Water rationing in Yemen; a sign of things to come?

August 28, 2009
Drivers wait at Al-Suhaini Well, near Al-Saleh Mosque in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, for three to fours hours to have their trucks filled with water.  © Adel Yahya/IRIN

Drivers wait at Al-Suhaini Well, near Al-Saleh Mosque in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, for three to fours hours to have their trucks filled with water. © Adel Yahya/IRIN

IRIN reports on new levels of water rationing in Yemeni cities.

“Water and sanitation companies in Yemen are adopting unprecedented water rationing in major cities”, reports IRIN in a recent article.

Price hikes, rising demand, and decreasing precipitation has brought the situation to a critical head.  Estimates place Yemen’s water deficit at 1.28 billion m³.

The impact on local residents has been huge.  One resident reports,

Our household has received no water for 21 days, so I turned to buying water from trucks… In the past month, I bought water four times, costing me YR10,000 [$50] – nearly one-third of my monthly salary.

Is this a sign of things to come in other parts of the arid world?

US agricultural production to decline severely under climate change

August 28, 2009

New research from North Carolina State University published in this month’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the United States could experience stark crop yield declines under moderate climate change scenarios.

From Treehugger:

Agriculture and resource economist Michael Roberts and economist Dr. Wolfram Schenkler determined the impact of warming temperatures on corn, soybeans and cotton. They found that each had a critical temperature threshold above which crop yields started plummeting: 29°C for corn, 30°C for soybeans and 32°C for cotton.

Under slower global warming scenarios, Roberts and Schenkler project that yields for these crops could decline 30-46%. Under rapid global warming scenarios things got really bad, with yields dropping 63-82%.

Climate Camp to London police: We won’t tell you where the next camp is because you keep beating us up

August 25, 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Climate Camp organisers demonstrate a cracking expertise with web media and the power of decentralised decision-making.

Having trouble with the authorities ruining your social activities?  Getting beat up frequently by the police?

Leverage the web to humiliate your opponent and gain the upper hand in a smashing example of modern, technology enabled social activism.

Bill Gates files patents for geo-engineering ships

July 11, 2009


Bill Gates and colleagues are seeking patents for a flotilla-based hurricane suppression system.

The patents, discussed here, are intended to use the temperature differential between the warm, surface water and the cold, deeper waters below.

Hurricanes are caused when ocean water temperatures rise, releasing warm, moist air into the atmosphere. This water condenses and creates cyclonic wind storms due to the pressure difference between hot and cold air fronts in the atmosphere.

Gates’ idea is to use giant floating bath tubs to capture warm water on the surface, then suck it down to the ocean depths in a kind of thermohaline exchange mechanism.

The basic idea is to draw cold water up from the ocean depths to cool the ocean surface, thus reducing the frequency and intensity of tropical storms.

This appears to be the latest effort in climate change, weather suppression technologies, discussed on this blog in a series of posts here and here.

From TechFlash:

Patent watcher “theodp,” who tipped us off to the filings, says he was reminded of “The Simpsons” as he read through them. “The richest man in the world hatches a plan to alter weather and ecology in return for insurance premiums and fees from governments and individuals,” he writes. “It’s got kind of a Mr. Burns feel to it, no?”

The hurricane-suppression patent applications date to early 2008, but they were first made public this morning.

“Climate Wars” by Gwynne Dyer serialised on CBC

July 10, 2009

Gwynne Dyer’s book, “Climate Wars“, came out in 2008, and was a sobering investigation into the security implications of climate change.

The book was recently serialised into a three part special on the Canadian Broadcast Company show, “Ideas“.

It won’t be anything surprising or new to the weather beaten, war torn readers of our hirsute blog, but it is a nice bringing together of ideas in a very presentable fashion that may help make the case for lay listeners.

From the show’s website:

Program Excerpt

About 2 years ago I noticed that the military in various countries, and especially in the Pentagon, were beginning to take climate change seriously. Now, it’s the business of the military to find new security threats. It’s also in their own self-interest, since they need a constant supply of threats in order to justify their demands on the taxpayers’ money, so you should always take the new threats that the soldiers discover with a grain of salt. You know, never ask the barber whether you need a haircut.

But I did start to look into this idea that global warming could lead to wars. It turned into a year-long trek talking to scientists, soldiers and politicians in a dozen different countries. I have come back from that trip seriously worried, and there are four things I learned that I think you ought to know.

The first is that a lot of the scientists who study climate change are in a state of suppressed panic these days. Things seem to be moving much faster than their models predicted.

