Best of our wild blogs: 26 Oct 11

Lost Coast quickly
from wild shores of singapore and Construction at Changi East seawalls

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Javan rhino driven to extinction in Vietnam, conservationists say

Last known Javan rhino in Vietnam has died, leaving only a small population in Indonesia to ensure the species' survival
• Humans driving extinction faster than species can evolve
• UK leads clampdown on rhino horn trade
The Guardian 25 Oct 11;

Poaching has driven the Javan rhinoceros to extinction in Vietnam, leaving the critically endangered species' only remaining population numbering less than 50 on the Indonesian island that gave it its name, the WWF and International Rhino Foundation said on Tuesday.

"The last Javan rhino in Vietnam has gone," said Tran Thi Minh Hien, WWF-Vietnam country director. "It is painful that despite significant investment in the Vietnamese rhino population, conservation efforts failed to save this unique animal. Vietnam has lost part of its natural heritage."

The Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticusare) was believed to be extinct in mainland Asia until an individual was killed by hunters in Vietnam's Cat Tien region in 1988, leading to the discovery of a small population that by 2007 numbered just eight. From the mid-1990s, a number of organisations worked to set up habitat protection programmes to safeguard the rhino and its food sources, leading to the establishment of a national park.

But even within a protected area, it has proved extremely difficult to defend the species from illegal hunting. In April 2010, local people reported the discovery of a rhino carcass. A forest patrol team was immediately deployed to the site where they confirmed the dead animal was a Javan rhino. It had a bullet in its leg and its horn had been removed. Rhinos are poached for their horn, which is a highly prized ingredient in traditional medicines, and has recently been lauded as a cure for cancer, despite there being no scientific evidence to support this.

Between 2009 and 2010, in an effort to determine the exact Javan rhinoceros population status in Cat Tien, WWF conducted a field survey, using highly trained sniffer dogs from the US to locate rhino dung samples. The results of DNA analysis conducted on the samples, published today in a new WWF report, have confirmed that all of the dung collected in the park belonged to the same rhino, which was found dead shortly after the survey was completed.

"Reintroduction of the rhinoceros to Vietnam is not economically or practically feasible. It is gone from Vietnam forever," said Christy Williams, WWF's Asian elephant and rhino programme co-ordinator.

The Javan rhinoceros is now believed to be confined to one population, comprising less than 50 individuals, on the island of Java. The species was once was found on Indonesia, and throughout south-east Asia– including India and China, but increasing pressure on its rainforest habitat has put a question mark over the future of the species.

"This makes our work in Indonesia even more critical. We must ensure that what happened to the Javan rhinoceros in Vietnam is not repeated in Indonesia a few years down the line," said Susie Ellis of the International Rhino Foundation.

Illegal hunting to supply the wildlife trade has reduced many species in Vietnam to small and isolated populations. The Indochinese tiger, Asian elephant and endemic species like the saola, Tonkin snub-nosed monkey and Siamese crocodile are on the verge of extinction in the country. Conservationists have warned that inadequate law enforcement and ineffective management of protected areas, and infrastructure development occurring within and close to Vietnam's protected areas will only exert additional pressures on already fragile populations of species.

Inadequate protection causes Javan rhino extinction in Vietnam
WWF 25 Oct 11;

WWF and the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) have confirmed the extinction of the Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus) in Vietnam.

Genetic analysis of 22 dung samples collected by a Cat Tien National Park - WWF survey team from 2009 – 2010 affirm that the samples all belonged to a rhinoceros that was found dead in the park in April 2010, shortly after the survey was completed. The findings, presented in a new WWF report, also point to poaching as the likely cause of the death, as the rhino was found with a bullet in its leg and had its horn removed.

The tragic discovery comes after a 2004 survey conducted by Queen’s University, Canada, that found at least two rhinos living in the park at the time.

