OOSKAnews International Water Weekly - 16 May 2012

OOSKAnews Reports

Publisher's Announcement

New Look OOSKAnews Weekly Water Reports

WARRENTON, VA

From today, OOSKAnews Weekly Water Reports will be distributed in .html format instead of the previous pdf format. This enables more sophisticated interaction with OOSKAnews’ database of 22,000 water-related news stories dating back to 2006. It also means a smaller file size for your inbox to handle (!)

Also this week, OOSKAnews launched the world’s first international daily water news service. “Daily Water Briefing” marks the company’s move to daily water news capacity, which supplements the company’s market-leading weekly newsletters. A trial subscription to “Daily Water Briefing” can be requested here.

David Duncan, OOSKAnews Founder and CEO commented: “Our readers consistently tell us that they value the timeliness of our weekly news, so we decided to go one step further. We believe that “Daily Water Briefing” will be particularly valuable to readers for whom very current water news from challenging geographies is especially important.”

David Duncan, CEO of OOSKAnews.

To mark this launch occasion OOSKAnews will, for a two week period only, permit unlimited free web access (www.ooskanews.com) to current news stories (i.e., those that the company publishes between 14th and 25th May).

OOSKAnews is excited about “Daily Water Briefing”. As always the company welcomes feedback from readers, which can be sent directly to david@ooskanews.com

For subscription information, contact sales@ooskanews.com or phone +1 540 428 3440.

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Government, Policy & Finance

Chinese Investment Bolsters Pakistan's Position in Contentious Kashmiri River

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan

Chinese investors this month indicated they would provide $448 million USD in financing for the Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project, but have asked Pakistan to first remove some of the obstacles to completing the project.

The Chinese Exim Bank, which was earlier interested in providing a loan for the 969-megawatt project only if Pakistan covered the currency fluctuation loss because of declining American dollar, has pledged it will provide funds within a month.

“We have got an assurance from the Chinese Exim Bank, and the authorities have promised to release $448 million USD in a month’s time,” the Pakistan Observer quoted Federal Minister for Water and Power Naveed Qamar as saying after the second meeting of the Pakistan-China Joint Energy Working Group on May 8.

The cost of the Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project increased from $1.4 billion USD to $3.6 billion  USD after the project was delayed by an earthquake in 2005 and by additional changes to its design.

However, the project, which was expected to be completed in 2018, is now scheduled to be functional by 2016.

Chairman of Pakistan’s Water and Power Development Authority Shakeel Durrani says construction is about 22 percent complete.

For Pakistan, completing the project is vital if its is to secure rights on the Neelum River. India is also building its major Kishanganga Dam project there. Under the Indus Waters Treaty, whomever completes a project first will get priority rights on the transboundary waterway.

The Neelum River at Habba Khatoon mountain, Kashmir, Pakistan.

Power and Water Minister Qamar said Pakistan had also gotten a positive response from the Chinese on the 1,100-megawatt Kohala hydropower project.

Earlier, Chinese contracting company CWE, a subsidiary of China’s Three Gorges Dam Corporation, has been reluctant to get involved in the $2.2 billion USD project.

Pakistan has also asked Chinese firms to bid for five major contracts under the 4,500-megawatt Diamer-Bhasha Dam project. China says it might provide finances for the project.

However, Wu Guihi, administrator of China’s National Energy Administration, warned that Pakistan first must work to remove obstacles to completing the projects.

He urged the Pakistani government to improve the country’s security and investment environment, and called for better coordination among government organizations.

Islamabad, for its part, has pledged to clear the remaining hurdles for the Nandipur hydropower project, whose 425-megawatt power plant was launched in 2008.

The plant could not be completed within the stipulated 30 months because 40,000 tons of plant machinery have been detained at Karachi port for the last two years due to administrative issues.

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Uzbek Official Severely Beaten as Roghun Hydropower Project Fuels Ethnic Tensions With Tajiks

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan

Political tensions between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan over use of shared water resources and other issues may be spilling over into ethnic tensions inside their borders.

On May 7, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported that the former deputy chairman of the ethnic Uzbeks’ association in Tajikistan was attacked and severely beaten, allegedly for his criticism of Tajik and Uzbek authorities.

While many details remain unclear, Salim Shamsiddinov, 57, a professional lawyer and resident of Tajikistan’s Khatlon province, told local media that the attack could be linked to his interviews and statements blaming Tajik government policies for “straining relations” with neighboring Uzbekistan.

Shamsiddinov repeatedly questioned Tajikistan’s ambitious project to complete the Roghun hydroelectric power plant, a plan strongly opposed by Uzbekistan. He also suggested that certain officials within both the Tajik and Uzbek governments are pursuing narrow, nationalistic policies that have negative impacts on both nations and on ethnic minorities residing in both countries.

The Roghan Dam is to be built on the Vakhsh River (in blue).

According to RFE/RL, he called Dushanbe and Tashkent’s treatment of ethnic minorities a “form of genocide.”

Earlier this year, Tajik Ambassador to Russia Abdumajid Dostiev accused Uzbekistan of trying to destabilize Tajikistan.

 “Being oriented toward confrontation, the Uzbek authorities apply economic, transport-communication and other leverages with the purpose of coercing Tajikistan to adopt decisions beneficial for themselves [Uzbek authorities],”  Dostive said in a statement. “This will lead to further deterioration of living conditions [among the Tajik people]; it might cause a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Two weeks ago, Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev published an official letter (in one of the official government periodicals; there are no private newspapers in Uzbekistan) addressed to his Tajik counterpart, Akil Akilov, in which he put forward six “nos:” no to restoration of the Central Asia unified energy grid; no to resumption of railway communication between the two countries; no to reduction of transit railway tariffs; no to resumption of gas supply; no to de-mining of certain segments of the state border; and no to the abolition of the visa regime.

Experts say many of the conflicts between Dushanbe and Tashkent are based on personal dislike between the two presidents -- Emomali Rakhmon and Islam Karimov --as well as on their rivalry over leadership in the Central Asia region.

Back in February 2012, the two sides held talks on demarcation of national borders. Neither country has revealed the results of the diplomatic talks, but some media reports suggested that Tashkent wanted to expropriate the Farkhad hydropower plant on the Syr-Darya River, which could be interpreted as an attempt to annex Tajik territory.

According to local residents in the northern territories of Tajikistan, Uzbek military have pulled combat equipment (including tanks and heavy artillery) up to the border. There have been no reports of military aggression from Uzbekistan so far, but the actions were viewed as alarming in both countries.

Dr. Sabit Negmatullaev, a seismologist and former president of Tajikistan’s Academy of Sciences, told OOSKAnews that scientists from both countries would be eager to discuss and resolve any points of dispute. Negmatullaev was a member of the team that designed and implemented construction of the 310-meter tall Nurek hydropower plant on the Vakhsh River in the 1960s and 1970s.

In November 2011, Uzbekistan closed and disassembled the railway branch that connected Tajikistan to the rest of the world, allegedly in order to prevent Tajikistan from constructing the 335-meter-high Roghun plant.

Uzbekistan insists that the Roghun reservoir could leave downstream areas without water for irrigation. Tajik authorities say that, on the contrary, an increased number of hydropower facilities on the Vakhsh River (a tributary of the Amu-Darya) will help regulate seasonal water flow in the region.

