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Water Uncertainties and Production Risks in Asia
Food and Water Security
Akhtar Ali1, Asian Development Bank
A major challenge facing the agricultural production systems in Asia is that food requirement by 2050 will more than double its present level. Yet, land and water resources are shrinking and downstream flows of many Asian rivers and volumes of freshwater lakes have been drastically reduced and some streams no longer reach the sea year-round (Ali, 2012). Water resources uncertainties (WRU) limit (i) our ability to do accurate planning and design and optimal operation of water resources, (ii) continued performance of the agricultural production systems (APS), (iii) expansion of agricultural land, and (iv) achieving sustained increase in crop yield to meet future food demand in many areas. The WRU combined with biophysical and agro-climate factors add risks to the agricultural production system. This paper reviews the main WRU and the major corresponding APS risks. It also sheds some light on possible options available to overcome these challenges. Water Resource Uncertainties and their Effects The illusion of abundant water in nature is checked by the scale realities of too much or too little or too polluted or too expensive to use. Human and ecosystems needs are not matched by available freshwater resources because of their skewed distribution in space and time. WRU occur because of (i) inherent randomness of physical processes,2 (ii) change drivers,3 (iii) global warming and climate change, (iv) water assessment and predictions complexities, 4 and (v) economic 5 factors. All these factors combined pose challenges to accurately plan, design and operate the water resources systems (WRS).
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The author is Senior Water Resources Specialist, at Central and West Asia Department of Asian Development Bank (ADB) Manila, Philippines. This paper is prepared for presentation in Stockholm World Water Week (26–31 August 2012). Precipitation, hydrological process, streams hydraulics, failure of major structures, soil-moisture distribution, weather and evapotranspiration all have elements of inherent randomness. population growth, land use changes, urbanization and migration from rural to urban areas data inadequacy and inaccuracy, gaps in analysis and design processes and spatial and temporal scales Economic uncertainties are generated by construction costs, damage costs, projected revenue, operation and maintenance costs, inflation, inconvenience losses, etc.
In Asia, ever-decreasing water availability per capita due to increasing population is threatening regional water security. The Asian water resources face major challenges of changing temperature and its consequences to water availability, its use pattern and APS. The change in temperature is also impacting evaporation, evapotranspiration, crops biology, and rainfall pattern (erratic and high variability) and is causing frequent extreme events (flood and drought, declining water quality and thus reducing useable water quantity and groundwater regulation. Mays (2004) identified potential WRU as natural uncertainties, model structure uncertainties, model parameter uncertainties, data and informational uncertainties, and operational uncertainties.6 Uncertainties due to scale issue i.e. scale of actual processes is very big as compared to scale of empirical evidences also limits our capacity to truly understand the WRS behavior on actual spatial and temporal scales. Some of the uncertainties and the consequently related risks in water resources are unavoidable; therefore, water resources planning, design and operation are generally subject to a probability of failure in achieving their intended results. Precipitation, flood and drought are the main examples. Most of the uncertainties in WRS are indeterministic nature and are beyond our rigid control. A few examples hereunder better explain these uncertainties. 1) Precipitation Alam et al., (2007) indicated that increasing rainfall in summer monsoon months is expected, along with a decline in winter rainfall, although the most notable pattern will be greater variability from the historical regularity of the monsoon pattern. It is difficult to overemphasize the impacts of greater variability in a monsoon climate for areas where farmers have traditionally relied on highly predictable seasonal precipitation patterns. IPCC (2007) and IPCC (2009) and Mani et al. (2009) noted significant uncertainties and uneven distribution of summer precipitation in South Asia and indicated that quantitative estimates of projected precipitation change are uncertain and “it is likely that some local climate changes will vary significantly from regional trends due to the region’s very complex topography and marine influences” 2) River Systems Hydrology and Hydraulics Hydrosystem analysis frequently involves quantities or parameters that subject to
The uncertainties are defined as, natural uncertainties: uncertainties due to inherent randomness of physical process, model structure uncertainties: inability of a simulation model or design procedures to represent precisely the system’s true physical behavior or process, model parameter uncertainties: variability in the determination of the parameters to be used in the model or design, data uncertainties: measurement inaccuracy and errors, inadequacy of the data gauging network, and data handling and transcription errors, and operational uncertainties are associated with construction, manufacture, deterioration, maintenance, and other human factors that are not accounted for in the modeling or design procedure.