“The last Javan rhino in Vietnam has gone,” said Tran Thi Minh Hien, WWF-Vietnam Country Director. “It is painful that despite significant investment in the Vietnamese rhino population conservation efforts failed to save this unique animal. Vietnam has lost part of its natural heritage.”

The rhinoceros was believed to be extinct from mainland Asia until 1988 when an individual was hunted from the Cat Tien area, leading to the discovery of a small population. From the mid-1990s, a number of organizations were involved in efforts to conserve the remaining Javan rhino population in Cat Tien National Park, but the report highlights that ineffective protection by the park was ultimately the cause of the extinction. This is a common problem in most protected areas in Vietnam that threatens the survival of many other species, says WWF.

Illegal hunting to supply the wildlife trade has reduced many species in Vietnam to small and isolated populations. The tiger, Asian elephant and endemic species like the saola, Tonkin snub-nosed monkey and Siamese crocodile are on the verge of extinction in the country.

“The tragedy of the Vietnamese Javan rhinoceros is a sad symbol of this extinction crisis,” said Nick Cox, Manager of WWF’s Species Programme in the Greater Mekong. “The single most important action to conserve Vietnam’s endangered species is protecting their natural habitat and deterring poaching and illegal wildlife trade – the report shows that these actions were inadequate to save the Javan rhino in Vietnam and this continued situation will no doubt lead to the extinction of many more species from Vietnam. Vietnam’s protected areas need more rangers, better training and monitoring, and more accountability.”

WWF recognises that habitat loss played a key role in sealing the fate of the rhino in Vietnam and warns that inadequate law enforcement and ineffective management of protected areas, encroachment and infrastructure development occurring within and close to Vietnam’s protected areas will only exert additional pressures on already fragile populations of species.

“Reintroduction of the rhinoceros to Vietnam is not economically or practically feasible. It is gone from Vietnam forever,” said Christy Williams, WWF’s Asian Elephant​ and Rhino Programme Coordinator.

The Javan rhinoceros is now believed to be confined to one population, less than 50 individuals, in a small national park in Indonesia. The species is critically endangered and with demand for rhino horn for the Asian traditional medicine trade increasing every year, protection and expansion of the Indonesian population is the highest priority.

“This makes our work in Indonesia even more critical. We must ensure that what happened to the Javan rhinoceros in Vietnam is not repeated in Indonesia a few years down the line,” said Susie Ellis of the International Rhino Foundation.

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Two Rivers: The Chance to Export Power Divides Southeast Asia

Jeff Smith For National Geographic News 26 Oct 11;

The Mekong and Irrawaddy rivers, though unconnected and hundreds of miles apart, are both integral to life in Southeast Asia, supporting millions of people and more than 1,200 species of animals, including freshwater dolphins and-in the Mekong-giant catfish.

Now, in an energy-hungry age on the continent, the rivers share another distinction, as wellsprings of financial temptation for the struggling countries that rely on their flow, Laos and Myanmar (Burma). Both countries are grappling with decisions on whether to build massive hydropower dams on the two significant rivers. The projects could put fragile ecology and associated livelihoods at risk, but the dams could help the two countries reap billions of dollars by exporting the megawatts to China and Thailand, two neighbors with rapidly growing energy demand.

For now, it looks like the two nations are taking different paths. In Laos, the government appears to be going ahead with the $3.8 billion Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River-despite opposition by environmental groups, some international donors, and some neighboring countries. In Myanmar, meanwhile, the government shocked many observers last month when it announced it would suspend work on the $3.6 billion Myitsone dam project on the Irrawaddy River. The decision came without notice to its Chinese partner, and just weeks after Myanmar's power minister was adamant the project would go forward. Some observers both within and outside Myanmar are skeptical the suspension will hold.

A Region's Changing Flow

The dams, if completed eventually, would be the first on the mainstreams of the lower Mekong and the Irrawaddy. But China has been building a series of dams on the upper Mekong.

Energy demand has been rising exponentially as the region becomes more prosperous. The money could transform the poorly developed economies of Laos and Myanmar, although many worry the revenues would just enrich the elite.

