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Fossil fuels big threat to water cycle.

By GLEN TYLERWhether Cape Town actually faces day zero or is saved by rain, the South African city's water crisis has created enough of a stir to make the world realise just how bad the global situation is.And with the biggest water-related event the World Water Forum due in Brazil from March 18-23, it is imperative to acknowledge first what has brought us to the brink of this slowly unfolding global disaster.

The situation that Cape Town faces is just another extreme example of a problem experts have long warned against. More than a billion people do not have access to clean, safe drinking water and another 2.

7 billion have a shortage for at least one month every year.WATER SHORTAGESbrAnd, according to the United Nations, the demand for fresh water will outstrip supply by 40 per cent by 2030, thanks to climate change, human action and population growth.

As predicted by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (Fao), two-thirds of the world's population will face severe water shortages in only 20 years. This is happening in countries such as Somalia and South Sudan, which suffer civil strife largely because of water shortages.

In most places, the water situation is compromised by the inadequate management and poor treatment of this scarce natural resource by local governments and the negligence of industrial users, particularly those in the agribusiness, mining and fossil fuel sectors. Not only do they use up vast quantities of clean water, they often pump out highly toxic effluents that can contaminate rivers and underground aquifers.

DROUGHTbrAs climate change affects precipitation patterns, several previously 'safe' regions find themselves at risk of severe drought.Desertification affects not only the consumption of potable water but also reduces agricultural productivity, which, in turn, threatens food security.

In countries such as Brazil that rely on hydroelectric power, another easily overlooked consequence of the drought is the cyclical impact on electricity supply. With the reservoirs of the hydroelectric dams empty, the Brazilian government is forced to fire up the fossil-fuelled thermal plants.

These, in turn, need a lot of water to cool the machines. COAL PLANTSbrIn the Pecem Industrial and Port Complex, Ceara, Pecem I and II, the two largest coal-fired thermoelectric plants in the country, are authorised by the state government to collect up to 800 litres of water per second (or 70 million litres per day) from the CastanhaPound o Water Supply, which could supply a city of 600,000 inhabitants.

CastanhaPound o, the largest public reservoir in Brazil for multiple uses, supplies the Fortaleza metropolis, where almost half of the state's population lives. When it reached its dead volume in November, it stopped supplying the capital of Ceara for 10 days, until the minimum of 173.34 million cubic metres was restored.

In South Africa, there are plans to build a coal-fired power station in the already water-stressed region of Lephalale, Limpopo.WATER RESERVOIRbrA 2014 survey of the 500 largest cities estimates that one in four is water-stressed.

The financial capital of Brazil and one of the 10 most populous cities, SaPound o Paulo, went through a calamity similar to Cape Town's in 2015, when the Sistema Cantareira, its main reservoir, was below four per cent of capacity. In January last year, the main reserves were 15 per cent lower than expected.

Yet despite these repeated reminders, governments continue to allow the exploitation of precious water reserves worse, for the very industries that contribute to climate change.LAKE CHADbrThe Guarani Aquifer, in the territories of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, is the main freshwater reserve in South America and one of the world's largest underground systems.

It is threatened by cross-border exploratory activities like fracking for shale gas extraction.Producing 50 quadrillion litres of water per year, it can supply 400 million people.

Now, Brazil is allegedly in negotiations to privatise it.In Chad, Lake Chad possibly one of the worst water-related crises has shrunk to a 20th of its size 40 years ago, fuelling conflict between Nigeria and Cameroon.

The need for change is as imperative as it is overdue: We must break the cycle of environmental damage being caused by the fossil fuel industry, introduce strict governance on common resources not just water but land, forest cover and air as well and secure instead a more sustainable future that puts renewable energy in the hands of communities.Mr Tyler is South Africa Team Leader, 350Africa.
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Publication:Daily Nation, Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya)
Geographic Code:3BRAZ
Date:Mar 15, 2018
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