Tobias Schmitz: I wanted to have a discussion with you about the role of water in the upcoming COP 28. I believe that the host country, the United Arab Emirates, has identified three priority areas to discuss cooperation on water, i.e., restoring freshwater ecosystems, enhancing urban water resilience and boosting water resilient food systems. But before we go into that, perhaps we should start by describing your title and your role within the COP 28 process?
Ingrid Timboe: I am a senior specialist for water within the COP 28 team. I am seconded to the Presidency Programmes & Partnerships team which focuses on creating impact partnerships on themes such as energy, finance, tech & entrepreneurship, youth & education, government, food security & water, nature-based solutions & biodiversity, inclusion, gender, constituency, and fragility.
Tobias Schmitz: How is COP 28 being organized and how does water fit into this agenda?
Ingrid Timboe: So the way that they are organising it is that the UAE have a Presidency Programme that is centered around some key thematic areas and of course - similar to the way that the U.K. did for COP 26 – there will be a Water Pavilion which covers the non-State Actor side of things. Since COP 26, the Water Pavilion is a fact and we are located in the Blue Zone, and then at COP 27 Egypt really advanced the agenda further by giving water its own thematic day within the Presidency Programme. Egypt also managed to get water into the cover decision, the Sharm el Sheikh Implementation Plan. This was the first time that water has ever been mentioned in a cover decision, because as we all know, it's not in the Paris Agreement directly. The importance is really around signalling: the exact language itself is a little bit less important, but it it is sending the signal that water is a really important topic when it comes to addressing climate change.
So now with COP 28, what the UAE Presidency has done is that they are trying to have a little bit more integration in their programming. So instead of having specific days on one thematic topic, they are having days that cover multiple, interrelated items. There are no stand-alone themes other than health and finance – and even those have some related topics - but everything else in the programme is looking at synergies between different thematic topics that the UAE feels are relevant to the conversation. Thankfully, they have taken water forward as one of those. And so for example there is a dedicated day on food, agriculture and water systems, which I personally think is great. I know that there are a lot of people in our global water community who may be disappointed that we are not getting ‘our’ day, you know.
Tobias Schmitz: Well agriculture accounts for some 80% of global water use.
Ingrid Timboe: Yes, this is exactly so, I'm with you, I think it [water] needs to be integrated and especially within Food and Agriculture system given that they are the largest user of water. In the policy spheres, these two are incredibly siloed. And so I think it's really important too actually that we're bringing them together for the first time. I could talk a little bit more about what the programming that we're doing: we are building on the UN Food Systems Summit which took place in 2021, where water was not in the text. And then we had the UN 2023 Water Conference earlier this year. When you look at the water action agenda that came out of that, on the analysis that they've done so far, only 13% of the Water Action Agenda deals with food and agriculture systems and. So there's still this gap in terms of addressing these together in a holistic and integrated manner. So what we're trying to do is foster some integration, some connectivity between food and water.
So maybe we can start there and talk about that: there is a dedicated day in the Presidential Programme on Food, Agriculture and Water (on December 10th) and so we will be doing the first ever ministerial event, bringing together water and food ministers at COP 28 to talk about building water resilient food systems. This includes a call to action encouraging all countries to take integrated approaches to managing their food and water systems specifically in the context of their national climate planning, i.e. the Nationally Determined Contributions and National Adaptation Plans. We currently have a three - year time horizon until 2025 as countries will be required to update their NDC’s and NAP’s.
Tobias Schmitz: So, there will be a dedicated day for food, water and agriculture. What about the other two water related themes of COP 28, i.e. restoring freshwater ecosystems and enhancing urban water resilience?
Ingrid Timboe: Yes, on the 10th there will also be a high-level ministerial event on the protection and restoration of freshwater ecosystems. This takes forward the Freshwater Challenge which was launched at the 2023 UN Water Conference in New York in March. It was originally launched by 6 countries: Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ecuador, Mexico, and Zambia. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the World Wildlife Fund are steering this process, which aims to leverage the support needed to conserve the intact freshwater ecosystems and bring 300,000 km of rivers and 350 million hectares of wetlands under restoration by 2030. This is an initiative that comes out of COP 15 for the Convention on Biological Diversity. The current aim of this initiative is ultimately to get 30 countries to sign up for the challenge. There will be a Ministerial Roundtable at COP 28 and again, what we're really pushing on, because this is a climate summit, is the integration of these commitments into national climate plans.
Tobias Schmitz: And then of course there is the topic of urban resilience.
Ingrid Timboe: There are a lot of actors in the urban water space, but they're generally covering many different components. You’ve got the private sector, utilities and operators, you have people who are working more on policy and governance, people who are working on enabling finance, people who are working on stakeholder engagement. Then there is water and sanitation more broadly – there are so many different actors in this space. We feel like there is not a lot of coherence here, and it also is poorly accounted for within the UNFCCC ecosystem.
So, what we're trying to do with this one is take a multi-level approach: we wanted to champion something, building on initiatives that were launched earlier this year at the UN Water Conference. So, we are championing the Urban Water Catalyst Initiative (UWCI), which is looking at improving the technical and financial performance of urban water and sanitation utilities in mid-sized cities. We've got, like, the World Bank and the IFC and others that are working with like large cities on enabling finance for water resilient utilities or climate resilient utilities, but at the middle-sized city scale, nothing really exists yet. So the UWCI is led by the German and Dutch Governments, which are putting together a fund to provide both financial and technical assistance. They're going to launch their pilot phase, so they will have picked their first seven to 10 utilities and that will be unveiled at COP.
This is just focused on utilities, which is a really important entry point, but we felt like there's more that we can say about this. One of the other challenges that was identified - and this is a broader trend round the climate conferences in general – is that they are Party-led processes, which means that they are led by State Parties to the Convention. But when it comes to implementation, this requires multi-level action, which involves things like getting the finance down to the local level, getting local action scaled up, and meeting in the middle. So we will have a multi-level action day on the 6th of December bringing together various parties, and this group will operate as part of the Marrakesh Partnership for Global Climate Action.
