Spain’s drought a glimpse of our future?

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The Independent (London), May 24, 2008 Saturday

Barcelona is a dry city. It is dry in a way that two days of showers can do nothing to alleviate. The Catalan capital’s weather can change from one day to the next, but its climate, like that of the whole Mediterranean region, is inexorably warming up and drying out. And in the process this most modern of cities is living through a crisis that offers a disturbing glimpse of metropolitan futures everywhere.

Its fountains and beach showers are dry, its ornamental lakes and private swimming pools drained and hosepipes banned. Children are now being taught how to save water as part of their school day. This iconic, avant-garde city is in the grip of the worst drought since records began and is bringing the climate crisis that has blighted cities in Australia and throughout the Third World to Europe. A resource that most Europeans have grown up taking for granted now dominates conversation. Nearly half of Catalans say water is the region’s main problem, more worrying than terrorism, economic slowdown or even the populists’ favourite – immigration.

The political battles now breaking out here could be a foretaste of the water wars that scientists and policymakers have warned us will be commonplace in the coming decades. The emergency water-saving measures Barcelona adopted after winter rains failed for a second year running have not been enough. The city has had to set up a “water bridge” and is shipping in water for the first time in the history of this great maritime city.

A tanker from Marseilles with 36 million litres of drinking water unloaded its first cargo this week, one of a mini-fleet contracted to bring water from the Rhone every few days for at least the next three months. So humbled was Barcelona when prolonged drought forced it to ship in domestic water from Tarragona, 50 miles south along the Catalan coast, 12 days ago, that city hall almost delayed shipment and considered an upbeat publicity campaign to lift morale and international prestige.

The whole country is suffering from its worst drought in 40 years and the shipments from Tarragona prompted an outcry from regions who insist they need it more. For now the clashes are being soothed by intervention from Madrid, and plans to ship water from desalination plants in parched Almeria in Andalusia are shelved until October. But there is little indication of a strategy to deal not just with an immediate emergency but an ongoing crisis. Buying water on an epic scale from France has given the controversy an international aspect as French environmentalists question whether such a scarce natural resource should be sold as a commodity to another country.

“It would be a mistake to consider this water bridge between Marseilles and Catalonia as simply an operation of solidarity,” said a group of ecologists calling themselves Robin des Bois (Robin Hood). They said the commercial deal struck between private contractors failed to consider the environmental impact on France. The organisation blamed Barcelona’s water shortage on “wasted resources and … lack of foresight by Catalan and Spanish authorities”.

What Barcelona authorities are fast discovering is that chronic water shortages are not a problem that money alone can solve.

Its 5.5 million inhabitants need a lot of the stuff: the 20 million litres/20,000 tonnes/five million gallons of water brought from Tarragona on 13 May were enough for barely 180,000 people and were consumed within minutes of being channelled through the city’s taps. Wednesday’s shipment from Marseilles was bigger, 36 million litres, but similarly short lived.

Barcelona has churned up a whirlpool of controversy over its handling of the water crisis, causing just the spray of negative publicity it hoped to avoid.

Even the arrival of rain has only made things worse. Catalonia’s regional environment minister, Francesc Baltasar, rushed to announce last week that the hosepipe ban and swimming pool restrictions imposed in February would be lifted. Tarragona – whose wells supply shipped-in water – protested furiously. “Barcelona fills its swimming pools with water from Tarragona,” local headlines screamed, and the water authority demanded a halt to pumping Tarragona’s water for the Catalan capital.

Jose Montilla, Catalonia’s regional prime minister, countermanded Mr Baltasar and insisted water-saving measures remain. “Obviously it makes little sense to lift certain measures when, if it stops raining, we’ll have to re-impose them in three weeks’ time,” he said. But Tarragona re-opened the tap only after Mr Montilla visited, and insisted that “this effort of solidarity will supply only our basic needs”.

Barcelona’s daily El Periodico called Mr Baltasar’s proposal to end unpopular water-saving measures “irresponsible and demagogic”, increasing resentments in regions supplying water to Barcelona. The shipments themselves came under fire. Importing water gives the city a “lamentable, depressing image” and spreads “alarmism”, Miguel Angel Fraile, secretary of the Catalan Trade Confederation, said.

With reservoirs now filled to 30 per cent, authorities should scrap the plan and ship in water only as a last resort, he said. But reservoirs remain two-thirds empty, half the national average and far lower than usual for May. These are dangerously low in anticipation of another dry summer, raising the ghastly prospect of water rationing – painful for residents and offputting for summer visitors.

Extreme short-term measures might have been averted had Barcelona mended leaky old pipes and filtered polluted aquifers, critics grumble. But Barcelona is among Europe’s most careful water users, better than Madrid, Milan or Paris, La Vanguardia newspaper argues. Residents adapt their loos to flush less, shower rather than bath and brush their teeth without the tap running, but such individual measures are swamped by industrial usage, and waste in the infrastructure. La Vanguardia urges an immediate public works programme to improve the creaking system.

