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Drought-Hit U.S. Town Learns To Live Without Water

Los Angeles (AFP) – In front of the local fire station, Pete Rodriguez stands next to his pick-up truck, filling about a dozen buckets from a vast tank.

He hurries, because another car is waiting behind him.

Rodriquez is one of hundreds of residents and business people in the small town of Porterville, in California’s normally verdant Central Valley, who have no running water and are having to re-think how they live.

“I have two buckets near the toilet, one next to the shower,” he told AFP.

Porterville, at the heart of what is known as America’s food basket, is suffering from one of California’s worst droughts in up to a century.

“In Tulare County we have at least 430 homes without running water because their water wells dried out,” said Andrew Lockman, head of the county’s emergency management center.

“I don’t think there is a precedent in the state of California,” he added, saying: “These people have no water for bathing, cooking, flushing toilets. It is a big public health issue.”

Outside of the big towns, many homes in the region are dependent on water from private wells, which are now running dry after three years of drought which has exhausted underground water supplies, or aquifers.

In the long term the region needs structural change including a centralized water supply system. But that will take years and cost tens of millions of dollars to build.

In the meantime authorities can only offer stop-gap measures.

So they have installed two large tanks in town, including the one outside the fire station, filled with non-drinkable water, while supplying bottles of potable water to homes without any.

To deliver the bottles they are relying on volunteers like Donna Johnson, a 71-year-old retired former social worker with gray hair and turquoise eyes, in her pickup truck with leopard-skin interior.

“I was really concerned that some people could get sick,” she told AFP driving round town to help families, some with babies or pensioners who can’t drive themselves.

Most don’t have the $10-20,000 needed to drill a new well. “There’s a lot of people out there that don’t have the income (or) they are too proud. Some of them don’t speak English” or don’t have legal documentation, she added.

“Some of us were in disbelief because you only run out of water in Third World countries. It was like ‘It doesn’t happen in America.

“Well it does happen in America,” she said.

Her first stop is Edy the Mexican mechanic. “I have an 18-month-old nephew. Giving him a bath is really complicated,” he said, happily receiving a few cases of water bottles from Johnson.

A little further, in a quiet street next to what used to be a river but now looks like a brush-covered road, Vietnam War veteran Jessie Coates is doing his washing in the yard.

He uses a large stick to beat and stir the washing, in the old fashioned way. The dishes wait in another bowl, on the ground nearby.

Inside his modest home, the kitchen taps have been removed, and a large water bottle takes pride of place in the sink.

“It kills my arms” to carry it, says Coates, wearing an “I love USA” T-shirt.

Johnson explains that even wealthier families are affected. They have enough money for a new well, but they can’t find someone to drill it: there is an 18-month waiting list for qualified workmen.

Edy, who has lived in California for 18 years, is thinking of closing up shop to move somewhere else.

But a lot of home, or business-owners, are blocked by the same problem: they can’t sell their property without running water.

Photo: AFP via Justin Sullivan

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A Future Of Thirst: Water Crisis Lies On The Horizon

Paris (AFP) – The next time your throat is as dry as a bone and the sun is beating down, take a glass of clean, cool water.

Savor it. Sip by sip.

Vital and appreciated as that water is, it will be even more precious to those who will follow you.

By the end of this century, billions are likely to be gripped by water stress and the stuff of life could be an unseen driver of conflict.

So say hydrologists who forecast that on present trends, freshwater faces a double crunch — from a population explosion, which will drive up demand for food and energy, and the impact of climate change.

“Approximately 80 percent of the world’s population already suffers serious threats to its water security, as measured by indicators including water availability, water demand and pollution,” the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in a landmark report in March.

“Climate change can alter the availability of water and therefore threaten water security.”

Already today, around 768 million people do not have access to a safe, reliable source of water and 2.5 billion do not have decent sanitation. Around a fifth of the world’s aquifers are depleted.

Jump forward in your imagination to mid-century, when the world’s population of about 7.2 billion is expected to swell to around 9.6 billion.

By then, global demand for water is likely to increase by a whopping 55 percent, according to the United Nations’ newly published World Water Development Report.

More than 40 percent of the planet’s population will be living in areas of “severe” water stress, many of them in the broad swathe of land that runs along north Africa, the Middle East and western South Asia.

Yet these scenarios do not take into account changes in rainfall or snowfall or glacier shrinkage caused by global warming.

As a very general rule, wet countries will get wetter and dry countries will get drier, accentuating risk of flood or drought, climate scientists warn.

