Reflections from Stan, Head of Barge
Thailand is in drought. There is no doubt about this. Barge staff were shocked to visit Haew Suwat waterfall in Khao Yai National Park in March and see such a minimal stream of water coming over. Rangers in the park expect that this waterfall will be dry by Songkran. Already Haew Narok waterfall has dried up. Most worrying is that this extreme lack of water as at the top of the mountain! The sources are drying up, which will have a drastic effect on the communities below along the river streams.
Thailand experienced hard times in July 2015, when farmers were trying to get water to their drying rice fields. Bangkok was warned of water shortages due to the pressures put on resources. Though ultimately there was no shortage in Bangkok, so the extreme urgency of this drought situation was not fully understood by the residents of the capital.
Right now, March 2016, Thailand's two largest dams are again at low capacity. Sirikit Dam is at 43% capacity, 13% of which is usable. More worryingly, Bhumibol Dam is at 33% capacity, of which only 5% is usable. That 5% is 629 million cubic metres of water. On average, Bangkok uses approximately 2.4 million cubic metres of water in one day. Additionally, Bhumibol Dam is one that is used to generate electricity in Thailand, and the coming two months are a peak time for electricity consumption due to the rising temperatures of hot season. All worrying signs for Thailand!
Perhaps this year, more than ever, it is time to reconsider your festivities at Songkran, Thailand's New Year festival. Traditionally, Songkran festival used small amounts of water to pay respects to Buddha images, elders, and close family and friends. In modern times the festival has turned in to a week long water fight, with extreme amounts of water being thrown around, and then funnelled down the drains. This year, with water resources so low, we should be wary of how much we play, and how this festival, along with Loy Krathong, began as a way to highlight the importance of water in our lives.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals address such issues of water and consumption. Together, with guidance from the UN goals, we can work to create a world where there is no waste, and equal access to resources.
Water is Life
Around 750 million people lack access to clean drinking water. That is one in six of us. If you are lucky enough to be reading this then its more than likely that you will never have to struggle to find water, so it can be hard for us to comprehend these statistics because they simply do not apply to you or me. Just 2.5% of the water on our planet is freshwater, but most of it is unattainable - 70% is frozen in ice caps and 30% lies underground where it is too expensive to be accessed, leaving just 1% available for human consumption.
Coupled with increasing global temperatures, those who have limited access to water are having to walk further and further every year to access water that may not be safe to drink. It is said that woman and girls in rural Sub-Saharan Africa must walk six miles - spending 16 million hours per day collecting water, compared with the six million hours that men spend each day. This in turn affects their opportunity for education and consequences their life expectancy.
But the real threat to life expectancy is access to clean sanitation. one in three people lack access to a toilet. Have a look around where you are now, it is more than likely that there are two other people close by, and so imagine the scenario of them not having access to a toilet. Lack of sanitation is the world’s biggest culprit of infection and is attributed to 4,500 child deaths today alone, 10% of the global population ingesting food grown using unsanitary irrigation and children missing 443 million school days globally.
I can understand if these facts may be a little dispiriting but this is not a recent issue, we have known about this for such a long time that we are almost numb to the problem. So what can we do?
- Conserve Water - Here at Barge Program we encourage 3 minute showers! Remember to turn off taps and only flush the toilet when necessary. Also try changing your shower head to a more sustainable option. Low flow shower heads will save you money on heating, as well as helping to conserve water!
- Eat and drink sustainably - Try meat free Mondays or going alcohol free for a few days during the week and this will drastically reduce your water usage.
- Fill up your washing machine and/or dishwasher and use water saving cycles if possible - this will not only save you money but also reduce your water usage.
- Donate - Support causes who are supporting areas that lack access to clean water and sanitation.
- Spread the word! We can only tackle the issue from positive minded people like you, so go out and tell people (don’t lecture them!) about the simple, money saving methods they can do to help reduce water issues and help us achieve the global goals target that:
- By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.
Life below Water- Global Goals 14
“Water and air, two essential fluids on which all life depends,
have become global garbage cans”
Our oceans can be divided into five large ocean basins that cover 71% of the earth’s surface. They regulate global temperatures, affect the weather, are home to the world’s largest mountain range, the deepest canyon and over 1 million known flora and fauna species. But our oceans are far from healthy. At our current rate of exploitation, by 2100 more than half of the world’s marine species will be on the brink of extinction. Already over 30% of marine habitats have been destroyed. It is said that we know more about the surface of the moon than we do our own oceans, with just 5% of our oceans currently explored. We are at a crucial time in which if we do not drastically reduce our impact on the life below water then we may not ever discover what lies beneath.
