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.
Bosnia declared a state of emergency after severe rain and floods damaged houses and crops, and disrupted power and water supplies. Bosnia was hit by the same weather system that caused flooding and landslides in northern Italy.
In Kenya, a recent clash over water left eleven people dead and two injured in Marsabit County. The deaths are the latest in a string of water-related violence in the eastern African country in recent years. Officials say the incident began when suspected Ethiopian bandits ambushed pastoralists in a village near the Kenya-Ethiopia border. Fighting broke out just as local leaders were preparing to meet for peace talks to settle ongoing quarrels over pasture and water. Conflicts between farmers and pastoralists are common throughout Kenya, and often have ties to water. So far this year, rainfall in Kenya has been below-average, raising the potential of more fighting.
Another source of water-related contention in Kenya is unfolding in Turkana County. The Tullow Oil company plans to begin operation of several wells in the South Lokichar area. Large amounts of water are required to pressurize the wells. Tullow Oil and the Turkana government are still negotiating the water source. Regardless of the outcome, the decision will be controversial. Many residents fear that water use will strain Turkana’s already-limited resources. In some areas near the wells, locals must walk several kilometers to reach clean drinking water.
In Mozambique, reconstruction after Cyclones Idai and Kenneth will require an estimated $3.2 billion in aid. The southern African nation is holding an international donor conference at the end of this month, hoping to gather support from businesses, charities, and the public. The World Bank has already pledged $350 million to help repair the country’s water supply and other critical public infrastructure as well as to prevent disease transmission. Much of Mozambique’s healthcare system is devastated, and food and water shortages continue to afflict the population. Aid agencies warn that pregnant and nursing mothers may be at the greatest risk.
Farmers in Zimbabwe are reporting success with drip irrigation and vegetable-growing, both recent initiatives that began after erratic rainfall led to poor maize harvests. Drip irrigation involves administering small quantities of water directly to plant roots. This type of farming has raised crop yields and incomes in some areas, but many farmers lack the funds to buy equipment and have no access to the internet, which would provide valuable weather information.
China is stepping up pollution inspections. Almost 1,000 inspectors are heading to 25 Chinese cities to survey more than two dozen environmental markers, including protection of drinking water and water pollution in the Yangtze River. The inspections began last week and will conclude May 25th. The same inspectors will return in the fall to see what progress has been made.
North Korea is suffering from record-low rainfall this spring, leading international aid agencies to call for food assistance. Just over 2 inches of rain has been tallied so far this year, based on information from the country’s state-run media. A local news station reported that the amount is 42 percent of normal. Over ten million people in North Korea are in urgent need of food assistance following a poor harvest in 2018 and the dry start to this year. Aid agencies warn that the worst drought conditions will likely occur in coming months.
Israel plans to build a new desalination plant that will provide water to a fifth of the country’s households. The government received bids from three different groups interested in building the plant. Construction is expected to begin next year and take three years to complete. The plant will be the largest in the world to use reverse osmosis technology, joining five existing desalination facilities on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. A seventh plant is also being considered.
As pollution chokes India’s rivers, the “cursed” Chambal river runs clean. The Chambal runs through badlands and rough terrain, and unlike the revered Ganges, the river has been considered “unholy.” Because of historical stigma, development around the Chambal has been minimal. Now, as India’s major rivers contain a multitude of chemicals and pollution, people are beginning to acknowledge the healthy water that the Chambal sends to its holier, but highly polluted neighbor rivers downstream.
Most of the seas in Europe are contaminated by heavy metals and synthetic substances. That’s according to a report by the European Environment Agency. Between 75% and 96% of the areas assessed in Europe’s regional seas showed toxic chemicals and heavy metals. The Baltic Sea showed the worst contamination. While contamination by long-established hazardous chemicals such as DDT is declining, some substances are persistent and new toxins are coming in. The lead author of the study told the Guardian that “New pharmaceuticals are coming all the time, and getting into waste water. This is an emerging problem but we do not know what the effects will be.”
In a related story, industry lobbyists are pushing back against the European Union’s clean water laws. Although less than half of the continent’s rivers, lakes and wetlands are considered healthy, mining, agriculture, and hydropower lobbyists are targeting regulations, claiming they are too stringent. Some are reportedly calling for more exemptions and a new definition of ecologically healthy water. Environmentalists say the proposed changes could devastate aquatic species and ecosystems, and over 375,000 people have signed a World Wide Fund for Nature petition opposing such changes.
