Category Archives: Water

Paddling in plastic: meet the man swimming the Pacific garbage patch

Plastic Ben Lecomte holds a piece of plastic found in the Pacific Ocean that has become a home for small crabs. Photograph: @osleston

Ben Lecomte is spending his summer swimming in trash – literally. So far, he’s found toothbrushes, laundry baskets, sandbox shovels and beer crates floating out in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The 52-year-old Frenchman is journeying from Hawaii to San Francisco via the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to better understand how plastic is affecting our oceans. He will swim a total of 300 nautical miles, intermittently travelling by sailboat with a crew of 10 the rest of the way.

His swim will take him through a gyre known as the Pacific trash vortex, home to the largest concentration of plastic debris in the world. The distance is also a metaphorical journey for the 300m tons of plastic waste produced annually, of which an estimated 8m tons of plastic waste is pushed into the oceans.

Since starting the trip on 14 June in Hawaii, Lecomte and his crew – consisting of sailors, storytellers and scientists – have found everything from empty containers to children’s toys and abandoned fishing nets. Crew member and scientist Drew McWhirter even discovered microplastics in their dinner: upon slitting open a freshly caught mahi-mahi, he saw a piece of plastic lodged in the fish’s stomach.

“It was a very sobering experience,” Lecomte says. “Plastic trash coming back to our plates.”

The long-distance swim is the first of its kind ever to be attempted. Designed as a science-meets-adventure expedition, Lecomte and his team are collecting microplastic samples and placing GPS tags on larger floating plastic waste, so that researchers can better understand how plastics move through the oceans.

Lecomte is also on a mission to debunk the myth that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a floating pile of plastic. There is no “trash island”, he says, but rather an “underwater smog of microplastic”.

This is not Lecomte’s first long-distance swim. In 1998, he became the first man to cross the Atlantic without the aid of a kickboard – a feat that took him 73 days and even saw him followed by sharks. Last year he attempted to swim across the Pacific, launching from Japan. He completed 1,500 nautical miles (2,700 kilometers) before he was forced to abandon the effort due to stormy conditions, which damaged his support boat.

That support boat is crucial, giving Lecomte the rest and nourishment he needs to swim an average of eight hours every day. He stops during his swim to have some soup and bread and refuel but can go as long as five hours without stopping. After eight hours in the water he’ll get back on the boat for a carb-heavy meal, he says, followed by an evening nap and a second meal at night. Lecomte, who hopes to complete the crossing in September, swims seven days a week, taking breaks only when he’s severely fatigued or if the weather conditions are too risky.

Meanwhile, the crew is busy using nets to collect samples of plastic in the water, often thousands of pieces per day, which are meticulously laid out and counted. The team estimates that in the past three weeks they’ve collected more than 17,000 pieces of microplastics and spotted more than 1,200 larger pieces of floating trash.

Lecomte’s swimming route is dictated by scientists from the University of Hawaii, using satellite imagery and ocean modeling to locate the highest concentration of debris. “Our goal is to arrive in California with the first transpacific dataset on plastic pollution, and engage as many people as possible to be part of the solution,” Lecomte says.

This expedition is also sponsored by Icebreaker, a New Zealand-based outdoor brand that emphasizes the use of natural materials in its clothing. His swim is drawing attention to the increasing prevalence of synthetic microfibers in the planet’s water systems. Studies have estimated that between 700,000 and 1m synthetic fibers are unleashed by just one load of washing in a machine.

Dr Sarah-Jeanne Royer at the University of San Diego specializes in plastic and microfiber degradation, and has been supporting Lecomte’s mission from land. She says the boat crew has collected seawater samples at a variety of locations, and found microfibers in every sample. “These synthetic fibers are so lightweight, that they’re being carried everywhere,” she says. “We’re breathing them.”