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Spy Me a River

washington, dc, united states

Experts assessing the conclusions of a recent US intelligence assessment of global water security debated the merits of US initiatives to help other countries address water issues.

On May 9, Washington DC’s Woodrow Wilson Center hosted a “launch event” for the US Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) Global Water Security, prepared by the National Intelligence Council of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence at the request of the Department of State.

A key finding of the assessment is that while wars over water are unlikely within the next 10 years, water challenges -- shortages, poor water quality, floods -- will likely increase the risk of instability and state failure, exacerbate regional tensions, and distract countries from working with the United States on important policy objectives.

The ICA further notes that, “as a consequence of water challenges globally, the demand for U.S. assistance and expertise will increase, providing the U.S. with opportunities for leadership and forestalling other actors from achieving the same influence at U.S. expense.”

David Zetland, a senior water economist who attended the event, suggested that the United States had many of its own water management problems that it needed to be working on rather than trying to dictate solutions to other nations.

Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Kerri-Ann Jones answered this by saying the report “portrays what we are doing as working together” and “it’s more sharing experiences” than the U.S. dictating solutions.

Zetland told OOSKAnews via email, “Although I am happy to see interest in water issues from the intelligence and military communities, I am not sure that they understand that most water problems arise from poor governance, rather than a lack of imported technology or engineering knowledge. This missing focus means that these communities are more likely to engage in top-down, ‘pushing on a string’ initiatives, rather than trying to improve local capacity, reduce corruption, or change US policies -- our agricultural subsidies, for example -- that destabilize countries and distort water use decisions around the world.

“The naivete of the report (or the unclassified version representing about one-fifth of the real report) is obvious when you consider their recommendation to export U.S. water ‘know how’ to other countries. That's a laughable suggestion, given our present failure to address many water issues in many parts of the country. I suggested that we'd best get our house in order before offering advice. Their answer -- that domestic water use was not the intelligence communities' concern -- indicates that we have a long way to go before we reconcile the hype in the report with the realities of managing water in the real world.”

Eugene Brantly, Director of Water and Environment for Development in RTI’s International Development Group, took a different view. He told OOSKAnews via email, "This report is strong evidence that the U.S. has a vital national security interest in improving water management around the world. It should help bring greater attention and commitment to this issue at senior levels across the government. The report's conclusions on the need to increase efficiency of water use in agriculture, develop local data and models to inform decisions, and strengthen water management institutions are all right on target."

Although the aggregated message provided by the National Intelligence Council’s Global Water Security report is valuable for moving the discussion forward on water issues being a cause for conflict in the world, the real story is going to be about the “disaggregate realities,” according to Ellen Laipson, president and CEO of the Stimson Center, a public policy institute focused on security issues.

“It’s useful to know what the global story is, but along that continuum of conflict or cooperation you are going to get, in reality, lots of points along that continuum happening simultaneously. So in some parts of the world the cooperation story is going to be the bottom line and in other parts of the world you have to really worry about whether we’re moving along that continuum to water being a source of conflict,” she said at the Wilson Center event.

The 20-page unclassified version of the assessment was released in February (the classified version is closer to 90 pages). While a primary finding is that “during the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems,” Major General Richard Engel, Director of the Environment and Natural Resources Program at the National Intelligence Council, noted that “water issues by themselves are unlikely to result in state failure.”

Director of Environment and Natural Resource Program at the National Intelligence Council Major General Richard Engel, and National Geographic Emerging Explorer filmmaker Alexandra Cousteau.

Engel added that although the report was commissioned by the U.S. Department of State, and the lead author was the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Intelligence Council had determined on its own the need for the report while researching the effects of climate change, in particular the effects of climate change on migration patterns.

The National Intelligence Council is currently working on another report, “Global Trends 2030,” due out after U.S. presidential elections in November 2012, according to Casimir Yost, director of the council’s Strategic Futures Group.

He said that this report will “focus considerable attention on the interaction between population growth -- 1 billion more citizens of the world between now and 2030 -- and resources -- food, energy and water.” He said the council is also working on a food security report.

The unclassified version of the Global Water Security report can be found here.

Also last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in India, where she called for an amicable solution to the contentious issue of the Teesta River, whose waters are shared between India and Bangladesh.

Asked whether sharing of the Teesta River waters with Bangladesh would be on her agenda of talks with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Clinton responded: "These are certainly on the list of things I would want to talk about."

Stating that the United States had no interest in how any water-sharing pact was arrived at, she said that it wanted the issue to be amicably resolved as "these will become hot issues, literally hot issues in the future…water is an issue that will increasingly become contentious.”

"The alternative will be perhaps a conflict which will lead to dislocation, refugee problems and destabilization that we are seeing in places in North Africa. We have to work together," she said.

However, Banerjee denies that he and Clinton discussed the matter. "There were no talks about Teesta (water-sharing with Bangladesh)," Banerjee said after Clinton's departure.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said last week that relations between the two countries "will take a huge hit" if India cannot deliver on the Teesta agreement.

"On Teesta there is a huge expectation in Bangladesh. I think if India cannot deliver on that expectation, our relations will take a huge hit. I'm not sure our relationship can afford it. I believe people's representatives understand this. They will do what is right.”

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Chevron Responsible for “War-Like Scenes” in Ecuadorian Amazon, Kennedy Essay Stated

QUITO, Ecuador

In the latest skirmish in the long-term battle over oil giant Chevron’s alleged pollution of the Ecuadorian rainforest, campaigners have highlighted an essay by environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. detailing his observations on the devastation.

The Ecuador-based Amazon Defense Coalition, which represents the plaintiffs, said Kennedy “saw scenes that looked like war,” when he visited the remote section of the Amazon in the early 1990s.

"Nothing in my experience prepared me for the scenes I saw in the Ecuadorian Amazon," Kennedy stated, adding: "The industry's practice [in Ecuador] of burying highly toxic drilling muds virtually assures the destruction of ... groundwater aquifers, while the region's surface water is being destroyed by pipeline spills and ... pit discharges.”

The coalition’s statement on May 7 holds Texaco, which is now owned by Chevron, responsible for the damage. Kennedy’s description also made up his foreword to the 1991 book Amazon Crude.

Kennedy described hundreds of wells and production stations across the rainforest and their effects on the “quarter million forest people, including members of eight indigenous tribes who rely on the natural resources ... for their survival....”

Interviews by Kennedy with local people exposed scenes of “sick and deformed children, adults and children affected with skin rashes, headaches, dysentery and respiratory ailments, cattle dead with their stomachs rotted out..."

Ecuador’s Judicial Council has hit Chevron with an $18 billion USD judgment as a result of the damage. The Amazon Defense Coalition has sought to keep the pressure on the oil giant with a dedicated media campaign, while Chevron continues to staunchly defend itself.

In a recent legal success for the petroleum company, two judges involved in the $18 billion USD judgment have been suspended. The Andean country’s Judicial Council ratified the decision to sack Nicolas Zambrano and Leonardo Ordonez because they had committed an “inexcusable error,” the Wall Street Journal reported on May 10.

In the United States, Chevron has gone after the bank records of an independent expert who was employed to investigate the environmental claims made against it. The company believes Richard Cabrera received $360,000 USD in “illicit payments” that went through Ecuador’s Banco Pichincha, which has a branch in Miami.

The oil firm alleges the money was a bribe to present anti-Chevron evidence in the lawsuit.

