|Urban Development & Infrastructure Focus on Asian cities, new projects, urban planning & points of interest.|
|March 1st, 2012, 07:05 AM||#1|
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ASIA: Water issues threatening all Asian cities
this is a compilation of issues thats worth discussing because it affects all Asian countries (some more than others).
Why is this important?
Quite frankly, most Asian cities are built in disaster prone areas but exist often for trade or economic reasons. For example many are built near river basins or the coastline even though they are prone to flooding or tsunamis. Jakarta for example was a very minor town in history before colonial trade built it up and the fact that many areas in Java as a whole are far better for agriculture than any part of Indonesia. Finance and capital is another factor.. they tend to be AGAINST moving to other areas. It's very hard for a government to move a city away, even a tightly controlled dictatorship would be unable to do this. They could provide incentives or force some people into other areas, but the mass will refuse to move.
Glacial Mass Loss
The Himalayan Mountains has been steadily losing glacial mass. Many scientists have contributed it to rising global temperatures, but whatever is done to mitigate this.. most would agree it's too late to change this and it's going to happen. nearly 70% of the worlds drinking water comes from glaciers not the sea or rivers.
How does this affect everyone: Most of Asia's rivers begins in the Tibetan Plateau. Thus it affects Central Asia, South Asia, South East Asia, and East Asia. 1.3 billion people dependent on these sources of water!
Sea Level Rise
There's alot of attention and headlines about sea level rise but glacial mass is by far a more serious issue for Asia than sea level rise, but the issue is still there.
Cities and Urbanization
It is expected that Asia will become more urban as populations move into the cities. While there's some in this forum who argue that this is a good thing (keep people in the city and keep the country side natural), it doesn't work like that in real life. Tall buildings are very inefficient with water, you not only need it for drinking, but for AC use. Tall buildings circulate air poorly compared to smaller ones. Electricity consumption is much higher in cities as well. What generally happens is that cities in Asia end up using most of the ground water in the city area and as a result build a network of pipes to drain water from the rural areas. Cities with textiles industries consume tons of water.
an example (not from Asia) is California.. its dry but agriculture grows very well there provided it gets enough water. when it does get water, the state's growing agricultural output skyrockets more than a place that naturally has water. As a result the California used up much of the ground water in its own state and has since then, built a series of underground pipes to drain ground water from beyond state lines. The same is happening in many parts of Asia, such as Indonesia, China, etc
Competing Water use
Most of Asia has now been carved up into the notion of a Nation-State that was invented in the west.. with its tightly defined notions of borders and citizenship.. This means that although rivers which go through many countries, are now carved up into spheres of influence. But because river issues tend to affect the entire path, its difficult to get countries to work together. The general rule seems to be.. Upstream countries have little incentive to care about downstream countries. Dams are generally more negative than positive.
Most of Asia is still rapidly developing.. many are moving to cities, they need water and electricity. China for example prioritizes building dams to meet the growing energy needs of its economy and growing cities.. but in the process the effects of these dams to downstream areas of China and downstream countries is ignored, even if it is massive. Even downstream countries build dams affecting countries further down!
Asia is also global now. Historically Asians used the river for local agricultural use.. now they are using it for global production. This means that a farmer is no longer producing his cabbage or rice for his family or town, he's producing it to sell on the global market. This means increased water consumption! Secondly much water use is also becoming more and more privatized even though it was traditionally a common property. (This is a good and bad thing depending on scenario, but in many cases, is bad)
Growing water scarcity is another major issue..
Cities vs Rural planners
In Asia, much of the planning tends to be done by a central group, usually those based in the city. thus when they do planning in the country.. its often to the benefit of the city. What rural planners are concerned about and what city planners are concerned about will often be very different. in places like India and China, much of the planning is done for the benefit of urban areas. Vietnam too.. are Hanoi based planners planning Ho Chi MInh City well familiar with the local issues?
There also tends to be stereotypes and discrimination towards rural areas as well.. such as their practices are obsolete, they are not educated, etc.. yet these rural areas tend to be at the forefront of the environmental changes and may have traditional practices that were far more environmentally sustainable.. but are often dismissed because their practices are not as profitable.
