Summary of Down to Earth: 31 March 2018 (Part - 2) (Download PDF)


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In Odisha, In January this year, village communities in Pipadi and Jamguda in Kalahandi district were denied access to take bamboo out of the forest area. They were told that they could transport bamboo outside the forest, only if it was done manually or by using a cycle, there by teasing their right over minor forest produce (MFP).

  • In February, more than 100 Gram Sabhas in the state gave an ultimatum to the forest department that they would exercise their rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, and issue transit passes on their own.

States too Need to Amend Laws

  • Priyanka Singh, chief executive, Seva Mandir, a Udaipur-based non-profit Organisation, says that legal instruments that give forest rights to people like the Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (pesa), 1996, are not clear and for the last two years, the village residents were denied their rights over their produce. It was a huge opportunity cost
  • Barna Baibhaba Panda, a senior program manager with the Foundation for Ecological Security, in Gujrat say that “Under the FRA, communities were given rights over bamboo as it is a MFP. PESA too gives them this right. The amendment to the Indian Forest Act, 1927, has cleared all doubts but there are instances of rights being curtailed.
  • The government needs to amend Section 41 and 42 of Indian Forest Act, which gives state governments the power to frame their own laws. Section 2 clause 7 would not solve issues related to bamboo, says a former Indian Forest Service officer.
  • Others feel, some regulatory mechanism to enable harvesting and trade in bamboo is needed.
  • The legality of harvesting and trade in bamboo is clear, the fruits of this well-meaning amendment remain unreachable.

Last Few Drops

  • Precious water flowing out of the numerous pipe holes of Springs Way, Cape Town’s most popular natural springs, has become the city’s lifeline as a dry and waterless future stares at the city’s residents.
  • The municipality has introduced skyrocketing tariffs and penalties if water usage exceeds 6, 000 litres per household per month (50 litres per person per day). Last year in September, the limit stood at 87 litres per person per day.
  • A daily limit of 25 litres per person is likely to be imposed on collection of water at natural springs, when Day Zero hits on July 15, 2018, and the municipal taps run dry.
  • When Day Zero sets in, residents would have to queue up to get water ration from collection points under armed guards. Day Zero to hit when the levels in all the six dams drop to 13%.

Factoring Meteorology

  • Cape Town bagged the C40 Cities Awards in 2015 for its Water Conservation and Water Demand Management Program.
  • Cape Town depends on rainwater to fill up its six reservoirs, and below average rainfall from 2015 - 17 contributed to the drying up of the reservoirs.
  • Cape Town is been undergoing a massive drying up process since 2015, fuelled by El Niño between 2014 and 2017, the southern as well as the eastern African regions, including parts of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Rwanda, Madagascar, Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, have witnessed some of the driest conditions.
  • Above normal rainfall in 2017 finally brought some respite to these countries, but the southernmost tip of Africa was not so fortunate. In fact, Cape Town may face drought this year too.
  • According to government run South African Weather Service (SAWS), the high variability of eastward winds coming in from the Antarctic Ocean, which lead to the formation of cold fronts, makes rainfall forecast in the region a difficult proposition.
  • According to Piotr Wolski, a climate researcher at the University of Cape Town who studied the historical rainfall data, the 2017 drought is a rare event with the probability of its occurrence just once in 36 years. Precipitation has been declining at the rate of over 17 mm per decade.
  • As per saws, Cape Town receives 820 millimetres (mm) of rain annually, of which 77 % is received during the winter and the rest during the summer. The past three years have been harsh, which include two of the driest years since records started being maintained in 1921.
  • One of the characteristic features of the rainfall is its high variability from year to year.
  • Rainfall projections for the century shows a declining trend across southern Africa, with stronger and frequent droughts expected in the coming decades, aggravated by climate change.