Overfishing and a difficulty to regulate the fishing industry can be argued as the most destructive factor to life below water. As our oceans are so large and the demand so great for fish the fishing of endangered species has put great pressures on our oceans that are simply irreversible. More than 85% of the world's fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits and are in need of strict management plans to restore them. But even management plans that are in place - no take zones, regulating net sizes to increase fish populations, marine conservation zones - are very difficult to enforce due to the sheer demand and size of the oceans.
A visit in March to a fishing community on the island of Samae San discovered that a fishing crew had been imprisoned due to their fishing nets being too small, not allowing smaller species to populate, and thus declining fish stocks in the future. Net sizes and the type of fishing (trawling) affect marine species due to an effect called by-catch. By-catch is the accidental catch of other marine species that are not desired by the fisherman and die as a result. This, coupled with the fishing of apex predators, can lead to an effect called trophic cascade
that is not immediately apparent at first. Fishing of top predators such as tuna and groupers lead to an increase in smaller species such as sardines and anchovies, which leads to a decrease in plankton and other smaller phytoplankton. Plankton and phytoplankton help to take carbon out of the atmosphere by removing inorganic carbon dioxide due to photosynthesis. Therefore as a result of over fishing certain fish populations you have resulted in the carbon cycle for our planet as an indirect result and something that may not be immediately apparent.
The use of plastics is also something that is severely threatening our marine biodiversity. On average around 46,000 pieces of plastic are floating in each square mile of our oceans, which represents 80% of total marine debris. The plastic bags, bottles and other forms of plastic that we do not recycle end up either within land fill or dumped into rivers and oceans where it severely threatens marine ecosystems. Run off and leaching within the soils and rivers results in an excess of nutrients within our oceans that leads to poor water quality and eutrophication (algal growth on reefs) which in turn suffocates the coral reefs and results in their death. This in turn affects numerous marine species (giant clams, clownfish, sea anemones to name just a few) that rely on coral reefs for shelter and food. The destruction of our coral reefs can also be attributed to the tourism industry and its effects will only result in its decline in the next decade. Snorkeling especially (due to the lack of qualifications needed as well as the close proximity to the coral reefs in comparison with deep sea diving) is resulting in the loss of our corals due to the increase in human activity and at times direct destruction of the corals. An increase in beach development due to a recent increase in tourism to remote locations within Thailand, Indonesia and the Caribbean, is also resulting in the destruction and bleaching of our corals due to the problems that such intense and close development brings to these areas. And as their quality is reduced due to an increase in demand, these areas that rely so heavily on tourism as a source of income will lose this source of revenue and may have to move to other sources in order to survive.
However, if we take action through the global goals targets we can help reduce these severe consequences and help improve the environmental and economic sustainability of our marine ecosystems to ensure its survival for generations to come. You can help by simply reducing your plastic use - the average lifespan of a plastic bag is just 12 minutes! So reduce the amount you use, re-use those you do use and recycle them when you are finished. Think carefully about the fish you are eating and ask yourself, “is this sustainable?” There are many sustainable and far tastier options out there for you to try so give it a go! Microbeads (the small plastic in exfoliating products) are beginning to become less common in personal care products due to increase pressures from the public to see a ban to them as they contain chemicals and are mistaken for food which cause severe effects for our environment and are hard to filter due to their small size. Even though companies such as L’Oreal and Pantene claim to phase out their use by 2017 you can think carefully about using such products and look carefully at the product and come to your decision today!
These small measures can greatly improve our incredible marine ecosystems and its biodiversity so that we are all able to enjoy it for many years to come.
Global Goals #12 Responsible Consumption
The U.N. reports that 825 million people are still undernourished; the average person in the industrial world took in ten percent more calories daily in 1961 than the average person in the developing world consumes today.
This can have only increased since 1961; yet 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted in production. A staggering 30% of food produced is never eaten. This includes about 45% of all fruit and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, 20% of dairy products and 20% of meat.
Global Goal #12 aims to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses by 2030.
Where, how and when is most of the food wasted?
In developing countries there are high levels of what is known as “food loss”, which is unintentional wastage, often due to poor equipment, transportation and infrastructure. In wealthy countries, there are low levels of unintentional losses but high levels of “food waste”, which involves food being thrown away by consumers because they have purchased too much, or by retailers who reject food because of exacting aesthetic standards.
With this increased consumption comes plastic waste - worldwide there is enough plastic thrown away to go around the Earth four times. In 1900 the world produced 300,000 tonnes of rubbish per day. In 2000 the world produced 3 million tonnes of rubbish per day. By 2030 the UN aims to substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse.
Approx 140 billion tonnes of minerals, ores, fossil fuel and biomass could be consumed by 2050. Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.6 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year.
If current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. Remember though, we only have one.