The second thing is that the military strategists are right. Global warming is going to cause wars, because some countries will suffer a lot more than others. That will make dealing with the global problem of climate change a lot harder.

The third is that we are probably not going to meet the deadlines. The world’s countries will probably not cut their greenhouse gas emissions enough, in time, to keep the warming from going past 2 degrees celsius. That is very serious.

And the fourth thing is that it may be possible to cheat on the deadlines. I think we will need a way to cheat, at least for a while, in order to avoid a global disaster.

Here is a link to the full show, with embedded audio.

Dengue fever to spread in 28 US states thanks to climate change

July 9, 2009
Red states are already at risk for Dengue Fever, blue states will likely become at risk thanks to climate change

Red states are already at risk for Dengue Fever, blue states will likely become at risk thanks to climate change

The Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC) just released a report measuring the spread of the tropical disease Dengue Fever in new states thanks to climate change.

Also known as “bonebreaking fever”, dengue is “characterized by agonizing aching in the bones, joints and muscles, a pounding headache, pain behind the eyes, a high fever and a classic rash. There is no cure or vaccine against the virus, only preventative and supportive care.”

The NRDC press release states that, “Many factors may be contributing to the rise in dengue fever, including increasing international travel and trade, densely-populated communities living in poverty in many countries including the United States, and the effects of global warming. Researchers project that because of global warming, in the next 75 years 3 billion additional people will become at risk for the disease across the globe.”

The full PDF of the report goes into more detail:

Global warming is likely to increase the number of people at risk of dengue epidemics by expanding both the area suitable for the mosquito vectors and the length of dengue transmission season in temperate areas. By 2085, an estimated 5.2 billion people—more than 3 billion additional people worldwide—are projected to be at risk for dengue because of climate change–induced increases in humidity that contribute to the disease’s spread, based on models that use observed relationships between weather patterns and dengue outbreaks.6 Researchers in Australia and New Zealand calculated that climate change is projected to increase the range and risk of dengue in these countries. According to their study, another 1.4 million Australians could be living in areas suitable for the dengue mosquito vector by 2050. Moreover, the number of months suitable for transmission may rise, increasing the costs of dengue management three- to fivefold.In the United States, dengue fever outbreaks have so far been limited to the U.S.-Mexico border region and Hawaii. However, our analysis reveals thatglobal warming could result in increased vulnerability to dengue fever throughout the United States and the Americas. The findings are cause for concern: The analysis shows an increase in dengue fever in recent years in the United States and its neighbors to the south. And the mosquitoes that can transmit this disease have become established in a swath of at least 28 states, making disease transmission more likely.

The political blow back from an increase in tropical disease in the US will likely be quite significant.  A few seasons of bone breaking disease should change people’s belief in climate change, for instance.  The pressure to “do something” will most likely be focused on the CDC and private health care providers, however, and could be too diffuse to translate into stronger support for climate change action.

Water crisis = food crisis

July 8, 2009
Australia's rice production drops to practically zero because of water shortages; Image via SF Gate

Australia's rice production drops to practically zero because of water shortages; Image via SF Gate

When water availability diminishes, food crops tend to suffer.

TreeHugger has an excellent discussion of the impact of drought on food production in Australia.

Rice is a water intensive crop, and when drought hits, production suffers.  In Australia, “production has dropped from 1.6 million tons in 2000 to a mere 18,000 tons in 2008.”

This has important implications for planning for climate change.

Taking the experience of Australia to heart now can help other areas be proactive about water use and avoid sharp changes in agriculture, and therefore economy, such as what Australia is now facing. Getting started today and reduce our water use to only what we need as well as make practical decisions in the agricultural sector, can help a region avoid a more dire crisis in the future.

UKCP09 launches today

June 18, 2009

After several months of delay and some behind the scenes controversy, UK Climate Projections 2009 (UKCP09) launches today, June 18th, 2009.

From the press release:

The UK Climate Projections (UKCP09) are being launched on Thursday 18 June. UKCP09 provides the latest information on how continued emissions of greenhouse gases may change the UK’s climate over 21st century. The information provided by UKCP09 will be valuable to anyone with responsibility for forward planning in the public, private and voluntary sectors. UKCP09 comprises a package of information including, publications, key findings, user support and customisable output. This is primarily available on-line. Please note that the sites will not go live until the Secretary of State has finished his announcement to the House, sometime around 12.30.

