water crisis in ChennaiChennai, the capital of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, faces a water shortage that threatens the lives of 9 million residents. The city heavily relies on groundwater, which has completely dried up. Ironically, the city is prone to flooding caused by the heavy rains of the monsoon season. The local government failed to harness rainfall during the monsoon season, which was less than usual last year, causing water reserves to remain unfilled. With no further preparation of the inevitable, stored water continued being depleted and resulted in a water crisis in Chennai.

Only Rain Can Save Chennai

Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio posted on Instagram, saying that “only rain can save Chennai from this situation.” The picture was of women trying to draw water from an almost empty well. DiCaprio drew attention to the water crisis in Chennai in hopes of highlighting how devastating the conditions are, and to spread awareness about the importance of preparing for droughts.

The Cause of the Problem

The cause of the drought is the vast amount of urbanization in Chennai. Buildings were quickly built on top of underground water reserves, which eventually dried up due to a lack of rainwater being able to enter them. For example, “in the 1920s…the ancient 70 acre Mylapore tank was filled up to create what is now a bustling residential and commercial area called T Nagar.” This means that the citizens of Chennai have to rely on outside water being brought in.

Getting Water from the Government

One solution for the people of Chennai is to order water from government water trucks.  Each day these trucks bring water to a community or neighborhood for people to fill up their reserves. However, current water tankers have long and increasing wait time, causing further problems. Citizens turn to private tankers, but these sell water “for six times the price [of government tankers].” Until the water tanker process can be made more efficient, people are forced to deplete their savings to pay for water, or even move out of Chennai.

Other Possible Solutions

An alternative solution is to invest in the latest technology to make water more accessible for everyone, such as more desalination plants that make saltwater drinkable. One example is the Minjur desalination plant, which is “35km north of…Chennai,” and is the largest desalination plant in India. It has “a capacity of 100 [milliliters/day]” and could potentially help around 500,000 people in Chennai. The state government hopes to use the plant to help in future water crises.

Ironically, Chennai already has a solution, rainwater harvesting, which is mandatory for all buildings by law. This is the simple process of collected rainwater from buildings which can then be stored for later use. According to The Washington Post, the rainwater harvesting process “has not been rigorously implemented or monitored” leaving many people blaming the Chennai government for their inefficiency and lack of preparation for what is the slow and steady degradation of Chennai’s water supply.

While millions of Chennai citizens currently struggle to get drinking water, it is important to remember that there are solutions that can be implemented to stop a water crisis from reoccurring in the future. Solutions such as desalination plants, water trucks and rainwater harvesting are all steps in the right direction to ensure water access for the millions who need it.

– Anish Kelkar
Photo: Flickr

Water Shortage in ChennaiWater has become a scarce commodity for residents in Chennai, India. Reservoirs once teeming with water are now dry lake beds. Water levels in the area are the fifth-lowest recorded in the last 74 years, sparking worry about future water shortages. Drought-like conditions paired with the limited access to water are driving city officials and residents to find alternative sources of water.

Why Access to Water Matters

Water is an integral part of everyday life in Chennai. At least 85 percent of the area is directly dependent on rain to recharge its groundwater. Agriculture is a big part of Chennai’s ecosystem and economy. Rain provides water for irrigation and livestock. Healthy living is another result of easy access to clean water. Rain provides water for drinking, cooking, cleaning and other household needs.

Rainfall is collected, stored and treated in four main reservoirs: Chembarambakkam Lake, Redhills Lake, Poondi Lake and Cholavaram Lake. These bodies of water depend on seasonal rainfall to replenish water levels year after year. At capacity, Chembarmbakkam holds 3,645 million cubic feet (MCFT) of water, Redhills holds 3,330 MCFT, Poondi holds 3,231 MCFT and Cholavarm holds 1,081 MCFT.

Recent records show that combined, all four reservoirs are at 1.3 percent of total capacity. In May 2019, Chembarambakkam only held one MCFT of water, Redhills held 28 MCFT, Poondi held 118 MCFT and Cholavarm held four MCFT. The water shortage is impeding the city’s ability to produce food, creating severe food insecurity and exposing its residents to unsanitary living conditions.