Scientists and environmentalists are concerned the dams will displace thousands of people, and damage river ecology and the livelihoods of people along the river. They are concerned the dams will lead to additional projects that could have even more devastating impacts.

The dams on the upper Mekong and on the Mekong's tributaries are already triggering changes in river flows.

There are longstanding plans to build as many as 11 additional dams on the Mekong in Laos and Cambodia. Researchers project that if all those dams were built, the impact on wetlands and migratory fish such as the endangered giant catfish could be disastrous.

In addition, 30 percent of the protein sources in Laos and Cambodia would be at risk, according to an environmental assessment (pdf) done for the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an international cooperative body that aims to manage river uses sustainably.

Many poor people living along the Mekong subsist on a diet of rice, fish paste, and some vegetables.

Diana Suhardiman, a research scientist for the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Vientiane, Laos, said the issues are complex, with "formal political/environmental agendas, vested interests, desire for economic growth, all mixed up and contextualized into one single dam development." (Suhardiman was speaking about Laos's planned Xayaburi, but Myanmar's Myitsone reflects similar conflicting interests.)

IWMI is one of 15 nonprofit research centers collectively known as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, funded by 60 governments, private foundations and international organizations.

Potential Financial Gains Immense

Laos and Myanmar stand to benefit immensely from hydroelectric plants.

Laos-long referred to as a potential "battery" for the region-would primarily sell power from the 1,260-megawatt Xayaburi to neighboring Thailand. If Laos eventually moves ahead with all six of its planned foreign investor-financed dams on the Mekong, it could generate more than $2.5 billion a year in revenue, according to estimates.

Myanmar's suspended Myitsone project was envisioned to have a capacity of 6,000 megawatts, nearly the size of the largest hydroelectric plants in the United States and Russia.

Myanmar was under contract with the state-owned China Power Investment Corporation to sell 90 percent of Myitsone's power to China and reap an estimated $500 million of revenue a year. There also was an agreement between the two countries for six additional large dams in the region.

But the economic costs could be steep as well. Although there is no similar analysis of the potential impact of Myitsone, this issue as it pertains to the Mekong River has been studied intensively.

Losses from the damage to the fisheries and agricultural industries on the Mekong could reach $500 million a year if planned dams are completed, according to the environmental assessment done for the Mekong River Commission (MRC). The lower Mekong strategy began during the Cold War, when the United States, Soviet Union, and China similarly envisioned large hydropower dams for economic development. However, costs, water management disputes, and conflicts such as the Vietnam War impeded the plans. (A 1,070-megawatt hydropower plant recently was completed on the Nam Theun River in Laos with the backing of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.)

In 1995, the Mekong River Commission, originally a United Nations body but now an independent international oversight organization, was reformed with an agreement that its four member countries-Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam-would discuss the 12-dam Mekong River plan before any decisions were made. But the MRC has no legal authority.

Laos earlier paid heed to the process and opposition by such neighboring countries as Vietnam. But the Laotian government apparently has chosen to ignore the MRC's April consensus to delay a decision on Xayaburi.

Laotian energy ministry officials didn't respond to a query. In July, a letter leaked to the environmental organization International Rivers revealed that the government told its Thai partner that the study process had been completed. Construction work at the dam site has been proceeding for months, says International Rivers, a nonprofit that works to protect rivers and the people who live along those rivers.

Complex Environmental Impacts

The Mekong has been researched extensively, but the impacts of large hydroelectric development can be complex. The potential for damage depends on the location of the facility in the river system, said Tira Foran, a research scientist who has studied the Mekong for years and is now with the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization in Canberra.

Hydropower dams redistribute river flows; dry season flows generally increase, and monsoon peak flows generally decrease. Theoretically that can lead to better flood control in the wet season, and benefit irrigation during the dry season. But a hydropower operator's first priority is to produce electricity, not to prevent floods or irrigate dry season crops.