Tobias Schmitz: I imagine for many water-related organisations, they would be posing themselves the question how best to contribute to these three big thematic areas, as well as to the Water Pavilion How best would you like to work to together with everybody to ensure an efficient and effective outcome for water in COP 28?.
Ingrid Timboe: So in terms of the draft programming, many of the initiatives we have discussed will be put on the COP 28 website this week and I would encourage everyone to engage with them. What I would want is that water is represented in conversations on Health Day. I want water to be represented on Relief, Recovery and Peace Day. I want water on Energy Day. I mean, I'm greedy and I want water on every day and so how can we integrate water into the other programmes, and similarly, integrate the other programmes into ours. So we are also working on events related to water in finance, water and energy, transboundary water issues, relief recovery and peace, water related hazards and conflict affected zones. These will not be stand-alone water events. But I honestly actually prefer that: I would like the title of the event to have nothing to do with water and yet when people attend, they realise that water is deeply implicated.
Tobias Schmitz: You mentioned that you are working together with the Netherlands and Tajikistan, so how does that work in terms of taking the Water Action Agenda forward, in view of your role in the COP 28 Presidency Programmes Team and looking also at their respective roles?
Ingrid Timboe: We have a trilateral partnership between the COP Presidency, the Netherlands, and Tadjikistan and part of the purpose of that is to provide continuity on the 2023 conference itself. And part of the thinking around that was to ensure that some of the kind of overall messaging and initiatives from the water conference are also included in the messaging that we're preparing for COP. But beyond that, I mean operationally how it works is that we meet with their teams every week. They helped to co-develop some of the Ministerial events, assisting in getting champion countries specifically for each of those and generally bringing forward those agenda. They also review all our documents andwe receive feedback from them. For instance, the Netherlands is really strong on the urban resilience component and so they've been really providing a lot of support, especially because of all the work they did around cities for the water conference.
Tobias Schmitz: What about Tajikistan and the issue of glaciers, or the cryosphere? This is a key issue for Tajikistan.
Ingrid Timboe: There is not a huge emphasis on cryosphere this year, but it did actually just get brought up this week. I was actually going to talk to them a little bit more about seeing if there's anything specific that we need to do on that. They have been helping us a lot on the water and food thematic area.
Tobias Schmitz: One thing we haven't really talked about is the Water Pavilion.
Ingrid Timboe: Well, the great thing is that will be another water pavilion this year. This is confirmed and that is really good. We are obviously also coordinating with them. And whereas in Egypt at COP 27 it was the government of Egypt which took the reins for the Water Pavilion, this time the coordination is more of a multi-stakeholder process as it was in Glasgow. And it is convenient that AGWA already sits on the Steering Committee for the Water Pavilion. People were really energized coming out of New York, and we are really trying to again for the folks that are working in the climate space, to push their initiatives forward to COP 28 through the Water Pavilion.
On the 23rd of September Ethiopia announced that it had commenced a second round of trilateral negotiations between Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which has been a source of conflict between the countries. However, this second round of negotiations ended on the 25th of September without any conclusive results. The talks follow from an agreement made in July between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to finalise an agreement on the dam within four months of dialogue, commencing in August.
On September 10th, Egypt had voiced its anger when Ethiopia announced that it had completed the filling of the hydroelectric dam, which started generating electricity in February 2022. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Facebook that “the continuation of filling the GERD’s reservoir without an agreement with the downstream countries constitutes a violation of the Declaration of Principles and a breach of legality”. Egypt and Sudan, being located downstream of the dam, fear that the dam will reduce their share of the water in the Nile River and have often requested Ethiopia to stop filling the dam until agreement is reached over the sharing of the waters of the river.
More than 90% of Egypt’s water needs are covered using water from the Nile but, so far, negotiation efforts have not led to concrete results. Last year, The Water Diplomat reported that Egypt had submitted a complaint to the UN Security Council based on its charge that Ethiopia was refusing to share its plans for the dam, which they viewed as essential for a project of this magnitude. The African Union had also attempted to facilitate an agreement between the countries in early 2022 but had been unsuccessful. At the time, the UN Security Council referred Egypt back to the African Union, stating that it was the appropriate body to deal with this issue.
"In a world often referred to as the 'blue planet,' it remains astounding that approximately 2 billion people still lack guaranteed access to safe drinking water," the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, Mr. Pedro Arrojo-Agudo said in his opening remarks at the 54th session of the Human Rights Council held recently in Geneva.
In his remarks, Mr. Arrojo-Agudo underscored the gravity of the growing global water crisis, a paradox that affects millions of people worldwide saying; “Aquatic ecosystems, such as wetlands, rivers, and lakes, play a vital role in supporting life on Earth. They have served as natural supply networks for human settlements for thousands of years, especially benefiting rural communities and indigenous peoples.”
Further, Mr. Arrojo-Agudo expressed deep concern over the degradation of these critical aquatic ecosystems, including the Pantanal, the world's largest wetland. "Climate change exacerbates this crisis, leading to droughts and floods," he noted. "Legal and illegal mining activities introduce heavy metals and toxins, polluting aquatic ecosystems worldwide and endangering the health of millions."
To address these challenges, the Special Rapporteur proposed initiating international discussions to categorize actions leading to massive pollution as crimes against humanity and regulating ecocide. He also highlighted the devastating effects of biological pollution, driven by unsustainable irrigation and pesticide use, leaving millions without drinking water and damaging vital aquifers.
Among the contentious topics that took centre stage, Japan's decision to discharge nuclear-contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station into the ocean dominated discussions, sparking global concern. Japan defended its decision, asserting its adherence to international safety standards and cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Japan’s representative Mr. Shiota Takahiro emphasized transparency, stating, "We believe in sharing real-time data with the international community, and we urge discussions based on scientific evidence."
However, scepticism loomed large. China voiced doubts, with Mr. Chen Xu, its representative stating, "Japan has not convincingly proven the legitimacy and safety of its discharge decision." The Republic of Korea raised questions about Japan's priorities, stating, "Japan appears more focused on its nuclear and missile program than on improving human rights."
