Water Health Educator
The Asian Food Crisis
By Lori Lewis
Some of the largest food-producing regions in Asia have recently faced many crises. Russia has had devastating heat waves and fires, Thailand has endured severe drought, and Pakistan and China have suffered from flooding. This has led to a drop of 63 million mega tons of grain on the world grain market, and many of these countries are imposing export bans on rice and grain in order to provide enough food for the people in their own countries. This has had a combined effect on the global price and availability of rice and grains, causing grain prices to soar. With Asia currently inhabiting over half of the world’s hungry people, this could become a grave concern. If their stocks run low and they face the need to import food from other regions, the price will be too high for the poorest, and most vulnerable, populations to afford.
Asia is one of the world’s largest producers of food, contributing to the production of 90% of the world’s rice, but with the global population expected to rise above eight billion people by the year 2030, they will need to produce at least 50% more rice than they are currently producing in order to keep pace with the demand.
Climate change has contributed to rising sea levels along the many miles of Asian coastline, and the impact has been most noticeable in the Mekong Delta. Severe drought has left the Mekong River at its lowest level in more than 50 years. This, accompanied by rising sea levels, has caused an increased salt concentration in the river, leaving tens of thousands of hectares of farmland vulnerable to destruction, as rice is strictly a fresh water crop.
In addition to rice and grains, another major staple of the Asian diet comes from fish. Currently, the water shortages and an increased need for energy have led to the construction of hydroelectric dams. While the dams can control the amount of water provided for irrigation during the dry season and can provide energy to the region, they have a significant negative impact on the fish population. The fish need to swim upriver to spawn, but they are stopped at the dams and cannot migrate upstream.
Asia is already facing difficulties in finding adequate sources of fresh water for their crops and consumption. Current rice production uses between 24 and 30% of the world’s freshwater resources. To grow 1kg of rice, they are typically using about 3,000 liters of water, but only half of that is actually consumed by the plant. The pressure to increase crop production for both cash and to ward off food insecurity has led farmers to cut down forests to use the land for farming. However, much of this soil is poor in nutrients, and without the forest to hold the soil, heavy rains during the wet season cause significant erosion, further leaching the soil of nutrients, and sending huge amounts of sediment down streams, rivers, and lakes. In addition, increased use of fertilizers and pesticides have polluted fresh water and made the declining local fish populations unsafe to eat, which has also contributed to food scarcity.
In order for Asia to meet the food needs of their population and still be able to provide exports for world trade, they must take a deep look at the way they use their water sources.
For more information, contact Lori at: [email protected]
Natural Disasters and Outcome in the Philippines
Elaine S. Mangulabnan
Natural disaster in the Philippines.pdf (PDF — 297 KB)
Water and Sanitation Challenges in Indonesia
by Hem Shrestha
Indonesia, located in southeastern Asia, is one of the 16th largest countries in the world and is the largest archipelago between the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean. The country consists of 17,500 islands, 80% of the territory is covered with water. Ironically, Indonesians’ access to clean water is still a huge problem, making a preventable disease the prevalent cause of death.
As of 2008, 80% of the population has access to improved drinking water sources and only 52% of the population has access to improved sanitation facilities in Indonesia. The situation related to water problem is to be blamed not only on water and supply system, but rather several factors that lead to poor and unsafe drinking water. Directly or indirectly, the factors such as sanitation system, population increase, urbanization, habits and behaviors of the locals, deforestation and lack of education are the causes of drinking water problems.
According to UNICEF in 2004, only 53.4% of Indonesia’s population has access to safe water where the water source is 10 meters away from the excreta disposal sites (a universal standard for water safety). Like many developing countries, sanitation system in Indonesia is not based on high and improved technology such as ventilated improved pit latrine, connection to a septic system, flushing latrine etc. Still several groups of population in rural areas use open ditch system, no facilities or bush hiding and field toilet system. For those who have septic tank system, the systems are not maintained properly causing big health issues. The septic tank which are meant for only certain number of people are sometimes used by many people and in absence of proper maintenance can lead to leakage in the drinking water system. From the privileged population who has access to pipe line water sources, it can be a huge problem. The water pipe system is not well maintained in most of the places so the products from septic tank get leaked to the drinking water system. Thus, even clean appearing water could contain water borne-diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery etc. The other common practices in the cities of Indonesia are dumping the home garbage in the corner of streets contaminating the water and sewage pipeline. Due to absence of supply of drinking water, the local people dug well privatizing the water source and there are no strict rules and regulations regarding this activity.
Deforestation might be a minute picture when comparing with sanitation problem and drinking water system in Indonesia. Deforestation is in practice to make homes for increasing population and selling those timber and other biologically diverse trees illegally to make profits. Deforestation appears to be a good source of income and solution for short term period but if not replaced by planting new trees, the drought and water scarcity is not too far away. The number of deforestation increased from 1.7 million ha per year to 2 million ha per year since early 1990s to 1996.
Indonesian’s economy heavily depends on agriculture and the main sources of water are rainwater, groundwater and surface water. The rainwater is diminishing due to deforestation and the ground and surface water that are available is contaminated from activities such as dumping the household waste directly onto rivers and canals. The other forms of contaminants in the surface and ground water are due to industrial wastes and agricultural chemicals disposed in the water resources.
Some of the wastewater borne diseases which are prevalent in Indonesia are malaria, dengue, schistosoma, Japanese Encephalitis, etc. which are usually epidemic in high rainy seasons. The number of confirmed cases of malaria in 2007 was 199,576, the reported dengue cases in 2009 was 156,052, and the reported Chikungunya cases in 2009 was 83,533.
It is always easy to point out the problems but always hard to solve them. The problem that is related to this water pollution can be worked if everyone works together. The international organizations and national organizations are helping to improve the situation. But the main problem seems to be the local government and residence of the country that have to understand and work in collaboration. Although the rules and regulation are made, people are reluctant to follow and have no consequences if not followed. The other main problem seems to be the ignorance and lack of education which needs to be taken care by educating on how to maintain and clean our environment. [email protected]