"Evidence already obtained by Chevron shows that these accounts were likely used to secretly pay the supposedly independent court-appointed expert Richard Cabrera in furtherance of the plaintiffs' scheme to obtain a corrupt judgment against Chevron," said Chevron Corp. spokesman Kent Robertson.

Amazon Defense Coalition spokeswoman Karen Hinton discounted these allegations. Hinton said the money represented payment to Cabrera to cover his costs, as both the plaintiffs and Chevron were required by the court to do.

On May 14, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan allowed racketeering claims in Chevron's suit, although he dismissed three other claims including fraud and tortious interference.

Kaplan also ruled separately to deny Chevron’s bid to attach $780 million USD it claims in damages. 

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Chinese Blueprint Calls for Strict New Water Conservation Measures

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BEIJING, China

China is preparing to implement its strictest-ever water resource management system, Chen Lei, the country’s water resources minister, told a recent high-level conference.

The new “master plan” sets benchmarks for the nation's total water consumption at no more than 670 billion cubic meters by 2020, with water use per $1,612 of GDP limited to 65 cubic meters.

Kenyan Development Program Marred by Corruption, Misuse of Funds

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nairoBi, Kenya

Sixteen percent of funds intended for development of local water and sanitation systems have been misused, and millions more shillings are sitting idle in Kenyan local authority bank accounts because officials have failed to access the funds to use for these projects, according to a new report by Kenya’s National Taxpayers Association.

Colombian President Launches New Phase of Aqueduct in Violence-Hit Coastal City

Colombia, BOGOTA

The government earlier this month launched a new phase of an aqueduct project in the municipality of Maria La Baja, in the northern province of Bolivar, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

Demand for water services in Maria La Baja has been increasing since 2000, when the population began expanding with the arrival of thousands of people fleeing from violence from FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas and paramilitary groups in the lush surrounding countryside. Violence in the area has lessened recently.

The importance of the project’s ribbon-cutting on May 4 was demonstrated by the turnout of high-ranking officials, which included President Juan Manuel Santos, Vice Minister for Water and Sanitation Iván Mustafá Duran, state Governor Alejandra Espinosa, and Mayor of the municipality Diana Maria Mancilla.

Santos previously stood up the citizens of Maria la Baja when he failed to attend a recent event in remembrance of the victims of a massacre and a forced displacement that took place in the area.

Location of María La Baja municipality in Colombia's Bolívar Department.

Speaking at the aqueduct inauguration, the head of state said: “I remember the first part [of the aqueduct project] we provided meant 30 percent of Maria la Baja would have drinking water, but 30 percent is little, and that is why I have come to inaugurate the second section, which brings us up to 70 percent. This brings benefits to almost 17,000 people and we expect to reach 100 percent.”

The president told the crowd that the ministry for water had calculated that the project would cost a total of $4.5 million USD. Duran claimed that that he intended to personally oversee the development.

Santos had advice for the recipients of the aqueduct’s water: keep consumption to a minimum and to turn off the taps when they were not in use.

In terms of the latest phase in the aqueduct, Duran stated: “The work represents an investment of more than $2 million USD from the Water for Prosperity Program.”

For the money, the local community has seen investment in its pumping station, reworking of its treatment plant and installation of “micro-measurement” equipment, the government’s Radio Nacional de Colombia reported on May 5.

A network of some 7,547 meters of pipe has been installed to connect up 1,341 homes to the aqueduct.

Duran said a further budget will be invested in the National Disaster Fund, which will be used to upgrade the aqueducts in the areas of Pueblo Nuevo, Nueva Florida, San José del Playón and Bello. The work will kick off this year, the vice minister said. 

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Saudi Arabia Looks to Japan for Help With Solar Desalination

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council last week approved a draft cooperation agreement between the kingdom’s Ministry of Water and Electricity and the Japanese government.

The agreement covers a wide range of issues including water resources management, desalination, water distribution and management, pipeline networks, reducing water leakage and wastewater treatment and reuse.

Indian Court Orders Haryana State to Provide Water to All City Residents

India, CHandiGarH

The Punjab and Haryana High Court last week directed the Haryana state government to ensure daily water supply to Gurgaon starting May 9. The order came in response to Gurgaon residents’ petition urging restrictions on construction and other commercial activities around the city and strict action against violators. As of May 11, the Times of India was reporting continuing problems with water supply.

The petition was filed by a residents’ welfare association in one of the main sectors in the city, but the High Court directed authorities “to ensure water supply from May 9 for reasonable period of time for every part of Gurgaon.”

Location of Haryana State, India.

Several parts of the rapidly developing city go without water for weeks at a time

The court ruling came days after Haryana announced its “Urban Water Policy 2012,” which aims to put an end to water wasting and shift all urban and rural connections to metered supply.

In March, the Haryana Urban Development Authority started an initiative to seal illegal tubewells in several areas of the state where water was being pumped without permission.

The state government is also slowing the pace of permissions for some large-scale residential projects, out of fear that they will extract too much groundwater.

Last week’s directive is not the first instance of the Indian judiciary intervening to ensure people have access to water. Last month, the Kerala High Court directed the Kerala Water Authority to provide drinking water to residents in several parts of Kochi and its suburbs in the state’s Ernakulam district.

Ernakulam has faced drinking water problems for many decades, and the scarcity is not due to lack of available water, the court noted in its ruling.

The only thing the Kerala government had to do was to lay some pipe to get water from the Periyar River to homes after proper treatment, it added.

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South Africa Delays Review of National Water Resources Strategy

CAPE TOWN, South Africa

The delay in the planned review of South Africa’s National Water Resources Strategy emerged as a key concern at a Water Institute of Southern Africa conference in Cape Town on May 7.

Maxwell Sirenya, director-general of the Department of Water Affairs, acknowledged that a draft of the strategy review was about three years behind schedule. He said it should new be released for public comment by September 2012.

“The importance of the strategy, especially the allocation and the equity components, caused a delay,” he said. “In the meantime, we’ve made a decision to move ahead with establishing nine catchment management agencies to manage the catchment areas already unveiled by our department minister, Edna Molewa.”

He said the catchment management areas will promote equity through more effective water resources management and greater responsiveness to the needs of the poor and marginalized communities, thanks to closer links with stakeholder groups in the areas.

“This has been received with excitement in the water sector, as evidence of the minister’s commitment to driving full implementation of the National Water Act and ensuring that the nation’s water resources are used sustainably, while maintaining their quality,” said Sirenya.

Meanwhile, Molewatold the conference that South Africa’s drinking water is among the best in the world.

She made the announcement based on an annual analysis conducted by her department, which analyzed 931 water systems for the 2012 Blue Drop water quality program. That’s more than double the amount (402) analyzed in 2009. The government awarded 98 certificates under the program, up from 66 in 2011.

The Blue Drop program aims to recognize excellence in management of drinking and wastewater. A city or town has to score 95 percent or above to be awarded Blue Drop status.

“The certificate is awarded as an acknowledgement of excellent drinking water quality management, which surpasses the requirements of national norms and standards,” Molewa said.

“I am happy to report that our country's tap water still remains among the best in the world; we daresay [we are] among the few countries where you can still drink water direct from the tap.”

South Africa scored 98.85 percent for water quality overall -- just a little more than one percent behind the United Kingdom, which scored 99.9 percent.

Molewa stressed that if a city or town did not get a Blue Drop certificate, it did not mean that its water was not fit to drink.