Researchers project that dams and the changing water flows on the lower Mekong will have significant, negative impacts on river ecology. Preliminary research indicates the impact on migratory fish is potentially catastrophic and unlikely to be mitigated by fish ladders and other technology.

Foran and other researchers also note the Tonle Sap wetlands area in Cambodia-which bulges in size during the wet season-may be threatened. The Tonle Sap is one of the most bountiful inland fisheries in the world. During the monsoon season, the Mekong River swells and exerts such a force of water that the Tonle Sap tributary reverses direction and floods the lake.

Similar conclusions have been made for the Myitsone in Myanmar, with devastating impacts predicted for many species of migratory fish.

In Myanmar, a Case of Unity

Activist groups long have opposed dam building on Southeast Asia's main rivers.

Opposition in Myanmar came from an unusually passionate discourse in a country that has had a civilian government since early this year, but where a military junta remains in firm control.

The Irrawaddy has a special place in the hearts of the Burmese and in their folklore. One local legend describes the Irrawaddy being formed by water poured from two gold cups by a great spirit sitting in the Himalayas. (The Irrawaddy starts at the confluence of two smaller rivers fed from the Himalayan region.)

The Burmese tested the boundaries of a limited democracy by speaking out against the dam, holding art and photo exhibitions, and circulating a petition to stop the dam. Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was freed from house arrest last year, has spoken out against the project.

In a surprise turn of events last month, President Thein Sein, in a letter to parliamentarians, suspended work on the Myitsone, saying the government would respect the wishes of its people. He added the project could damage the natural beauty of the area, the livelihoods of local people, and agricultural plantations.

Other factors besides public pressure may have been at play as well.

An environmental impact assessment commissioned by the Chinese power company and recently released concluded such a massive project wasn't needed.

Fighting has been intense between the Myanmar army and an ethnic Kachin army in the region, according to reports by the Kachin News Group. Some Burmese observers note there may have been concerns that the Chinese were exerting too much power over Myanmar's affairs; there may be hopes that the West will ease sanctions against the country.

(The United States already has made signals it may do so not just because of the Myitsone suspension but because Myanmar has released some political dissidents, has relaxed its control over the media, and has made other "welcome" gestures that signal "a trend toward greater openness," a U.S. State Department official said in a briefing this month.

Whatever the motive or combination of motives, Burmese see the dam suspension as a milestone.

"Irrawaddy has become the first issue on which the government, opposition and the people have become united since the 1962 coup," Yangon journalist Ye Naing Moe wrote in an email. "It could be public pressure or it could be the so-called new civilian government's effort in seeking legitimacy. Anti-Chinese sentiment could be a part of it as well. Anyway, the decision to suspend Myitsone dam has encouraged Myanmar people to keep pushing forward and has taught the government that being loved by the people is good."

Ye Naing Moe traveled to the area in late 2009 with a group of journalists to document and photograph the Irrawaddy as it was before the dam was built. Their efforts were made into a photo book called "Sketch of a River: Irrawaddy," which was published recently as part of an art and photo exhibition.

Uncertain Futures

It's unclear what will happen next in Laos and Myanmar.

Activist groups hope that Laos reconsiders its decision.

"The decisions now are being made without knowledge but with politics," said Pianporn Deetes, Thailand campaign coordinator for International Rivers. "They forget that livelihoods and food security of millions are at stake."

In Myanmar, hundreds of Chinese and Burmese construction workers have left the area but some remain, according to the Kachin Development Network Group. Fighting between the ethnic Kachin army and the Myanmar army has continued, the Kachin News Group has reported.

More than 2,000 people living near the dam site already have been relocated to "model villages," according to the government's New Light of Myanmar newspaper. Aung San Suu Kyi in August said 12,000 people had been relocated.

An ethnic Kachin, who asked that her name not be used because of security concerns, said she has heard from villagers that they can't grow anything on their soil because it is covered with rocks or gravel, and they feel separated from their homelands. But she said she doesn't know whether they will try to go home.