But whether people will heed their alarm call is a good question.

“When seismologists talk about an area at risk from an earthquake, people generally accept what they say and refrain from building their home there,” says French climatologist Herve Le Treut.

“But when it comes to drought or flood, people tend to pay less attention when the warning comes from meteorologists.”

Water squabbles in the hot, arid sub-tropics have a long history. In recent years, the Tigris, Euphrates and Nile have all been the grounds for verbal sparring over who has the right to build dams, withhold or extract “blue gold” to the possible detriment of people downstream.

“There will clearly be less water available in sub-tropical countries, both as surface water and aquifer water, and this will sharpen competition for water resources,” says Blanca Jimenez-Cisneros, who headed the chapter on water for the big IPCC report.

Citing a 2012 assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies, the U.S. State Department says: “Water is not just a human health issue, not just an economic development or environmental issue, but a peace and security issue.”

Rows over water between nations tend to be resolved without bloodshed, often using international fora, says Richard Connor, who headed the U.N. water report.

However, “you can talk about conflict in which water is the root cause, albeit usually hidden,” he told AFP.

“It can lead to fluctuations in energy and food prices, which can in turn lead to civil unrest. In such cases, the ‘conflict’ may be over energy or food prices, but these are themselves related to water availability and allocation.”

Failing a slowdown in population growth or a swift solution to global warming, the main answers for addressing the water crunch lie in efficiency.

In some countries of the Middle East, between 15 and 60 percent of water disappears through leaks or evaporation even before the consumer turns the tap.

Building desalination plants on coasts in dry regions may sound tempting, “but their water can cost up to 30 times more than ordinary water,” notes Jimenez-Cisneros.

Efficiency options include smarter irrigation, crops that are less thirsty or drought-resilient, power stations that do not extract vast amounts of water for cooling, and consumer participation, such as flushing toilets with “gray” water, meaning used bath or shower water.

Above all, the message will be: don’t waste even a single drop.

©afp.com / Fred Tanneau

Cuba Sells Condoms After Expiration Dates To Address Shortage

By Juan O. Tamayo, The Miami Herald

Hoping to resolve a shortage of condoms that has sparked complaints around Cuba, the island’s public health system has approved the sale of more than one million prophylactics with apparently expired dates.

Pharmacy sales personnel must explain to the buyers that the condoms are good and simply have the wrong expiration dates, said a report Saturday in Vanguardia, the newspaper of the Communist Party in the central province of Villa Clara.

A Vanguardia report April 3 on the shortage said that the government agency in charge of certifying medical items in 2012 had noticed erroneous expiration dates on the “Moments” prophylactics imported from China.

The agency ordered the that the condoms be repackaged with the correct dates, the newspaper reported. But the state-run enterprise repackaging the more than a million condoms in stock does not have enough workers to process the 5,000 condoms per day required just in Villa Clara province.

Vanguardia did not publish the “wrong” dates, but its report hinted that they showed the prophylactics had expired or would soon expire. The shelf life of condoms is very long, it said.

“Although the lots are in optimal conditions, under the certificate of the Center for the State Control of Medicines and Medical Equipment the condoms could not be sold without the new expiration date, December of 2014,” Vanguardia reported Saturday.

“Due to the irregularities in the re-packaging, which has provoked prolonged absences of the prophylactics throughout the country, the Public Health Ministry authorized the sale of the ‘Moments’ condoms in their current packages,” on April 4, the newspaper added.

Several Cuban bloggers commented on the shortage long after April 4, with some noting that it could lead to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases as well as unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

The Cuban government, meanwhile, also published a list of companies around the world that are authorized to ship packages to the island, a business hit routinely with complaints of lost packages, high prices and outright fraud.

The list “will allow those who send these types of shipments from abroad to confirm that the agency they plan to use is among those authorized to carry out those operations with Cuba,” said a report in the government-controlled Cubadebate website.

The U.S. companies listed were: Wilson Int; Service Inc; Machi Community Services; Va Cuba; Caribe Express; Vía Cuba; Flor Caribe Inc; Caribbean Family And Travel Services Inc; Aztec Worldwide Airlines Inc; Procurements Systems Inc; Crowley Logistics Inc; Frontline Cargo Logistic; International Port Corp; Ez Shipping Llc; Centrotrading Llc; and V.I.P INTL INC.

The list, compiled by Cuba’s customs agency, also included Cugranca, a Spanish firm as approved to provide delivery and currency exchange services for people in the United States.

JTF Guantanamo photo by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Gino Reyes