Factors Driving Chennai’s Water Shortage

Various factors are contributing to the water shortage in Chennai. The most observable factor is the lack of rain. Typically, India’s monsoon rain season occurs between June and September. Similar to a hurricane or typhoon, monsoons bring torrential rains across India which replenish the region’s water supply. For the past couple of years, Chennai has experienced lower than normal rainfall. Even monsoon rain levels were recorded to be 44 percent lower than the average in June 2019.

Lower rainfall, combined with scorching temperatures, has created drought-like conditions in the area. To make matters worse, Chennai continues to grow water-guzzling crops like sugarcane, rice and wheat. With no improvements in sight, some Chennai residents have chosen to migrate out of the area to avoid the consequences of the impending water shortage.

Response to the Water Shortage in Chennai

City officials and residents are responding to Chennai’s water shortage and drought. Here are three ways Chennai is increasing and conserving its water levels:

  1. Water Delivery – Affluent Chennai residents and businesses are relying on the water supply of neighboring cities. They pay trucks to deliver clean water to their homes and places of business. City officials are also following suit. They arranged for 10 million liters of water to be transported by train from Jolarpet, a city 200 kilometers away. The water will be pumped upstream in area lakes. Through the natural gradient, the water will flow downstream and help increase water levels. This practice recharges depleting groundwater in the region. As a result, Chennai will offset the crippling effects caused by the lack of rain as its green cover increases and agriculture receives a boost.
  2. Rain Harvesting – Non-affluent Chennai residents are digging trenches and embankments in an effort to increase their own access to water. Rain harvesting is a common practice in India, but the high cost of water delivery and below-average rainfall has made the practice more important than ever. While individual trenches and embankments cannot hold large amounts of water, they do give residents a chance to increase water levels in the area. The cost of upkeeping the rain harvesting structures is equivalent to $1.40. As a result, Chennai residents are able to increase their field productivity and maintain healthy livestock at a low cost.
  3. Micro-Irrigation – Agriculture methods are also changing as part of Chennai’s water shortage. Farmers are finding new methods of irrigation in efforts to conserve water. Recently, 1,000 solar pumps were added to cultivated areas. The solar pumps will help farmers distribute water more efficiently. The solar pumps also offset the cost associated with growing water-guzzling crops like sugarcane.

The Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board continues to monitor India’s water situation.

– Paola Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

BARKA Foundation

Burkina Faso is a small, land-locked country located in western Africa. Due to recurring droughts and the lack of efficient infrastructure, access to clean water remains an issue in Burkina Faso, especially during the dry winter months when two of the country’s three rivers dry up. In addition to water scarcity, many areas still do not have the sanitation facilities necessary to ensure drinking water is clean and safe. An organization called the BARKA Foundation is working to change that.

Barka is an African word meaning gratitude, blessing and reciprocity. These three words embody the mission of the BARKA Foundation, an American non-profit that strives to bring clean water to all parts of Burkina Faso. In 2015, 93.3 percent of the rural population and 80.3 percent of the total population did not have improved sanitation facility access. Nearly half the country still lives without clean water. Dirty water can spread diarrheal diseases and other infections to the public. Below are descriptions of the BARKA Foundation’s current clean water projects, and the positive effects these projects have had on communities in Burkina Faso.

WASH

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Education (WASH) is a long-term initiative that not only supplies rural villages with clean water but also educates the villagers on important sanitation and water purification practices. The goal here is sustainability. By giving village members lifelong sanitation skills, BARKA can be confident that their positive impact will continue after they have left. WASH objectives include digging wells, building latrines and educating members of the community.

Part of what makes the BARKA Foundation special is its culturally sensitive and community-based approach to clean water. Before any project starts, BARKA makes sure it is in accordance with the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ Principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). This principle ensures that all beneficiary communities agree to the non-profit’s presence and initiatives, have the right to negotiate the terms of the agreement and can withdraw consent at any time.