* For access to the main technical information about UKCP09, and the full range of information and support, go to http://ukclimateprojections.defra.gov.uk.
* A gentler introduction is available at http://ukcp09.defra.gov.uk.

UKCP09 is accompanied by a training programme – Projections in Practice (PiP) – and more information can be found at www.ukcip.org.uk/training.

What is so interesting about these projections is the background controversy and delay.  They will be some of the world’s most advanced downscaled climate projection available, but the project has been delayed due to methodological criticism and claims of over promising.

The critique, coming mostly from climate modellers and chaos mathematicians, suggests that some of the claims are too ambitious and that the levels of uncertainty are too high to produce such granular predictions.

From a past issue of New Scientist, cited here:

At the Cambridge meeting Lenny Smith, a statistician at the London School of Economics, warned about the “naïve realism” of current climate modelling. “Our models are being over-interpreted and misinterpreted,” he said. “They are getting better; I don’t want to trash them per se. But as we change our predictions, how do we maintain the credibility of the science?” Over-interpretation of models is already leading to poor financial decision-making, Smith says. “We need to drop the pretence that they are nearly perfect.”

He singled out for criticism the British government’s UK Climate Impacts Programme and Met Office. He accused both of making detailed climate projections for regions of the UK when global climate models disagree strongly about how climate change will affect the British Isles.

Smith is co-author, with Dave Stainforth of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Oxford, of a paper published this week on confidence and uncertainty in climate predictions (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society ADOI: 10.1098/rsta.2007.2074*). It is one of several papers on the shortfalls of current climate models.

Some authors say modellers should drop single predictions and instead offer probabilities of different climate futures. But Smith and Stainforth say this approach could be “misleading to the users of climate science in wider society”. Borrowing a phrase from former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Smith told his Cambridge audience that there were “too many unknown unknowns” for such probabilities to be useful.

Policy-makers, he said, “think we know much more than we actually know. We need to be more open about our uncertainties.” Meanwhile, the tipping points loom.

From issue 2617 of New Scientist magazine, 16 August 2007, page 13

There is no doubt that such projections will be welcomed by the scientific and policy communities.  One hopes that an adequate understanding of the uncertainties involved will also be appreciated.

Website on climate and weather for humanitarian partners

May 28, 2009

Following on from the exchange between CAFOD and Liveropool University, the partners are developing a website to pool information on weather and climate for humanitarian partners. While they will be talking more about this at the 8 June discussion workshop, they would also very much welcome your thoughts and comments on this:


The site is currently being developed to be incorporated within a website on climate change for CAFOD partners with separate sections on activities underway with, amongst others: Liverpool University, University College London, HFP, OneWorld Action and INTRAC.

2nd leg of the pilot exchange between Save the Children UK, Christian Aid, UCL Environment Centre and Benfield Hazard Research Centre and the Met Office

May 28, 2009

Pilot Humanitarian-Science Exchange, Second leg

Meeting at Met Office Hadley Centre

Second leg of the pilot exchange between the Met Office, UCL’s Environment Centre and Benfield Hazard Research Centre, Save the Children UK and Christian Aid

19 May 2009


Met Office: Adrian Thomas, Anca Brookshaw, Bernd Eggen, Rachel McCarthy, Joseph Intisiful, Karen McCourt, Kirstine Dale

Richard Ewbank, Christian Aid

Lydia Baker, Save the Children UK

Emma Visman, Humanitarian Futures Programme

Martin Todd, UCL and David Wightwick, SC UK were unable to attend.


All participants provided a brief introduction of their current focus for work/research and experience related to the exchange.

Introduction to the Met Office, Adrian Thomas

Presentation on the various areas of Met Office work including: its role as one of the world’s two forecast centres for aviation, the new flood warning centre, forecasting ‘fallout’ from radioactive and chemical leakage and ash from volcanic eruptions, forecasting the spread of vector-bourne diseases through the Institute of Animal Health, such as blue tongue, or weather-related human health illness, such as SADS. The Met Office also contributes to a consortium of malaria models. The Met Office is part of the MOD.

For weather forecasting, regional forecasting is at a scale of 12km, and for the UK, capacity has been enhanced from 4km in 2007 to 1.5km currently. Weather forecasting is as accurate now for 3 day period in advance as it was for 1 day twenty years ago.

An introduction to seasonal forecasting, Anca Brookshaw

Due to the imperfections inherent in observed weather, the Met Office now uses ensembles even for 3 day forecasts.