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Infrastructure & Utilities

Caymans Premier Makes Case for Privatizing Water Authority

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands

Only 13 percent of households on Grand Cayman are connected to the central sewage system, creating a major environmental problem, Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva warned last week.

Bush was making a case for the privatization of the Cayman Water Authority, the local utility that manages water and sewerage on the island.

The cash-strapped government has not been able to inject more funding into wastewater management, and so the government is highly motivated to consider privatization.

"The authority is working diligently with the government of the Cayman Islands to divest itself of the sewerage assets prior to the end of this fiscal period," Bush told parliament.

He said about 10 percent of the island’s households have their wastewater treated by onsite aerobic treatment units, and 72 percent have their wastewater treated by onsite septic tanks.

Only 23 percent of household sewage undergoes secondary treatment, he said.

Bush also noted that vast majority of onsite aerobic treatment units are not functioning properly.

In 2009, a performance study by the Water Authority found that most households in the territory were not meeting primary treatment standards.

Until about 30 years ago, sewage was disposed of into cesspools, which allowed effluents to leak directly into groundwater, raising the risk of waterborne illnesses.

According to Water Authority expert Catherine Crabb, there are still outhouses and cesspits being used on Grand Cayman. She said 1 percent of wastewater treated by volume comes under this category.

Local scientists in the Cayman Islands have linked bacteria in human sewage to white pox that is affecting Elkhorn coral near the shore.

Besides ensuring access to clean, affordable water, the Water Authority’s mandate is to regulate other entities licensed by the government to provide public water supplies and to protect and develop  groundwater resources.

According to the hansard (official report of the Legislative Assembly), any private company that takes over the water and sewage concession must be financially self-sufficient and contribute to the economy of the Cayman islands with a “reasonable and acceptable” return on capital investments.

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China Five-Year Plan Boosts Sewage Treatment Industry

BEIJING, China

The Chinese State Council this month released the country's 12th Five-Year Plan for sewage treatment, which foresees the county investing $430 billion USD in the sewage treatment industry over a four-year period ending in 2015.

The government is also encouraging non-public investment in the sector.

The plan aims to improve the country’s rate of treating wastewater to 85 percent in urban areas, 70 percent in county-level cities and counties and 30 percent in smaller towns by 2015.

Treating water pollution has become a priority of the Chinese government, with Beijing already stating that construction projects should not be allowed to affect sewage networks or operations used to treat wastewater.

With its 12th Five-Year Plan, the government said it would work to bring its rate of treating urban garbage to 90 percent, and add the capacity to treat a further 580,000 tons of garbage each year.

Meanwhile, environmental protection officials in Ningqing County announced last week that pollution caused by styrene that leaked into the Hanjiang River after a traffic accident early on May 6 was now under control.

Location of Hanjiang (Han) River, China.

Pang Tao, deputy director of the provincial environmental protection department's emergency office, said about 7 tons of the chemical leaked into the Hanjiang River, the second-largest tributary of the Yangtze, the longest river in China.

Based on hourly testing of water samples from the river, the toxic chemical was found to have polluted a 5.5-kilometer stretch of the waterway, less than expected, Pang said. 

A tanker carrying more than 30 tons of styrene was en route from northwest China's Shaanxi province to neighboring Sichuan province when it overturned on a national highway in Ningqiang County. Local authorities evacuated more than 400 villagers and blocked the highway, because styrene is explosive as well as toxic.

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Egyptian Contracting Company Will Build $26 Million USD Dubai Pipeline

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CAIRO, Egypt

The Egyptian Contracting Company (Mokhtar Ibrahim) won a $25.8 million USD contract to build a potable water pipeline in Dubai, company officials announced on May 7.

Russia Adopts New Regulations for Public Services

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MOSCOW, Russia

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has signed into law new regulations governing public services, including water supply and sewerage. The new regulations will go into effect on June 1.

Venezuela’s Hidrobolivar Aims for 100 Percent Drinking Water Coverage

CARACAS, Venezuela

Hidrobolivar, the water provider in the Venezuelan state of Bolivar, has attempted to improve its tarnished image with bold statements about its achievements and plans for the future.

“We have set out our goal that all the homes in Bolivar have piped drinking water by 2014,” the state’s governor, Francisco Rangel Gomez, announced on May 3.

Hidrobolivar is 50 percent owned by state’s government and 50 percent by the area’s 11 mayorships. Rangel made his announcement after the 6th Assembly of Hidrobolivar Shareholders.

When Hidrobolivar was created in 2006, only 42 percent of the population of the province had water piped into their homes; this figure has been raised to 95 percent now.

To achieve 100 percent coverage, the governor claimed Hidrobolivar would invest $25 million USD to build 163 wells and 267 kilometers of pipes.

Location of Venezuela's Bolivar State.

Rangel described how the company would snap up mobile drinking-water treatment plants to serve remote communities: “In 2012, 16 plants will be set up, and the other 15 [will be installed] in 2013,” he explained.

He said the remaining 5 percent of residents remained without tap water because their homes “had been built without any sort of planning over the past 60 or 70 years and where there were no tanks, pipes or any other infrastructure.”

Rangel also trumpeted the decision to build an aqueduct to serve the needs of the state’s capital city, Bolivar. The new development will be ready by August, and represents the first major investment in water supply to the city since 1974.

Great effort was made to emphasize the strides made in the supply and quality of the water under Hidrobolivar and the stewardship of Rangel. But despite favorable press coverage of the announcements, the service provided by Hidrobolivar has its critics.

Antonio Carrasquel, leader of Bandera Roja (Red Flag) party and head of social development in the Heres district, paints a different picture of the record of Hidrobolivar and those responsible for its management.

In a stinging critique, he said the service “was deteriorating every day, the quality of the water is non-existent, the majority of the neighborhoods have no service, and those that receive it complain it is unreliable and prone to serious interruptions,” DiarioProgreso.com reported.

Frustrated employees of the company wrote directly to the President Hugo Chavez in March with a list of serious complaints in a “message from the heart.”

Among the 15 points, they claimed to have been exposed to inhumane working conditions, and that the company was responsible for “labor terrorism.”

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Oman to Pump $7.5 Billion USD Into Water Infrastructure

OMAN, MUSCAT

With demand for water growing at an average of 4 percent a year in Oman, the government has launched a long-term strategy to expand and modernize its water transmission infrastructure at a projected cost of $7.5 billion USD over the next two decades.

An annual investment of $390 million USD will be required to redevelop Oman’s water networks for the next 10 years, falling to $260 million USD per year thereafter, Chairman of Oman’s Public Authority for Electricity and Water, Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Mahrouqi, said at the Oman Power and Water Summit on May 7.

However, this estimate is only for water transmission networks. Additional investment for increasing desalination capacity is expected to come from the private sector.

“Oman is one of the most progressive countries in terms of promoting IWPPs (independent water and power projects), with participation of the private sector not only in the power but in the water and wastewater sector,” said Robert Bryniak, CEO of Dubai-based Golden Sands Management Consultancy.

According to him, over 90 percent of the power generated in Oman comes from the private sector.

“The model in Oman is very successful and they’re now moving that model to water and wastewater,” Bryniak said.

Tenders for two privately financed desalination plants at Qurayat and Suwaiq, with an aggregate capacity of around 400,000 cubic meters/day, are to be procured over the next five years, as site selection studies continue.