BARKA also makes a point of developing sustained personal relationships with each village, so the two groups can develop trust and collaborate effectively. The foundation establishes water and sanitation committees in each town, which are run by the villagers and must be made up of equal parts men and women. These principles are central to WASH’s desire to create a sustainable system of clean water and sanitation. So far, more than 25,000 rural villages have been improved by WASH. The organization has drilled 6 wells and built 14 bathrooms in 5 primary schools in rural areas.

Social Art

BARKA recognizes the cultural importance of song, dance and performance in Burkina Faso. Therefore, to engage village members, the BARKA Foundation uses theater to relay information to the public. These performances involve a portable stage along with light and sound equipment. The plays often contain themes such as female empowerment and sustainable agriculture. After a performance, the audience and the actors on stage have a lively debate where questions may be asked or points challenged. The goal is to create an immersive and interactive learning experience in which everyone can participate.

The adult literacy rate in Burkina Faso is only 34.6 percent. For this reason, engaging and participatory education is extremely important in rural areas. BARKA wants to get the necessary information out there in an effective way that does not exclude illiterate members of society. BARKA has involved 10,023 people in villages and public performances to date, benefiting more than 16,000 people. The average audience size per performance is 432 people.

Walk for Water

A great way for people in their home countries to get involved with the BARKA Foundation is to do a Walk for Water. When there are no wells close by, villagers must travel to a water source to fill up heavy jugs of water and lug them home. The chore typically falls on the shoulders of women and girls in the village, so they usually have to attend to small children while making the journey. Often, those going to get water are barefoot or equipped with poor footwear. This practice is physically tiring and time-consuming and takes time away from girls’ education.

Walks for Water are an imitation of this daily burden. Classrooms, schools and clubs raise money and awareness by carrying water jugs and walking for a set distance (usually 6 kilometers). The fundraiser engages the entire community and is a great way to get everyone involved in an important cause.

Ceramic Filters

Ceramic water filters are a cheap, environmentally sustainable and generally effective way to purify household water. The CDC found that people who used ceramic filters were 60 to 70 percent less likely to contract diarrheal diseases from their drinking water. While these filters are useful for removing most protozoa and bacterial pathogens, they are typically not as effective at removing viruses. For this reason, filters should not be considered a long-term solution but rather an important step.

The BARKA Foundation uses a “cross-subsidization” model to distribute filters to impoverished areas. Essentially, BARKA sells the filters to NGOs and the Burkinabe middle class that can afford them. They then use those profits to distribute ceramic filters to poor areas, often visiting rural villages with little to no sanitation facility access. These filters represent a simple and effective way to ensure every household has at least some method of water purification.

The Future of Clean Water in Burkina Faso

Although the federal government recognized the importance of clean water distribution with the Water Act in 2001, Burkina Faso’s local governments largely do not have the money or resources to maintain filtered water and sanitation practices. The BARKA Foundation seeks to fill these gaps, and its efforts have no doubt resulted in success on the ground.

While it can be difficult to quantify exactly how much improvement BARKA has brought about, they are headed in the right direction. In 2005, a year before BARKA was founded, the life expectancy in Burkina Faso was 53.3 years. Today, the country’s life expectancy is about 61 years. BARKA’s various projects will continue to fight poverty by bringing clean, safe and sustainable water to Burkina Faso.

Morgan Johnson
Photo: Flickr

Drought in Zimbabwe

There has been a severe, ongoing drought in Zimbabwe for the past few years. Zimbabwe is a particularly sensitive country to drought. Because it already has issues with food security, low amounts of rain and other water sources make the situation even more difficult. Due to the fact that most agriculture in Zimbabwe relies on rainwater, the crop harvests in the region have suffered severely as a result of the drought. According to the United Nations World Food Programme, nearly 5.3 million people in the country (about a third of the country’s full population) face food insecurity due to low rainwater killing crops. With about 63 percent of people in Zimbabwe living below the poverty line, they will feel the impact of this drought the most.