Deetes of International Rivers said there's a window of opportunity to pressure the government to be more transparent and to consider more responsible development and environmental standards. The Burmese people also hope for greater openness.

"People want the transparency because they are not sure how much they will benefit from the project," Aung Htun U, a consultant, said in an email from Yangon. Like many, he's skeptical the Myitsone dam project is dead for good.

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Climate: which nations, cities most at risk?

Marlowe Hood AFP Yahoo News 26 Oct 11;

A third of humanity, mostly in Africa and South Asia, face the biggest risks from climate change but rich nations in northern Europe will be least exposed, according to a report released Wednesday.

Bangladesh, India and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are among 30 countries with "extreme" exposure to climate shift, according to a ranking of 193 nations by Maplecroft, a British firm specialising in risk analysis.

Five Southeast Asian nations -- Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, the Philippines and Cambodia -- are also in the highest category, partly because of rising seas and increasing severe tropical storms.

Maplecroft's tool, the Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI), looks at exposure to extreme weather events such as drought, cyclones, wildfires and storm surges, which translate into water stress, loss of crops and land lost to the sea.

How vulnerable a society is to these events is also measured, along with a country's potential to adapt to future climate change-related hazards.

Of 30 nations identified in the new report as at "extreme" risk from climate change, two-thirds are in Africa and all are developing countries.

Africa is especially exposed to drought, severe flooding and wildfires, the report says.

"Many countries there are particularly vulnerable to even relatively low exposure to climate events," said Charlie Beldon, co-author of the study.

Weak economies, inadequate healthcare and corrupt governance also leave little margin for absorbing climate impacts.

At the other end of the spectrum, Iceland, Finland, Ireland, Sweden and Estonia top the list of nations deemed to be least at risk.

With the exception of Israel and oil-rich Qatar and Bahrain, the 20 least vulnerable countries are in northern and central Europe.

China and the United States -- the world's No. 1 and No. 2 carbon emitters -- are in the "medium" and "low" risk categories, respectively.

In a parallel analysis of major cities at risk, Maplecroft pointed to Dhaka, Addis Ababa, Manila, Calcutta and the Bangladesh city of Chittagong as being most exposed.

Three other Indian metropolitan areas -- Chennai, Mumbai and New Delhi -- were listed as being at "high" risk.

"Vulnerability to climate change has the potential to undermine future development, particularly in India," Beldon observed.

Recent studies -- reviewed in a special report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), due out next month -- point to strengthening evidence of links between global warming and extreme weather events.

Record droughts in Australia and Africa, floods in Pakistan and central America, and fires in Russia and the United States may all be fuelled in part by climate change, some experts say.

Current warming trends are on track to boost average global temperatures by 3.0 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, according to some predictions.

Asia, Africa Megacities Top Climate Change Risk Survey
David Fogarty PlanetArk 27 Oct 11;

Rapidly growing megacities in Africa and Asia face the highest risks from rising sea levels, floods and other climate change impacts, says a global survey aimed at guiding city planners and investors.

The study by risk analysis and mapping firm Maplecroft, released on Wednesday, comes as the United Nations says the world's population will hit seven billion next week and as huge floods inundate areas of Thailand and the capital Bangkok.

The survey ranks nearly 200 nations in terms of vulnerability to climate change over the medium term.

It also ranks the top-20 fastest-growing cities by 2020 in terms of risk, with the study based on a series of indices. The survey maps the world in 25-square-km segments according to vulnerability, making regional assessments easier.

Haiti is the country most at risk from climate change, while Iceland is the least vulnerable. Thailand is ranked 37th.

Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, is the megacity most at risk with an "extreme" ranking. Other megacities at extreme or high risk include Manila, Kolkata, Jakarta, Kinshasa, Lagos, Delhi and Guangzhou.