Despite enormous public interest, scientists still know little about the pervasiveness of ocean plastic pollution, says Royer. The vastness of the oceans makes the movement of plastics difficult to study, while gyres such as the one Lecomte is swimming near can keep plastic waste in a restricted area for long periods of time, before unleashing them towards the Hawaiian shorelines.

“We only know where 1% of the plastic waste is in the ocean,” she says. Indeed, a 2014 study found that the overwhelming majority of all plastic known to have entered the oceans cannot be accounted for. “So the big question for us is where is this plastic going in the ocean?”

She hopes the findings by Lecomte and his team will help begin to answer that question.

“This data is priceless. [The crew] could have done a campaign without collecting data. But they realized how important it is to collect these samples,” she says. “Without science, it’s not possible to prove the claims about plastics and its damaging effect on the environment.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jul/30/paddling-in-plastic-meet-the-man-swimming-the-pacific-garbage-patch

War, drought, diplomatic rifts deepen Afghanistan’s water crisis

imageA recent flash flood in Kamp-e-Sakhi damaged Somagul’s home and destroyed her family’s most expensive belongings [Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska/Al Jazeera]

by Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska

On a bright day in April, in the aftermath of flash floods, rays of sun fall onto the cracked clay soil in Kamp-e-Sakhi in some parts and, in others, illuminate large puddles that dot the raw land.

In the northern Afghan district, on the outskirts of Mazar-e Sharif city, antiflood bags still lie on the wet ground although they helped little when the water spread days earlier, destroying modest homes.

Somagul, a 60-year-old former farmer who left her home in Baghlan last year because of severe drought and pressure from the Taliban, did not expect the flood.

On March 29, the sound of water hitting her door awakened her in the middle of the night.

“We escaped in the dark with my children and grandchildren. There was no light, but we managed to find our way out, we got wet and dirty. All our things stayed in the house,” Somagul told Al Jazeera. “We went higher up to the street which was not flooded and we stayed there for the whole night. In the morning when the flood was gone, we came back.”

Although the flood soon reversed, Somagul and her family, including her sister, four children and 16 grandchildren, lost most of their few valuable possessions.

Electronic devices were among their most expensive belongings that were destroyed; it will take a long time to replace them.

Since the family moved to Mazar-e Sharif, only her son-in-law has managed to find work at the local coal market and they have no land to grow crops.

This was the second time in Somagul’s life that water-related disasters came to define her family’s fate.

Afghanistan, where the worst drought in a decade has displaced an estimated 260,000 people, has been struggling with the acute consequences of climate change, water mismanagement and 40 years of war that took its toll on the country’s weak water infrastructure.

Droughts and floods have become the norm, destroying the lives of Afghans across the country.

An upstream country, Afghanistan is not naturally water stressed. Eighty percent of its resources come from surface water that flows from snowfields and glaciers in the Hindu Kush and Himalaya mountains.

Over the course of Spring and Summer, the mountain snows melt and fuel Afghanistan’s five river basins.

From there, the water enters the canals and spreads across the country.

Most of Afghanistan’s irrigation depends on these resources. As the Afghan proverb goes, “may Kabul be without gold rather than snow.”

But ever since the Soviet invasion, the country’s infrastructure has been falling into ruin.

First, the bombings and years of fighting destroyed much of its canals. Then the Taliban administration did little to repair the damage, let alone build new infrastructure.

Following the US invasion, the Afghan government with the support of the international community has put water management high on its agenda, investing efforts to rehabilitate the canals.

But the infrastructure is inadequate for the needs of the country’s growing population.

Most of Afghanistan’s partners have been reluctant to support large projects, such as dams, which require substantial funds.

India, though, has sponsored the Afghan-India Friendship Dam on the Hari river and is planning the construction of Shahtoot Dam on the Kabul River.

Dams are crucial to store the water needed for irrigation and prevent flash floods, which have become frequent due to climate change.

In a country where agriculture contributes between 20 and 40 percent of the GDP, depending on the year, and employs about 60 percent of the workforce, the lack of investment has had disastrous consequences.