various degrees of uncertainties. Soil conditions, topography and vegetation cover governs the soil-moisture and the pre-rainfall soil-moisture conditions control the runoff. These all factors greatly vary in space and thus add uncertainties to the water assessment within a river system. Hydrological frequency analysis and hydraulic equations with coefficients, such as “C” in weir equation to estimate spillway capacity, are a few examples of uncertainties involved in hydrologic and hydraulic analysis. In fact all major structures on rivers are involved with certain level of uncertainties in their planning, design and operation. Design flood for dams and barrages, sedimentation and changes in river morphologies are a few classical examples, where engineers use certain factor of safety to minimize the impact of WRU. 3) Extreme Events—Floods and Drought Occurrence and severity of flood largely remain unpredictable despite availability of state-of-the-art technologies such as satellite imageries, remote sensing and forecasting models. Recent flood experiences in Asia demonstrated how unpredictable and damaging they can be. Heavy rains and tropical storms in 2011 affected Mekong River Basin countries damaging crops over 1.6 million ha in Thailand, 420,337 hectares in Philippines, 332,634 hectares in Cambodia, 64,000 hectares in Lao People’s Democratic Republic and 28,813 hectares in Viet Nam (FAO, 2011). Cyclones, typhoons and other tropical storms being inherited uncertainties affected costal areas people several times in Southeast and South Asia including Philippines, Vietnam and Bangladesh in the recent past. Drought is an extended period of deficient precipitation resulting in extensive damage to crops and loss of yield. It is sometime classified as meteorological drought (duration of dry period as compared with normal year), hydrological drought (unusually less water available in streams, rivers, reservoirs, lakes and shallow water aquifers), agricultural drought (deficit soil-moisture or significant difference between potential and actual evapotranspiration). Being a perennially drought-prone region, South Asia is more vulnerable to drought. Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have reported droughts at least once in three years during last five decades, while Bangladesh and Nepal suffered from frequent droughts. 4) Water Quality Both surface and groundwater quality is continuously deteriorating due to point and non-point sources of pollution and saline- and sea-water intrusions. Spatial and temporal variations in the pollution sources, transmission of pollution through runoff and drainage channels and difficulties in determining the saline and fresh waters interfaces add uncertainties to predict the water quality changes. Declined water quality directly affects the available freshwater quantity and causes land degradation.
The main drivers of water quality deterioration are stressed water resources due to increasing variability and scarcity, compounded by pressure on ground and surface water resources to meet intensified agricultural outputs and industrial needs. For example, highly populated lowland regions of intensive agricultural production (as in parts of Nepal, for example, where up to four crops are produced per year on a single plot of land), rely on intensive inputs and water extraction with long-term impacts on groundwater quality and availability, and soil fertility. Disposal of agricultural drainage and untreated industrial and urban effluent into the rivers and lakes in Pakistan is the major cause of ever-increasing deterioration of water quality. 5) Global Warming/ Climate Change Sea level rise remains uncertain: the most conservative estimates at 40 cm by the end of this century (Cruz et al., 2007); other estimates suggest that it may be as high as 0.5 to 1 meter by 2070 (Alam et al., 2007). A rise in sea level of one meter would flood 5,000 sq-km of the Red River Delta and most of the Mekong Delta (up to 20,000 sq-km), inundate 17 per cent of Bangladesh and large portions of the small islands. Production systems risks and water resources uncertainties Agriculture contributes from 20% to 42% of gross domestic product (GDP) and support around 50% of the labor in many Asian countries. 7 Water is basic contributing factor to the agricultural production. The WRU induces direct risks to the APS in the form of (a) deficit soil-moisture resulting into crop evapotranspiration stresses and low yield, (b) uneven soil-water distribution causing crop water stress and/or root-zone aeration problems, (c) flooding damages crops and causes a longer period inundation and land degradation, (d) drought affecting crops and other biota at all their stages and (e) declined water quality reduces yield and causes land degradation and lower down overall production. Loss of crops and livelihood and its effect on the agrarian economy has severe consequences on the overall well-being of the rural poor. Continued decline in productivity leads to diminished assets and reduced investments. Impact of drought has been severe in rain-fed areas with large portions of arid and semi-arid zones. In Central Asia, flood and drought were identified as the major natural disaster threats (World Bank, ADB-CREC and ISDR, 2008). WRS uncertainties and APS risks matrix is shown in Table 1.