In the case of rivers that go through many countries.. borders tend to be minority areas.. and minorities tend to be on both sides.. for example the border of China and India has Tibetan speaking people on both sides.. these people are probably better familiar with ecological issues with the river than say a planner from a city far away.. also because of their ethnic connection, they could perhaps find a better way to communicate with each other in a constructive manner, than say two planners and politicians from New Delhi and Beijing.
The average city person is also a big problem in this because they don't see the problem as often as the rural area, they won't think much about it.
Another issue is prestige.. much of Asia is still in the rapidly developing phase or newly industrializing phase.. there's the mentality of "hey now we're growing" or "now we're catching up with the west, we want the same things the west has!"
This results in many prestige projects, such as giant towers, utopian visions of cities, etc.. many of which have really little practical value other than to show off.
Country by Country issues (incomplete)
In terms of human costs, Bangladesh could be argued as one of the most vulnerable due to the country's many rivers and low elevations. It already suffers serious flooding issues and vulnerabilities to Typhoons. most of the country is within a 1M inundation zone.
Bhutan's a Himalayan country so it will be adversely affected by the changing flows. The country has built a few dams to generate electricity which it sells to India, and it makes a bit of income from it.
The area highest at risk is the Tonle Sap River. The dam constructions upstream in Laos and China especially, deprive the river of sediments and soil needed for the local ecology, the effects of this river spreads to the fishing industry that's important for the country
Like bangladesh, parts of its eastern end are highly vulnerable to flooding because of its basin geography.. Kolkata in particular is highly vulnerable.
In the West, Pakistan and India have a treaty where they agreed to share their river waters 50-50, but the issue comes down to what will happen when the water is reduced? economic stresses on both sides may lead to a break in this agreement.
Southern India on the other hand is under high threat of water scarcity.
The Indus river is projected to lose 27% of its flow by 2050
Indonesia's problems don't stem from glacial mass issues like the other Asian countries because its an Island, but its biggest problems is the growing deprivation of ground water, especially in Java. Bad urban planning and limited controls of new development has drained much of the underground water. What is happening instead is that new development is now moving away from Jakarta into the mountains, to drain water there.. but what happens is that all the trees uprooted make the mountains unstable and increase the risk of land slide into the city. Within the city new developments around the river are contaminating the remaining water supplies there.
Like Indonesia, it doesn't share the same common issues as mainland Asia.. but its prone to 1M inundation, which includes eastern Tokyo, a chunk of Nagoya, and much of Osaka. Again the problem is people keep migrating into the same cities, and these cities all share the same vulnerabilities, just change your disasters from quake prone Tokyo to flood prone Osaka. And no moving the capital to Sapporo won't help either because its basin geography means its also highly vulnerable.
Korean rivers don't stem from the Himalayas, and the inundation from rising sea levels is not as easily visible as it is in Bangladesh, China or Vietnam, but its there and much of the coastal west coast cities are at risk, and especially most of Pusan will be inundated. Geographically North Korea probably has wider spread inundation, but because South Korea has a higher population and more developed infrastructure, the human cost and economic costs are higher
As mentioned earlier, river basins are the highest at risk and China is home to many basins. Some of the biggest cities are highly vulnerable like Shanghai, almost the entire Jiangsu Province, Tianjin, much of Liaoning, etc. These are large population areas and also major centers of economic activity. Shanghai also has additional issues of buildings sinking because its geography wasn't meant to hold heavy structures to begin with. but as mentioned most major cities in the world are built in bad areas.
The Northern Half of China also has serious water scarcity issues as the flow of water is being reduced and growing desertification issues.
The southern half of Thailand is high at risk of flooding inundation caused by the changes of glacial mass and river flows. The floods late last year highlighted this vulnerability and the wide spread problems caused by flooding
The Mekong River Basin is the most affected by these changes. Especially Ho Chi Minh city. The Red River Basin is also affected, which includes Hanoi and Haiphong
1. Dams built upstream in China, Laos, etc. Its taking away much of the needed soil and sediments, its also affecting the ecology.
2. Even if there were no dams built (or lots of dams), it won't stop the glacial mass issues or sea level issues
3. Much of the Mekong basin is expected to go underwater in a 1 meter sea level rise.. Ho Chi Minh City is the most vulnerable, infact probably one of the most vulnerable cities in the world to this crisis.
4. Because Vietnam has a very coastal geography and is made up primarily of two giant river basins, the threat to the country is very serious. 10-20 million people at risk.
Sea Level Rise Explorer
Water Scarcity Map