Ghubrah Power and Desalination Plant (OOSKAnews Correspondent)

Meanwhile, a new tender was opened last week for phase three of the wastewater network expansion in Salalah, and another was issued for construction of water distribution networks in Ibra and Al Qabil in North Sharqiyah.

In the peninsula of Musandam, the Public Authority for Electricity and Water recently closed tenders for redevelopment of Khasab’s water supply system and improvement of Daba, Lima and Arrawdah’s water distribution networks.

“There’s probably going to be another five or six years projects coming out in the next two to three years. There’s a potential project in Salalah, which will be an IWPP, with the details of that to be confirmed,” said Bryniak.

Among the major ongoing projects is replacement of aging capacity at the existing Ghubrah Power and Desalination plant and a 191,000-cubic-meter-per-day independent water project that is currently in the procurement stage and will come online by 2014.  Having completed the request for qualifications, the public authority is about to announce the companies that qualified for the first phase of the project.

It is also preparing a tender for a water treatment plant and related water transmission networks to move water from the newly built Wadi Dayqah Dam in Qurayat, near Muscat, to consumers in Bausher, Al Amerat and Qurayat.  As the largest dam in Oman, Wadi Dayqah will be able to store up 100 million cubic meters, providing about 35 million cubic meters of water each year.

“In the last year, we’ve been engaged in developing a comprehensive long-term master plan for our investment in water transmission networks. This is based on the latest information on population growth from the recent census, and on the results of a major water study we conducted in 2010,” Al Mahrouqi explained. 

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Selangor Sultan Warns Against “Politicization” of Water Crisis

Malaysia, SHAH ALAM

The ruler of Malaysia’s Selangor state, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, last week warned against “politicization” of Selangor’s water issues, stressing that this could turn off potential investors in the state.

Selangor Menteri Besar (chief executive) Tan Sri Dato' Seri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim subsequently told reporters that the state government would respect the sultan’s directive.

The official added that he hoped the water concessionaire in the state, Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas), would agree to Selangor’s water industry restructuring plan, since “Selangor will lose if development is hampered by a water crisis.”

Energy, Green Technology, and Water Minister Peter Chin was quoted on May 15 as saying he did not have the power to resolve the deadlock over the water asset transfer, despite Abdul Khalid's threats to take him to court over the matter.

The President of the Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia, S. Piarapakaran, has long warned of a looming water crisis that by 2014 that will affect large parts of Selangor, including national capital Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

Ahmad Zahdi Jamil, president of the Malaysian Water Association, agreed that “statistics have shown very clearly that if we don’t resolve the issues…by 2014 there is a strong possibility of a water crisis in the Klang Valley in Selangor.”

Location of Selangor State, Malaysia.

He added: “If that happens, I think it is not only going to be very embarrassing to the country, but it will change the lifestyle of Malaysians.”

Earlier this year, Abdul Khalid met with Bernard Guirkinger, senior executive vice president of France’s Suez Environnement and Colin Skellett and Dave Elliott, executive chairman and director of Planning and Asset Management, respectively, at Wessex Water, to discuss Selangor’s water crisis.

Following the Malaysian Water Association’s Annual General Meeting on April 28, its president expressed his disapproval of using foreign advisers to solve local water supply problems. He claimed this would stagnate development of local expertise and capability.

There are many local experts with proven capability at the local and international level, he said.

The Selangor chief executive defended his move to draw in experts from abroad: “The issue is we must be able to manage the resources. We have water, we don’t know how to manage it. We have assets, we don’t know how to manage [them]. And we have a federal government that does not know how to manage [them], either. That’s the reason why I have to go international to tell everyone ‘hey, look, I’m in trouble.’ Some people are not thinking, not for the sake of the people of Selangor.”

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Power Shortages in Tanzania Disrupt Water Supply, Threaten Economy

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania

Tanzania’s persistent power shortages have disrupted water supply in the country’s major urban regions, including the capital.

Deputy Water Minister Dr. Binilith Mahenge said Dar es Salaam is the worst affected by disruptions, with consumers accessing water for only nine hours per day, compared to 19 hours in rural towns and areas that are less dependent on electricity supply.

The minister, who spoke last week at the country’s Annual General Meeting of Water Authorities, also blamed the surging population in the city, now estimated at 3 million, for the reduction in the amount of water available for domestic use.

Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have previously warned Tanzania of dire economic consequences should officials continue to delay in addressing power shortages.

 “The lack of access to reliable power supply services hampers the country’s growth potential, contributes to poverty and isolation of the rural population, and affects the provision of other key services such as water supply, health, and education, threatening the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” the World Bank said in a statement on electricity generation in Tanzania.

The bank blames erratic electricity supply on lack of inadequate investment in power generation, increasing power demand from commercial and industrial consumers and high susceptibility to volatile hydrological conditions due to insufficient water storage capacity and degradation of water catchment areas.

Two months ago, the IMF revised Tanzania’s economic growth downward to 6 percent from an earlier projection of 7.2 percent for 2011, saying frequent electricity outages and load-shedding hurt output, while food and fuel prices could push inflation higher.

During the meeting in Dar es Salaam last week, attended by over 200 officials from 20 water service providers, Mahenge challenged city authorities to find ways to reduce water losses, currently estimated at 49.9 percent.

Despite power shortages and increasingly unreliable water supply in the capital, Mahenge said water services in the city had generally improved in the first quarter of 2012, compared to last year, when an estimated 51 percent of the city’s population accessed clean water.

Early this year, President Jakaya Kikwete shrugged off the risk to the country’s economy posed by power shortages, saying: "I am confident …that with the plans and programs we intend to initiate and, if we get the support of partners and friends of Tanzania, we should be able to rise to the challenges and prevail."

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Spain’s Sacyr Vallehermoso Wins $386 Million USD Contract in Brazil

Brazil, SAO PAULO

Spain’s Sacyr Vallehermoso Group announced last week that it has signed a 30-year, $386 million USD concession contract, through its Portuguese subsidiary Somague and Brazilian subsidiary SGA (Sistemas de Gestão Ambiental Ltda.), to provide public water supply and sanitation in the city of Votorantim, in Brazil’s São Paulo state.

The concession deal is the largest signed in the state since a new sanitation law came into effect in 2007.

The contract includes construction, operation and maintenance of water and sanitation systems; operation and management of water production and distribution; collection, removal, treatment and disposal of sewage; and customer service.

Location of Sao Paulo state, Brazil.

According to SGA estimates, the project will require some $47.7 million USD in investment, and will generate $385 million USD. SGA will have a 40 percent stake in the Votorantim system, while Saneamento Ambiental Águas do Brasil (SAAB) will hold the remainder.

Somague has been active in Brazil since 1995, winning several contracts, including the Mandaguahy project, which will provide drinking water to the city of Jaú for a period of 20 years.

The company also won a 15-year wastewater project in the city of Araçatuba, also in São Paulo state.

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Egypt Spends $50 Million USD for Water, Sanitation in Alexandria and Matrouh

CAIRO, Egypt

The Egyptian government last week announced $50 million USD in funding for drinking water projects in Alexandria and Marsa Matrouh governorates.

Alexandria will spend $17 million USD to to expand and upgrade Al Siouf Drinking Water Treatment Plant.

Located in eastern Alexandria, the plant is currently producing 960,000 cubic meters of water; this is supposed to be increased to 1.1 million cubic meters, according to governorate officials.