Drought conditions are worse than ever

Temperatures as of late have been several degrees higher than average. The years 2015-2018 were the hottest ever recorded around the globe. These hotter, drier conditions have effected Zimbabwe. The heat intensifies the drought’s impacts on crops and livestock, resulting in a decrease in available food. The main crop which Zimbabwe relies on is maize. Typically, Zimbabwe’s annual maize consumption is about 1.8 million tons. However, due to droughts, the harvest in 2019 may be closer to 1 million, which is nearly half of the usually available amount. Experts say this could be the worst drought Zimbabwe has faced in over 30 years, with the country seeing 15 to 45 percent less than average rainfall.

Zimbabwe Flash Appeal program and other solutions

To combat this issue, the UN has launched the Zimbabwe Flash Appeal program, working to provide 234 million USD in aid. The program offers much-needed resources like food, water, sanitation and overall protection to over 2.2 million people in the country. With food prices increasing as a result of new governmental policies, people will be needing this aid more than ever.

There are other potential solutions to this issue, as well. Dispersing silver iodide into clouds (effectively “seeding” them) causes the clouds to thicken. This makes it more likely for the rain to occur, as water droplets are super-cooled and made heavier. Silver iodide mimics the chemical structure of ice. This causes other water droplets that are already cold enough to freeze to attach themselves and fall as rain.

Zimbabwe is one of 56 countries in the world that uses cloud-seeding technology, budgeting about $400,000 for it in 2018. The science is new and uncertain, and whether it effectively alleviates drought conditions is still disputed. However, it could provide one option to help correct the drought in Zimbabwe.

Another avenue to explore is diversifying crops and livestock in the midst of changing environmental conditions. One adaptation undertaken in some regions is an increased reliance on poultry livestock, such as quail and other indigenous birds.

Despite challenges, local farmers are working together to overcome the challenges in the area due to the drought. Economic and environmental crises are severe, but with efforts by the UN and local people in the country, there is still hope amid the drought in Zimbabwe.

-Jade Follette
Photo: Pixabay

Water Crisis in IndiaIndia is home to approximately 16 percent of the world’s population. However, India only holds about 4 percent of the world’s freshwater, leaving 76 million Indians without access to safe drinking water. The water crisis in India worsens each year as precipitation becomes more unreliable and groundwater sources run dry. More than 500 people in Chennai, India’s sixth-largest city, were arrested during protests in front of the municipal government on June 19. Protesters blame the government for the water crisis as a result of “negligence and mismanagement.”

Background

Usually, June is the start of monsoon season in Chennai. Precipitation levels are only half of what they should be. June 20 was the first major rainfall of the year, 29 millimeters. This was more than the total documented rainfall since December. Furthermore, Chennai’s basic infrastructure system is unable to efficiently store water during rainstorms to save for periods of drought. The rivers fill quickly and often flood. Meanwhile, 91 percent of the water flows into the ocean where it is no longer drinkable. Chennai is the first major city to experience a water crisis in India this severe.

The four largest reservoirs around Chennai have run dry. They are not expected to fill until November. The government is currently shipping water directly into Chennai, where thousands of residents wait in line for their share. Once residents receive their water, they must carry over a dozen pots back home for their families. People have resorted to violence, fighting over water or hijacking water trucks, to survive.

How Did This Happen?

There are two sources of water in the world: surface water and groundwater. Around 700 million Indians rely on groundwater as their main source of drinking water. But groundwater is only supposed to be a buffer resource in case of drought. Additionally, monsoon season’s unpredictability over the last few years has prevented groundwater from replenishing. For instance, between 2002 and 2012, groundwater depletion rates in Chennai were 8 percent faster than recharge.

Protesters blame the government for the water crisis in India because of the lack of regulation to protect groundwater has left reservoirs dry. India uses more groundwater than any other country, using about 25 percent of all groundwater extracted in the world. Unlike surface water, the Indian government does not regulate groundwater. The Easement Act of 1882 gives landowners the right to collect water under their land despite it being a shared resource. In other words, the lack of regulation gave way to the tragedy of the commons. Individuals acted independently to advance their own interests without worrying about the consequences of over-exploitation and depletion for the community.

