20 August 2013

Nile River and Egypt's Political Situation

Recent articles about Egypt have highlighted the political unrest and devastation in the streets of Cairo. When these articles expand their stories to explain the political issues Egypt is facing, they undoubtably cite the Nile water resources as a complexity to be dealt with. A recent US News World Report states that the Nile is one of 3 biggest issues in Egyptian politics.

I have also been reading reports about what Egypt does with water. There are large projects aimed at cultivating agriculture in the Western desert by transporting freshwater from Lake Nasser to irrigate and to shift more than a million citizens to the desert to grow crops. Egypt also imports at least half of their foodstuffs and is the world's second largest cotton exporter. You cannot eat cotton. Or palm oil - well not really. There is some ground water pumping, but for the most part, the Nile waters are it for Egypt. Perhaps instead of looking past the borders at neighbor's uses, Egyptians should look within about what is rational, sustainable, and reasonable?
Sudan is doing some pretty weird things to with land leasing to Indian companies for sugar plantations...but that is for another day and another post.

Egypt's Three Challenges

August 2, 2013 RSS Feed Print
Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood rally in favor of Mohammed Morsi
As the immediate Egyptian political crisis deepens, three issues will determine the outcome: how to establish the legitimacy of any government when the general public appears to be equally divided between secularists and Islamists, how to resolve the economic crisis facing the country, and how to manage its abiding development challenge and that is the receding waters of the Nile River. If these issues are not resolved, Egypt could become a failed state which could in a worst case scenario shut down the Suez Canal, stop oil flows to western countries through the canal, spread the Muslim Brotherhood’s revolution to other relatively stable countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and endanger the already fragile peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.
Ultimately, it is the source of sovereignty and thus legitimacy in the Egyptian government which is what is at issue. The Islamist religious vision which drives the Muslim Brotherhood does not encourage political compromise on either issue. For the Islamists the only source of legitimacy must always be the Quran, and Allah’s revelation through His prophet, Muhammad. By definition the secularists deny any religious vision can be the legal and legitimate source of state sovereignty. At one point deposed President Mohammed Morsi had both democratic legitimacy (from his victory in elections last year) and Islamist legitimacy (from his leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood). Through technocratic incompetence and political arrogance he has lost both. The Islamist Nour Party joined the opposition to Morsi because he had been so dismissive of their interests and excluded them from active participation in the government. Morsi lost democratic legitimacy because he began harassing critics in the media, political opponents, and using his presidential authority to restrict individual rights, refusing to protect Coptic Christian from growing levels of violence from Islamist extremists, and ramming an Islamist constitution down the secularist throats. Democracy is not simply about having free and fair elections; it about what happens after elections to those in opposition. It is about the freedom of minorities, such as Coptic Christian, to live and worship without fear of violence by agents of the government or Islamist radicals.
The secularist business community, those who advocate a liberal democracy, and the Coptic Christian Pope, all endorsed the military take over. In supporting the coup the Muslim Brotherhood’s opponents took a calculated risk because many army officers, below the generals who organized the coup, are reportedly sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood. It was members of the Islamist underground in the Egyptian military who assassinated President Anwar Sadat. If the Brotherhood resists the takeover through mass mobilization and violence, which appears to be happening, and the civilian casualties rise, the lower ranks of the army may refuse to carry out orders to use force against the demonstrators. The political turmoil makes resolution of the country’s economic crisis more difficult because only a strong central government with broad public support can implement painful reforms need to set the country on a path to accelerated economic growth and job creation.
The long-term economic crisis is nearly as difficult to manage as the question of legitimacy. Unemployment has risen to over 13 percent, and basic food stuffs such flour and sugar have risen 50 percent over the past year. Hard currency reserves are severely depleted and tourism in steep decline which led some Gulf States and Saudi Arabia to loan billions to Egypt to prop up their economy. However, the nearly $5 billion in International Monetary Fund liquidity loans last November has had little impact. In some smaller cities strong support for the Muslim Brotherhood among young people rose because they had expected they would get jobs as a reward for their loyalty to the movement; instead they face higher unemployment. Their disappointment has mutated into anger and even rage on the streets against the military coup. Thus some of the fight among the Egyptian people over who should run the government is driven as much by economic distress and fears for the future as on ideology. Even if the new government temporarily resolves the economic crisis another more intractable one looms, and that is the risk of a water war over the Nile River.
