Ibrahim Seaga Shaw

Climate Change adds stress to scarce water resources - 23/06/2003

Expo Times, Paris

 It is recognised that today water remains at the top of the development agenda, and there are simple reasons for that. Water is essential for hygiene and health practices. It is important for irrigation, to ensure food security. Water is also a basic component of industry, necessary for hydropower and thus energy, and it is indispensable to maintain ecosystems and biodiversity.

However, today over one billion people lack access to clean water and 2.4 billion people still live without improved sanitation, according to the World Bank. As a result of this situation, 3.5 million people die each day due to water-related diseases. The number of people affected by water scarcity is projected to rise to 5 billion by 2025. And yet according to research findings recorded by the World Bank, this gloomy picture does not account for the potential negative impact of climate variability.

Water resources thus remain the greatest casualty of recent severe climatic changes such as sea level rise, shifts of climatic zones due to increased temperatures, and changes in precipitation patterns which have already been taken a heavy toll on millions of people living in developing countries and threatening their potential of moving out of poverty. Droughts, floods, and storms are now a recurrent phenomena throughout the world, however the impact has been most severe on poor citizens in Central America, Mozambique, China, and Bangladesh, among other developing countries.

Moreover, the world bank has warned that in many water scarce regions, particularly in the subtropics, changes in rainfall patterns and increased evaporation as a result of short term climate variability or long-term climate change may lead to further reduction in water access.

"If the international community does not take decisive action to support developing countries in mitigating the potential impacts of climate change and implementing adaptive strategies, these dramatic projections may become a reality," argues Kristalina Georgieva, Director of Environment for the World Bank.

To make matters worse, increases in temperature and changes in precipitation are projected to accelerate the retreat and loss of glaciers, with associated negative consequences to vast areas such as the Himalayan and the Andean regions. The sea level rise associated with projected increases in temperature could displace tens of millions of people living in low-lying areas, such as the Ganges and the Nile delta, and could threaten the very existence of small island states. World Bank research indicates that over 96 percent of disaster-related deaths, caused in part by floods and droughts in recent years, have taken place in poor countries.

Georgieva emphasized that "the key challenge is to recognize the linkages between major environmental issues - in this case, climate change and water resource availability. At the national level, we must develop mechanisms capable of integrating climate change concerns into economic planning, and simultaneously act multilaterally to move this effort forward at the global level." She called on rich countries and donors to "work together with developing country governments and non-state actors to help integrate climate variability and climate change impacts into their overall development strategies."

According to the World Bank's Robert Watson, former Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), "Human-induced climate change adversely effects key development issues such as the quantity and quality of water, agricultural production, human health, and human settlements. In addition, climate change will decrease biological diversity, hence undermining the ecosystem goods and services needed for sustainable development, exacerbate land degradation, and increase local air pollution."

The World Bank has been working directly over the last decade to mitigate these risks. As an Implementing Agency of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Bank has assisted developing countries to achieve the climate change objective of reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) through support for policy reforms and lending primarily for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. The Bank is mainstreaming the GEF into its regular operations. The total climate-change portfolio today includes 62 projects at a total cost of $6.8 billion, with GEF financing $578 million, and funding for the rest from the Bank, private co-funding, and government counterparts.

The Bank has the largest renewable energy portfolio of any institution in the world, with renewable projects of approximately $590 million, or about 6 percent of the Bank's total energy lending over the last 6 years. By facilitating the carbon finance business, through the Prototype Carbon Fund (PCF), the Bank is expanding this market for developing countries.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, industrialized countries can meet their greenhouse gas emission reductions through projects that generate emission reductions in developing countries and economies in transition, both mitigating climate change and promoting sustainable development. Together, with Regional Development Banks, UN agencies, and other partners at the global level, the World Bank has been working to expand and harmonize adaptation strategies to climate change into long-term development strategies.

And yet despite all these efforts by the World Bank and other environmental campaign institutions, concern for the environment is still viewed by many people as a rich-country luxury. But the reality of the situation particularly in developing countries has proved them wrong. This is simply because, according to the World Bank, natural and man-made environmental resources-fresh water, clean air, forests, grasslands, marine resources and agro-ecosystems-provide sustenance and foundation for social and economic development.

And the World Bank, which today remains one of the key promoters and financiers of environmental upgrading in the developing world, endorsed in 2001 an Environmental Strategy to guide the Bank's actions in the environmental area, particularly over the next five years. The Strategy emphasizes three objectives: improving the quality of life, improving the quality of growth and protecting the quality of the regional and global commons.

It recognizes that sustainable development, which balances economic development, social cohesion, and environmental protection, is fundamental to the World Bank's core objective of lasting poverty alleviation.

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