Amidst the Japan-centred debate, Armenia brought attention to another pressing issue. They voiced concerns over electricity and gas disruptions in Nagorno-Karabakh, caused by the release of water from the Sarsang Reservoir. "This poses environmental risks and affects local livelihoods," warned the Armenian representative.
Concurrently, Azerbaijan which faces ongoing pollution of rivers due to actions by neighbouring Armenia, highlighted the critical issue of transboundary water pollution. Ms. Dilara Abdullayeva, called for accountability and urged international institutions to address these harmful actions. She emphasized that Armenia's allegations against Azerbaijan are groundless and aimed at covering up its wrongdoings highlighting Armenia's denial of responsibility for aggression and mass atrocities and criticized Armenia's treatment of Azerbaijani servicemen.
Additionally, the State of Palestine addressed the issue of water colonization and stressed that water rights cannot be compromised. Ms. Riham Barghouthi raised concerns about the abuse of rights of reply to stifle debate and silence inconvenient truths saying; "Water colonization can never be justified."
In the same vein, over 70 nations’ representatives echoed the sentiment that factors such as race, ethnicity, or language should never be barriers to enforcing regulations and laws regarding safe drinking water. This was seen as an important step in ensuring equitable access to this fundamental right for all.
Hungary emphasized its commitment to the fundamental human right to safe drinking water, recognizing that access to clean water is crucial for maintaining peace while India showcased its progress in providing access to drinking water and sanitation for all its citizens and its efforts to combat groundwater pollution and protect the environment.
Vietnam, acutely aware of climate change's impact on water resources, sought advice on innovative climate-resilient technologies. Mr. Cung Duc Han showcased their progress in improving water access for their citizens, emphasizing the importance of safe water and sanitation for health, resilience, and prosperity.
UNESCO, as a custodian of knowledge and science, highlighted the critical role of science and data in addressing water-related challenges. They emphasized the importance of open science and its contribution to climate resilience and adaptation.
In this multi-faceted dialogue, the importance of upholding human rights, including the right to access safe drinking water and sanitation, was evident. Constructive dialogue emerged as a crucial tool for addressing complex international issues and fostering cooperation among nations to tackle global challenges head-on.
Developing countries emphasized the importance of technological assistance to maximize water efficiency and reliability, especially for regions facing water scarcity. They also highlighted the detrimental impact of sanctions on their water and sanitation sectors, calling for a more comprehensive and humanitarian approach.
The Rhône River, which originates in the Swiss Alps upstream of Lake Leman (colloquially: Lake Geneva), has again become the subject of negotiations between Switzerland and France against the background of recent drought and water shortages in France. Importantly, the water of the Rhône is used to cool 14 of the 56 nuclear reactors providing France with electrical power.
In July this year, Électricité de France (EDF) announced a reduction in electricity production at two nuclear power plants as the high temperature of the river water set in earlier than is usual in the summer months. The water is used to cool the 3.6 GW Bugey and the 2.6 GW Saint Alban nuclear power, and EDF announced in mid-July that the hot weather was likely to halve the available power supply. The water is used to cool the reactors, and the water is returned to the river at higher temperatures, but the temperature increase needs to be limited in order to avoid damage to wildlife in the waters. The maximum river temperature for the operation of the Bugey plant is 26 °C, while that at the St. Alban plans is 28°C.
In March, an audit report highlighted issues related to the safety of French nuclear power plants as a result of the increased variability in river flow and temperature caused by climate change. The report states that the French nuclear fleet, which currently comprises 56 reactors located in 18 power plants, will be faced with challenges posed by climate change. At the same time, the ageing fleet will need to be replaced in a managed transition over the coming decades.
In March, a study by the French water agency warned that as a result of climate change, the level of the Rhone River could be lowered by up to 20% over the next three decades, and in certain tributaries such as the Isère and the Drôme, the reduction could amount to between 30% and 40%. Currently the summer demand on the Rhone does not exceed 15%. Nevertheless, in the medium term, it is envisaged that the Rhone is no longer going to be an inexhaustible resource. More importantly perhaps in the short term, the legal limits placed on the temperature of the water used to cool the nuclear reactors at the point of release into the river will force reduction in power production. Additionally, at the river mouth, the progressive ingress of salt water upstream in dry months could cause damage to crops and riparian vegetation.
Under pressure from France to open discussions, Switzerland announced that it was prepared to enter into negotiations on a Franco-Swiss treaty on the joint management of the Rhône. A primary concern is to set up consultations in response to the crossing of defined limits in the flow of the river. Both Countries are already parties to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), otherwise known as the Helsinki Convention. This framework convention nevertheless requires more detailed river basin agreements to be negotiated which are specific to the local conditions.
Water in Armed Conflict and other situations of violence
On the 11th of September the President of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader suspended visas for Haitians and threatened to close the border between the two countries following a water conflict between the two countries. By the 18th of September the Dominican Republic indeed shut all land and sea borders with Haïti. This follows reports that Haiti was planning to construct a canal that would divert water from the Dajábon River in order to alleviate the consequences of a drought on Haïti’s Maribaroux Plain. The initiative to construct the canal is spearheaded by local groups which have formed a collective to enable the irrigation of some 3000 hectares of land, reportedly also in a reaction to a sentiment that Haïtian government has been unresponsive to their needs.
The Dajábon River, shared by the two countries, rises in the Central Cordillera – the highest mountain range in the Dominican Republic – and it forms the northern part of the border between Haïti and the Dominican Republic. The two countries are bound by a treaty which commits them to discuss issues related to the use of the Dajábon and Pedernales Rivers, to which both countries are riparian.
The treaty, known as the Tratado de Paz, Amistad y Arbitraje (Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Arbitration) is a general accord outlining the friendship and peaceful relations between the two countries. It has existed for almost a century: it was signed by the Dominican Republic and the Republic of Haiti on Feb. 20, 1929. On the topic of water, Article 10 establishes that “because rivers and other watercourses arise in the territory of one State and flow through the territory of the other or serve as boundaries between the two States, both High Contracting Parties undertake not to carry out or consent to any work likely to change the stream of those or altering the product of their sources”. The article further states that the provision may not be interpreted in the sense of depriving either of the two States of the right to use, in a fair and equitable manner, within the limits of their respective territories, said rivers and other water courses for the irrigation of the lands and other agricultural and industrial purposes.