“Because of climate change, our winters have been getting hotter year by year and we’ve had much more rain in springs instead of snow in winters, which recently resulted in floods in many provinces especially in the north and west of Afghanistan,” Abdul Basir Azimi, water expert and the former deputy minister of energy and water told Al Jazeera.

“Twenty Afghan provinces experienced about a 60 percent decrease in snowfall during the last winter season in 2017, and before that.

“Severe drought throughout the country and excessively warm weather have affected the rural and urban populations, the agricultural economy and recently led to a tremendous increase in the number of IDPs.”

Drought has also affected the levels of groundwater that Afghan cities have been relying on for drinking.

Kabul is home to almost five million people and the capital’s population, according to estimates, will double in the next 10 years. The city has been particularly vulnerable to water shortages.

“Last year, we experienced severe drought in the country including in the Kabul River basin. The groundwater level dropped by more than 10 metres,” Tayib Bromand, water resources and climate change adaptation specialist at the ministry of water and energy, told Al Jazeera.

“In Afghanistan’s major cities there was not enough water for domestic supply. Particularly, the most elevated parts of Kabul do not receive sufficient water for drinking.”

Unable to access drinking water through the official distribution networks, Afghanistan’s population has been relying on unofficial wells with poor-quality water. Others have been using paid water delivery services provided by private companies.

While Afghanistan has now entered peace talks with the Taliban, internal displacement caused by the water crisis might further stir conflict.

In some areas, farmers have no choice but to join armed groups in order to feed their families.

At the local level, conflicts over water also erupt between upstream and downstream areas, as well as individual farmers.

Jenna Jadin, a scientist with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Afghanistan, told Al Jazeera: “We’re trying to make sure that water is incorporated into everything we are doing: for example, in projects where we’re teaching people to diversify their livelihoods and diets through planting new crops, we are also making sure to teach better water usage for those crops.

“We are also implementing projects that restore forests and rangelands, which will reduce surface water losses and soil erosion.”

But Afghanistan’s water scarcity has the potential to cause conflict on a regional level, too.

Due to insufficient infrastructure and decades of conflict, 70 percent of the country’s surface water ends up flowing into neighbouring states, all of which, apart from Tajikistan, are water stressed.

“Afghanistan’s situation has created an opportunity for the neighbouring countries to unfairly and unreasonably develop their agriculture lands at a very rapid pace downstream and also illegitimately transfer the water from the bordering lands to their central provinces,” Azimi said.

“The neighbouring countries have been irrigating hundreds of hectares of agricultural lands with water flowing from Afghanistan’s rivers, but on the other side, the neighbouring countries have built too many dams and not allowed any water [to flow] into Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan, therefore, has a pressing need for new dams to manage its scarce water reserves.

But more water staying in the country means less water for its neighbours. And while there are existing international agreements dealing with water scarcity between the five Central Asian states, for example, Afghanistan has not been part of them.

The only water agreement Afghanistan has signed was a 1973 treaty with Iran regulating the inflow of water to the country. But even that has not prevented conflict between the neighbours.

The Afghan government has long accused Iran of supporting the Taliban in order to disrupt the construction of a dam on the Helmand River, which could potentially affect the delivery of water to the country.

Similarly, Pakistan, one of the most water-stressed countries in the region, opposes the construction of the Shahtoot Dam on the Kabul River sponsored by its archenemy India.

The construction of the dam could reduce the flow of water into Pakistan.

The potential of regional conflict is high and investing in water management is crucial for Afghanistan’s security.

While most of the country’s international partners are reluctant to make such costly, long-term investments that bring little profit, the government is increasingly seeing water as a security issue.

If “hydro-diplomacy” continues to be put high on the state’s agenda, not everything is lost.

“Afghanistan has had to deal with many decades of war, and, as we’ve seen the world over, environmental issues sometimes exacerbate political tensions,” Jadin said. “If we can help the people restore their environment it may very well have a positive cascading effect on other aspects of life.”

