Abigail Brown

Are You Ready for a Global-Water Multimedia Adventure?

Already today, I have been able to visit people and places in Yemen, India, Mexico, Niger, and Kenya to learn more about local and global water issues. How, you may ask? Easy, I reply -- The Water Channel.

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Cholera Outbreak in Zimbabwe a Humanitarian and Water Crisis

Zimbabwe is encountering a severe water and humanitarian crisis. Two weeks ago, the High Court in Zimbabwe shut down because of a lack of water supply. And, over the last month, approximately 8,887 people have contracted cholera and 366 people have died. Four large hospitals and many local clinics in the country have closed or turn away new patients because of a lack of medical supplies.

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Middle East Faces Widespread Drought and Devastated Crops

The following words come to mind as I think of the Middle East -- oil, Iraq, war, Palestine, Israel, and desert. I know, I know, many of the words on my list are mere impressions of media-induced messages, but one word on my list is pretty realistic -- desert. The Middle East is an arid region known the world-over for sand, camels, heat, and more sand.

So when I tell you in a few moments that many countries in the Middle East are facing severe drought conditions this year, you may not be too surprised.

Yet contrary to my word list the Middle East isn't entirely desert. Among the sand and heat, the region hosts fertile valleys and forests fed by one of two main rivers -- the Tigris or Euphrates.

This place was once so fruitful it has been called "the fertile crescent," "the cradle of civilization," and "the birthplace of agriculture." Today, crops exported from the region include wheat, dates, olives, pistachios, raisins, eggplant, hazelnuts, and apricots. >So when I tell you again that many countries in the Middle East are facing serious drought conditions this year, you may be a bit more dismayed.

Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Cyprus, Iran and Iraq (to name a few) have each been dealing with decreased rainfall, reduced water storage, irrigation water shortages, and in some cases, declared drought.

Drought in northeastern Syria over the past two years has devastated wheat production in the region. In 2008 Syria was forced to import wheat for the first time in fifteen years to compensate. Crops were also wiped out in Turkey this year after drought affected 35 out of 81 provinces. Iran is another nation importing extra wheat this season after a 20 percent decline in annual yield.

Palestine and Israel have been in a "regional drought" for over half a decade. Palestinians in the West Bank, enduring especially difficult circumstances, are without water for hours or days at a time this summer. Israel controls 90 percent of the water distribution system for the West Bank, but claims to be unable to provide additional water to those in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, King Abdullah in Jordan has secured an Emergency Water Supply plan for next summer in case rains are less than predicted over winter. And, of course, the island of Cyprus is dealing with prolonged drought. Turkey is sending water by tankers to the Turkish half of the island, but the Greek half of the island refuses to accept water from Turkey. They are receiving water by tankers from Greece.

A drought has been declared in Iraq after significantly less than the annual, average rainfall of six inches. Some say it is the worst drought in ten years. Both the Tigris and Euphrates flow through Iraq in less quantities from a lack of rainfall and dams constructed in Turkey and Syria. Barley and wheat yields, in this country, are expected to be reduced by half this year.

Widespread drought in the Middle East means that many individuals are enduring severe hardship with little watery relief. Often forced to relocate or consume muddy, polluted water unfit for human consumption, people in this region have to test the limit of life with minimal water. Also, simultaneous drought in regions such as the Middle East and Australia further influences already soaring grain prices on the world market. In fact wheat prices have risen by 40 percent over the last several months alone.

In Iraq 70 Percent of People Lack Clean Water

Less than half of Iraq's population of 29 million people have access to clean, drinkable water. And, according to a recent report by Oxfam, the number of civilians in Iraq without water has risen from 50 percent to 70 percent during 2003 to 2007 (the continued US occupation).

Recent History of Water in Iraq

In the recent past, Iraq had over 140 drinking water and treatment facilities in operation. Air attacks in 1991, during the Persian Gulf War destroyed many of these water treatment plants.

At the same time, UN imposed sanctions disallowed trade between Iraq and other countries. This made import of needed chemicals and supplies for upkeep of the water treatment facilities difficult.

By 2003, Iraq's 140 major water treatment facilities were operating at about 35 percent of their design capacity. In March 2003, the US government launched a direct-attack on Iraq. This continued war, for over five-years now, has rendered useless the already deteriorating water infrastructure systems across the country.

Road Trip Around India Explores Water Challenges

One man's dream will soon raise the world's awareness about the complexity of water challenges occurring in India. Beginning on Saturday, April 26th in Bangalore, CS Sharada Prasad will travel 19,000 km (11,807 m) on motorbike to document the meaning and encompassing challenges of water to people in India.

Crossing 15 major rivers, 28 states, and 7 territories, Mr. Prasad will document his journey on a blog called "K2K - In Search of Water." His route will be mapped with a GPS unit attached to his motorbike and uploaded to Google Maps.

Geotagged blog posts will be updated everyday and photos from his journey will be available on EveryTrail and Flickr.

The trip will take over two months to complete, visiting places such as the Khardung La Pass at 18,380 feet to Kanyakumari at the southernmost tip of mainland India. Mr. Prasad will meet with local citizens, organizations, and community leaders to bring light to their accomplishments and challenges regarding sustainable water supplies.

This event will be a great opportunity for students, classrooms, and people around the world to follow along with his adventure and become educated about water supplies in India. Sharada Prasad is a project officer for the India Water Portal and Blog developed by Archyam, a nongovernmental organization. Archyam "seeks to support strategic and sustainable efforts in the water sector that address basic water needs for all citizens."

Ecuador Embraces Natural Water Treatment

Ecuador was recently recognized on World Water Day 2008 for an innovative yet simple approach to water treatment using aquatic lentil and water lettuce.

The people of San Rafael de la Laguna, an indigenous community of 4,700, constructed a water treatment facility along the edge of Lake Imbakucha to offset polluted discharge from local tourist facilities and agricultural practices.

The water treatment facility removes up to 90 percent of the contamination, and the clean water is then used for irrigation of reeds. Local artisans create furniture, crafts, and paper from the reeds, and sell the products through the Totora Sisa Cooperative.

World Economic Forum Takes on Water Crisis

Water was a major topic of conversation at the World Economic Forum 2008 (WEF) coming to a close in Davos, Switzerland.

At the forum, according to the Environmental News Service, Bills Gates announced a grant of $306 million dollars for development projects to help boost yields of crops for farmers in developing countries. It is unclear whether a portion of this money will be devoted to water conservation practices in conjunction with agriculture. Also discussed was implementation of a cap and trade system for water supplies and the importance of market forces in water allocation.

Leaders at the forum pledged renewed support for the UN's Millennium Development Goals, of which one goal is to increase access to safe drinking water.

Created as a venue for dialogue, research, and networking among economic and political leaders, the WEF is often criticized for more talk rather than action, a membership majority of industrialized countries (primarily USA, Europe, and Asia), and limited media access to specified plenary sessions.


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