“The expansions at the plant will help meet the increasing demand for drinking water in the area,” said Ahmed Shehata, chairman of the Alexandrian Company for Drinking Water and Sanitary Sewers.

“There are more urban expansions in the area, with an increasing number of industrial and tourist projects in Al Siouf and the surrounding areas of Abu Qir, Maamoura, Mandara, Sidi Bishr and Al Raml,” he said.

Shehata said his company was also working on connecting all desalination plants in the governorate in order to avoid supply disruptions during routine maintenance.

At the same time, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development allocated $33 million USD to drinking water and sewerage projects in Marsa Matrouh.

According to ministry officials, $3 million USD will go toward upgrading the main desalination plant in the governorate.

“The government has also allocated $1 million USD to purchase 19 trucks carrying water to remote areas in the governorate,” said Minister of Housing Fatahi al Baradei.

Ministry officials said the government would provide another $1 million USD to build a reservoir at the Siwa Drinking Water Plant.

Other reservoirs will be built in throughout the coastal governorate in an effort to end drinking water shortages, especially during the summer.

Marsa Matrouh’s water resources are limited. Al-Hammam Canal carries around 180,000 cubic meters to the governorate from neighboring Alexandria every day during the summer. This amount is reduced to 130,000 cubic meters per day during the winter, which leads to shortages.

Consequently, Matrouh is increasingly turning to desalinated water.

 “The rest of allocations, around $28 million USD, will be earmarked to complete sanitation projects in the governorate by the end of this year,” said al Baradei.

Also last week, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development announced the cancellation of a public-private partnership project to build a wastewater treatment station in 6th of October city, citing lack of funds.

“The Ministry of Housing does not have enough funds to allocate to the project,” said Atir Hannoura, head of the PPP Unit at the Finance Ministry.

The project’s cancellation could be a setback to government efforts to rebuild confidence in the country’s ability to attract foreign direct investment.

A financial consultant -- Ernst & Young -- had already been selected for the project, and 50 companies from 12 countries had already applied for prequalification.

The 20-year, $163 million USD contract included design, financing, construction, operation and maintenance of a 250,000 cubic meter per day wastewater treatment plant that would separate industrial wastewater from sewage.

Part of the station is already being built, and will reach a capacity of 100,000 cubic meters per day.

The contract also called for operation and maintenance of an adjacent plant that also has a capacity of 100,000 cubic meters per day.

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Environment, Security & Risk

Lukoil Fined Over Pollution in Russia’s Komi Region

Russia, SYKTYVKAR

On May 7, a court in the Komi Republic of Russia fined Lukoil, one of the major state-owned oil companies, $50,000 for releasing untreated sewage into a river during the autumn of 2011.

The Komi Republic covers a vast area stretching from the eastern European plain far north into the Arctic Circle. The region is approximately the size of California, with a population of less than one million people.

Location of Russia's Komi Republic

Most of the population is employed in extracting the region’s varied natural resources, and there has been growing tension in recent years between industry and environmentalists seeking to preserve the region’s unique and legally protected ecosystems.

The regional environmental prosecutor’s office was alerted to the case by concerned locals living downstream of a Lukoil facility in the Yarega oilfield.

The company had the legal right to release wastewater into the river, providing it was treated to a certain standard.

However, an investigation found that the wastewater was subject to no more than a cursory treatment process, far below the standards required, as a means of reducing the operating costs.

Pollution of chemical and biological waste entered the river, causing environmental damage that is still being assessed and putting human health at risk in downstream settlements.

Although the result of the court case is a success for the environmental prosecutor’s office, which had pressed hard for a conviction, the fine levied is considerably lower than hoped for and led to swift accusations of corruption.

The first estimate of the environmental damage caused by the pollution, before the risks to human health or punitive damages are taken into account, is $100,000 USD, twice the amount of the fine levied against Lukoil.

The immediate suspicion among environmentalists in the region and in Moscow is that the company used its immense financial influence to reduce the action taken against it to the very minimum that could be maintained as credible.

It remains unclear at this point whether the influence concerned was in the form of direct, corrupt payments to the legal officials involved in the case, or indirect threats and pressure on the regional government, which is heavily reliant on the company and its infrastructure.

Environmental groups in Moscow have expressed concern about the facts of the Lukoil case in Komi, but have pointed out that the high profile reaction to this and other examples of the previously all-powerful oil and gas companies having to end their cost-cutting practices of releasing untreated wastewater is real progress in the fight to protect Russia’s water assets.

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Violent Protests Follow Murder of Guatemala Dam Opponent

GUATEMALA, SANTA CRUZ BARILLAS

Allegations of human rights abuses are emerging from the town of Santa Cruz Barillas, Guatemala, after the government declared a state of emergency at the beginning of the month.

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina called in the military on May 1, in the wake of violent demonstrations against construction of the Canbalam I hydroelectric plant in Santa Cruz Barillas. 

The demonstrations were sparked by the murder of Andres Pedro Francisco, a local community leader who opposed the plant and had refused to sell his land to make way for its construction.

The Guatemalan government declared a one-month state of emergency in response. And while government officials say the military has behaved responsibly, some community members do not agree.

“The soldiers stopped my husband,” said a local resident, Griselda Martinez. “When he asked why, they threatened to beat him if he kept asking.”

Location of the Guatemalan department of Huehuetenango, where Santa Cruz Barillas is a municipality.

A Guatemalan organization, Convergencia Nacional Maya Waki’b Kej, which represents indigenous people’s rights, said some people have fled into the mountains or over the border into Mexico for fear of being captured and abused by security forces.

The organization has requested the presence of UN observers to monitor the situation.

However, President Perez, who toured the region on May 8, says there have been no violations of human rights.

“There has not been one single violation of human rights,” he said. “There are personnel who are specifically responsible for overseeing respect for human rights. We have been concerned about this respect, and not one single violation has occurred.”

He reiterated: “This is the reality: there has not been one single denouncement of any person’s rights being violated.”

Local residents say they believe Francisco was assassinated, and two other community leaders injured, in an attack by private security forces working for Hidro Santa Cruz, a subsidiary of the Spanish company Hidralia Energía S.A. 

The three were ambushed by gunmen on May 1. However, the company denies any involvement.

Hidro Santa Cruz is behind the construction of the Canbalam I project, a hydroelectric plant the company says will generate in excess of 35,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy annually.

The project received its environmental license from the National Office for Clean Energy in May 2011 and was approved by the National Commission for Electric Energy two months later.

However, the community of Santa Cruz Barillas has demonstrated long-standing opposition to such initiatives.

Back in 2007, during a municipal consultation held in the area, the granting of hydroelectric, mining and petroleum concessions was rejected by a vote of 49,481 to nine. 

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Shell Acknowledges More Oil Spills in Niger River Delta

LAGOS, Nigeria

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell announced this week that it had found two new oil pipeline leaks in the Niger Delta region on May 7. The leaks are being investigated to determine their cause and extent, the company said.

The announcement came as environmental and human rights organizations Friends of the Earth and Amnesty International, along with other civil society groups are stepping up protests about Shell’s impact on water in Nigeria.

Last week, Nigeria’s Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, told press during a visit to Washington, DC that an interim report on the UN Environment Program report on oil pollution in Ogoniland had been submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan for further action. The report will be evaluated "to determine areas for adoption", she said.