Agriculture Hit; Crop Production dips

  • The effect of drought on agriculture, which mostly comprises orchard farming, is palpable. There is less fruit picking in the apple, pear and other orchards in Western Cape.
  • Drying up of reservoirs has led to around 20 % less produce. After rains failed last year, several farmers cut down on sowing new plant seeds and the impact is becoming visible.
  • In February, the latest drought in Western, Northern and Eastern Cape was declared a national emergency by the South Africa government
  • The effect of drought on agriculture, mainly orchard farming is about 20 % amounting to $500 million”, said Alan Winde, citing a report by the agricultural department and the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP).
  • Agriculture together with agri-processing contributes over 10 % of the Western Cape economy and forms over half its exports. It also employs over 300, 000 workers or 15 % of the total regional workforce, three-fourths of whom are seasonal migrant farm workers whose three months of work typically provides for the entire year.
  • With the total water level in dams across Western Cape dropping to just above 20 % compared to 32 % last year, farmers in some areas have to deal with water cuts as high as 86 % for irrigation. Farmers who own borewells could use them only twice a week for limited hours.
  • The loss in production is also leading to layoffs in the agro-allied sector. Statistics of South Africa’s year-on-year analysis of people employed in the sector from 2015 - 16 to 2017 - 18 shows a decline of over 32, 000 jobs.

Shrinking Sources of Water

Image of Shrinking Sources of Water

Image of Shrinking Sources of Water

Image of Shrinking Sources of Water

  • The shortfall in production this season has led to a 20 % reduction in the labour requirement that has affected workers mostly from the Eastern Cape.
  • In the Western Cape, BFAP policy brief notes that there has been a 20 % shortfall in production of its famous wine grapes, but employment has not been hit in a directly proportional manner
  • Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU), says, “There is nothing grown on smaller farms and farmers are getting frustrated as the policies of government are for big farmers.
  • In 2016, as many as 2.33 million households or 13.8 % were agricultural while the number dropped from 2.88 million just five years due to droughts, according to the Community Survey of Agricultural Households conducted by Statistics South Africa.
  • The survey also found that over 80 % of the agricultural households in the country practice backyard or subsistence farming and depend on their farms for food.
  • A survey conducted in 2017 by BFAP says that if it does not rain adequately, 6 % of farmers are expected to quit agriculture which could further escalate employment and food security crisis.

Rising Inequality

  • For the rich, the current crisis would mean spending more to dig fresh, deeper bore-wells and embracing water-saving technologies.
  • The rich are using efficient technologies like rainwater harvesting, grey water system for gardening and air diffusing taps which reduce water use by 80 % by mixing more air with the water.
  • For the poor, water restrictions and calls to reduce consumption by city authorities do not amount to much, they rely on communal taps for their requirements.
  • The desperation can be clearly seen in the Imizamo Yethu (meaning Our struggle) an informal settlement, built for 20, 000 people, is being occupied by 50, 000 people.
  • The rich illegally draw connections from communal taps, others struggle to get water.
  • There are fears among the poorer sections of Cape Town society that they will be affected disproportionately by water reduction measures taken by the city since they do not pay for water.
  • The city routinely cuts off supply to Imizamo Yethu but the drop in water pressure has effectively cut off water for about half of the settlement in that area.
  • Imizamo Yethu sprawls along one side of Table Mountain and the reduction of pressure has meant that only the houses of the settlement that are in the upper reaches, get water while the pressure is not enough to carry the water to the lower reaches.
  • The crisis is also fuelling distrust between the rich and the poor. The rich feel that they are being forced to pay more for water because people in informal settlements waste it.
  • Government data suggests that informal settlements, that house more than 15 % of the city’s population, consume just 4 % of the city’s water.
  • The poor claim people with piped water connections from nearby areas have started using community taps.
  • Half the city pays for its water and the other half relies on free government supply, So the poor would be the first to suffer from any quantum cuts that the city decides to make in the run up to Day Zero.

Hectic Planning

  • South Africa Water Research Commission’s chief executive officer, Dhesigan Naidoo, says one of the biggest reasons for the water crisis is the failure of planning and diversification.
  • The city has recently been using about 500 million litres of water everyday, amounting to about 125 litres per person or 2.5 times the limit of 50 litres that the city administration has called for to avert disaster.
  • Before the crisis, the number was as high as 900 million litres per day.
  • In the past 20 years, Cape Town’s population has expanded. In 1980, the city was home to 1.6 million residents, at present some 4.3 million people live in Cape Town. the only addition to the city’s water supply system has been a 130-megalitre dam on the Berg river that started storing water in 2007.
  • The augmentation report suggested that Cape Town would be water secure until 2022, but planners failed to take into account climatic and demographic changes. Resting on this estimate, the city has been slow to supplement its resources.

