Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Are Water Wars a Fantasy, or a Future Reality?

Are Water Wars a Fantasy, or a Future Reality?
Thalif Deen

STOCKHOLM, Aug 29 (IPS) - The Middle East, one of the world's perennial war zones, has traditionally been blessed with a surfeit of oil and cursed by a scarcity of water.

The irony, says one Arab diplomat half-jokingly, is that whenever energy-rich Gulf states dig for water, they invariably strike oil.

The longstanding speculation among some political experts is that the world's future wars will be fought over water, not oil.

Asked whether she subscribes to this view, Sunita Narain, the winner of the 2005 Stockholm Water Prize, said: "Water wars are not invevitable. It lies in our hands -- and in our minds."

The award, including 150,000 dollars in cash and a crystal sculpture, was presented by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden at a formal ceremony in Stockholm last week.

Narain, director of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi and publisher of the widely-acclaimed environmental magazine Down to Earth, said water is very different from oil.

"Water is a replenishable commodity. The question is society's relationship to live with water. The management of water is critical. Water wars or water peace is in our hands," Narain told IPS.

She admits that "water stress" leads to tension and conflicts -- as evidenced by a recent police shooting of farmers in Rajasthan, India. The farmers were protesting the release of water from their lands to neighbouring cities.

"It was a very violent agitation," said Narain, recounting two other incidents of violence over water that resulted in the deaths of Indian farmers. Narain believes that water "is one thing that is crippling India's growth".

"I am not here as a pessimist saying that India is doomed and that water wars are going to happen, and we are going to destroy ourselves. I am saying very clearly that if India continues to go in this route, yes there will be water wars and there will be water conflicts. And we will be more and more crippled in our growth," she warned.

Narain noted that India has political leaders who are listening to this message. "They are recognising the need for a new paradigm. But this new paradigm unfortunately demands good politics, because it demands decentralisation of power, and it demands the involvement of people."

The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), which bestows the water prize every year, points out that most parts of the Middle East are already facing severe water scarcities and stress, making future prospects for food security bleak.

"The availability of water resources to secure sufficient food production for growing populations is one of the biggest challenges faced by water and agricultural managers," SIWI said.

In a newly-released publication titled "Liquid Assets: An Economic Approach for Water Management and Conflict Resolution in the Middle East and Beyond", Franklin Fisher and Annette Huber-Lee argue that the common view of water as an inevitable cause of future wars is neither rational nor necessary.

"Typically, two or more parties with claim to the same water sources are thought to play a zero-sum game, with each side placing a high emotional and political value on the ownership of the water," they point out.

However, say the authors, when disputes in ownership are expressed as disputes about money values, in most cases, the benefits of ownership will be surprisingly small.

"By assigning an economic value to water and treating it as a tradable source, parties see that the gains from cooperation exceed the costs, resulting from the change in ownership. A zero-sum game becomes a win-win situation," they add.

In a paper about the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which flow through Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait and even northern Saudi Arabia, Prof. Olcay Unver of the Ohio-based Kent State University says that despite the political volatility of the issue, shared water resource management between Turkey, Syria and Iraq may promote international cooperation, as opposed to interstate conflict, in the coming decade.

In a recent presentation to the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Unver said that during a time of great upheaval and transformation in the Middle East, the Tigris and Euphrates river basins "could bring about a unique rebuttal to worries over 'water wars' in one of the most conflicted regions on earth".

With the change of regime in Iraq -- and the potential opening of Syria -- now may be an appropriate time to focus on cross-border water issues as a catalyst for regional cooperation and economic development, he argues.

The sharing of water is also an ongoing dispute between Israel and Palestinians living in occupied territories. At least two factors may help alleviate the current tension: construction of major desalination plants and establishment of waste water treatment plants in occupied territories.

Gourisankar Ghosh, executive director of the Geneva-based Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), is equally positive.

"I am not that pessimistic that there will be wars over water. But there will definitely be tension when water is not properly managed," he added.

"I believe there will be tension between urban and rural areas. We have seen riots over water. But I don't think there will be wars over water. I look at it in a very positive way," Ghosh told IPS.

On the other hand, he believes that water can be a major instrument that can help bring people and governments together, cutting across political boundaries.