Two communities in Western Australia have been declared “water deficient” after months of dry weather, and farmers now rely on water trucked in weekly to supply their livestock. It is the first water deficiency declaration in eight years for Mallee Hill and Mount Short. Water minister Dave Kelly said the dearth of rain was part of a long-term drying trend linked to climate change. Drought and crop failure are forcing the country to import wheat for the first time in 12 years. Australia’s winter wheat crop is expected to fall 20 percent below the 20-year average. It’s the first time since the millennial drought that a bulk grain import has been needed. The Department of Agriculture and Water resources has issued a permit to allow wheat to come in from Canada. Despite the grain deficit, Australian grain growers are worried about unwanted pests. They say the possibility of importing invasive species or new diseases along with the foreign grain, is too much for them to bear.
Plastic waste is overwhelming some of the most remote places on the planet. Researchers surveyed the Cocos, or Keeling, Islands in the Indian Ocean and found 414 million pieces of plastic, including bottles, cutlery, bags, and straws. The Islands are marketed as “Australia’s last unspoiled paradise.” T he researchers call them canaries in a coal mine, showing the vast reach of plastic pollution. The study included debris buried in the beaches, and found it was 26 times greater than the amount visible on the surface. Researchers conclude that previous surveys which relied on garbage that could be seen may have “drastically underestimated the scale” of the debris, which sours tourism, entangles and kills marine life, and poisons the water with chemicals. Island residents are struggling to collect and dispose of the garbage deposited on their shores in amounts that represent thousands of times their own yearly waste production.
In a related story, mismanaged plastic waste causes up to 1 million deaths in the developing world each year, according to a report by a coalition of relief, conservation and waste management charities. Many of the deaths are due to plastic pollution in waterways, which causes flooding and assists the spread of waterborne disease. There are other risks, as well. When some plastics deteriorate, they release toxins into the environment. Small pieces of plastic, meanwhile, have effects that are largely unknown and unstudied, especially in poorer nations. Recently, a number of countries agreed via the United Nations on a plan to reduce plastic waste going to developing countries. The United States did not join, and though some corporations appear to be considering the problem, advocates for plastics management are demanding action. The Tearfund organization is calling on four multinationals known for their plastic packaging — Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé and Unilever — to step up and provide ways to manage their plastic products throughout the supply chain.
Circle of Blue last week, we reported on the resurgence of a viral liver disease in the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that hepatitis A cases in the last three years were up nearly 300 percent over the previous three-year period.
The CDC says the resurgence of the disease, which had declined significantly since the mid-1990s, is due in large part to drug use and people experiencing homelessness.
The number of cases soared to more than 15,000 nationwide in 2016 through 2018, up from 4,410 in the previous three-year period. Eighteen states registered a decline in the number of cases, but in nine states, the number rose by more than 500 percent.
Monique Foster, a CDC epidemiologist, told Circle of Blue that unsanitary living conditions are a factor in transmitting the hepatitis A virus, but it is difficult to quantify the national impact of insufficient access to toilets and hand-washing. One way the virus is spread is when an unvaccinated person ingests trace amounts of feces from an infected person, or from contaminated food or water.
Places with the greatest increase in Hepatitis A mirror those in which opioid drug use or homelessness are most prevalent: Appalachia, California, and the Midwest. An ongoing outbreak in southeastern Michigan, centered on the Detroit metropolitan area, has infected 913 people and killed 28.
The CDC says that vaccination of at-risk people is essential for halting the spread of the disease. San Diego County, which experienced a large outbreak in 2017, vaccinated more than 212,000 people in response, while municipalities disinfected streets with bleach and provided mobile hand-washing stations. The county’s public health officer, Wilma Wooten, said that because diseases do not respect political boundaries, collaboration between governments is essential to preventing or controlling an outbreak.
And that’s What’s Up With Water…we’d like to know what’s up where you are – Tweet us with your water news @circleofblue #whatsupwithwater.
Eileen Wray-McCann is a writer, director and narrator who co-founded Circle of Blue. During her 13 years at Interlochen Public Radio, a National Public Radio affiliate in Northern Michigan, Eileen produced and hosted regional and national programming. She’s won Telly Awards for her scriptwriting and documentary work, and her work with Circle of Blue follows many years of independent multimedia journalistic projects and a life-long love of the Great Lakes. She holds a BA and MA radio and television from the University of Detroit. Eileen is currently moonlighting as an audio archivist and enjoys traveling through time via sound.