Slow to Act

  • The country was warned of water shortages right through 2015 and 2016, several other cities in Africa put in measures to manage their water resources.
  • Cape Town was confident of good rains in 2017. Water conservation efforts were intensified only in September 2017 when it was clear their expectations regarding rain was wrong.
  • It took 4 months and the declaration of a looming Day Zero to bring the critical situation into focus. The local administration too needed this threat to swing into action.
  • Along with regulatory mechanisms and awareness campaigns to conserve water, the city proceeded to initiate projects to augment water supply.
  • According to plans, only about 64 % of the city’s water resources will come from dams in the future. For the rest of the supply, the city will have to turn to desalination of sea water, extraction of groundwater and promotion of recycled water.
  • As part of a short-term plan, the city is working towards having a 16 MLD desalination plant in the next two months. Right now, four plants are being planned out of which the setting up of three is running behind schedule. The only one on schedule will give only 2 MLD of water per day by March.
  • Significant pre-planning is also underway to allow for fast-tracked implementation of large-scale augmentation schemes in the long-term.
  • The medium-term plans of Cape Town are to ramp up alternative water supply over 200 MLD before the winter of 2019, the bulk of which will come from aquifer extraction and desalination. Among all the plans for a water-secure future, the least controversial is recycling of water
  • By June, Cape Town aims to introduce 20 MLD recycled water in the municipal water supply. As per long-term plans, the city intends to get over 150 MLD through recycling by 2021.

Will the Plans Work?

  • Cape Town’s new augmentation plans state that up to 17 % of the city’s water requirement will be met by desalination by the early 2020s.
  • Critics feel that the brine produced as a by-product of desalination will affect local ecology once dumped back into the sea.
  • The city applied for Coastal Water Discharge Permits (CWDP) for all its desalination plants. This requires assessment of expected brine dispersion. The city also plans to implement a marine monitoring protocol.
  • The city hopes to tap aquifers for 10 % of water supply. There are three prominent ones—the Cape Flats Aquifer (CFAU), the Table Mountain Group Aquifer (TMG) and Atlantis.
  • Authorities are also testing the viability of tapping into other aquifers, the city has the licence to extract up to 150 MLD within a few years out of which 80 MLD is expected to come from the TMG, 40 MLD from CFAU and the rest from Atlantis.
  • Possibilities of contamination, salt water intrusion and irreversible ecological damage are concerns with aquifers.
  • Aquifers are considered both for extraction and as natural underground water storage sites. As part of the city’s efforts to build resilience towards a water-secure future, officials are working on finding a sustainable balance between storage in dams and what exists underground.
  • A major concern when it comes to groundwater is its unregulated extraction by private houses and businesses.
  • Large-scale borehole drilling has been carefully planned as there are chances of proliferation of smaller borewells, which may result in some ecological consequences.
  • Cape Town shocked its residents by announcing Day Zero, donation of the precious resource has helped the city move on amidst gloom. In a goodwill gesture, farmers owning large tracts of land donated about 10 million litres of water from their private reservoirs.
  • Day Zero has been pushed back till July, it does not mean the city is out of danger. It is going to take time to put in the necessary infrastructure to cope with a continuation of the drought

Running Out

  • Nairobi started rationing of water in 2016 and the crisis is likely to continue till 2026.
  • Nairobi has not got attention despite facing a water crisis since 2016. On December 26, 2016, the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company Ltd (NCWSC) first announced “temporary” reduction of water supply, and the situation has only got worse.
  • Currently, NCWSC is supplying less than 70 % of the total demand.
  • Nairobi receives its water from four sources—
  1. Thika dam supplies 0.43 million cubic metres (m3) a day,

  2. Sasumua dam 52, 800 m3,

  3. Ruiru dam 22, 800 m3

  4. Kikuyu springs 4, 000 m3

  • The Thika dam, supplies over 80 % of Nairobi’s water demand, is currently at 30 - 35 % of its holding capacity.
  • The city genrally receives rain for 7 months—March-June and October-December—but since 2016, it has been receiving rain for only 2 - 3 months.
  • 24x7 water is supplied to three establishments— hospitals, airports and army barracks. Those houses that are linked to the same supply network get water throughout the week.
  • The reduced quantity of water is not reaching the homes of many Nairobians. The reason being is the puncturing of supply pipes by people to steal water.