Future Effects

Chennai’s geological systems are susceptible to quick depletion because of its shallow crystalline aquifers with little storage room for water. Additionally, crystalline rock has low permeability, which drastically decreased recharge rates during rainfall. These conditions caused almost immediate depletion. However, water insecurity will continue to worsen across other parts of India with different geological structures as more groundwater is over-exploited.

If they continue to exploit groundwater at this rate, 40 percent of the population will not have access to drinking water by 2030. Furthermore, 21 cities will run out of groundwater by 2020. Lastly, by the year 2050, 6 percent of GDP will be lost.

Potential Solutions

Replenishing groundwater is essential to ending the water crisis in India. However, as monsoon season brings unreliable rainfall, communities must search for other ways to refill aquifers. One idea is to desalinate seawater. About 25 percent of India’s population, including residents of Chennai, live along the water. Currently, desalinated water makes up 40 percent of Chennai’s supply. However, this is not enough to end the water crisis. Desalination requires too high of costs and energy consumption for a fuel-poor country. The Desalination Journal conducted a study in 2014. The study found that solar energy can desalinate water. However, desalination cannot produce water at a sustainable monetary cost.

The government must find other solutions to the severe water crisis in India. Leaving the rights of groundwater to landowners will continue to lead to further depletion. It will take a large government commitment to reverse the effects of the water crisis in India and provide its residents with sufficient access to clean water.

– Haley Myers
Photo: Flickr

drought in AfricaThe Horn of Africa, a region where nearly 80 percent of the population relies on farming for survival, has been hit with a prolonged and harmful drought. Periods of dry weather are not uncommon in the area. However, such a significant timespan without any rainfall spells disaster for those who require healthy crops to make a living. The Horn of Africa drought is even more dangerous considering climate change and the United States’ reduced foreign aid budget.

The Drought

The Horn of Africa is well acquainted with droughts. The region has faced several in recent years. However, the current dry spell is severely affecting the ability of families to obtain food, making it one of the harshest droughts the region has seen.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that the ongoing Horn of Africa drought has triggered widespread food insecurity, especially among families raising livestock. Expecting the drought to cause increased hunger, the FAO issued a pre-famine alert for Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. The governments of Kenya and Somalia have already declared a national disaster.

The FAO also reports that families are malnourished due to scarce food and a lack of proper nutrients. Since the onset of the drought in 2017, the number of people grappling with food insecurity has increased dramatically. For example, 2.7 million people in Kenya, 2.9 million people in Somalia and 5.6 million people in Ethiopia are suffering from food insecurit.

Climate Change: Another Hurdle

Climate change is a major factor influencing the impact of the African Horn drought. According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report 2018, the number of disasters related to climate change have doubled since 1990. These events include flooding, droughts and fires caused by extreme dry heat.

The people who live in the region have remarked on the disastrous consequences of climate change. Birhan, an Ethiopian mother of four, commented, “We have not seen an improvement in the climate situation… The drought is becoming recurrent. But if there is rain, it is excessive and destroys the crops.” Birhan and 1.5 million other people are able to receive emergency rations during the drought thanks to the USAID food program. However, the aid is not enough to quell the rising need for food, livestock and water.

Cutting Back Foreign Aid

In March, the White House proposed the 2020 fiscal budget. This budget aims to cut U.S. foreign food and financial assistance by 24 percent. This funding reduction will exacerbate the adverse impacts of the Horn of Africa drought. Without assistance from developed nations such as the U.S., access to food and clean water will become more difficult for those inhabiting the affected regions.

Matt Davis is the East Africa regional director for Catholic Relief Services, an organization overseeing a U.S.-funded food program in the area. Davis commented on the federal budget’s impact on struggling populations: “We’re very concerned by the deteriorating conditions in the region where we are seeing families–whose lives rely on the land–unable to cope,” he said. “We are concerned the administration’s budget could abandon millions of families around the world just when they need help the most.”

Relief Efforts

Climate hazards and reduced U.S. assistance have worsened the impact of the Horn of Africa drought. Several organizations are working to help families with food and financial aid to combat these issues. In 2017, the European Union decided to further aid the people of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia during the recurring drought by offering nearly €260 million in financial assistance.