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/war-drought-diplomatic-rifts-deepen-afghanistans-water-crisis-190504203303668.html

In Early Holiday ‘Gift to Polluters,’ Trump Guts Protections for 60 Percent of Nation’s Streams, Wetlands, and Waterways

pollution photophoto caption: The Trump administration unveiled a regulatory
rollback of the Waters of the U.S. rule, meant to protect
streams and wetlands from pollution and development. (Photo:
Laurence Arnold/Flickr/cc)

“Piece by piece, molecule by molecule, Trump is handing over
our country to corporate polluters and other industrial
interests at the expense of our future.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer

Sixty percent of U.S. waterways will be at risk for pollution
from corporate giants, critics say, following the Trump
administration’s announcement Tuesday that it will roll back
an Obama-era water rule meant to protect Americans’ drinking
water and all the waterways that flow into it.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the
Obama administration’s 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS)
rule would be redefined and no longer protect many of the
nation’s streams and wetlands.

“This is an early Christmas gift to polluters and a lump of
coal for everyone else,” said Bob Irvin, president of the
national advocacy group American Rivers. “Too many people are
living with unsafe drinking water. Low-income communities,
indigenous peoples, and communities of color are hit hardest
by pollution and river degradation.”
Under the Trump administration’s proposal, which Common Dreams
reported as imminent last week, streams that flow only after
rainfall or snowfall will no longer be protected from
pollution by developers, agricultural companies, and the
fossil fuel industry. Wetlands that are not connected to
larger waterways will also not be protected, with developers
potentially able to pave over those water bodies.

“The Trump administration will stop at nothing to reward
polluting industries and endanger our most treasured
resources.” —Jon Devine, NRDC

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler suggested that WOTUS
had created unfair roadblocks for industries, farmers, and
ranchers who wanted to build and work near the nation’s
waterways and were kept from doing so because of the potential
for water pollution.

But green groups slammed the EPA for once again putting the
interests of businesses ahead of the families which rely on
the rule that keeps at least 60 percent of the nation’s
drinking water sources safe from pollution while also
protecting wildlife and ecosystems which thrive in wetlands
across the country.

“The Trump administration will stop at nothing to reward
polluting industries and endanger our most treasured
resources,” Jon Devine, director of the Natural Resources
Defense Council’s (NRDC) federal water program, said in a
statement. “Given the problems facing our lakes, streams and
wetlands from the beaches of Florida to the drinking water of
Toledo, now is the time to strengthen protections for our
waterways, not weaken them.”

Ken Kopocis, the top water official at the EPA under President
Barack Obama, told the Los Angeles Times that the regulatory
rollback will create potential for the pollution of larger
bodies of water, even though they are technically still
covered under WOTUS and the Clean Water Act.

“You can’t protect the larger bodies of water unless you
protect the smaller ones that flow into them,” said Kopocis.
“You end up with a situation where you can pollute or destroy
smaller streams and bodies, and it will eventually impact the
larger ones.”

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch,
called the revised WOTUS rule a “steamroller” to environmental
oversight that American families rely on.

“Piece by piece, molecule by molecule, Trump is handing over
our country to corporate polluters and other industrial
interests at the expense of our future,” said Hauter.

“The proposed rule will take us back five decades in our
effort to clean up our waterways,” argued Theresa Pierno of
the National Parks Conservancy Association (NPCA). “We must
ensure clean water protections extend to all streams,
wetlands, lakes and rivers that contribute to the health of
larger water bodies downstream, and our communities, parks,
and wildlife that depend on them.”

“We will fight to ensure the highest level of protections for
our nation’s waters—for our health, our communities and our
parks,” Pierno added.

