it. As the JK region remains at the origin of these cross-border water issues, our American commitment to self-determination and the spread of democracy comes into question when we refuse the opportunity for diplomacy between India and Pakistan, as well as the people of JK themselves who see their land and resources, including water, held in trust by the very neighbors who administer their human rights. Helping to solve the Indus waters issue, and possibly resolve the conflict over JK, may be a tough problem to wrap your brain around, but it's not as if our efforts to do so will destabilize the region any further.

04 May 2010

A South Asian Tri-axis, part 1: Overview

No, it's not really a word (according to the dictionaries I can find), so I'll coin it here: ''tri-axis,'' from the adjective ''triaxial,'' meaning ''having three axes or principal directions of orientation.'' With regard to South Asia, and currently, I'm referring to the state of unstable balance between China, India, and Pakistan over issues of both regional and global concern. I'm still reading Ahmed Rashid's superb Descent Into Chaos about the American and then international intervention in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, but it's dense with information that takes me a while to absorb and I just couldn't wait until I was finished reading that. Besides, Rashid focuses primarily on the political-military issues in the Af-Pak region with a strong historical background in their ethnic disregard for arbitrary borders, which is exactly why American efforts to rout extremists have spilled over the border from Afghanistan into the northwestern frontier of what we officially consider Pakistan.

Maybe that's all relevant to a part of this story, especially in the strained relationship between Pakistan and India. The tri-axis describes three specific parties with three pairs of interactions that affect the balance of power in the region that is dominated by China, India, and Pakistan. Coincidentally, there are three things they all share, and in which they maintain different levels of conflict: nuclear energy and weapons, transboundary rivers, and Kashmir. The most overt conflict for international politics remains the nuclear issue; I was on a research cruise in the South China Sea, a day from land in any direction, when my shipmates and I learned of multiple nuclear tests performed by India and Pakistan in mutual response to each other having acquired the technology. It was not necessarily scary, but it was foreboding to note that China, India's principal military rival in Asia since the fall of the U.S.S.R., has had the bomb for decades. Now that I think about it, it might have been reassuring to note at the time that China did not also participate in the nuclear test competitions. China has signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (as has the U.S.) but has not yet ratified it (as for the U.S.) and so might not have felt bound by its terms when its neighbors to the south and west set out to measure the sizes of their...uh...well, you know. Things have certainly settled down since then, though by how much one cannot always be certain. As Tom Barnett has said more than once, nuclear weapons have served humanity better in the deterrence of conflict than as a weapon in conflict.

That's almost enough about the nuclear issue - this is a blog on hydrology and water resources, and by now you should be wondering why I wax prosaic on that shared component of the tri-axis. It's this: water and energy are inextricably linked, in a ''nexus'' which I shall address in a future post, and in Pakistan there exists a problem for lack of both. It takes a lot of water to generate energy in almost every process that we have invented thus far, and it takes a lot of energy to move water where the people need it most, which is not necessarily in the places where it occurs most naturally. Pakistan relies a great deal on two particular energy generation methods: hydropower, which I'll talk about in part 2 of this discussion, and nuclear. Recently, Pakistan has been frustrated in trying to coax the U.S. into transfer of nuclear energy technology to their country, primarily because it's not too far from reactor fuel to more weapons packages, so they've gone and asked China instead, and their ''all-weather friendship'' is suddenly renewed. This is despite the fact that, as the linked article relates, China is a member of a Nuclear Suppliers Group and Pakistan is not, and according to the rules of the group China should have obtained a waiver in order to transfer technology to a non-member state, which they did not, claiming that this is just an extension of an earlier reactor project in which China supplied Pakistan, well before the Suppliers Group was formed. Lots of other politics surround the issue, including how Pakistan gained nuclear weapons technology in the first place, but let's sum it up with the recognitions that India is not happy about Pakistan's nuclear deal with China, Pakistan still wants the U.S. to help resolve JK territorial issues with India, and the U.S. seeks not to diminish its relationship with India in its quest to help Pakistan.

To top it off, India is also a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, but in 2008 obtained a ''blanket clearance'' to re-enter the nuclear trade market without restrictions. India receives nuclear assistance from the U.S. in an effort to build up the Indian civil uses of nuclear energy so that the Indian nuclear weapons programs are de-emphasized. So why didn't Pakistan strike up a deal with India, instead of raising questions on the legitimacy of a ''renewed'' process with China? Oh, right - India considers Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, and has attributed to Pakistani militants the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. Pakistan has had trouble dividing its own loyalties: the military, which practically runs the country, has declined more significant action against militants in the North-West Frontier Province (those most often crossing the border with Afghanistan) because to commit more troops to helping NATO there would pull military forces, and the militants they help and train, from the Kashmir region and the border with India, from whom Pakistan perceives a constant threat of imminent war. Even the official U.S. presence in Pakistan does not seem to alleviate these fears or change the Pakistani military's policies and practices.

Besides the mutual threat of a nuclear exchange (of the non-civil kind), Pakistan and India maintain differences in the Himalaya - Karakoram Range over the administration of Jammu and Kashmir (which I'll call JK), two mountainous and water-rich provinces steeped in history and claimed by both countries. Again, though, the map suggests that China maintains a territorial claim to a portion of the disputed territory. In the meantime, the Line of Control between Pakistan and Indian territories has remained unmoved since 1972, and another Line of Actual Control has divided the area claimed by India and China approximately since 1959, though not agreed upon in writing until the 1990s. In all of the interactions between China, India and Pakistan there are both settled and disputed boundaries. In the case of agreement between Pakistan and India, the border dispute has direct and lasting implications for the allocation of water resources originating in JK. I'll explore the details of the Indo-Pakistan agreeement in my next post.

And now, while India is distracted on its western frontier, China has moved forward with its own hydropower plans. A new dam is under construction in China on the Tsangpo River, which becomes the Brahmaputra River when it crosses into India and joins the Ganges River in Bangladesh. Though recent floods have induced disasters of epic proportions in the region of eastern India and Bangladesh, upstream dams threaten just the opposite impact, and a sudden lack of water in a region so accustomed to plentiful supplies in its agricultural practices could be devastating. China could at least have included the downstream riparians somewhere in the decision process leading to this new project, an irony that will become more evident later. At the least, though, it seems that China's unilateral behavior on the Tsangpo River is consistent with its decisions in other areas of southern Asia...