The Horn of Africa drought is cyclical in nature. The countries most affected by the drought are seeking localized solutions to surviving climate-related issues. Kenya appears to be moving forward in this area, with the government investing in community water sources independent of rain-fueled agriculture.

Ethiopia has also made strides in building a defense against the drought by implementing The Productive Safety Net Programme. This program helps food-insecure communities build stockpiles of food to prepare for drought and ultimately become food self-sufficient.

Coordination between the affected countries and more developed nations is necessary to build resistance to drought and other disastrous climate-related issues. Global financial and food assistance programs, a U.S. budget that does not drastically reduce foreign aid and localized efforts to build resistance against drought are effective approaches. These strategies will help the Horn of Africa move closer to a truly thriving expanse of subsistence farming.

– Holli Flanagan
Photo: Flickr

India water crisisIndia’s dry season has been notably harsh in 2019, and the country is suffering its lowest rainfall before a monsoon season in six decades. Just under half the population is facing a drought and dozens have died from the combination of a heat wave and a lack of water. The India water crisis is also causing evacuations as the drought is forcing families to leave their homes in search of water.

Chennai, India’s sixth largest city, is facing extreme water scarcity. The reservoir water supply shrank between 2018 and 2019 and is almost entirely drained of water.

Effect of the Drought

Experts blame the severe drought on mismanaged resources along with industrial and human waste, bad policy decisions and climate change. Thirty-two states have organized a State Action Plan on Climate Change in order to achieve national as well as regional priorities. But many farmers claim the government plan has not been carried out. “There is a lack of interest among politicians and the bureaucracy, which is keen to look for temporary solutions to drought and climate change impacts,” stated agricultural and climate change researcher Atul Deulgaonkar.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the drought has not only affected the monsoon and winter crops but also destroyed supplementary crops. Because agriculture is the most important sector of its economy, India is heavily reliant on monsoon rains. The drought is particularly dangerous for marginalized farmers in rural areas. Approximately 80 percent of districts in Karnataka and 72 percent in Maharashtra are faced with crop failure, which has put the livelihood of eight million farmers in jeopardy.

Solutions to the Crisis

However, there are solutions to the crisis such as reducing the need for the enormous amounts of water used for crops. Because agriculture accounts for nearly 90 percent of India’s water consumption, reducing the dependence on water-intensive crops and agricultural methods would substantially increase water for drinking and make farmers less vulnerable to water shortages. Environmental scientist Kyle Davis stated, “Diversifying the crops that a country grows can be an effective way to adapt its food-production systems to the growing influence of climate change.” In addition, the use of alternative grains can improve nutrition and reduce greenhouse emissions from agriculture.

Other steps are currently underway for alleviating the water crisis. In 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed an $87 billion plan to reduce flooding and improve irrigation by linking 60 rivers across India. So far only 16 rivers have been linked and the effect of this plan is yet to be determined. Some Indian states such as Maharashtra have followed the example of Israel and implemented a drip irrigation method, which involves dripping water onto individual plants through tubes or pipes rather than flooding whole fields.

Whatever the means, the India water crisis must come to an end. One-hundred million children in India lack water and one out of every two are underfed. Water security must be guaranteed in India amidst rising temperatures and falling water tables so families can raise their children with dignity and health in the upcoming century. A slew of solutions indicate hope for the future, though.

– Kiran Matthias
Photo: Pixabay

India's current droughtRecent efforts to stem corruption and promote economic growth have caused many to proclaim that India has a bright future ahead. However, India’s current drought poses a grave threat to their future. From 2001 to 2011, India’s annual per capita water availability decreased by 15 percent and most estimates have projected it to fall by almost 30 percent by 2050. In addition, India’s ever-growing population is expected to grow to 1.8 billion by 2050, making the already difficult task of providing clean water throughout the country that much harder. Needless to say, India has a major challenge on its hands that could define the future of the country.

What Has Caused These Issues?

While there are many reasons for India’s current drought, most experts point to a few main culprits. One of the biggest is India’s changing climate. As India has experienced progressively warmer summers, it has seen reduced snow cover throughout the Himalayan mountain region. This has resulted in decreased water runoff and increased water shortages over time.