"I think this brings up a basic issue -- that of nation states and political boundaries," he said. In the future, however, there will be more partnerships according to economic zones rather than geographical zones.

In his own home country, Ghosh said, the whole eastern Indian subcontinent (which includes parts of Burma, Nepal, and Bangladesh) now constitutes an economic zone.

And as a result, he said, there will be a need for the concept of shared water as part of the planning for a subregional economic zone rather than separate planning for different countries.

This is the positive side of globalisaton, because it is breaking down geographical boundaries, Ghosh said. (END/2005)

Friday, August 26, 2005

British Retailers Call for Tough Stand on GM Soya

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is calling on the Brazilian soya industry to "resist further growth of GM planting" because "it will be enormously difficult to maintain trust in the food chain should Brazil's supply of non-GM soybean dry up." The call has been welcomed by an alliance of leading UK organisations [1] which are urging supermarkets and other food companies to take immediate action to safeguard GM-free food.

The BRC statement [2], released to the alliance this week, comes as crucial decisions are being made by Brazilian farmers about whether to plant GM or non-GM soya for next season's crop. It represents a strong re-affirmation that the UK retail industry wants to continue to provide GM-free products to UK consumers.

The statement also underlines the importance of Brazilian soya production in ensuring a future for GM-free food in the UK. The BRC says it is "essential that Brazil remains a continued source of non-GM soybean and halts the progression at the current level of 35% GM"

The BRC position is backed by reference to public attitudes in the UK [3]: 79% would not knowingly buy food containing GM ingredients."

Although all the major UK food companies continue to shun GM ingredients in their food, vast quantifies of GM soya for animal feed are still being imported. Animal products, like milk, meat and eggs, are not subject to GM labelling regulations. The alliance has written to food companies demanding urgent action to ensure that all soya used in animal feed should be GM-free [4].

The call follows a series of meetings in 2004/05 between the alliance and food industry representatives.

If companies fail to place firm orders for non-GM soya for animal feed, this could lead to other GM-free ingredients, such as soya oil and lecithin, becoming scarce. These ingredients are a by-product of the soya beans crushed for animal feed and are found in a host of processed foods from chocolate and biscuits to processed ready meals.

The letter from the alliance sets out the need for urgent action:

"Food retailers and manufacturers need to inform their suppliers that they are specifying non-GM animal feed as soon as possible, and before the beginning of the soya planting season in October 2005. In our view, failure to do so will have a rapid and direct negative impact on the availability of non-GM derivatives in future".

In addition, the letter calls upon the UK food industry to proactively seek alternatives to soya for feeding animals because it "is not environmentally or socially sustainable".

Commenting on behalf of the alliance, Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

We warmly welcome this re-affirmation of GM free policy from British retailers. It comes at a crucial time when Brazilian farmers are considering whether to grow GM or non-GM soya beans next year. It is important that the BRC ensures that its message is heard loud and clear in Brazil - by farmers and other players along the soya supply chain.

"But some UK food companies have clearly been resting on their laurels and have failed to phase out GM animal feed with any great urgency. It is high time that they backed the BRC statement with firm orders for GM-free soya for animal feed across their whole range. This would provide customers with milk, meat and eggs from animals that are not fed on GM feed. If food companies act now, the costs of such action can be kept to a minimum and they will help guarantee GM-free food for the future.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Sun shines on solar car team

Sun shines on solar car team

MIT vehicle takes 3rd place in 2,500-mile race

Sarah H. Wright, News Office
August 5, 2005

The MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team's car placed third in the North American Solar Challenge, completing the 2,500-mile course along U.S. Route 75 and Trans-Canada Highway 1 from Austin, Texas, to Alberta, Calgary, in just over 56 hours.

The world's longest solar car race, NASC 2005 began on July 17 and ended July 27. The University of Michigan's car, Momentum, took first place, making the arduous 10-day trip in just under 54 hours. The University of Minnesota's Borealis III placed second.

MIT's 375-pound, single-seat vehicle, called Tesseract, was one in a field of 20 sleek, low-slung solar cars that drove through city traffic, open highways and pounding Kansas rain using only the energy of the sun. (When the sun's not out, the cars run on batteries charged with solar energy.)

Tesseract's start was not sunny: MIT was in ninth place on the morning of July 17, but pulled into third place by day's end and held that position for much of the NASC event.