In 2021, investors and landowners in Haïti decided to build a canal which would divert water from the Dajábon River, resulting in opposition from the Dominican Republic, where it was feared that the canal would take 100% of the water from the river. Following political pressure from the Dominican Republic, the project was shelved, but the plans to construct the canal have now reemerged, leading to renewed tensions between the two countries. The government of Haïti nevertheless announced that it would continue to build the canal in spite of the measures taken by the Dominican Republic.
On the 21st of September, President Abinader spoke before the 78th United Nations General Assembly to defend the measures his government has taken against its neighbour. In parallel, the UN expert on Haiti, William O’Neill, urged the government to reconsider the closure of the border, stating that the border closure would have serious impacts on people on both sides of the border and that directors of medical clinics in Haïti had informed him that the border closure would negatively impact upon their ability to treat patients.
Libyans, divided and ruled by two rival governments since 2014, have united briefly in response to the disaster caused by storm Daniel in early September. The storm produced 8 months of rain in 24 hours and led to the collapse of two dams, resulting in a wall of water rushing through the city of Derna in the early morning of the 11th of September, creating Africa’s deadliest flood on record.
According to Asma Khalifa, research fellow at the German Institute for Global and Area Studies, and as reported by Al Jazeera, political instability in Libya has played a role in the disaster. The east of Libya has suffered historical negligence which is part of the grievances currently held in this region against the government in Tripoli. Budgets allocated for dam maintenance have not been used to stabilize the structures, and locals have in the past voiced concerns about dam safety. According to the website of a Turkish company, Arsel Construction Company Limited, the company was awarded a contract to maintain the dams in 2007, and the project was completed in 2012. However, a report by a Libyan state-run audit agency in 2021 stated that the two dams had not been maintained despite the allocation of 2,3 million U.S. $ towards this aim.
Another factor in the disaster is the impact of climate change. The storm had already caused damage before reaching Libya: on the 4th of September, a strong Mediterranean storm system developed over Greece - and was named Daniel by the Greek Meteorological Services - causing catastrophic floods across Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. In July, the Mediterranean Sea had reached its highest recorded temperature of 28.71°C, beating its previous record measured in 2023 of 28.25°C. The higher temperatures are associated with the development of powerful storms, bordering on the strength of hurricanes, which have recently been termed ‘Medicanes’. In a study from 2022, higher temperatures in the Mediterranean, which is highly vulnerable to climate change, had already been associated with higher mortality death rates. But the death toll from storm Daniel was exceptional, listing among the 20 most deadly floods worldwide and the deadliest on the African continent since 1900 .
By the 10th of September, the storm struck the north-eastern coast of Libya, creating catastrophic conditions that led to the loss of an estimated 5,300 human lives and approximately 9,800 persons still missing. According to an update by the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) on the 13th of September, 1.6 million people were exposed to the storm, which has led to some 13,000 casualties and 21,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). The storm resulted in 284 education facilities and 128 health care facilities being flooded.
The storm reached its peak on the 10th of September, with torrential rains flooding cities, especially the city of Derma, which suffered thousands of deaths. According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), Libya’s National Meteorological Centre issued early warnings for this extreme weather event 72 hours in advance, notifying government authorities and urging them to take preventive measures. However, residents in Derna were not clearly warned or urged to evacuate the city and were taken by surprise by the extreme events.
Derna was severely impacted: a quarter of the city, with an esti,ated population of population of 90,000-100,000, straddles the Wadi Derna – a seasonal river – was completely destroyed by a powerful, 7 metre-high wave of water that was released when two dams along the Wadi Derna collapsed under the force of the water. The Wadi Derna rises in the Jebel Akhdar mountains and is some 60 km long, flowing in an easterly direction to the town of Derna, where it flows into the Mediterranean. The two dams – the Derna dam and the Mansour dam – had a joint capacity of 19.5 million m³ and there were concerns about the flood risk of the dams: CNN highlighted a research paper from 2022 which warned that the basin was exposed to flood risk and had suffered from five deadly floods since 1942. The dams were built in the 1970’s and were in need of maintenance since 2002. Since the floods, concerns have been voiced over the safety of two more dams: the Jaza dam between Darna and Benghazi, and the Qattara dam near Benghazi. However, officials have reported that they are confident that these dams are safe.
Although most road infrastructure into the city was impassable as a result of the storm, one road remained usable and has been the main artery through which local humanitarian aid is being transported. More than 100 volunteers from the western side of Libya drove to the eastern city of Derma to provide support in the relief efforts. Ministers from the Tripoli-based government visited the eastern city of Benghazi as well as Derna on the 13th and 14th of September to assess the damage. The Libyan Red Crescent was among the first responders, supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In addition, humanitarian and military aid has been provided by Algeria, Egypt, France, Iran, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Palestine, Qatar, Turkey the UAE, the United Kingdom, the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union. The United Nations provided prepositioned aid through the World Health Organisation and has appealed to donors for U.S. $ 71 million to support relief efforts.
In an article published in the journal Nature this month, researchers have noted that human settlements are expanding into hazardous flood zones faster than in safe areas. The researchers analysed statistics on urban settlement patterns between 1985 and 2015 and compared this to the evolution of flood exposure of settlements over time.
The paper shows that urban settlements grew by 85% in the 30-year period to a total surface area of 1.28 million km². By contrast, settlement in areas exposed to high flood risk grew by 122%, indicating that high-risk settlement grew 60% faster than safe settlement. The researchers argue that despite the increased exposure to extreme weather events, countries and urban areas are not sufficiently adapting to climate change but, on the contrary, increasing the exposure to flood hazards.
The study made use of a combination of high resolution global flood hazard data produced by Fathom and the World Settlement Footprint Evolution data produced by the German Aerospace Centre. By combining these data sets, the researchers were able to track both the speed and the shape of urban expansion from small rural settlements through to large urban conglomerations. They showed that urban settlements covered 693,000 km² in 1985 and covered 128,000,000 km² in 2015. There was however a disproportionate degree of settlement in high-risk areas.