The waters of the Nile, the life-blood of Egypt, are now threatened by a massive damn being constructed in Ethiopia which may be the most serious crisis facing the country. Without the Nile, Egypt would be one large desert and unable to support its teaming population of 80 million people who nearly all live in the Nile River Valley, one of the most densely populated areas on the planet. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam, the largest in Africa when it is completed, will be a major boom to the Ethiopian economy, and a major threat to Egypt’s. When the dam is complete, it will take three years to fill the lake behind the dam which will reduce flows on the Nile River by between 20-30 percent.
Even now water flowing from the Nile trickles into the Mediterranean Sea from overuse, and within the next decade even without the Ethiopian dam project the stress on the water supply of Egypt will reach the crisis point. Six countries in East Africa with Nile River water interests at stake have signed a treaty ending Egypt’s long held right to veto any new dam project outside the country. Sudan and Egypt reportedly signed a secret military agreement to bomb the dam, they are so fearful of the Ethiopian project. Morsi in a speech June 10th weeks before his removal said “We will defend each drop of the Nile with our blood”, but then added that negotiation is the best way to resolve the water crisis. What is needed is new regional Nile water agreement, water metering to force more efficient usage, and the tapping of other new water sources such as desalinating Red Sea water, and fractured bedrock water along the Great Rift Valley aquifer. The widening Egyptian political crisis has weakened the government’s authority just when it is most needed to address the water crisis and avoid a regional war. U.S. foreign aid could play a role in addressing the water issue, but a debate is underway in the U.S. over whether or not to suspend the U.S. aid program because of the coup and it’s undermining of the nascent democratic experiment in Egypt.
Promoting democracy in Egypt and other Arab countries ought to be one component of American foreign and development policy in the region, but it is certainly not the only objective. If the U.S. government supports democracy in Egypt to the exclusion of all other equities we may end up with a failed state there which would not be in the interest of the Egyptian people, of democracy in the Arab world or of American interests in the region. Using a sledge hammer approach to ending all U.S. foreign aid to Egypt is the wrong approach; a surgical strategy makes much better sense. U.S. law requiring a cut off of aid to Egypt because of the military coup should not be ignored, but it can be interpreted.
The law says that aid must end to countries in which a democratically-elected government is overthrown by a military coup. But the word “country” may be interpreted to mean aid flowing to or through Egyptian government ministries, which would not include U.S. aid for the American University in Cairo and other Egyptian universities, civil society organizations, election support and political party development, free media training, and economic growth programs to support business development and job creation – as long as the funding does not go through government ministries. Nor would such an interpretation include scholarships funded through our aid programs to Egyptian students to study at U.S. universities. Many of the most competent technocrats in Egypt – needed now to rescue the country – learned first-hand about American democracy as recipients of aid-funded scholarships over the past three decades. We could use this crisis to start that program up again in much larger form. The government-to-government aid program should only be resumed if the country returns to a democratic system, and protects the rights of minorities such as the Copts, press freedom and civil society. U.S. government policy in Egypt should use the U.S. aid to program help the Egyptians to privatize the massive and decrepit state industrial sector (much of it run by the Egyptian military), to increase exports, and to help the Egyptians negotiate free trade agreements with the EU, Canada and the United States which is the fastest way to stimulate sustainable economic growth.
When the Turkish economy teetered near collapse a decade ago, the country turned to Kemal Dervish, a respected World Bank economist and technocrat with no political party baggage who implemented broad reforms to modernize the economy. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party which took over after Dervish had completed his work, had the good sense to leave in place his reforms and that has resulted in the decade-long economic miracle in Turkey. Egypt needs its own Kemal Dervish right now because without private sector led economic growth and sustainable jobs, the risk of collapse will grow.
Andrew Natsios is an executive professor at the George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, and the author of "Sudan, South Sudan and Darfur: What Everyone Needs to Know." He served as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development and as President George W. Bush's special envoy to Sudan.

