I’m Eileen Wray-McCann, for Circle of Blue, and here’s What’s Up
with Water, your “need-to-know news” of the world’s water.
The majority of Earth’s fastest-growing cities face critical disruption
from climate change. That’s according to a risk analysis released last
week. Researchers at the global risk and strategic consulting firm
Verisk Maplecroft found that 84 of the 100 fastest-growing
cities are at “extreme risk” over the next 30 years, due to the effects
of a warming world. One analyst warned that weather hazards and
rising sea levels could “underpin a whole host of secondary impacts
and social issues” such as poverty, violence, migration, and resource
Verisk Maplecroft used its own index of climate change
vulnerability and the United Nations projections for urban population
growth. It found that rapid population growth “multiplied risk in lower-
income cities with poor public infrastructure and inadequate disaster
response mechanisms.”
About three quarters of the fastest-growing cities are in Africa, and
include 15 of the continent’s capital cities and many of its commercial
hubs. Kinshasa, for example, has a population of about
13 million people. By 2035, that number is expected to double.
The head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Mami Mizutori, told Reuters news service that rapid
and spontaneous urbanization, such as slums, increases the risk of
disaster in many developing cities.
She said that local authorities should prevent informal settlements in
dangerous areas of cities, while giving aid to those struggling in the
rural areas, so they don’t have to leave their farms and seek work in
the cities.
“Unless we tackle the development issue as a whole,” she said, “the
urbanization that is becoming a risk driver is not going to stop.”
Luanda, whose population surged after the Angolan
civil war, has built alternative settlements with running water,
sanitation and power. But its housing minister said
Luanda cannot keep up with demand due to financial limitations,
while it also struggles with high heat and water shortages.
African cities are not the only vulnerable locations. A number of large
Asian cities also rank high on the list, which highlights the economic
effects of climate change on major emerging markets. The analysts
used International Monetary Fund projections to estimate the gross
domestic product at risk in cities over the next five years.
The ten cities rated as “extreme economic risk” were led by the
capital cities of Jakarta, Indonesia, and Manila, in the Philippines.
Companies operating in and near these cities will have to cope with
the direct effects of climate change, according to the analysis. That
ranges from the destruction of infrastructure and housing to health
risks related to rising temperatures. Indirect effects on economies
could include ecosystem collapse, agricultural failure, and overall
economic instability.
The researchers had advice for companies doing business in
developing-world megacities: protect assets and personnel by
building resilience to climate shocks and planning for such changes.
Governments also have a role. While the top priority is often
immediate disaster response, policy must reflect a longer view. An
analyst at Verisk Maplecroft told Reuters “In an ideal world,
you would be putting things in place that provide immediate relief but
are sustainable for the next 20 to 30 years, and incorporate an
element of climate change adaptation.” But he noted, “where the
foresight or means to do that are lacking, it’s a vicious cycle.”
In a dry and mountainous region of Central Asia, the
Fergana Valley spreads across the countries of Kyrgyzstan,
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Nearly a quarter of Central Asia’s population lives there, drawn by the
opportunity of fertile farmland.
In the heart of the valley flows the Syr Darya,
whose waters nourish the land. The river is at the center of rising
tensions as temperatures increase and demand outstrips supply.
The glaciers feeding the river are shrinking at an unprecedented rate,
melting at four times the global average. Swiss scientists say that in
the next three decades most of the glaciers will be gone. This will
intensify water shortages across the region, especially during the
summer months when the river flow depends on glacial melt.
Summertime is already a season of struggle over water at the
convoluted and contentious borders of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and
Tajikistan, where there are daily conflicts between villages. People
have killed one other over irrigation water, which is sometimes too
feeble a stream to reach their fields.
A canal network runs across the Fergana Valley – it’s
a series of aging channels built when the Soviets controlled the
region and directed water from the rivers to create agricultural zones.
This water diversion, along with inefficient infrastructure and general
overuse, has not only inflamed tensions, but has changed the
ecosystem. The Syr Darya and a sister river, the
Amu Darya, drain into the Aral Sea, which lost
about 75 per cent of its volume in the last sixty years. A much
smaller, saltier Aral Sea is less able to moderate temperatures,
resulting in the desertification of the surrounding region.
This summer, Kyrgyzstan endured its worst drought in 23 years.
Farmers fear another is taking hold. The World Bank says that up to
half of Kyrgyzstan could experience desertification by the end of this
century, as the region suffers some of the most intense warming on
A fortified fence between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan helps to hem in
disputes, but Kyrgyzstan’s open border with Tajikistan is often rife
with conflict. Twice this past summer, armed guards had to quash
friction between villages on either side of the border. On one
occasion, hostages were taken, and in the other, a hundred men
fought over the installation of a water pump.
A local resident told Reuters news service “We fight over pastures
and water. That is just what life is like here.” He added, “If there are
any further water shortages then there will be even greater struggles.
God knows what might happen.”
Officials from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan regularly meet to
discuss shared water management, but critics say that their pledges
to cooperate have yet to materialize.
In the United States, last week the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention released its latest data on Legionnaires’ Disease.
Legionnaires’ Disease is a pneumonia-like illness, and the deadliest
waterborne disease in the United States. It kills about one in eleven
people that it sickens.
The report is the first detailed one of its kind, and covers the years of
2014 and 2015. There were about five thousand cases of
Legionnaire’s Disease in 2014 and about six thousand in 2015. This
reflects a rapid rise in the rate of reported cases, which has increased
four and a half times since 2000. Provisional data for this year show a
further increase to some seven thousand cases.
The CDC’s report offers details that could help public health officials
understand the rise of a disease unknown four decades ago. The
report documents the states with the most cases, the types of people
most susceptible to the illness, where it was contracted and the
number of fatalities.
According to the report, most of the Legionnaires’ cases came from
the Great Lakes region and mid-Atlantic states such as Pennsylvania,
New Jersey and New York. It most commonly struck people over the
age of 50, and was most often contracted during the summer or fall.
The head of the CDC’s Legionella team, Dr. Laura Cooley, told Circle
of Blue that the geographic areas are of interest. “There’s more to
learn about why there are differences,” she said. “Do diagnoses
differ, or are there differences in the environment?”
Although the average death rate for Legionnaires’ Disease is one in
eleven, it was much higher for those contracting the illness in a
hospital or other healthcare facility. There, the death rate was almost
one in four. Hospitals have complex plumbing systems, which are a
risk factor for Legionella bacteria growth. Also, people in health care
settings may already be ill or have weakened immune systems,
making them more vulnerable to the disease.
Dr. Cooley cautioned that Legionnaire’s fatalities could be even
higher than reported, because documentation is imprecise. A state or
local health department might report a case to the CDC but not follow
up with the outcome, which does not have the same reporting
requirements as noting the onset of illness.
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