Water, Climate Change and Conflicts over Water Use

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change and water (Bates et al., 2008), concluded that observational records and climate projections provide abundant evidence that freshwater resources are vulnerable and have the potential to be strongly impacted by climate change, with wide-ranging consequences for human societies.

Climate change‘s main water-related impacts with regard to agriculture are expected by the IPCC to be felt in terms of shifting and more variable hydrological regimes.

IPCC also projects a decline in the melt water from major Asian mountain ranges where more than one-sixth of the world‘s population currently lives.

Climate change is expected to affect the function and operation of existing water infrastructure (e.g. irrigation systems) as well as water management.

Moreover, current water management practices may not be robust enough to cope with the impacts of climate change on, for example, water supply reliability, flood risk, agriculture and ecosystems. Specifically concerning agriculture, the IPCC projects that changes in water quantity and quality due to climate change are expected to affect food availability, stability, access and utilization.

The rapid increase in freshwater withdrawals for agricultural irrigation and for other uses that have accompanied population growth has spurred serious conflicts over water resources both within and between countries (FAO 2000).

Climate Change, Water and Agriculture

Climate change can also have a dual effect on irrigated agriculture. This may occur through both higher water demands by agriculture and an expansion of the area irrigated.

These developments are due to both general climate change (higher temperatures and lower precipitation) and climate variability leading to an increase in extreme events, especially the frequency of droughts.

The key conclusions from the IPCC‘s report (2008) on climate change and water and of particular relevance to water resources and agriculture are listed below.

Observed warming over several decades has been linked to changes in the large- scale hydrological cycle.

Climate model simulations for the 21st century are consistent in projecting precipitation increases in high latitudes and parts of the tropics, and decreases in some subtropical and lower mid-latitude regions (likely/very likely).

By the middle of the 21st century, annual average river runoff and water availability are projected to increase as a result of climate change at high latitudes and in some wet tropical areas, and decrease over some dry regions at mid- latitudes and in the dry tropics (high confidence).

Increased precipitation intensity and variability are projected to increase the risks of flooding and drought in many areas (likely/very likely).

Higher water temperatures and changes in extremes, including floods and droughts, are projected to affect water quality and exacerbate many forms of water pollution (high confidence).

Globally, the negative impacts of future climate change on freshwater systems are expected to outweigh the benefits (high confidence).

Changes in water quantity and quality due to climate change are expected to affect food availability, stability, access and utilization.

Climate change affects the function and operation of existing water infrastructure – including hydropower, structural flood defenses, drainage and irrigation systems – as well as water management practices (high/very high confidence).

Current water management practices may not be robust enough to cope with the impacts of climate change on water supply reliability, flood risk, health, agriculture, energy and aquatic ecosystems (very high confidence).

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Climate change challenges the traditional assumption that past hydrological experience provides a good guide to future conditions (very likely).

Adaptation options designed to ensure water supply during average and drought conditions require integrated demand-side as well as supply-side strategies.

Mitigation measures can reduce the magnitude of impacts of global warming on water resources, in turn reducing adaptation needs.

Water resources management clearly impacts on many other policy areas, e.g., energy, health, food security and nature conservation.

Several gaps in knowledge exist in terms of observations and research needs related to climate change and water

Climate Variability

Climate variability is also a concern in terms of changes in the seasonality of precipitation, which is of particular importance for agriculture as it affects the timing of annual rainfall patterns or periods of snow pack melt, necessitating the restructuring of irrigation storage systems.

Water, Climate Change and Conflicts over Water Use

Better understanding of climate variability and extension of risk management approaches in agriculture to existing climate variability, can help build a more solid foundation for addressing climate change in the future.

Desertification: The Challenges of Water in Drylands and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification Response.

The world‘s dry lands include desert, grassland, savannah and woodland, in climates ranging from the hottest deserts to the coldest arctic regions. Most of the dryland ecosystems are fragile, and suffer from water scarcity and low productivity.

Dryland resources are increasingly threatened, as results of inappropriate management practices and overpopulation. The fight against desertification is also a fight against rural poverty and food insecurity, which are all strongly inter-related.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the centerpiece in the international community‘s efforts to combat desertification in the drylands. It was adopted in 1994, entered into force in 1996 and currently has 194 parties.