11 August 2013

Water Turbines That Stand Alone as Dam Alternatives

Here is an article from Wired of a water turbine generator that does not need to sit in a dam. I am not sure why they are labeling these as underwater wind turbines, but this is for sure a hydro-turbine - and does not need a dam to house it. This is from 2008. I will look for an update on how these have performed.

Nation’s First ‘Underwater Wind Turbine’ Installed in Old Man River

The nation’s first commercial hydrokinetic turbine, which harnesses the power from moving water without the construction of a dam, has splashed into the waters of the Mississippi River near Hastings, Minnesota. 
The 35-kilowatt turbine is positioned downstream from an existing hydroelectric-plant dam and — together with another turbine to be installed soon — will increase the capacity of the plant by more than 5 percent. The numbers aren’t big, but the rig’s installation could be the start of an important trend in green energy.
And that could mean more of these "wind turbines for the water" will be generating clean energy soon.
"We don’t require that massive dam construction, we’re just using the natural flow of the stream," said Mark Stover, a vice president at Hydro Green Energy, the Houston-based company leading the project. "It’s underwater windpower if you will, but we have 840 or 850 times the energy density of wind."
Hydrokinetic turbines like those produced by Hydro Green and Verdant capture the mechanical energy of the water’s flow and turn it into energy, without need for a dam. The problem for companies like Hydro Green is that their relatively low-impact turbines are forced into the same regulatory bucket as huge hydroelectric dams. The regulatory hurdles have made it difficult to actually get water flowing through projects.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has oversight of all projects that involve making power from water, and the agency has recently shown
signs of easing up on this new industry. In the meantime, the first places where hydrokinetic power makes in impact could be at existing dam sites where the regulatory red tape has already been cut.
“I am thrilled to support today’s historic order that allows for harnessing more power from the Mississippi River,” FERC Commissioner
Philip Moeller said in a release. “I hope this is the first of thousands of similar projects that produce clean and renewable power from in-stream flows at existing dams.”
Moeller’s enthusiasm could encourage other companies that are trying similar strategies to tap tidal or current power.
Verdant has been testing its own turbine design to capture tidal flow in New York’s East River, but it hasn’t been easy.
"Verdant has spent more money on permitting their East River project that than they did on hardware," said Roger Bedard, a researcher at the
Electric Power Research Institute, who has studied water-current–based energy generation.
Hydro Green’s Stover hopes that his company’s new unit will help shorten that regulatory process by generating environmental impact data that could ease concerns the turbines will disrupt river ecosystems and habitats.
And in the meantime, investors will continue to scour the planet for companies and technologies that could benefit from Barack Obama’s plans to create green jobs. Congress already passed a bill this year to extend tax incentives for hydrokinetic projects through 2016. 
"After the wind and solar craze, people said, ‘What else is out there?’" Stover said. "The investment community is quite interested."
Image: Mark Stover/Hydro Green Energy, LLC

09 August 2013

A International Community of the Red Cross Promo Video About How They Approach Delivering Water in the Countryside

Water and habitat: Delivering life-saving water in the countryside

The above video shows a brief overview of the extent of water projects that the ICRC (International Community of the Red Cross) employs in rural communities. The manual well drill is fantastic. Check it out - the important message here I believe is catering response and technology to the capacity of the communities targeting - to maintain usefulness and sustainability of the project.

Energy Generation - Big vs. Small - What is Appropriate?

Are big dams the best value for the money spent? Recently a researcher contacted me regarding Inga Dams and the contrasting advice from IEA (International Energy Agency) for small scale energy generation in rural Africa. A conversation then ensued that got me thinking about the feasibility and reality of such steps toward small scale energy generation - how small? Who would fund this? Who would maintain this? Who would implement this? How could such a disparate grouping of facilities be maintained?