Other U.S. universities that competed included Missouri (fourth and eighth place), Western Michigan (sixth) and Stanford University (ninth). To qualify for NASC, each solar car had to prove it could drive 120 miles at a minimum speed of 25 mph.

The NASC course-known as a "rayce" among solar power enthusiasts-followed a straight line from south to north, with a sharp westward turn at Winnipeg, Manitoba. En route to the University of Calgary's Olympic Oval, the solar cars passed through checkpoints in Weatherford, Texas; Broken Arrow, Okla.; Topeka, Kan.; Omaha, Neb.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Fargo, N.D.; Brandon, Manitoba; Regina, Saskatchewan; and Medicine Hat, Alberta.

Before the race, each NASC vehicle underwent a rigorous inspection process, known as scrutineering, in Austin, followed by a qualifying test at Texas World Speedway.

Despite its extraordinary shape, Tesseract is composed of ordinary parts, including 512 lithium-ion batteries, the same type found in most laptop computers. A 6-horsepower motor attached to the hub of the rear wheel provides power; there is no transmission.

The driver controls the car with center-mounted handlebars, much like a bicycle; the car uses four mountain-bike brakes connected to go-kart master cylinders and pedal to stop.

Tesseract's Batmobile-like sheen comes from its solar array-2,732 solar cells, the same cells used on NASA satellites-covering a Kevlar and epoxy resin body. A chromoly steel space frame holds Tesseract together. The suspension is a car-mountain bike hybrid.

The car's name has interdisciplinary significance. In geometry, a tesseract, or hypercube, is a 4-dimensional analog of a cube. In literature, science fiction author Madeleine L'Engle used "tesseract" both as a noun-a type of "wrinkle" in space and time-and as a verb, as in tessering, or travel in the fifth dimension, in her novel, "A Wrinkle in Time."

In September 2005, Tesseract will compete in the World Solar Challenge, traversing Australia from Darwin in the north to Adelaide in the south, a distance of about 1,860 miles.

The NASC 2005 contest was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Natural Resources Canada, DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, TransAlta, University of Calgary, CSI Wireless, AMD and Manitoba Transportation and Government Services.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

UK Government Makes "Clear Cut" Decision on Timber

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth slam Government's decision on sustainable timber

(London, 11th August 2005) A coalition of leading environmental NGOs, today, attacked the UK Government's decision to water down its standards for sustainable timber, by allowing government departments to buy wood from forest certification schemes that approve destructive logging practices.

In a joint statement, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace said the changes were a major set-back in the Government's efforts to only purchase timber from legal and well-managed forests.

The Government has decided to allow timber produced under the PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) schemes to qualify for sustainable timber procurement.

Evidence shows the two schemes allow large scale, unsustainable logging in ancient forest areas, the destruction of endangered species habitat and the abuse of indigenous peoples' rights. The Government's acceptance of the PEFC scheme is conditional on the adoption of international criteria by all national schemes, and this will be reviewed in six months. But campaigners say that the scheme should not be accepted because even if they achieve this, their international criteria are still too weak.

Approval of the SFI is only applicable to a percentage based labelling scheme that is not yet in use. Nathan Argent, Greenpeace Forest Campaigner said, " This decision by the Government will rubber-stamp destructive logging practices that threaten the environment and do not take into consideration indigenous peoples' rights.

We urge both the public and private sector to clearly specify FSC on all contracts in order to guarantee that the timber they are using is from legal and sustainable sources ." Ed Matthew, Friends of the Earth's Forest Campaigner said, " The Government has come up with an ingenious method for persuading its critics that it only buys sustainable timber. They are officially recognising destructive logging as sustainable logging. Hey presto, all that horrible destructive timber that they buy has disappeared."

The announcement follows DEFRA's Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET) re-assessment of the two schemes. Environmental groups have challenged the Government's conclusions and say the schemes cannot provide consumers with a credible assurance that the timber they buy comes from well-managed forests.

The assessment was strictly paper-based, did not address on the ground practices and does not include social criteria meant to address the rights of forest peoples. Previously only certification by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Canadian Standards Association was considered as proof of legal and sustainable sourcing by the UK government. The only scheme that is generally accepted by all stakeholders, including environment groups, as ensuring environmentally and socially responsible timber sourcing is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).