"Population growth in these cities combines with poor government effectiveness, corruption, poverty and other socio-economic factors to increase the risks to residents and business," said Maplecroft.


"The impacts of this could have far reaching consequences, not only for local populations, but on business, national economies and on the balance sheets of investors around the world, particularly as the economic importance of these nations is set to dramatically increase," Charlie Beldon, Maplecroft's principal environmental analyst, said in a statement.

Maplecroft analyses the exposure of populations to climate related natural hazards and sensitivity of countries in terms of population concentration, development, natural resources, agricultural dependency and conflict. They also rank in terms of a country's, city's or region's ability to adapt.

The maps highlight areas within countries that might be more vulnerable, allowing risks to towns, cities, economic zones and individual company assets to be identified.

For instance, Manila, as the Philippines' commercial center, is extremely vulnerable because of its huge population, rapid growth -- estimated to add another 2.2 million people between 2010 and 2020 -- risk from flooding and storms and the likely increase in these disasters. Rainfall intensity is likely to increase in tropical Asia, climate scientists say.

Highlighting the areas of great risk also offered investment opportunities.

"Changing demands for goods and services can present opportunities for new products or innovative modifications to existing ones," Maplecroft says.

Globally, many other cities were also vulnerable to climate change, Maplecroft said, but better governance, greater wealth and better policies meant they were more able to adapt.

"It is not only cities in the developing world that are at risk from the potential effects of climate change," Beldon told Reuters in an email. "For example, the floods that struck Brisbane (Australia) in early 2011 illustrate the potential of hazards to cause devastation even in a developed country."

Miami still ranked at a high risk as does Singapore, while New York and Sydney were medium and London was a low risk.

Bangkok ranked extreme, and the Thai government has created a $10.6 billion budget to rebuild after the current floods subside.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Water Use Rising Faster Than World Population

Deborah Zabarenko PlanetArk 26 Oct 11;

Like oil in the 20th century, water could well be the essential commodity on which the 21st century will turn.

Human beings have depended on access to water since the earliest days of civilization, but with 7 billion people on the planet as of October 31, exponentially expanding urbanization and development are driving demand like never before.

Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, said Kirsty Jenkinson of the World Resources Institute, a Washington think tank.

Water use is predicted to increase by 50 percent between 2007 and 2025 in developing countries and 18 percent in developed ones, with much of the increased use in the poorest countries with more and more people moving from rural areas to cities, Jenkinson said in a telephone interview.

Factor in the expected impacts of climate change this century -- more severe floods, droughts and shifts from past precipitation patterns -- that are likely to hit the poorest people first and worst "and we have a significant challenge on our hands," Jenkinson said.

Will there be enough water for everyone, especially if population continues to rise, as predicted, to 9 billion by mid-century?

"There's a lot of water on Earth, so we probably won't run out," said Rob Renner, executive director of the Colorado-based Water Research Foundation.

"The problem is that 97.5 percent of it is salty and ... of the 2.5 percent that's fresh, two-thirds of that is frozen. So there's not a lot of fresh water to deal with in the world."


Over a billion people lack access to clean drinking water, and over 2 billion live without adequate sanitation, leading to the deaths of 5 million people, mostly children, each year from preventable waterborne disease, Renner said.

Only 8 percent of the planet's fresh water supply goes to domestic use and about 70 percent is used for irrigation and 22 percent in industry, Jenkinson said.

Droughts and insufficient rainfall contribute to what's known as water risk, along with floods and contamination.

Hot spots of water risk, as reported in the World Resources Institute's Aqueduct online atlas here , include:

-- Australia's Murray-Darling basin;

-- the Colorado River basin in the U.S. Southwest;

-- the Orange-Senqu basin, covering parts of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia and all of Lesotho;

-- and the Yangtze and Yellow river basins in China.

What is required, Jenkinson said, is integrated water resource management that takes into account who needs what kind of water, as well as where and how to use it most efficiently.