“People are much more aware of the need to save water,” says Bridget King, a South African who settled in Barcelona 20 years ago to teach English. “We put a bucket under the shower to catch water before it heats up, and have stopped buying petunias that need a lot of watering. It’s a constant topic of conversation and we worry it’s a long-term thing. But as a South African I’m appalled to see people wash dishes under the running tap. I was brought up to be very careful with water. And although we feel relieved it’s started raining, everyone knows it’s only short term and probably not enough.”

Recent rains have sharpened conflicts, offering a foretaste of water wars to come. Aragon straddles the mighty Ebro river but is a parched desert, cultivable only by sophisticated irrigation systems managed by an Association of Irrigators. This ancient brotherhood agreed to sell the surplus from its irrigation quota, which usually flows back into the Ebro, to Barcelona as a short-term emergency measure. If rains lift reservoirs from their emergency levels, Aragon warns it will halt supplies. But Mr Montilla tweaked Catalona’s definition of “emergency” so it didn’t rely solely on reservoir levels. Then Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, ordered Aragon to keep the water flowing “because conditions aren’t sufficient to guarantee Barcelona’s water supplies”.

Water is now Catalans’ principle worry: 43 per cent considered shortage the country’s main problem. Authorities promise the crisis will ease when a huge desalination plant comes on stream next year. But they say little about how to tackle the long-term problem of water shortage afflicting the whole Mediterranean region. Catalan winemakers recognise that the change is permanent; some are planting new vineyards further north as traditional terrain becomes hotter and dryer.

Other entrepreneurs, including swimming pool manufacturers, have less room for manoeuvre. “The authorities are criminalising us,” complained Josep Sadurni, of Catalonia’s association of swimming pool manufacturers, which predicts losses of up to Euro 200m (£160m) this year. “Who’ll buy a pool if they can’t fill it?” Mr Sadurni asked.

A striking image of the seriousness of the drought is provided by the emergence of a church from the waters of a drying reservoir. For 40 years, all you could see of the drowned village of Sant Roma was the belltower of its stone church, which peeped from time to time above the surface of the artificial lake in a valley flooded in the 1960s to supply Catalonia with water. This year falling water levels have revealed the 11th-century church in its entirety for the first time, attracting curious onlookers who walk round it on the reservoir’s dusty bed. Spain’s Socialist government recognises that climate change will intensify water shortages, and favours desalination plants. One such plant, among the biggest in Europe – and 75 per cent EU funded – is being built on the outskirts of Barcelona and will supply 20 per cent of the city’s water. But it will not be ready until next year.

“It was already very important when it was planned, but now with the urgent drought, it has become indispensable,” said Tomas Azurra, the chief engineer at the plant.

Ecologists warn that desalination plants are costly in energy use, and damage the environment with high CO2 emissions. But developed European regions can afford them, and they’re preferable to diverting water from rivers, which critics say is even more damaging.

More than 70 per cent of Spain’s water goes on agriculture, much of it wasted on antiquated irrigation systems and the cultivation of thirsty crops unsuitable for arid lands. But few politicians seek confrontation with farmers already struggling to scratch a living.

High-density tourist resorts sprinkled with swimming pools, patio showers and golf courses along Spain’s desertified southern coast, especially in Murcia where it rarely rains, are also unsustainable, ecologists say.

Spain needs to capture more rainwater, says Stephanie Blencker of the Stockholm International Water Institute, as climate change will produce alternating extremes of drought and heavy rain. “Rain is the biggest resource we have, and we can make it available all year round if we have sensible storage opportunities,” she said.

Since the 1992 Olympics, Barcelona has enjoyed the reputation of being both cutting edge and user friendly. But now, as climate change overwhelms a crumbling infrastructure, proud, autonomous Catalonia has to seek help from outside.

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Turncoat Lieberman to be McCain’s Vice President

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By Tom Curry, National affairs writer, MSNBC

WASHINGTON – In the spring of 2004 Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry made overtures to Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican, to be his running mate.

mccain lieberman vice president

A Kerry-McCain ticket had a compelling logic: it would have given Kerry a chance to outflank President Bush, to win some Republican voters, and to carry McCain’s state of Arizona and its ten electoral votes.

Will McCain, now a leading contender for the 2008 GOP nomination, borrow Kerry’s idea and offer the vice presidency to Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut’s self-styled “independent Democrat”?

Turncoat Lieberman to be McCain's Vice President Certified Kosher

The McCain-Lieberman duo showed a warm camaraderie Friday during their joint appearance at the American Enterprise Institute, an event where they both called for a substantial increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq in order to impose order, stop ethnic cleansing, and give the Maliki government a chance to succeed.