It is only recently that high-resolution flood hazard maps and settlement footprint data has become available, suggesting that this information needs to be systematically integrated into urban planning systems. Previous estimated of flood risk exposure have been made, but these studies were not sufficiently detailed either in their spatial resolution or had large time gaps between observations. The continuously evolving urban shapes need to be tracked accurately and regularly in order to mitigate flood risk.
There is some evidence from case studies of the dynamics that underlie settlement in these areas: when safe spaces are already occupied, the researchers argue, new developments can occur disproportionately in riverbeds, on flood plains and in wetlands. In making settlement decisions, there is a trade off to be made between market accessibility and potential on the one hand, and risk exposure on the other hand. In addition, information on these risks may be lacking, the market cost of this new land may not reflect the associated risks, and people may have a bias towards locating in areas close to the water.
This dynamic appears to be especially prominent in Asia. Evidence from India shows that low income rural-urban migrants arriving in Mumbai are faced with high density settlements and large price differences between areas, forcing new arrivals into previously avoided areas. Similarly in Ho Chi Minh city, informal, poor settlements are systematically exposed to higher flood risks than the rest of the city.
The quality of the Maas / Meuse River, shared by France, Belgium and the Netherlands has deteriorated further due to the discharge of harmful chemicals. Over the past year, concentrations above the permitted levels have been measured for 79 substances. In 11% of all measurements of water quality along the river, pollution levels were found that were above the maximum set by European norms. This led to a total of 62 halts on the intake of water for treatment for drinking water during 2022. In addition, the river's flow has declined because of climate change, resulting in less dilution of the harmful chemicals. These are the key messages of the recently published annual report produced by RIWA, the Association of River Water Companies for the Maas / Meuse. The utilities which are united in RIWA use the water of the Maas / Meuse River as a source of drinking water for some 7 million customers across Belgium and the Netherlands.
In their 2022 annual report they are requesting more transparency about the indirect and direct discharge permits issued to companies. To adequately perform their task of protecting water quality, they state, it is essential to be able to identify the harmful substances that end up in the water, as well as to know where exactly they are being discharged. They are requesting a complete overview of all direct and indirect discharge permits. They would like substances that are harmful to drinking water supplies to be included in discharge permits in permits, and when new permits are issued (or old permits are revised) they would like a baseline measurement to be conducted to get a complete picture of the harmfulness of the discharge.
As an example, the RIWA points to the per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals used to make coatings and products that resist heat, oil, grease, stains, and water. RIWA states that PFAS chemicals are appearing in the environment and are harmful to health even in small quantities, having a negative effect on the immune system and having carcinogenic properties (I.e., can cause certain types of cancer). Therefore, RIWA has been advocating for PFAS discharges to be reduced to zero for years to be reduced to zero.
In February this year, five European countries (Denmark, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands) submittedthe EU PFAS Restriction Proposal, which seeks to ban the use and manufacture of all PFAS chemicals. This proposed ban has, however, met with stiff industry resistance, as reported in the Water Diplomat.
Maarten van der Ploeg, director of RIWA-Maas, speaking to BNR news radio, seesthe decline in water quality as a kind of mirror of our society. In his opinion, we need to stop viewing our surface water as a kind of sewage drain, and the quality of our water deserves just as much attention as floods and drought.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is playing a key role internationally in monitoring and sharing the data related to the release of pre-treated water from storage facilities at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has requested the assistance of the IAEA with regard to the controlled release of ALPS-treated water into the sea from the power station. The release of wastewater and the risk of its contamination by radionuclides has drawn international attention and sparked concerns over its environmental impact and safety. Grossi remarked, "The controlled release of treated water from Fukushima Daiichi is a complex issue that requires careful monitoring to ensure its safety and minimize its impact on the environment. The IAEA is actively involved in overseeing this process."
The IAEA has played a critical role in monitoring the Fukushima water release, ensuring that it complies with international safety standards. Independent sampling and monitoring have confirmed that tritium levels in the discharged water are below Japan's operational limit, alleviating some safety concerns.
Amidst these developments, China has vehemently opposed Japan's actions, particularly the discharge of treated radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. In response to the Fukushima water release, China imposed a blanket ban on Japanese seafood imports, further straining bilateral relations.
The rising tensions between Japan and China over this issue have had diplomatic repercussions. Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida did not hold sit-down talks on the fringes of Association of Southeast Asian Nations-related summits in Jakarta last month, opting for only an informal chat. China has effectively rejected a visit by Natsuo Yamaguchi, chief of Japan's Komeito party, known for its friendly ties with Beijing.
Moreover, senior Chinese military officers had planned a visit to Japan, part of reciprocal visits between the two nations' defense officers, which had restarted in July after a four-year suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, the trip has been postponed, seemingly due to the dispute over the Fukushima water release. The rescheduled visit is unlikely to take place by the end of the year, indicating the depth of the disagreement between the two Asian powers.
China's opposition to the Fukushima water release remains a contentious issue, with Japan emphasizing the safety, transparency, and science-based nature of its actions. Meanwhile, the IAEA continues to closely monitor the situation, ensuring that international safety standards are upheld.
In response to these concerns, Japan has been proactive in collaborating with international partners and neighboring countries. Japan and South Korea have been cooperating in monitoring the Fukushima water release closely. The IAEA has been involved in the assessment of the water release. The agency concluded that, if carried out precisely as planned, it would have a negligible impact on the environment, marine life, and human health.
However, the Fukushima water release is not the only nuclear concern on the international stage. The Director General of the IAEA reiterated his support for nuclear safety and security in Ukraine, where the situation at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant remains highly precarious. The IAEA has conducted 53 missions in Ukraine, including visits to all five nuclear sites. Recent increased military activity near the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant has raised concerns about potential risks to nuclear safety and security.