"Water is going to quickly become a limiting factor in our lifetimes," said Ralph Eberts, executive vice president of Black & Veatch, a $2.3 billion engineering business that designs water systems and operates in more than 100 countries.

He said he sees a "reprioritization" of resources to address the water challenges posed by changing climate and growing urbanization.

Eberts' company is not alone. Water scarcity and water stress -- which occurs when demand for water exceeds supply or when poor quality restricts use -- has already hit water-intensive companies and supply chains in Russia, China and across the southern United States.


At the same time, extreme floods have had severe economic impacts in Australia, Pakistan and the U.S. Midwest, according to Ceres, a coalition of large investors and environmental groups that targeted water risk as an issue that 21st century businesses will need to address.

"The centrality of fresh water to our needs for food, for fuel, for fiber is taking center stage in what has become a crowded, environmentally stressed world," said Ceres President Mindy Lubber.

A Ceres database lets institutional investors know which companies are tackling water risk. Nestle and Rio Tinto were seen as leading the way.

Water risk is already affecting business at apparel maker The Gap, which cut its profit forecast by 22 percent after drought cut into the cotton crop in Texas.

Similarly, independent gas producer Toreador Resources saw its stock price drop 20 percent after France banned shale-gas fracturing, primarily over concerns about water quality.

Food giants Kraft Foods Inc Sara Lee Corp and Nestle all announced planned price rises to offset higher commodity prices caused by droughts, flooding and other factors.

Water risk is more than a corporate concern. For international aid groups, it poses a risk of disaster for those in the path of increasing drought or rising uncertainty about water supplies.

In East Africa, for example, a changing climate could bring changes in temperature and precipitation that would shorten the growing season and cut yields of staple crops like maize and beans, hitting small farmers and herders hardest, according to an Oxfam report.

A scientific analysis of 30 countries called the Challenge Program on Water and Food offered hope. It found that major river basins in Africa, Asia and Latin America could double food production in the next few decades if those upstream work with those downstream to efficiently use the water they have.

(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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Crowded, stretched world awaits 7 billionth baby

* Population booms in developing nations
* Birth rates fall in richer countries
* Resource scarcity, rapid urbanisation key challenges
* World population may peak at about 9 billion by 2070
Nita Bhalla Reuters 25 Oct 11;

BAGHPAT, India, Oct 25 (Reuters) - The world's 7 billionth person will be born into a population more aware than ever of the challenges of sustaining life on a crowded planet but no closer to a consensus about what to do about it.

To some demographers the milestone foreshadows turbulent times ahead: nations grappling with rapid urbanisation, environmental degradation and skyrocketing demand for healthcare, education, resources and jobs.

To others, a shrinking population, not overpopulation, could be the longer-term challenge as fertility rates drop and a shrinking workforce is pushed to support social safety for an ageing populace.

"There are parts of the world where the population is shrinking and in those parts of the world, they are worried about productivity, about being able to maintain a critical mass of people," Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund, told Reuters.

"Then there are parts of the world where the population is growing rapidly. Many of these countries face challenges in terms of migration, poverty, food security, water management and climate change and we need to call attention to it."

The United Nations says the world's seven billionth baby will be born on Oct. 31.

No-one knows what circumstances the baby will be born into, but India's Uttar Pradesh -- a sugarcane-producing state with a population that combines that of Britain, France and Germany, in a country expected to overtake China as the world's most populous by 2030 -- provides a snapshot of the challenges it could face.

Pinky Pawar, 25, is due to give birth in Uttar Pradesh at the end of the month and is hoping her firstborn will not join the estimated 3 billion people living on less than $2 a day, with little hope of an education or a job.

"I want my child to be successful in life, so I must do my best to make this possible," she said, her hands over her swollen belly as she sat outside her mud and brick home in Sunhaida village.

In Sunhaida, poverty, illiteracy and social prejudice mark a life dominated by the struggle for survival that mirrors millions of others across the world.


With the number of people on earth more than doubling over the last half-century, resources are under more strain than ever before.