Praise for McCain’s ‘gutsy position’
Lieberman lavished praise on his Arizona ally. Alluding to his own re-election victory in Connecticut over anti-war candidate Ned Lamont, Lieberman said, “I just finished an election campaign. If rumors are correct, he may be starting one. And he’s not taking the easy way out here.”

McCain, he said, “is doing what he sincerely believes is best for the national security and safety of our country… John’s taking a gutsy position.”

There’s an affinity of personnel, as well as of ideology, between the Arizona Republican and the Connecticut Democrat: McCain’s spokesman in 2004, Marshall Wittmann, now works as Lieberman’s spokesman.

The McCain-Lieberman duo has worked closely in the past on several issues:

  • In 2003, they co-sponsored the Climate Stewardship Act to limit emissions of global warming gases by electric utilities, industrial firms, and refineries.
  • They were leading members of the “Gang of 14,” the bipartisan group of senators who devised a way to avert a fight over judicial filibusters that would have shut down the Senate in 2005.
  • They have been two of the prime movers in Senate efforts to restrict donations to political campaigns.
  • The duo led the push for military intervention by the United State in Kosovo in 1998.
  • “Joe Lieberman and John McCain’s moral leadership in Congress helped make it possible for Wesley Clark to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo,” said Jano Cabrera in January of 2004, when he was Lieberman’s’ campaign spokesman.

     

    Turncoat Lieberman to be McCain's Vice President Certified Kosher

    So what would Cabrera think now of a McCain-Lieberman ticket in 2008?

    Would voters back a hawkish ticket?
    “With the caveat that it’s far too early for this type of speculation, birds of a feather do flock together,” Cabrera said. “And in a nation as politically polarized as ours, a bi-partisan maverick ticket could be incredibly formidable. But before we all start counting our independent chickens, there would also be a significant downside: a pro-war, pro-surge ticket. Barring a radical turn of events in Iraq, I can’t imagine ‘Vote Hawk’ serving as an effective rallying cry in ‘08.”

    He added wryly, “Before the imaginary general election comes the real primary. Since Sen. Lieberman hasn’t declared he’s running, talk of him picking McCain as his running mate is premature.”

    One prominent Democrat, Maryland Democratic Party chairman Terry Lierman, had a joking response to the notion of a McCain-Lieberman ticket: “Does McCain need Lieberman to attract Republican votes?”

    In a serious vein, he said, “The American people will be looking for a ticket that brings positive change…A damaged senator — as much as I like him — and an Iraq War hawk — as popular as he might be otherwise — might not be the change we’re looking for.”

    Dante Scala, who teaches political science at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, said a McCain-Lieberman pairing “would most likely not pan out for three reasons.”

    The first, he said is that Lieberman is a Democrat and “it would anger a good part of the Republican Party faithful” if McCain passed over a qualified Republican in order to pick Lieberman as his running mate.

     

    The age liability

    The second problem as Scala sees it, is Lieberman’s age (he’ll be 65 next month) which combined with McCain’s age (70) would create an Older Guys ticket.

    “Then they’ve got a problem if there’s a clear generational choice” if the Democrats were to nominate a relative youngster such as Sen. Barack Obama, the 45-year old junior senator from Illinois.

    Third, Scala said, “I don’t know if this ticket would attract many committed Democrats to vote for McCain.”

    But if McCain were to roll the dice, Lieberman would give him a better chance to win Connecticut, with its seven electoral votes.

    And Lieberman’s appeal to Jewish voters could make a difference in states with significant Jewish populations such as Florida.

    Brandeis University historian Jonathan Sarna, who has studied voting history of Jewish voters, said, “The 2006 election in Connecticut demonstrated that Lieberman still commands a significant Jewish following, but not as strong a following as he enjoyed in 2000. Lieberman’s support of the Iraq war, his views on religion in public life, and his endorsement of Republican efforts to prevent the removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube distanced him from some Jewish voters.”

    TV network exit polls Lieberman got 65 percent of self-identified Jewish voters in Connecticut last November.

     

    “My guess is that the Connecticut results anticipate how a McCain-Lieberman ticket would be viewed by the Jewish community,” Sarna said. “At least at third of Jewish voters would find the ticket insufficiently liberal and would vote against it. Whether the ticket could command two-thirds of the Jewish vote depends on who the other candidates are.”

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    China – Waiting Line of 200 Million People

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    Stranded train passengers wait outside a railway station in China’s southern city of Guangzhou February 1, 2008. Millions of Chinese shivered through power cuts and water shortages and millions more were stranded by snow ahead of what for some is the only holiday of the year.

    REUTERS/Bobby Yip (CHINA)

    Where is the bathroom? Yikes!

    This is one export (overcrowding) we don’t need .

    Not a good place to be in customer service.

    What happens if you lose your bag here?

    One holiday a year and stuck at the train station!

    Assessing the toll of China’s freak snowstorms