Agricultural contribution to GDP in Asia is 26% in Pakistan, 30% in Cambodia, 40% in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, 42% in Papua New Guinea (IFPRI and ADB, 2009)
Table 1. Water Uncertainties and Agricultural Risks Matrix
Extreme weather High Medium High Medium Low Medium No Low Water Resources System Uncertainties Erratic and highly Hydrological and Extreme variable precipitation hydraulic variance events High Medium High Medium High High Medium Medium Low Medium High High High Medium High Medium Medium High High High High High High High Water quality Medium Low Medium Medium Low Low High Medium
Source: Author Uncertainties and Risks Management Options 1) Managing Water Resources Uncertainties Although specific measures may differ on case by case basis, but largely, the options can be divided into (i) minimizing the uncertainties and (ii) learn how to live with the uncertainties. The WRU can be minimized by acquiring more field data at reasonable spatial and temporal scales and developing both surface and groundwater storages to mitigate the impacts of rainfall and flow variability and drought and reducing the flood hazards. Another area of special attention is enhancing prediction capacity for accurate forecasting and early warnings. The action suggested here will require investment in both research and development and human capacity building. Water education will play key role in preparatory processes to cope with the challenges of phenomena such as rainfall and flow variability, flood and drought, water conservation and water quality management. 2) Managing Production System Risks When at macro-scale water storages and its proper regulation are important, the actions at micro-scale are essential to cope with production challenges. Water-related microscale measures may include farm water ponds, efficient water techniques and land leveling. However, non-water solutions are equally important that may help alleviating the impacts of water stress on crops. The non-water measures may include drought tolerant germplasm, crop diversification, minimizing effects of pest and diseases, making best use of agricultural bi-products, coping with land degradation, introducing agriculture conducive land use policy and investing in agricultural marketing, farmers credits and crop insurances. FAO (2011) recognizes challenges faced by land, water and agricultural systems including rainfed, irrigated agriculture, range and forestry,
Risks to Agricultural Production
Low yield Reduced cropped area Low crop production Farmers interest and inputs low Loss or failure of crops Damages to crop Land degradation Livestock reduction
suggests that traditional approaches of business as usual are not enough and recommends for contemporary approaches that integrate land, water and people in the changing environments. 3) Minimizing Impacts of Extreme Events Floods and drought are regular features of many Asian countries, which affect more than any other natural disaster. The flood management approaches may include physical measures (water reservoirs, detention basin and flood protection levees) and non-physical measures (flood forecasting and early warnings, rescue and recovery operations and enforcement of flood policy and laws). A four-prong approach to drought risk management (DRM) could be (i) water resources management, (ii) environmental management, (iii) climate change adoption and (iv) good governance. UNDP (2011) identified immediate, short-, medium- and long-term measures to DRM. When the immediate measures mainly focuses on rescue (emergency food and feed supply, health management and provisions of seed, stockpiling and loans etc.), the short-term measures require working on water use guidelines, emergency water allocation or water rationing and providing support to the farmers and vulnerable groups. The mediumand long-term measures, however, focus working on water harvesting/storages, soil improvement, germplasm, capacity building and institutional and policy instruments. ADB financed 266 natural disaster projects with a total amount of $10.37 billion during 1995 and 2011; 50% of which were related to flood. Eighty percent (80%) of these projects were assessed as successful as compared to 69% overall projects success rate during the same period (ADB, 2012).
Conclusions Water resources uncertainties are real and they are limiting factors in planning, design and operation of the production systems. Reducing the WRU can help improve our prediction capabilities and better prepare the agriculture sector against APS risks due to the uncertainties. This goal of reducing APS risks requires investment in research, development and human capacity building. Improvement in data collection, prediction models and forecasting will also be important. Research in particular can focus on early warning systems. Lastly, development of state-of-the-art infrastructure and water conservation technologies will also needed.
104 loans, 67 grants, 6 multi-tranche financing facilities and 89 technical assistance projects.
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Figure 1. Water resources uncertainties and agricultural production system risks (Source: Author)
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