The Urban Water Catalyst Initiative (UWCI), an initiative announced at the UN 2023 Water Conference in New York in March this year, is on the point of supporting its first utilities. The initiative, spearheaded by the German government and supported by the government of the Netherlands, seeks to be a ‘game changer’ in financing a water secure and climate resilient future. As the name suggests, the initiative has an urban focus and more specifically, a focus on medium sized urban utilities in low- and middle-income countries.
The UWCI will focus on improving both the financial and the technical performance of utilities through an integrated support package which consists of technical support, operational finance and financing for infrastructure development. The key focus for infrastructure development will be both on providing services to un(der)served communities and on developing climate resilient infrastructure.
The UWCI rests on five core principles for implementation. First, reform will be needed, and utilities need to demonstrate their willingness to set goals and provide the leadership needed to make these changes towards increased service coverage and climate resilience. Secondly, the process will be competitive and will require the utilities to provide argumentation around the changes that they intend to make. This willingness to persuade is seen as a condition of entry. Third, the partnership is to be institutional rather than project based: rather than a short-term project focusing on new infrastructure development, the focus is also intended to be on optimization of existing operational efficiency by reducing ‘non-revenue water’: water lost in the system or deliveries of water that are not billed to the consumer. Fourth, if utilities are helped to improve their cost recovery (by far the most utilities in low-and middle-income countries operate at a loss), refinancing their debts and other mechanisms become easier on the local capital market. And lastly, technical support is to be integrated with financial support and will operate on the same, harmonized, planning and budget cycle, reducing complexities for the utility in question.
The United Kingdom, known for its ample rainfall, is grappling with a water crisis that threatens its essential water supply services. Multiple articles highlight the precarious state of the UK's privatized water industry, with a specific focus on Thames Water, the primary supplier to over a fifth of the UK's population.
In 1989, the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher privatized England and Wales' water and sewerage industry with the intention of modernizing infrastructure and meeting stringent environmental standards. However, recent developments have raised questions about the industry's financial stability and performance.
Thames Water, responsible for providing water to 15 million residents in London and the southeast, is facing a significant financial hurdle. The company recently incurred a £3.3 million fine for a 2017 river pollution incident. In an effort to secure its future, Thames Water sought £1 billion in additional funding from investors, including a Canadian pension fund and sovereign wealth funds from China and Abu Dhabi. Despite a previous £500 million investment in March, investor confidence waned.
Sarah Bentley, the former CEO of Thames Water, stated, "Our turnaround plan requires substantial funding, but investor confidence has waned."
Thames Water's difficulties shine a spotlight on broader issues within the water industry. Ofwat, the industry's regulator, expressed concerns about the financial health of eight out of 17 regulated water utilities in England and Wales. These concerns have arisen due to insufficient investment, mounting debt, and subpar service delivery.
David Black, CEO of Ofwat, emphasized the gravity of the situation: "The water sector is clearly facing severe financial challenges. Urgent action is needed."
Since privatization, water companies in England and Wales have distributed £75 billion in dividends, primarily funded through borrowing. Debt levels have surged past £60 billion, with minimal new capital infusion from shareholders. Consumers have shouldered the burden, facing bill increases of approximately 40% after adjusting for inflation.
David Hall, a visiting professor at the Public Services International Research Unit, pointed out, "Money has been taken out, not put in. Virtually every year since privatization, there has been no injection of extra capital by shareholders."
The UK's water industry confronts substantial challenges. It needs to invest £56 billion by 2050 to modernize infrastructure and address sewage spillages, which exceeded 300,000 incidents last year. Escalating interest rates and inflation-linked debt have added to financial pressures.
Iain Coucher, Chairman of Ofwat, expressed concerns about bill impacts: "The sheer volume of work required in the next five years and beyond is enormous. We are deeply concerned about its effect on bills."
The outlook for Thames Water remains uncertain. Emergency government discussions have taken place, and credit rating agencies have placed the company's debt on negative watch. If the company fails to secure funding, it may enter a special administration regime to protect customer services while the government seeks a buyer.
Experts are calling for a reconsideration of the water industry's ownership structure. The idea of public ownership, similar to the rail network, is gaining traction. Privatizing the entire water system, a unique experiment in the UK, is being questioned as the crisis deepens.
Dieter Helm, a professor of economic policy at the University of Oxford, summarized the situation: "The UK water sector is clearly in a state of multiple crises. Widespread financial engineering has left the industry in a precarious position."
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a U.S. $200 million loan for flood and riverbank erosion risk management in Assam, India, along the main channel of the Brahmaputra River. The new loan effectively extends the work of the Assam Integrated Flood and Riverbank Erosion Risk Management Investment Program (AIFRERMIP) which has been in operation since 2010, financed by the ADB. The programme has in the past focused on the improvement of key infrastructure for flood and erosion management such as the improvement and rehabilitation of embankments, other forms of riverbank protection and the execution of flood proofing works in high priority areas.
In the next phase, the investments in flood and riverbank erosion risk management will continue by enabling the stabilization of some 60 km of riverbanks and installing 32 km of siltation measures. In addition, it will contribute to employment generation and the protection of communities by building 4 km of climate-resilient flood embankments in five high-priority districts (Dibrugarh, Goalpara , Kamrup Rural, Morigaon, and Tinsukia). The investments will also go towards advancing the region’s flood forecasting and warning systems, including by means of a range of tools including surveys, modeling the behaviour of the embankment, managing existing assets, and conducting flood risk mapping.
Riverbank erosion is a major source of risk along the lower Brahmaputra River, causing the erosion of productive lands and the loss of productive infrastructure. In many instances livelihoods have been affected and people have been internally displaced by flooding.
On the 27th of September the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) ordered the State of Karnataka to release 85 m³ of water per second to downstream Tamil Nadu for 18 days, starting from September 28. This decision is the latest development in a water dispute between Indian federal states that dates back more than a century, when both Mysore (now Karnataka) and Madras (now Tamil Nadu) proposed using the water of the Cauvery River for respectively dam construction and irrigation development. According to a colonial era agreement from 1924, what is now Tamil Nadu – along with Puducherry - would receive 75% of the allocation from the river, while 23% would be allocated to what is now Karnataka State.