Secondly, India has seen its water supply decrease as a result of poor agricultural practices by farmers. Considering that agriculture accounts for 90 percent of India’s water consumption, these practices, including improper use of pesticides and indiscriminate use of groundwater, have resulted in substandard water availability for the millions of Indians across the country.

Lastly, the country has been plagued by water pollution due to improper sewage systems and the dumping of waste in lakes and wetlands. This waste often finds its way into groundwater and contaminates it, resulting in drinking water that is unsafe to drink.

Improvements in Sanitation

While water scarcity in India is by no means a simple issue, there are many promising solutions to the problem, some of which are already being implemented throughout the country. One of the biggest areas of focus for many NGO’s working in India is on improving sanitation practices. Nonprofits such as Water.org and WaterIsLife have both done great work in recent years with to improve sanitation. Water.org has focused its work on providing people with the opportunity to use clean bathroom facilities, which has reduced open defecation. WaterisLife has helped install many wastewater treatment plants, which have helped treat dirty water and make it drinkable.

Rainwater Catchment Systems

India can also continue the good work that has been done by installing water catchment systems around the country. These systems can help recycle water and are a sustainable solution to the water scarcity issues that currently plague the country. Charity: Water, a non-profit based in New York City, has already played a major role in the installation of such systems around the country, which has helped make water more accessible for thousands of Indian citizens.

Looking into the Future

India is not the only country currently facing a drought. Many countries around the world, especially those located in warm or desert climates, are going through similar issues. However, swift action must be taken lessen the effects of the drought. Such action will require heavy contribution from both Indian citizens and the Indian government, along with NGO’s from around the world.

– Kiran Matthias
Photo: Pixabay

Causes of Desertification
As the world continues to heat up from causes both natural and manmade, nations across the globe are seeing once fertile land becoming barren and unproductive. Some consider this process, known as desertification, irreversible. Officially, the United Nations defines desertification as “the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas.” The shrinking of arable land threatens food and water security for those in poor and rural areas. Poverty and desertification go hand in hand in a vicious cycle. It is important to understand where this phenomenon tends to occur and what the causes of desertification are.

Where Does Desertification Occur?

Desertification is most common in Africa. More specifically, areas of sub-Saharan Africa see the largest amount of devastation from this environmental issue. By 2030, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calculates that upwards of two-thirds of Africa’s fertile, productive soil will be lost if desertification continues.

In Ethiopia, FAO calculates that desertification causes the loss of 92,000 hectares of woodlands every year, along with 2 billion tons of fertile, productive soil. As a result, Ethiopian citizens cannot rely on food security. Senegal, a country all the way across the continent from Ethiopia, also struggles with the harsh effects of desertification. Here, desertification causes low productivity in agriculture and has forced Senegal’s citizens to migrate.

Africa is not the only victim, however. Mexico’s citizens are suffering, too. Many entering the U.S. from Mexico are fleeing poverty caused by land degradation, according to the Natural Heritage Institute. The state of Oaxaca, where fruit trees native to Mexico once flourished, possesses dry patches of land no longer useful for agriculture. Every year, nearly one million Mexican citizens have little choice but to migrate away from the barren land that threatens job opportunities and food security.

The Causes of Desertification

Desertification is caused by a number of different issues. Human hands or natural occurrences can exacerbate or spark desertification. In areas of low precipitation, like Sub-Saharan Africa, long droughts that turn arid land to unproductive, barren soil are a frequent cause of desertification. Drought alters just about everything including farming opportunity, food and water security, population growth and migration. Drought exacerbates poverty, which is already an issue in many Sub-Saharan countries like Ethiopia and Senegal. Many people in these areas are unable to confront what causes desertification without proper preparation.

Human activities are also what cause desertification in many cases. Overcultivation or overcropping occurs in population-dense areas around the globe. Soil nutrients deplete and become unproductive in areas where growers overuse and overharvest formerly arable land. In Nigeria, over cultivation is a major issue threatening the livelihood of its citizens who depend on the nearly infertile land for agriculture.