First among the short-term worries is how to provide basic necessities for the additional 2-3 billion people expected to be added in the next 50 years.

Water usage is set to increase by 50 percent between 2007 and 2025 in developing nations and 18 percent in developed ones, with much of the increased use in the poorest countries as rising rural populations move to towns and cities.

"The problem is that 97.5 percent of it (water) is salty and ... of the 2.5 percent that's fresh, two-thirds of that is frozen," says Rob Renner, executive director of the Colorado-based Water Research Foundation.

"So there's not a lot of fresh water to deal with in the world."

Nutritious food is in short supply in many parts of the globe. The World Bank says 925 million people are hungry today, partly due to rising food prices since 1995, a succession of economic crises and the lack of access to modern farming techniques and products for poor farmers.

To feed the two billion more mouths predicted by 2050, food production will have to increase by 70 percent, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation says.

But just as research, development and expansion of agricultural programs are critical, the public dollars pledged to this effort remain a pittance of what is needed, and are in fact in danger of sharp decline, experts say.

"We have to raise productivity," Robert Thompson, who serves on the International Food & Agricultural Trade Policy Council and is former director of rural development for the World Bank. "I think we can do it all if we invest enough in research. But at the moment we aren't."

Climate change could be the greatest impediment to meeting the food target as rising temperatures and droughts dry out farmlands which are then inundated by intense floods and storms.

The way climate change has been handled offers a window on how tricky it is to tackle global, long-term problems, however.

While it's clear what needs to be done, U.N. climate talks have largely stalled.

"There is a reason why these negotiations are relatively slow," said Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network Europe, referring to the economic downturn and arguments between rich and poor nations over carbon cuts.

"But if you compare it to the urgency and the fact that many governments clearly understand the urgency, it is a failure of governments that they can't move forward."


Experts say demographic imbalances will also place serious strains on towns and cities across the world as mostly middle-class blue-collar migrants move from poorer rural areas to richer urban centres.

China's capital Beijing -- with its almost 20 million inhabitants -- is now the world's 13th most populous city, its population almost doubling over the last decade, reflecting a trend mirrored worldwide, particularly in developing nations.

Cities in Africa, Asia and South America are bursting at the seams from migrants seeking better jobs or as farmers flee droughts, floods and other environmental disasters.

In 1950, about 730 million people lived in cities. By 2009, it was nearly 3.5 billion and in four decades it will be 6.3 billion, the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs said in a March 2010 report.

That explosive growth stretches limited resources and infrastructure and places megacities on a collision course with a predicted increase in extreme flooding, storms and rising sea levels from climate change, U.N. Habitat says.

Experts say the lack of coordinated planning is exacerbating the problem.

"Any kind of plan for decentralising the population requires a series of policies that work together," said Wang Jianguo, a senior project officer on urbanisation at the Asian Development Bank's Beijing office.

"If you only have a population policy without an employment policy, without an industry development policy, education, medical policy, it won't work."


One important policy tool to manage a growing population is to give women access to family planning, experts say, adding that 215 million women worldwide want it but do not get it.

Access to education is also important as it motivates women to reduce their fertility and improve their children's health.

A lack of such education has meant that while the overall populations continue to rise in countries such as China and India, the number of women is falling because of a preference for boys leading to deliberate abortions of female babies.

The world is also seeing a demographic anomaly: a declining population in some richer countries has led to an imbalance between the working population and retirees who need expensive social safety nets.

The global fertility rate -- the number of children born per couple -- is around 2.5, but in richer countries this number has already nosedived.

And while exact predictions vary, most suggest the global population will peak at around 9 billion around 2070 and then start to fall, perhaps very fast.

"We thought that overpopulation was going to force humanity to expand outward to the stars," says Jack Goldstone, professor of social science and a leading demographics expert at Washington's George Mason University.

"That doesn't look like the problem at all. And the policy framework isn't set up at all to handle these longer-term issues."

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