The UNCCD recognizes the physical, biological and socio-economic aspects of desertification, the importance of redirecting technology transfer so that it is demand-driven, and the involvement of local communities in combating desertification and land degradation.

The core of the UNCCD is the development of action programmes by national governments in cooperation with development partners.

A strategic plan of action and framework was devised in 2008 to promote the mainstreaming and upscaling of sustainable land management (SLM) practices and enabling policies, in synergy with the food security, climate change and biodiversity agendas.

These programmes aim to build collaboration among the concerned line agencies, and strengthen farmer and pastoralist organizations, along with decentralized capacities. They promote secured land tenure arrangements, new market opportunities (including green products), as well as participatory land use planning, research and extension programmes.

Action on the ground to combat desertification includes the upscaling of a number of practices based on sustainable intensification, such as conservation agriculture and no-tillage techniques, crop rotations and intercropping, integrated pest management, agro-forestry and reforestation schemes, and pasture improvement with planned grazing processes.

Improved water management is promoted through the implementation of water harvesting and small-scale irrigation investments, at watershed and village levels.

Conflicts over the Use of Water

In part, the conflicts over water are due to the sharing of fresh water by countries and regions: There are currently 263 trans-boundary river basins sharing water resources (UNESCO 2001). Worldwide, such conflicts have increased from an average of 5 per year in the 1980s to 22 in 2000 (GEF 2002).

In 23 countries for which data are available, the cost of conflicts related to the agricultural use of water was an estimated $55 billion between 1990 and 1997 (GEF 2002).

At least 20 nations obtain more than half their water from rivers that cross national boundaries (Gleick 1993), and 14 countries receive 70% or more of their surface water resources from rivers that are outside their borders (Alavian 2003, Cech 2003).

For example, Egypt obtains 97% of its fresh water from the Nile River, the second longest in the world, which is also shared by 10 other countries (Alavian 2003). Indeed, the Nile River is so overused that during parts of the year little or no fresh water reaches the Mediterranean Sea (Pimentel et al. 2004a).

Historically, the Middle East has had more conflicts over water than any other region, largely because it has less available water per capita than most other regions, and all of its major rivers cross international borders (Gleick et al. 2002).

Furthermore, the human populations in Middle Eastern countries are increasing rapidly, some having doubled in the last 20 to 25 years, placing additional stress on the difficult political climate (PRB 2003).

The distribution of river water also creates conflicts between the water needs of several US states and between the needs of the United States and Mexico.

Six states (California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona) and Mexico all depend on Colorado River water. In a normal year, little water reaches Mexico, and little or no water reaches the Gulf of California (Postel et al. 1996, Gleick 2000).

In summary, current water management practices may not be robust enough to cope with the impacts of climate change on water supply reliability.

The conflicts over water are due to the sharing of fresh water by countries and regions.

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Climate change is expected to affect the function and operation of existing water infrastructure (e.g. irrigation systems) as well as water management.

Climate change‘s main water-related impacts with regard to agriculture are expected by the IPCC to be felt in terms of shifting and more variable hydrological regimes. Climate variability is also a concern in terms of changes in the seasonality of precipitation, which is of particular importance for agriculture as it affects the timing of annual rainfall patterns.

Benadine Nonye

An Agric. Consultant & a Writer (With over 12 years of professional experience in the agricultural industry) - National Diploma in Agricultural Technology - Bachelor's Degree in Agricultural Science - Master's Degree in Science Education... Visit My Websites On: Agric4profits.com - It's All About Agriculture, The Way Forward! Agric4profit.com - The Most Reliable Global Agricultural Forum! Agric4profit.com.ng - The Most Reliable Nigeria's Agricultural Job Board! TheAgriPedia.com - For Everything Premium Agriculture! WealthinWastes.com - For Proper Waste Management and Recycling Practices. Join Me On: Twitter: @benadinenonye - Instagram: benadinenonye - LinkedIn: benadinenonye - YouTube: Agric4ProfitsTV - Pinterest: BenadineNonye4u - Facebook: BenadineNonye

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