Overgrazing of livestock is another root issue of desertification. Farmers would formerly graze livestock by moving the animals around, but this is no longer the case. Cattle grazing in a permanent space prevents the regeneration of the plants the animals are feeding on. Overgrazing makes the soil unusable since the land is unable to keep up with the needs of the livestock. This is a large threat in the Central Asian rangelands, like Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

The Good News

The world can combat this phenomenon by understanding the causes of desertification and implementing various acts to aid in regenerating arable land. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), established in 1994, is working to improve conditions and increase productivity in vulnerable areas of the world. The organization created the Great Green Wall Initiative, in which the goals are to expand arable land, generate more economic opportunities and increase food and water security in struggling areas, among other objectives.

Action Against Desertification, an initiative built off of the Green Wall Initiative, is helping six African countries (Ethiopia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Niger and Nigeria) that struggle most profoundly with desertification by educating farmers about more sustainable agricultural practices, planting millions of seedlings to expand arable land and rehabilitating desertified forests.

In May of 2017, the China-U.N. Peace and Development Trust Fund created the Juncao Technology project to combat desertification, erosion and hunger in Asian and African countries. The project’s approach is to replace wood with grass. This, in turn, will help to soften the blow of overgrazing and generate clean energy, all while preventing soil erosion and desertification.

Further, the UNCCD is working to achieve land degradation neutrality (LDN), which is defined as “a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources, necessary to support ecosystem functions and services and enhance food security, remains stable or increases within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems.”

– Anna Giffels
Photo: Flickr

Drought in Afghanistan
Afghanistan, a landlocked Asian country, is experiencing the worst drought in the past five decades. The United Nations has estimated that 2 million people have been affected by the drought and that 1.4 million people are in need of urgent food assistance. Several years of low rainfall and snowfall have led to the seriousness of the drought in Afghanistan.

The Drought in Afghanistan

The drought has affected 20 provinces in the country. Almost 1.5 million people rely on agriculture products for food in these affected regions. It has majorly affected the planting of wheat and livestock pastures. The Famine Early Warning System Network has placed many regions in Afghanistan in a crisis state and some regions are even considered to be in emergency phases. Due to the drought in Afghanistan, the number of households in the crisis to emergency phases are expected to rise even more.

The Effect on Refugee Crisis

The recent drought in Afghanistan has added more pressure to the refugee and displaced person population in the region. Water levels are so low that, in some areas, dry wells are driving even more people to leave the country.

Continuous conflict and unemployment have been a typical factor of migration in Afghanistan, but now the drought adds to the problem. During the recent refugee crisis, Afghans were the second largest group of refugees. Countries like Iran and Pakistan are no longer welcoming Afghanistan refugees and are even encouraging refugees to return home. Those who are unable to leave the country move into urban cities in order to find work to provide for their family.

International Response to Drought in Afghanistan

The European Union has recently added $22.7 million in emergency aid to the region in response to the severeness of the drought in Afghanistan. The recent funding will help to provide assistance to projects on the ground. These ground projects include food assistance, water, sanitation and health care.

A portion of this help will come from the EU’s own Emergency Response Mechanism that provides assistance to vulnerable regions. The Humanitarian Country Team also plans to revise their Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) to ask for $177 million in aid to assist people affected by the drought. The revision of the HRP plans to reach 4.2 million people across the country in various aspects, especially agriculture, sanitation and nutrition. These programs aim to ensure food security in the region as the number of households in need of emergency assistance increases.

There is hope for the region to somewhat sustain itself. The coming of Fall and El Nino, routine climate pattern, are promising to planters in Afghanistan. El Nino is expected to provide more than average precipitation in the coming season. The areas planted for wheat are expected to be higher than average due to the prediction of high precipitation.

This prediction, however, is one of many and there are other outcomes for the spread of rainfall. Hopefully, rainfall will return to the region and provide farmers with the resources to plant and harvest. As long as the people in urgent need of humanitarian aid are assisted, there is hope to ensure food security for those most affected by the drought in Afghanistan.

– Olivia Halliburton
Photo: Flickr