Tamil Nadu had originally applied to the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee for an allocation of 679 m³/second, which was subsequently lowered to 85 m³/sec. Karnataka State had argued for its part that their dams had experiences shortfalls in water inflow of more than 53% of the average following a weak monsoon. When the CWMA announced its decision, Karataka adhered to the terms of the release as stipulated by the CWMA but took the matter to the Supreme Court of India for review. However, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the CWMA, arguing that the latter is a specialist body which was better placed to make such decisions
Stated In 1990, the Government of India constituted the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal to adjudicate upon the allocation of the water of the Cauvery River between the three Indian states of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu as well as the Union territory of Puducherry. The Cauvery River flows through southern India and is primarily used for irrigation.
Flooding hit southern China again in September. On September 8, heavy rains hit Hong Kong and southern China. Over 600 mm of rain fell overnight, representing a quarter of the city's average annual rainfall. The Hong Kong Observatory said it had recorded 158.1 millimeters (6.2 inches) of rain in an hour, the highest one-hour record since records began in 1884. The rains flooded the city and some subway stations, leading to the evacuation of hundreds of people and two reported deaths in Hong Kong. The extreme weather conditions, expected to last at least a day, finally held off. Widespread flooding and serious disruption to traffic and transport. For a further four days, the country experienced days of incessant rain. These were caused by the remnants of the former typhoon Haiku, which had hit southern China eight days earlier.
It was later downgraded to a tropical storm, but incessant rain continues to inundate southwestern Guangxi. The rains have caused over 100 landslides, trapped around 1,360 residents in floodwaters and killed at least seven people in southern China, according to official media reports. Three days of incessant storms were also recorded. As a result, 115 landslides destroyed roads, uprooted trees and caused flooding. In mid-September, three people were still missing. Further south, near the coast, the city of Beihai was flooded by widespread downpours. Rescuers were seen walking up to their thighs in waterlogged areas to evacuate residents aboard boats. Some 1,360 people were stranded, observed local media. More than 101 mm (4 inches) of rain fell over a three-hour period on September 12. Authorities warned of the risk of flash floods, geological disasters and waterlogging in urban and rural areas. The city of Haikui was devastated. The same is true of the populous city of Shenzhen. According to the authorities, this was the heaviest rainfall since 1952. The neighboring city of Hong Kong was also hit by the worst storm 140 years ago.
Scientists also warn that the typhoons hitting China are becoming increasingly intense and their paths more complex, increasing the risk of disaster even in coastal cities like Shenzhen. Cities that already have solid flood defense capabilities.
Concerns over food security
Today, however, food security is the main concern. A record summer of rainfall and flooding has submerged furrows and destroyed crops. Last month, flood waters destroyed 220,000 and 105,000 acres of crops respectively. Earlier this summer, extreme rainfall reportedly affected up to 30 million tons of grain in Henan province, a region widely referred to as China's breadbasket. China's leaders have long wondered how to feed the country's large population (nearly a fifth of the world's population) when it is home to just 9% of the planet's arable land. Food shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have sparked unrest in the cities. "Food security is a very important concern for the Chinese government. Most ancient Chinese dynasties were toppled by an uprising of farmers due to extreme weather conditions that caused famine or food crises," said Zongyuan Zoe Liu, international political economist at the Council on Foreign Relations.
One of the world's largest waterways, the Panama Canal is currently experiencing its lowest water levels in history, according to data from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Experts attribute the extreme drought to the El Niño climate phenomenon. This phenomenon causes the Pacific jet stream to move southwards and spread eastwards during the winter season, bringing heavy rainfall to South America. However, the summer season is also getting longer. As a result, the southern United States, as well as Panama and other neighboring regions, are currently experiencing exceptional drought conditions. Temperature changes in the region have also caused the waters of the Panama Canal to decline. Temperatures were slightly above average in recent weeks, fluctuating between 29°C and 32°C.
"The El Niño phenomenon has been very severe this year. We have warm temperatures simultaneously in the Pacific and the Atlantic," Panama Canal Authority head Ricaurte Vasquez told reporters on September 13. It was at this time that the canal began restricting vessel draught and allowing daily passage. This year, these measures were carried out earlier than usual to save water, triggering a backlog of ships awaiting passage on the world's main transoceanic route. The fragility of world trade is thus revealed. Up to 32 ships are currently authorized to transit each day, compared to 36 ships under normal conditions. Vessel draught was also limited earlier this year to a maximum of 44 feet, compared with 50 feet. Vasquez said that although this is not the worst drought Panama has ever experienced, it could be a very long one, with serious consequences for the global economy. Water levels in Lake Gatún, which feeds the waterway, were at 24.2 meters (79.7 feet) last week, compared with 26.6 meters for the month of September in recent years. If the drought continues beyond 12 months, the canal could be forced to modify its weather modeling, which could trigger further restrictions, Vasquez added.
Suspension of activities?
Could the Canal suspend its operations? "We don't think the Canal will suspend operations," he said. He has however been cited as saying that they should continue to restrict shipping traffic through the canal until 2024. It should be noted that water levels in Lake Gatún, which feeds the waterway, were at 24.2 meters at the beginning of September, down from 26.6 meters in September of recent years. Are there alternatives in sight? Since 2020, the Canal has been implementing the Water Program, an initiative that includes the identification and execution of a series of projects that would guarantee the availability of water to supply the population's consumption and ensure the waterway's operation for the next 50 years. Technical solutions within the jurisdiction of the Panama Canal are not sufficient to meet the growing demand for human consumption and transit. There are, however, external solutions which are not part of the Panama Canal watershed, and which have already been studied as long-term solutions. There is a project for additional reservoirs that would require a change in legislation and should be submitted to Congress.
It could be opened to tenders next year. This is not the first time that climate change has had an impact on global trade. European countries faced similar challenges last year, with key canals drying up, disrupting global trade and affecting economies around the world. Similar to the Panama Canal, this time last year the Rhine became impassable due to record temperatures caused by climate change, raising concerns for European trade. Similarly, Italy's longest river, the Po, faced extreme drought in May 2022, for the same reasons.