With a new era of big dams in effect - and the World Bank getting back into the game of loans for big dams - these questions need to be revisited.

Hydrogen cell generators were being developed a decade ago to answer the dilemma of alternate energy generation. In Ethiopia the Ethiopian Electric Power Company is exploring wind, solar, and even geothermal alternatives - they have active contracts to explore and even some projects in effect. Wave energy generation using turbines is now taking off in the Pacific close to Oregon, USA. But, over the years I have followed development of alternative energies, I do not see the acceptable silver bullet. Moving away from business as usual with central power generation in a large facility - all that require water by the way - would mean big changes in supporting infrastructure. High cost, presumably. Could moving in the direction of localized energy generation through one of these technologies be the answer and big business is just standing in the way with large loans for big dams or petroleum corporation kickbacks to power people (like governments) and OPEC and all the usual suspects? It is not conspiracy I suggest, but just human's aversion to change and other human preference for advantage. Some people live comfortably while other people live uncomfortably, as friends in Southeast Asia would put it. Uncomfortable has varying degrees. I think of the evidence of rapid climate change all over the world, and specifically changes to hydrologic cycles in big rivers - precipitation changes, temperature changes...okay so change is inevitable, but this type of rapid change will result in some major changes to how we do business anyway.

I thought about dams and generators, my internal non-engineering background questions about suspending 375MW generators in high head zones - like waterfalls - without the dam walls and extensive problematic infrastructure - I mean this is done in the ocean to capture wave energy, why not in rivers? I remembered seeing small generators in rivers in Albania and Bosnia a decade ago. They were just as good at powering a small business as the diesel generators that came on every time a town was "ska dreet"(without electricity).

I also thought about a series or cascade of smaller dams, like Sino-hydro is constructing on an upper tributary of the Mekong in Laos. There are some colleagues of mine from Oregon State University who were looking at the advantage of big vs. small dams on China's rivers. I believe that they concluded that several small dams could actually be more damaging than one big dam within certain parameters, like environmentally. I think of Grand Coulee dam on the Columbia. Big damn dam. Has resulted in a halt of salmon migration into Canada. Complete block of the passage of these fish. So, whoever used to rely on this particular source of food is out of luck. This is not just humans, but bears, plants, other fish, and things I don't really know enough about, but know enough about complex systems to know that we probably don't even begin to comprehend the extent of impact. Okay, so a series of small dams can be more detrimental than one big dam is that one big dam is built with appropriate technological design - not like Grand Coulee. Fair enough. Now it is time to turn back to engineers and determine if their designs have actually had any appropriate innovation in the last 50 years. There certainly have been a huge amount of dams build in that timeframe - about 50,000 globally - so, innovation has taken place? The Xayaburi Dam project has gates for sediment in the base, this seems to be a good innovation. They also put a fish passage in place - but these are questionable in most circles as I understand it - probably has to do with the physical water movement vs. the biology of fish used to more manageable water flow rates. I hear they blow up when they hit the high pressure of turbines, unless they can internally change their pressure, and there are folks trying to train fish to do just this. Sounds weird as I write it.

I am not sure even where I stand on such questions. Certainly I understand the desire for electricity in much of the world that does not have the infrastructure currently - electricity for many things from domestic use to industry and large-scale agriculture. I see the benefits of such electricity in abundance in parts of the United States and Europe - a black-out or brown-out gets international news coverage - unlike the daily experiences in many major cities of other countries I have visited this year in East Africa and Southeast Asia. 

01 August 2013

Mapping the Dams of the Mekong Watershed

Terry Clayton is a a prolific writer who lives in Thailand and covers SE Asia stories on his blog (and one of my favorite Canadians). He posted a good piece on the power of mapping - specifically referring to water development on the Mekong. You can find the article here. The map he cites can be altered on wikipedia - so if you are a Mekong researcher - so many of you out there - that wants to add your two cents, read his article to see how!

