Saturday, 18 August 2012

DEVELOPMENT ISSUES: water, biofuels,
land grabs, wealth distribution.


All the latest work on global water supplies presents us with contradictory findings.
A report from the analysts, Maplecroft, in 2010. says that the ten countries most at risk are: Somalia (1), Mauritania (2), Sudan (3), Niger (4), Iraq (5), Uzbekistan (6), Pakistan (7), Egypt (8), Turkmenistan (9) and Syria (10). The ranking was based on an assessment of access to water, water demands and the reliance on external supplies with countries like Mauritania and Niger more than 90 per cent reliant on external water supplies.

2012: Researchers at the University of Kassel in Germany, led by Martina Floerke, projected that by the 2050s, as many as six billion people could face water scarcity.

But a new report, by the British Geological Surveys, issued 20 April 2012, declares that  there are huge ground water resources  under Africa.  Scientists say the notoriously dry continent of Africa is sitting on a vast reservoir of groundwater. They argue that the total volume of water in aquifers underground is 100 times the amount found on the surface. Freshwater rivers and lakes are subject to seasonal floods and droughts that can limit their availability for people and for agriculture. At present only 5% of arable land is irrigated.  Researchers from the British Geological Survey and University College London (UCL) have mapped the groundwater resource across the continent.  "Where there's greatest ground water storage is in northern Africa, in the large sedimentary basins, in Libya, Algeria and Chad. The amount of storage in those basins is equivalent to 75metre thickness of water across that area - it's a huge amount." Due to changes in climate that have turned the Sahara into a desert over centuries, many of the aquifers underneath were last filled with water over 5,000 years ago.  The scientists are cautious about the best way of accessing these hidden resources. They suggest that widespread drilling of large boreholes might not work.   "Appropriately sited and developed boreholes for low yielding rural water supply and hand pumps are likely to be successful."  With many aquifers not being filled due to a lack of rain, the scientists are worried that large-scale borehole developments could rapidly deplete the resource. Sometimes the slower means of extraction can be more efficient:  " our work shows that with careful exploring and construction, there is sufficient groundwater under Africa to support low yielding water supplies for drinking and community irrigation."  The scientists say that there are sufficient reserves to be able to cope with the vagaries of climate change! Clearly, these reserves will have to be carefully monitored and supervised so as to avoid massive piracy.

Weather events this year, 2012, have led to floods and droughts. If we could control water flows, water suppplies might cease to be a problem. During 2012 many countries  have been subject to   continuous flooding… Philippines, southern Russia, central China, Japan, parts of Australia, and much of the UK, along with the monsoons of southern Asia, India and Pakistan: Others places have suffered  unprecedented drought, such as the prairies of North America. or the grasslands of Chad, and Sudan. As a result of which there have been failed harvests of corn, wheat, barley, rice, and rising prices, and increasing levels of starvation.

Amazon Watch reports, August 2012, that the Belo Monte Dam Project on the Xingu River is boiling up to a conflict between the local peoples and the Brazilian government and the development corporations and the courts. Indigenous leaders say that these plans will
affect more than 50 Amazonian nations representing hundreds of thousands of Indians.
Tayajin Shuwi Peas, warns: “We are not scared and we will fight to the death over this.” The Appeals court has found in favour of the indigenous peoples, banning the construction of the Dam.

Dry Toilets
In 2010 the UN declared  that access to water is a human right.
RIO+20 confirmed that every community must have safe water to drink, and sources for safe sanitation. But it is recognised that water toilets use too much water. The Bill/Melinda Gates Foundation, this week, [August 15 2012] offered up to $370 million to design teams to establish 'dry toilets', toilets that do not use  fresh water, but may use urine, and can operate for less than 5cents a day.
This is a good example of wealth redistribution, and design innovation. The dry toilet would be more appropriate for use in dry regions, rather than adopt water facilities developed in areas where water is plentiful.