It’s cool and breezy by the shores of Lake Wamala, an almost 100-square mile freshwater body a few hours’ drive from Kampala, the Ugandan capital. It’s a home for dozens of birds and fish species, including tilapia, catfish, lungfish, and mudfish, which are sold on the local market. But to the people of Buganda Kingdom in central Uganda, this lake is not just a source of livelihood and recreation: In fact, Lake Wamala is magical. One story goes that Lake Wamala is the son of a local woman named Wamala, who “was walking when her water suddenly broke and poured there,” said Beth Timmers, a social scientist who recorded stories by fishmongers about the spiritual significance of the lake. “Just like that, the water flowed, and the lake grew in size. That is the story of Wamala: it was simply born. “Even the government does not have control over it because it is the lake of a spirit,” she was reportedly told by one fisherman at one of the landing sites of this lake in Mityana District.
According to another legend, the lake immortalizes Wamala, the last king of the vast and powerful Chwezi Dynasty, which existed over 1,000 years ago and comprised present-day Uganda, western Kenya, northern Tanzania, eastern DR Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi, said Yasin Bbira, the Mityana District Natural Resources Officer. Today, the many shrines around the lake are a testament to these beliefs. Locals pray to the spirits dwelling in this lake for life, love, health, and wealth. According to Sammy Nsereko, the headteacher of Mityana secondary school, religious leaders in Buganda passed down these legends to ensure that the people valued the lakes and other resources.
For a long time, it worked. But today, Lake Wamala’s divine status is no longer enough to protect it from the impacts of environmental destruction. In East Africa, a region endowed with abundant freshwater resources, Lake Wamala is just one of many lakes that are in danger of drying up – putting at risk the millions of people who depend on water and fish across the region.
How did this happen, and can the lakes be saved?
In East Africa, the fisheries sector has long been the source of livelihood for millions. It has also been crucial for proper nutrition, food security, and a source of employment and income. The fishery sector’s contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for different East Africa Countries is enormous. For example, data from the Fisheries Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) indicate that 2018 exports of fish and fish products for Tanzania were worth USD 206.9 million; USD 29.4 million for Kenya; USD 1.4 million for Rwanda; USD 171.7 million for Uganda; and USD 11,000 for Burundi. With such a contribution to employment generation and GDP, the sector supports East Africa countries in achieving SDG Goal 8 (decent work and economic growth) and SDG Goal 1 (end poverty in all its forms). Also, with millions depending on fish for food, the sector significantly influences the attainment of SDG Goal 2 (zero hunger). However, the fishery sector is currently shrouded in uncertainty as pollution, the effect of dangerous human activities on the environment, and climate change threaten water bodies, especially the freshwater lakes, which are the most significant source of fish in East Africa.
Under chapter 19, Article 111 of the East African Community Treaty , Partner States agree to take concerted measures to foster co-operation in the joint and efficient management and the sustainable utilisation of natural resources like water bodies within the region for the mutual benefit of the Partner States.
The Dark Side Of Uganda's First Oil
Lake Albert is Uganda’s second-largest lake, a source of livelihood for thousands of fishing communities in Uganda and the neighboring DRC. The Lake is part of the Nile River, a crucial water source for millions of people in east and northeast Africa. Residents in areas around this lake say fish populations have reduced. “We have for years known that during the rainy season, flooding is related to plenty of fish. This, however, has changed. The catch is too poor these days,” observes William Bamuturaki, a resident and chairman of Kiyere Village in Buliisa District, which lies on the shores of Lake Albert.
Historical data shows that before the 1990s, larger fish species were dominant in Lake Albert. However, between 2010 to 2015, fish brought ashore per boat declined by almost 30 percent. The main reasons for this decline include the growing fisher population, illegal fishing equipment, weak enforcement, increasing demand, improved access to domestic and Congolese markets, and unrestricted access to fish.
Lake Albert is part of the oil-rich Albertine graben in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Uganda has discovered an estimated 6.5 billion barrels of oil, of which 1.4 billion are considered recoverable, and plans to commence commercial oil production are underway. Experts, however, have warned that once oil production activities begin, threats such as oil spills and construction will become contributing factors to the declining biodiversity of the lake ecosystem. Albertine graben residents like Alice Kazimura, the Executive Director of Kakindo Integrated Women Development Agency (KAWIDA), an Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Buliisa district, fear that since many oil wells are near the lake, oil activities will worsen fish scarcity in Lake Albert. Alice Kazimura, the Executive Director of Kakindo Integrated Women Development Agency, states: “We keep wondering why fish have reduced when oil activities are in high gear. They keep telling us that fish has reduced because of poor fishing methods, but these methods are what we have used for ages without the fish becoming scarce.” She says that because many oil wells are near the lake, residents suspect the oil activities are the culprit for fish loss. She and other residents speculate that oil might have already spilled into the lake during the construction of drilling sites. “We keep wondering why fish have reduced when oil activities are in high gear,” Kazimura tells InfoNile. “They keep telling us that fish has reduced because of poor fishing methods, but these methods are what we have used for ages without the fish becoming scarce.”
On March 29th, 2020, a blowout occurred at a geothermal exploration site in Kibiro Village of Hoima District. Residents feared this could be an oil spill, one of the worst accidents that could happen in oil-rich areas.The incident sparked discussion on whether Uganda is adequately prepared to handle oil spills it may face with the coming oil development. The Kibiro geothermal exploration site, like Uganda’s oil deposits, is located in the Albertine graben along Lake Albert’s shoreline. In a press release more than two weeks after the incident, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, one of Uganda’s governmental bodies, downplays the possibility that this incident was an oil spill based on the composition of the discharge, cited as mostly sand, water and clay.
“Whereas what happened in Kibiro is almost similar to what happens during an oil spill incident, it may be erroneous to dub the incident an oil spill,” Secretary Robert Kasande clarifies in the press release. An Inter-Ministerial Task Force investigating the incident, however, observed that water reeds along the lakeshore had black deposits resembling crude oil that extended kilometres away.