The UNEP report, released last year, warned that many sites that the Anglo-Dutch oil company said had been cleaned still suffered pollution, exceeding both Nigerian government and UNEP standards, and revealed consequent serious groundwater contamination. The report made recommendations for both immediate and long-term remedial actions.

An Amnesty International report released in late April accused Shell of deliberately under-reporting a 2008 oil spill in the Niger Delta, and the organization has since begun a campaign to create the maximum publicity for the environmental damage it says Shell has been causing in Nigeria for decades.

Shell last week issued a statement disagreeing with Amnesty International’s assessment of the amount of oil involved in the spill. Amnesty based its findings on a report from US firm Accufacts which claimed a video of the leak suggested that between 1,440 and 4,320 barrels of oil were spilling into the area each day. Shell said its investigations revealed a total of 1,640 barrels of oil spilled over the entire period. The timeframe is also disputed, with Amnesty claiming the spill lasted 10 weeks and Shell four weeks. 

Milieudefensie – Friends of the Earth Netherlands – is also taking Shell Nigeria and its parent company to court in the Netherlands on behalf of local Nigerian fishermen and farmers affected by the spills.

A court hearing will be held in October in The Hague which marks a success for Amnesty -- Shell had argued that the Dutch court was not competent to make judgments on Shell in Nigeria.

Amnesty International, the Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development, Friends of the Earth, oil-affected communities and other groups last week held a peaceful demonstration outside Shell’s offices in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, to highlight the human rights and environmental impact of the company’s operations in the Niger Delta. The protest was part of a global week of action which saw demonstrations outside Shell offices and gas stations around the world.

The Niger River Basin.

The groups called on Shell to immediately take concrete steps to clean up all oil spills to internationally-accepted standards, ensure independent verification of the clean-ups, and apologize to and compensate those affected by pollution and environmental damage.

Shell responded with a briefing note highlighting massive thefts of crude oil by “heavily-armed and well-organized groups,” as well as the kidnapping of 19 of its employees last year and one employee fatality in December 2010.

Shell Nigeria country chair and Shell Managing Director Mutiu Sunmonu said: “We estimate that some 150,000 barrels of oil are stolen from facilities every day. This is a huge amount -- and the effects of this industrial-scale theft are devastating for both the people and the environment…The land, the shorelines and the water are heavily polluted with oil as a result of these activities.”

Speculating that the thefts may be connected to an international syndicate, Sunmonu warned that if the crimes continued at their current rate, the effects on Nigeria’s social and environmental structures and economy could be “devastating.”

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With Better Water Infrastructure, Afghanistan Can Develop $1 Trillion USD of Natural Resources

united states, FL, TAMPA

Afghanistan has over $1 trillion USD worth of gold, copper, rare earth metals, petroleum and natural gas, but factors like lack of water needed for mining operations will make it difficult for th country to access these resources, according to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Afghanistan Project Lead Jack Medlin.

Medline told a panel discussion at a recent University of South Florida conference that the USGS, using state-of-the-art imaging systems, had found 24 mineral-rich sections in the country, which could provide enough energy sources for all of Afghanistan’s needs.

"It's not a Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. But there is enough to meet demands," the Tampa Tribune quoted Medlin as saying.

The conference, "Water: The Key to Regional Stability Thru Sustainable Partnerships," looked at how water in Afghanistan is used for agriculture, energy and mining.

USGS released a report in June 2010 about the status of Afghanistan’s water supplies. The study, “Conceptual Model of Water Resources in the Kabul Basin, Afghanistan,” found that at least 60 percent of shallow wells that supply much of the Afghan capital with water could be affected by warming temperatures from climate change.

Water contamination is also a major concern, study author Thomas Mack said. Although there are some water distribution systems in Kabul, “right now there are no water treatment either supply or wastewater [facilities]” in Kabul.

The Kabul River in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

The report also found that warming air temperatures have led to earlier snowmelt on the mountains in the country. Runoff from this snowmelt feeds the rivers, and earlier snowmelt means less water is available later in the year.

Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the United States Said T. Jawad said at the launch of the report in Washington DC that “water management is crucial for the future of Afghanistan.”

“We think that Afghanistan could be an important source of providing water…in neighboring countries, provided that a better mechanism of managing that water is found,” he added.

Back in 2010, the USGS and the Afghan government said adequate water resources for developing mineral resources, and the effects of mineral development on water quality were areas of concern.

The USGS, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and various Afghan ministries started working on plans to carry out a study of water quantity and quality throughout the country.

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South American Drought Affects World Soybean Markets

Argentina, BUENOS AIRES

The ongoing drought in parts of South America will have a significant impact on the world supply of soybeans.

At the beginning of the month, the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange cut its estimates for the 2011-2012 soybean harvest from 43 million tons to 41 million tons. Authorities blamed drought, the La Niña weather phenomenon and flooding for the lost production.

Shortly after, the Cereal Stock Exchange of Buenos Aires reported that crop estimates from a variety of other sources were all being revised downward as well.

Brazil, Paraguay and other countries in the region were also expected to see a decrease in soy production.

According to current estimates, there will 30 million fewer tons of soybeans on the world market this year than there were last year. China, the main importer of soy globally, has shown interest in acquiring larger amounts of the commodity in anticipation of shortages in second half of 2012.

Jorge de Saja, director of the Confederation of Manufacturers for Animal Food of Spain (CESFAC), said Spain cannot do without soybeans from Argentina.

De Saja said Spanish producers consider Argentina to be a strategic provider for this time of the year. Spain uses 4.5 million tons of soybeans per year, more than half of which is imported from Argentina.

Buenos Aires’ Cereal Stock Exchange said the soybean market also being affected by external factors such as the global financial slowdown and the European economic crisis. Last week, soybeans futures reached their highest price on Chicago’s exchange since 2008, exceeding $550 USD per ton. The main driver of the increase was the scarcity of production in relation to demand.

The Cereal Stock Exchange in Cordoba province cited projections from U.S. consulting firm Informa Economics that forecast an increase in production in South America in 2012-2013. According to the firm, Brazil will see production of 80.5 million tons in 2012-2013 and Argentina will produce 60 million tons.

The exchange predicted that the 2012-2013 period will be more positive due to the return of El Niño weather conditions.

At the same time, the Argentine Ministry of Agriculture has also noted that the effects of drought could open new doors for a wide range of business opportunities in irrigation and water solutions in the country.

The ministry is receiving tenders for projects to be carried out by PROSAP, the province’s specialized irrigation agency, which secured $790 million USD in funding from the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank.

Valley Irrigation, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Valmont Industries, has recently set up operations in Buenos Aires. The company is planning to build production facilities in the country, at a cost of $12-$14 million USD, to avoid import restrictions. 

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WWF Russia Criticizes Medvedev's New Environmental Strategy

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MOSCOW, Russia

Russian authorities are touting the new state environmental strategy introduced earlier in this month by outgoing President Dmitri Medvedev as a “historic stride” toward greening the country’s economy.

The document, which provides a blueprint for ecological development through 2030, requires Russian ministries to draw up environmental protection and development plans.

Zambians Accuse Barrick Gold of Contaminating Lumwana River

lusaKa, Zambia

Residents of the Lumwana area in northwestern Zambia’s Solwezi district are demanding that Barrick Gold Corp. provide them with piped water, after they say the company’s Lumwana Mine operation contaminated their main water source, the Lumwana River.