Growth of Water Cartels

  • According to Nairobi-based media house Soko Directory, in an January 2018 investigation, 40 % of water cartels in Nairobi do not own any borehole but divert NCWSC pipes to fill their tankers and sell water at their own price.
  • These cartels are draining Nairobians of their hard-earned money, especially of the low-income groups as the price of water goes up by 300 times.
  • Most of the water channels in Pangani, Mlango Kubwa and Eastleigh districts in Nairobi have been either diverted or hijacked along the way by cartels
  • Some private water companies got the licence from the government to dig boreholes and sell water, but few people circumvent laws and dig boreholes illegally.

Bleak Future

  • Water rationing to continue till 2026, when construction of two more dams is expected to complete.
  • The situation to improve after completion of the Northern Water Collector Tunnel project, in December 2018. This tunnel would collect water from the Maragua, Gikigie and Irati rivers at their source in Aberdares, located north of Nairobi, and divert 0.14 million cubic metres of water a day to the Thika Dam for use in Nairobi.
  • The eastern region of Kenya, to experience depressed rainfall in the first three months of the rainy season (March-May 2018). Year-to-year variability in rainfall is huge, making droughts a common occurrence in the country.

The Next 10 to Go Dry

  • Recent studies reveal that at least 200 cities across the world are fast running out of water.
  • 10 of them are headed towards Day Zero—when the taps would run dry.
  • It comes as a surprise because these cities have grown or expanded along rich perennial sources of water like lakes, rivers, springs or even seas.
  • Robert McDonald, lead scientist at the US-based environmental group Nature Conservancy says that the shortage is due to unexpected urban growth occurring around the world. That is because of massive redistribution of populations in recent decades.
  • Urban areas, which are 3 % of the total landmass, are home to 54 % of the global population, says a study published in Nature.
  • The rapid urbanisation would go on at least till the mid of 21st century, according to UN. By then, urban populations would make up about 66 % of the world’s total population. The 90 % of the growth is expected in developing countries.
  • T V Ramachandra, professor of ecological engineering at the Indian Institute of Science (IISC), Bengaluru says that, as the population increases, land usage changes, thus effects the water availability. The main example given by him was Bengaluru.
  • The build up area of Bengaluru increased from 8 % to 77 %, while the waterbodies like lakes reduced to 79 % due to unplanned urbanization and encroachments, thus effecting water recharge.
  • Bangalore Development Authority expects a population of 20.3 million by 2031.
  • Beijing is also facing a similar situation. Though there are more than 200 rivers and streams on maps, but most of them dried up. The city till now has survived on ground water, which is also running out.
  • According to Scientist Lixia Wang of the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences under the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Nanjing, ground water is depleting@1m/year and becoming polluted.
  • Anything less than 1000 cubic metres per capita annually is considered water scarce, while Beijing has 119 cubic metres of water per person per year.
  • Over extraction of water has caused the city to sink upto 11 cm a year, shows a research by Mi Chen of the College of Resources Environment and Tourism, Capital Normal University, Beijing. This could damage infrastructure like roads and bridges and increase the chances of floods and earthquake.
  • Mexico City, located in Valley of Mexico, faces a more tragic story of urban growth. 700 years ago the Aztecs bilt floating gardens known as “the Venice of the New World”.
  • The lake beds are now covered with grey sea of concrete, tarmac and steel, forcing the city to pump water from hundreds of metres underground or from a distance of over 100 kilometres. Over extraction of ground water has caused the city’s heavily saturated clay to sink at 40cm per year.
  • Transporting water to the city which is 2400 m above sea level through seismically active mountains is dangerous.
  • Sanna of Yemen, extracted last drop of ground water, is looking for alternatives. The city is growing at 7 % a year. World bank officials say that ground water level in the basin has fallen from 30 cm in 1970 to 150 m in 1990s.
  • The city is expected to reach Day Zero by 2019. The city authorities started tapping fossil aquifers (deep pockets under rock layers where water is stored for millennia). There is no way to replenish these aquifers.
  • The cities discussed above are facing the water shortage mainly due to failure of urban planners to manage water resources.
Image of Global Sinks

Image of Global Sinks

Image of Global Sinks

Image of Metropolitan Cities of the world for water resources

Image of Metropolitan Cities of the World for Water Resources

Image of Metropolitan Cities of the world for water resources

Courtesy: Down to Earth, March 2018

- Published/Last Modified on: April 12, 2018


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