 

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/12/11/early-holiday-gift-polluters-trump-guts-protections-60-percent-nations-streams

We Have Seen The Future of Water, And It Is Cape Town

by Peter H. Gleick
Guest Writer
Huffington Post (2/9/2018)

Morgana Wingard via Getty Images
Cape Town residents queue to refill water bottles on Jan. 30, 2018. Diminishing water supplies may soon lead to the taps being turned off for the four million inhabitants of Cape Town. (Morgana Wingard via Getty Images)

Cape Town is parched. Severe drought and high water use have collided in South Africa’s second largest city, and unless the drought breaks, residents may run out of water in the next few months when there simply isn’t enough water left to supply the drinking water taps.

In response to this looming “Day Zero” currently projected in May? city managers have imposed new and unprecedented restrictions, including limiting residential water use to 50 liters (around 13 gallons) per person per day. They released plans to open 200 community water points to provide emergency water in the event of a shutoff – for four million people. As the crisis worsens, water scarcity will sharpen South Africa’s economic inequalities, inflaming tensions between wealthier and disadvantaged communities.

Cape Town is not alone. Water crises are getting worse all over the world. The past few years have seen more and more extreme droughts and floods around the globe. California just endured the worst five-year drought on record, followed by the wettest year on record. São Paulo, Brazil, recently suffered a severe drought that drastically cut water supplies to its 12 million inhabitants – a drought that also ended in heavy rainfall, which caused extreme flooding. Houston was devastated in 2017 by Hurricane Harvey, the most extreme precipitation event to hit any major city in the United States.

Severe droughts and floods. Water rationing. Economic and political disruption. Urban taps running dry. Is this the future of water?

Any city, in building a water system, tries to prepare for extreme weather, including floods and droughts. It also considers estimates of future population growth, projections of water use and a host of other factors. Cape Town’s water system is a relatively sophisticated one, with six major storage reservoirs, pipelines, water treatment plants and an extensive distribution network. Its water managers, and South Africa’s overall water expertise, are among the best in the world.

The problem is that the traditional approach for building and managing water systems rests on two key assumptions. The first is that there is always more supply to be found, somewhere, to satisfy growing populations and growing water demand. The second is that the climate isn’t changing.

Neither of these assumptions is true any longer.

Many regions of the world, as in Cape Town, have reached “peak water” limits and find their traditional sources tapped out. Many rivers are dammed and diverted to the point that they no longer reach the sea. Groundwater is over pumped at rates faster than nature can replenish. And massive long-distance transfers of water from other watersheds are increasingly controversial because of high costs, environmental damages and political disagreements.

Read We Have Seen The Future of Water, And It Is Cape Town


Peter H. Gleick is a climate and water scientist, co-author of The World’s Water, and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

2 Billion People Don’t Have Access To Clean Water, Opens up Fissures of Inequality

IPS News
by Roshni Majumdar

Oromia-region_-629x419
On 9 February 2016 in central Ethiopia, children and women from a semi-pastoralist community wait their turn to fill jerrycans with clean water at a water point in Haro Huba Kebele in Fantale Woreda, in East Shoa Zone, Oromia Region. Credit: © UNICEF/UN011590/Ayene

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 13 2017 (IPS) – More than two billion people lack access to clean and safe drinking water, according to a new report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Although significant progress to ensure access to drinking water has been achieved, there is still a long way to go to ensure its quality—deemed free from pollutants and safe for drinking.

“Clean water and sanitation is central to other outcomes, for example, nutrition among children. While many countries like India have made it a top priority, many others haven’t been able to emphasise the issue yet,” Sanjay Wijesekera, Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at UNICEF, told IPS.

As many as 400 million people still rely on distant water sources—travelling to and fro from their homes to pick it up. Some 159 million people, according to the report, rely on untreated water from lakes and streams. This puts lives, especially of young children, at great risk.

“Every day, 800 children under the age of five die from waterborne diseases like diarrhoea. In fact, diarrhoea is the second biggest cause of death in the world.” Wijesekera added.

A lack of access to clean drinking water is also bad news for hygiene and sanitary levels. In many countries, open defecation due to the lack of in-house toilets poses a significant challenge.