The Zambia Environmental Management Agency has promised to evaluate whether water in the river is safe for consumption.

Last week, it was reported that members of the Lumwana community were refusing to draw water from the river or nearby boreholes because of the alleged pollution.

Location of Zambia's Solwezi district.

At a stakeholders' meeting in the area on May 5, local people accused the mining giant of discharging toxic effluent from its tailings plant into the river; they said this had been going on since 2009.

Community representative Aggrey Shatewa said that not only have residents been drinking contaminated water, but that over the past three years when the river has flooded, it has destroyed crops.

Solwezi District Commissioner Dennis Kanyakula said the government is monitoring all mining processes and is eager to ensure that the population is protected from any harm.

He pledged to engage the mine’s management and the local water utility company to find a better way of providing safe and clean drinking water to the community.

The environmental management agency says it will ensure that the water from the tailings dam is thoroughly tested before it is discharged into the Lumwana River. 

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Philippines’ Bulacan Province to Clean Up Major River System

MANILA, Philippines

Representatives of a U.S.-based environmental non-profit met with governor of Bulacan province Wilhelmino Sy Alvarado earlier this month to advance clean-up efforts on the Marilao-Meycauayan-Obando River System (MMORS), which has been contaminated with severe industrial pollution.

The New York-based Blacksmith Institute conducted inspections of the MMORS, and named it the fifth-dirtiest river worldwide in its 2005 survey.

"The Marilao, Meycauyan and Obando river system is home to hundreds of thousands of people and numerous industries, most of which pump their wastewater untreated into the river,” the institute said on its website.

“Carcinogenic hexavalent chromium, lead, and human sewage are just a few components of this toxic stew, which the local population relies on as a source of domestic and agricultural water.”

The organization identified industrial waste from tannery operations, pharmaceuticals, lead smelting and battery recycling as the main sources of pollutants in the area.

It plans to create a coordinating body to oversee the cleanup. The committee, which will be tasked with designing and implementing remediation efforts, will comprise representatives from industries, the government and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). 

Last December, Bulacan province, along with the national Department of Environment and Natural Resources, signed a memorandum of agreement with private firm EcoShield Development Corporation to dredge the river system as part of a solid waste management initiative.

The goal was to rehabilitate the river for commercial fishing purposes. The plan also specified construction of a 44-hectare sanitary landfill, the first in Central Luzon.

The landfill and the dredging were also meant to slow down flooding.  In 2009, 30 people died as Typhoon Ketsana submerged 118 villages and 17 municipalities in the province. Marilao was one of the worst-hit towns, with chest-deep floods in most of the area.

Alvarado considers the cleanup to be one his province's most important projects. To help with the initiative, EcoShield has donated a one-hectare property as a site for a sewage treatment facility. 

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Aging Sewage Infrastructure Could Lead to Environmental Disaster for Trans-Boundary Irtysh River

ASTANA, Kazakhstan

An aging sewage collector laid at the bottom of the trans-boundary Irtysh River in Kazakhstan has degraded to the point where it must be replaced to avoid an environmental catastrophe, Kazakh environmentalists have warned.

However, government officials claim the underwater pipeline will remain functional for another two years, although they plan to start preparations to replace it this year.

The Irtysh provides drinking water as well as water for irrigation and industry in three countries – Kazakhstan, Russia and China.

The Irtysh River Basin.

“In case of emergency, everything will end badly not only for us, but also for neighboring Russia,” Nikolay Isaev, a leader of the Semipalatinsk Association of Non-Profit Organizations, said earlier this month.

“The costs of rehabilitation of the underwater pipeline would be disproportionate [compared to] the price which [we] could be forced to pay.”

Experts said the threat of an underwater pipeline burst increases during spring flooding every year. Fast-moving water currents could dislodge the pipeline.

Local water supply and wastewater company Semey-Vodokanal assured members of the press that the pipeline is checked every year. Specialists who inspected it last summer found that it is in critical condition, but the utility insists there is no cause for concern.

 “They [specialists] said it can survive another two years,” said the company’s technical director, Vladimir Grebelnoy.

According to local authorities, design and estimate documentation for rehabilitation of the old underwater pipeline will be prepared later this year.

“Funds have been allocated to us,” said Alexander Ershov, head of Semey’s Housing and Utility Services Department.

“We will conduct bidding in late May, and then work to prepare design and estimate documentation will be done. If everything is OK, and design and estimate documentation is ready this year, next year we will start work.”

Officials said rehabilitation of the pipeline will not resolve all of the problems in the area; a new sewage collector also needs to be built. This will cost another $3.4 million USD.

Flowing more than 4,200 kilometers from the Kara-Irtysh in China’s Xinjiang province through Lake Zaysan in Kazakhstan to the Ob River in Russia, the Irtysh has seen a decrease in its flow due to the 22-meter wide, 300-kilometer-long Irtysh-Karamai diversion canal China has built.

The canal collects 800 million cubic meters per year, about 6 to 8 percent of the Irtysh’s average annual water supply.  Itmay siphon off up to 40 percent of the river’s flow in the future.

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UNEP Report Deems Water Reforms Successful

nairoBi, Kenya

Countries that have adopted internationally-agreed approaches to integrated water resources management (IWRM) in many cases enjoyed significant benefits, particularly in potable water access, health and water efficiency in agriculture, according to a survey released this month by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

Over 80 percent of the 130-plus countries surveyed have reformed their water laws over the past 20 years in response to pressure on resources from growing populations, urbanization and climate change, UNEP said.

Around 90 percent of countries reported positive impacts after introducing IWRM reforms. However, the survey of national governments found slower progress on irrigation, rainwater harvesting and funding for freshwater ecosystem services.

The survey is intended to provide background information for the Rio +20 conference this June -- IWRM was strongly backed by the original Rio Earth Summit in 1992 as part of the Agenda 21 sustainable development initiative.

It asked for government feedback on issues such as governance, infrastructure, financing and other water management issues, in order to judge the level of success in moving towards IWRM.

The survey revealed that a majority of countries feel that water-related risks and competition for resources have increased over the past 20 years, and most countries rate domestic water supply as their highest priority for water resources management.

In addition, most countries reported a growing trend in financing for water resources development, while acknowledging that there are still obstacles to implementing reforms. Progress on water efficiency also lagged behind other water management reforms; less than half of national reforms address this issue.

On an individual country basis there have been notable successes– for example, Estonia reported that introducing water charges and pollution taxes has helped to contribute to improved water efficiency and reduced pollution loads in the Baltic Sea, and Ghana has rehabilitated more than 40 percent of its irrigation systems to enable more efficient water use and productivity.

However, many countries highlighted the need for increased capacity building, investment and infrastructure development to allow full IWRM implementation.

When it came to the various countries’ views on key issues, infrastructure development and financing were top concerns at 79 percent and 78 percent, respectively. Climate change was seen as a priority by 70 percent of countries surveyed, and 76 percent of countries felt that threats from this source had increased since 1992.

The survey also set a series of proposed targets and recommendations to feed into Rio +20. These include:

  • Each country should develop set targets and time frames for preparing and implementing actions and a financing strategy for IWRM;
  • A global reporting mechanism should be established for national water resources management;
  • More effort should be put into increasing finance and improving the institutional framework for water resources management, focusing on low Human Development Index countries. 
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