Mapping dams, mapping dreams

There is something inherently fascinating about maps. They invite the eye to roam free and resonate perhaps with our ancient hunter-gatherer instincts. Maps tell stories of what was and what could be. They can represent the world around us in ways we never imagined so that something as prosaic as which way the wind blows becomes a view into an alternate universe. Maps can make subway routes a work of art and reveal relationships we never knew existed.

Clip from “Dams in the Mekong Basin” that shows every known commissioned, under construction, and planned dam in the basin.

In the Mekong, dreams revolve around hydropower development. Everyone has a point of view, some for, some against, but here is one view that everyone can more or less agree on. Several years in the making, the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food has what is—for the time being at least—the most accurate map of dams in the Mekong.
It’s a crowded picture. This is in part because the map includes planned and under construction dams and not just hydropower dams but reservoirs for water supply and irrigation. Figures vary depending on who you ask and the numbers are subject to change, but the general estimates are: a cascade of eight mainstream dams on the Lancang, with five currently in operation and another 20 planned or under construction on Lancang tributaries. On the Mekong south of the China border: 30 in operation with another 134 on the drawing boards. The numbers are impressive or frightening, depending on your politics, but numbers alone don’t show the whole picture. For that, a map is useful.
The CPWF Hydropower Map tells a story, represents a dream and, like many maps do, raises questions. Is there anywhere else on the planet with such a density of dams? Is it economically possible to build all those dams? In such a crowded landscape, how does one dam affect the operation of another? Will the Mekong Basin become a Garden of Lakes and how would that affect things like food security and where people live and what they do for work?
One of the benefits is that when people are asking questions like this and pointing at a map, they are less inclined to point fingers at each other. Visually representing the numbers as a map externalizes issues that otherwise tend to descend into “duelling citation” debates that lead nowhere near the identification of real problems and potential solutions.

Necessity the mother of invention

One of the first things the project team did in the early days of the program was to look for a list of dams in the Mekong. What they found were bits and pieces of information scattered across of wide range of organizations. Thus began a long and laborious search and the origin of the map. Team members spent hours with Google Earth following rivers from mouth to source in search of dams.
When they were finally satisfied they had identified every dam they could, the team began thinking about mapping options. The map on the CPWF-Mekong website is presented using Google Fusion, which allows users to zoom in and out and annotate points with basic dam data.
Once posted, requests for PDF versions started rolling in. With Fusion, it’s not easy to produce a PDF file and because of scaling issues only portions of the map could be PDF-ed at any one time. To make it easier for users, the team turned for help to Vientiane based GeoSys, who created the spectacular maps you can now download from our website.

Help maintain the map

You can help update, maintain and expand the Hydropower Map by visiting the Mekong Basin Hydropower page on Wikipedia. If you don’t have a login, just click on ‘edit’ and Wikipedia will display the sign up screens. We would be especially interested in help with the precise locations of dams; accurately referenced technical data; identification of additional dams that we may have missed; inputs into the sections that consider the benefits (positive and negative) of dams; and anything else you feel might help us to develop a more complete picture of dam development in the Mekong. With your help, we can ensure the map is the always the most comprehensive and up to date map available.

Want one?

The map is posted here.  Comments on the web page, the map and the data are most welcome.
Following numerous requests for a downloadable version of the map, these are now available on our website in A4 and A3 sizes. We also have even larger sizes available (A0 and A1), but these are two large to upload. If you’re interested in these sizes, please let us know. If you notice any errors in the data, or have new information to add, please contact us. The KML files associated with the map above are also available.
You can download variations of the map here:
A4: Dams in the Mekong Basin Map (4.9 MB)
A3: Dams in the Mekong Basin Map (8.4 MB)
For more information, contact: cpwf.mekong@gmail.com

The Mekong Hydropower Map initiative was generously funded by AusAID


About the Author:
Terry Clayton is a freelance communications consultant who routinely gets in trouble by saying more or less exactly what’s on his mind. You can take issue with Terry’s viewpoint by replying to this post or contacting him directly at clayton@redplough.com. Read more of Terry’s articles and book reviews at www.redplough.com.
For updates follow us on @WLE_CGIAR and on Facebook.