Biofuels = starvation.
2010. New Economic Foundation’s report, ‘Growth isn’t possible’ revealed that concern for climate change and the rising price of oil has resulted in new policies that aim to substitute petrol and diesel with biofuels. There are, however, a number of unintended consequences of agro-industrial  biofuels.
‘The grain required to fill the tank of a sports utility vehicle with ethanol…could feed one person for a year; this shows how food and fuel compete. Rising prices of staple crops can cause significant welfare losses for the poor, most of whom are net buyers of staple crops’. The rise in popularity of biofuels is creating competition for land and water between crops grown for food and those grown to make biofuels. This has led to civil unrest around the world. For example, the ‘Tortilla Riots’ in Mexico in 2007 followed the dramatic rise in price of corn (a staple food for poor households) as more land was given over for biofuel production.  Research published earlier in 2007 showed that the growth of palm oil for biodiesel for the European market is now the main cause of deforestation in Indonesia.
Is the complete or even partial substitution of diesel and petrol fuels with biofuels possible?
If the UK directly substituted all its diesel and petrol fuels to rapeseed oil biodiesel and corn bioethanol, the amount of agricultural land required would be approximately 36 million hectares. Total land area in the UK is just over 24 million hectare; less than 20 per cent  is suitable for agriculture.
To meet the USA  goal of increasing bioethanol production from the five billion gallons produced to 35 billion gallons by 2017 would require more corn than the USA currently produces.
To replace 10 per cent of global petrol production with bioethanol, Brazil would have to increase its ethanol production by a factor of 40, and would result in the destruction of around 35 per cent of the remaining Amazon Rainforest.
By increasing the consumption of bioethanol to around 34 million barrels per year by 2050, we find that  this would require a 25 per cent increase in cultivated land by 2050. This will clearly mean claiming a vast amount of land from the already stressed natural environment. It seems that the biggest enemies of the environment are the Ministers and Governments of specific countries!

Land Grabs for oil
But it is not only land for farming. It is also land for oil. It is not only 'neo-colonialists', it is the home governments that are selling land off for revenue. For example, the BBC reports that  it is six years since Chad's first US-led oil project at Doba came on stream. Human rights activists in Chad say they fear a new Chinese-backed oil project will displace hundreds of people and will destroy at least 10 villages. The deal is directly between the Chadian government and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), without any  scrutiny from the international community.  Work has begun to build a 300km (185 mile) pipeline from the Koudalwa oilfields in the south of the country, to a new refinery north of the capital. Chad's government says those who have to move will be compensated. The activists assert that the locals have not been consulted. These land grabs are not only occurring in Africa. In Peru, in South America, for the first time isolated indigenous groups are uniting to fight the Government’s plans to auction off  75 per cent of the Amazon — which accounts for nearly two thirds of the country’s territory — to oil, gas and mining companies. They oppose 11 decrees issued by President GarcĂ­a, under special legislative powers granted to him by the Peruvian Congress, to enact a free trade agreement with the US. These would allow companies to bypass indigenous communities to obtain permits for exploration and extraction of natural resources, logging and the building of hydroelectric dams.

Oxfam International  agrees that not all aid works, and that a lot of it could work better. This is an argument for aid to be fixed – not abandoned  -- Aid that does not work to alleviate poverty and inequality ; aid that is driven by geopolitical interests ;aid which is too often squandered on expensive consultants; aid which spawns parallel government structures accountable to donors and not citizens; aid conceived by ‘experts’ in Washington, Geneva, or London and imposed without meaningful consultation with, or participation by those it intends to help; All such aid has little to do with the poor. Development  aid must be monitored and regulated.
In a world where 10million people control $42 trillion, of which 1226 billionaires control $4 trillion, and up to $30trillion is hidden ‘offshore’, t
he long term solution for AID has to be one whereby wealth is taxed, and the wealthy given incentives to give significant sums to charity, and the proceeds used to provide housing, to facilitate subsistence farming, to prevent starvation,  to cure diseases, to ease water supplies, and provide sanitation; to build schools and teach billions to read and write; to make villages and neighbourhoods, places where peoples can survive. What is more, such redistribution will have to be accompanied by serious attempts to stop fraud and corruption so as to make sure that the monies go to the poor and not into the pockets of some third party. There is no prospect of the poor majority  becoming ‘rich’ and ‘comfortable’. The only hope is that they will survive in better conditions than at present. Most people in the world today are poor, and living in appalling conditions. There is overwhelming evidence that rural areas account for three in every four people living on less than $1 a day and a similar share of the world population suffering from malnutrition. Urban slum growth is outpacing  urban growth by a wide margin. Approximately half the world’s population now live in cities and towns. In 2005, one out of three urban dwellers (approximately 1 billion people) was living in slum conditions. The UN wants each citizen of the planet, by virtue of his or her humanity, to be given a right to  minimum living standards. The UN accepts that the provision of basic social services will be through long-term financial transfers - redistribution of wealth. This change of philosophy implies a real revolution for the development community.
In a way, official development flows are moving away from a logic of investment towards one of global wealth redistribution. If financial transfers and redistribution of wealth is to work globally there will need to be ‘global networks’ of allocation, enforcement and supervision similar to the United Nations and its various organisations. To help ensure that it is successful, several agencies, including the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank are collaborating to mobilize ongoing political and operational support, including fighting for universal access to care for all women and children.

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