“The sheer indignity of openly defecating, especially among young girls, takes a toll on other aspects of their lives—such as their poor attendance in school where there aren’t toilets,” Wijesekera explained.

This is especially true in rural areas. While the global drop in open defecation from 20 to 12 percent between 2000 and 2015 is a welcome fact, the rate of decline, at just .7 percent every year, puts pressure on governments to do more. To eliminate open defecation by 2030, for example, the rate of decline has to double.

Still, some countries like Ethiopia have combatted the issue of open defecation successfully.

“In Ethiopia, the percentage has dropped from 80 to 27 percent between 2000 and 2015. Critical building blocks like stronger policies at the government levels and dutiful allocation of funds can go a long way,” Wijesekera said.

These issues—from access to safe drinking water to sanitation supplies—mostly affect the poorest families. For example, Angola, which has performed better than other sub-Saharan African countries and achieved overall basic access to water for its citizens, still shows a gap of 40 percent between people who live in urban and rural areas.

Similarly, Panama’s capital city has achieved universal access to clean drinking water, but other sub regions in the country remain marginalized.

Meanwhile, the report has drawn criticism from other NGOs for being incomplete.

“The report is a good starting point but the current data only reflects 35 percent of the global population across 92 countries. Big countries like China and India have been left out,” Al-Hassan Adam, the international coordinator at End Water Poverty, a coalition organisation that campaigns for water rights and sanitation, told IPS.

“Bigger industries have to do more to protect water resources. In countries like Mexico, water is still contaminated. In other poorer countries, infrastructure to ensure safely managed water is missing in the first place,” he added.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN strongly focus on reducing inequality between and within countries, and commit member states to “leave no one behind.”

 

Kenya arrests suspects in shooting of conservationist

World News – REUTERS| Mon Apr 24, 2017 | 10:20am EDT

Italian-born conservationist Gallmann poses for a photograph during the Highland Games in Laikipia Kenya
Italian-born conservationist Kuki Gallmann poses for a photograph during the Highland Games in Laikipia, Kenya, September 22, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer.

Kenya has arrested an unspecified number of suspects and recovered a gun linked to the shooting of Italian-born conservationist Kuki Gallmann at her conservation park over the weekend, the interior minister said on Monday.

The 73-year old author of the memoir “I Dreamed of Africa” was shot in the stomach on Sunday in her 100,000-acre (400 square km) ranch and nature conservancy in Laikipia in the north.

Gallmann was recovering in intensive care at a Nairobi hospital, where she underwent a seven-hour operation, after being airlifted from Laikipia, her family said on Monday.

“We have recovered a gun which is now undergoing ballistic tests to confirm whether it was the gun used to shoot Kuki,” Joseph Nkaissery, the interior minister, told a news conference.

He did not say how many suspects the police were holding. He described the attack on Gallmann, who was in a vehicle at the time of the attack, as an “isolated” act of banditry.

A wave of violence has hit Kenya’s drought-stricken Laikipia region in recent months. Armed cattle-herders searching for scarce grazing land have driven tens of thousands of cattle onto private farms and ranches from poor-quality communal land.

At least a dozen civilians and police officers have been killed in the violence.

Kenya dispatched its military to the area last month to help restore calm and disarm communities. The minister said the operation was going as planned.

Many residents of the area accuse local politicians of inciting the violence before elections in August. They say the men are trying to drive out voters who might oppose them and win votes by promising supporters access to private land.

(Reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Larry King)

World water day: how the poor pay more in west Africa – in pictures

The Guardian

For many people in west Africa, accessing water is a lot more complex than just turning on a tap. While wealthier communities may benefit from a relatively regular supply of clean water and adequate sanitation, people living in poorer areas are rarely connected to the subsidized network and end up paying more for a basic necessity. All photos by Tara Todras-Whitehill for WaterAid.

water1

For more photos visit