United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, decided yesterday to establish a research centre in Sweden with a focus on international water issues. The centre will be run by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) in collaboration with Uppsala University and the University of Gothenburg. With its focus on transboundary water cooperation, the centre will be one of a kind.
The majority of the world's countries share water resources in some form, such as rivers and lakes. Consequently cooperation with other States on this vital resource is essential. The Swedish UNESCO Centre will focus on equitable water cooperation and aims to develop research and knowledge on transboundary water resource management. The centre, which will be located at SIWI, will also concentrate on how to establish and develop effective water partnerships despite contexts of political conflict.
The global population is growing. By 2050 we expect to be nine billion people. However, we are unable to increase the quantity of water resources available to us. Consequently, it is important to ensure we create good cooperation mechanisms around water for the future, and especially in relation to transboundary waters. Together with the universities of Uppsala and Gothenburg, we celebrate the decision to establish a UNESCO Centre on water cooperation in Sweden, says SIWI’s CEO Torgny Holmgren.
81 UNESCO Centre’s exist in different parts of the world, with 18 of them focusing on water related issues. This is the first time that a UNESCO Centre has been established in Sweden and the first time a Centre will focus on transboundary cooperation. This new UNESCO Centre will help Sweden deepen its involvement in water issues and disseminate Swedish research in this area. The focus will draw from the strong tradition of research on water conflict and cooperation that exists in Sweden today.
China is planning an incredible geo-engineering effort that would see nature re-worked for the benefit of agriculture.
The huge and complex project is aiming to create three separate routes from different points on the Yangtze River. The routes would be used to deliver 45 billion cubic metres of water a year across 4350 kilometres of canals and tunnels to the Beijing and northern area.
Officials hope to use some of the water supplies from the lush southern regions to douse the hugely-populated north.
The massive project officially began over ten years ago, but will take 50 years to build at a cost of close to AU$90 billion.
The project will require feats of engineering such as the blasting of channels through mountains in prominent earthquake zones across the Tibetan plateau.
The project’s official website reportedly carries a blessing from the past in the form of a Mao Zedong quote, who said in 1952;
“The south has a lot of water. The north has little. If possible, lending some water would be okay.”
There have been troubles on the project almost matching the scale of the effort itself.
Early tests to redirect part of the river reportedly saw inflow polluting lakes and destroying fish in the eastern province of Shandong, though authorities reject the claims of local villagers.
Some say they have been deprived of the livelihoods and forced from their lands due to the polluted waterways already created.
Other challenges include the possibility of pollution along any part of the channel system. Engineers also face the task of moving billions of litres of water uphill for large sections, which will require a huge amount of reservoirs and pumps.
Pollution with plastic waste is not confined to the oceans but poses a growing threat to lakes as well.
That is the view of researchers who found significant concentrations of the substance in Italy's Lake Garda.
They say the levels are similar to those found in samples taken from marine beach sediments. They are concerned that these tiny plastic particles are accumulating in freshwater species and are "likely" to get into the food chain. The research is published in the journal, Current Biology.
The problem of large amounts of plastic polluting the world's oceans has been well documented in recent years. As well as bigger pieces that can choke sea creatures when ingested, there is an equally serious issue with very small fragments called micro-plastics. But research on the problems caused by plastic in lakes has been lacking.
This new study looked at Lake Garda, a large, sub-alpine body of water. The researchers found significant concentrations of plastic in sediment samples. On the north shore they found around 1,000 larger particles per square metre and 450 micro-plastic particles in the same area.
"We were surprised," lead author Prof Christian Laforsch from the University of Bayreuth told BBC News.
"We have similar amounts of plastic particles in the sediment of the lake's ecosystem as we find in marine ecosystems."
Chemicals found in plastics can be poisonous, can damage endocrine systems or in some cases cause cancers.
They can also transport dangerous organic pollutants into clean environments like lakes.
Landfill to lake
Previous research on fish and other marine creatures has shown that these species tend to accumulate tiny plastic fragments into their tissue. Prof Laforsch worries that this is happening in Lake Garda and elsewhere.
"What we show is that filter feeders and sediment feeders and organisms that feed on the surface layer of the lake, all swallow these plastic particles mistaking them for food.
"There might be impacts when it affects the hormone system, they could become sterile for example. It could also be, that when fish are feeding on these organisms they accumulate these particles also in their tissue."
The problem is being caused by human use of plastic materials say the researchers.
British geographer Prof John Anthony Allan has received an award from the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation for his work on water security.
He introduced the idea of "virtual" water, whereby the amount of water used in food production can be traded when that food is imported or exported.
The awards were presented a ceremony in Monaco on Monday evening.
The purpose of a virtual water market is to account for all of the water embodied in the production of food.
As Prof Allan explained during his acceptance speech, "it takes 1,000 tonnes of water to raise a tonne of wheat, and it takes 16,000 to raise a tonne of beef".
The ultimate aim of a global market for virtual water, he said, would be to "trade our way into food security" as water-intensive commodities are traded from places where they are economically viable to produce, to more water-scarce places where they are not.
At the awards ceremony, Prince Albert said that Prof Allan had "opened up new perspectives in the management of water stocks and their trade, in particular in regions suffering from [water] shortage, such as the Middle East.
Prof Allan, who is based at King's College London, said: "Accountants could save the world if we enable them to put accounting rules into and reporting rules into this food supply chain, which looks as if it's a market, but it has no accounting rules or reporting rules for water".
Dr Lubchenco, who received the climate change award for her work on ocean acidification, told BBC News that she hoped the award would help draw attention to the fact that climate change was "happening now and in our own back yards".
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