The Met Office produce 3 seasonal forecasts:

  • Monthly 32-day range forecasts, employing 51 member ensembles. Not much monthly information is freely available.
  • Seasonal forecasts using 41 member ensembles. Seasonal information is freely available, without interpretation.
  • Tropical storm. This is available for the North Atlantic. While it could be made available for other regions, the current insufficiency of data to enable calibration constraints its development for other regions.
  • Decadal forecasts for a 10-30 year period, using 10-member ensembles.

El Nino/La Nina occurs ever 3-8 years and exhibit predictable patterns without being certain. Some teleconnections or local connections are more certain than others,

Event counts: expected conditions averaged over a time count. For up to a month ahead, events are averaged on a weekly basis, for 1-6 months ahead, events are averaged on a 3 monthly period, and for more than one year ahead, multi-year averages are used.

Extreme events are on the 20th and 80th percentiles.

The Met Office works through the WMO and supports their policy of building the capacity of national meteorological offices.

The WMO supports Regional Climate Outlook Forums (RCOFs), which have been taking place for the last 10 years. They last one week and bring together users from across each region to consider seasonal forecasts and bring to the forecasts observation, knowledge of localised vulnerabilities and phenomena, such as locust swarming.

SC UK wondered whether it might be useful to establish links between the RCOFs and the newly established International Phase Classification (IPC) initiative, which seek to pool inter-agency work on food security and other vulnerabilities.

There was some discussion on users of climate information and channels for communication of climate information, reaching beyond in-country experts. In North Africa, climate information has been disseminated through mosques, raising the need for identification of credible and relevant disseminators and translators of climate information.

Examples of using climate information included:

  • To plan for capacity of hydroelectricity produced by the Lake Volta Authority. It has a large catchment area, so does not rely on high resolution information.
  • Malaria infection rates in Botswana. Botswana was selected as it has the best malaria records.

In future activities, the Met Office will be focussing on, amongst other areas, the links of seasonal forecasting with health, crops and hydrology and present day climate stresses.

Climate Impacts Group, Rachel McCarthy

Research within the Climate Impacts Group is bringing together information on land, river routing and crops, enabling models to show greater detail of climate impacts. It also enables closer consideration of the many horizontal layers of information incorporated within each individual climate gridbox.

The group is developing the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator (JULES) as a community model with other institutes. Gridboxes are divided into the components of water, vegetation cover and soils. The dynamic vegetation model enables greater detail, including the impact of photosynthesis.  The group is currently looking at 200 river basins, with river basis one of the first areas to be impacted by climate change. With increased temperatures, plants are likely to bud earlier, leading to increased run off.

The Group undertakes a lot of research on the water sector with DFID, through Water and global change (WATCH).

Also identified was the importance of using climate models to question assumptions. Cited was the example of irrigation in India which, counter to intuition, reduced productivity during certain seasons.

Joseph Intsiful, PRECIS

Through PRECIS (Providing Regional Climates for Impacts Studies), the programme has developed a PC version of the super computer model. The programme provides training, workshops and materials. It enables the construction of regional climate change scenarios, incorporating local knowledge and phenomena, such as dust storms and monsoons. The Met Office’s Voluntary Contribution Project (VCP – see below) supported the participation of crisis-affected countries, enabling vital information to be brought to the discussion.

PRECIS works with regional climate expertise including: ICPAC in East Africa, U Cape Town in South Africa, IITM in India, CPTEC in South America, and CCCCC/INSMETT in Central America.

The regional models can inform planning: forecasts on rain can, for example, provide guidance on the need to seek GM crops ( We did not have time to discuss whether forecasts could instead steer investigation for using existing appropriate drought resistant crops, as opposed to GM varieties).

Cuba was identified as being particularly proactive in developing the use of the PRECIS tool, developing a PRECIS online access system.

It is hoped that the UKCIP (UK Climate Impact Project) model can be used in other regions to develop, for example, an AFRICACIP.

PRECIS has sought to develop links with the community to incorporate indigenous climate knowledge. In Africa, for example, it has sought to engage the climate knowledge of witch doctors. Also mentioned was pilot cross-sectoral work on river blindness, using PRECIS with social scientists and epidemiological expertise to look at drug resistance .

PRECIS has also sought to support the focal points and advisors for country engagement with global climate change discussions. The FCO has also supported dialogue on climate change in some countries.

Karen McCourt, Voluntary Contribution Project (VCP)

The VCP provides a combination of training, equipment and services for building capacity in LDCs. Around 15 countries contribute financial or personnel support through the WMO.  There is now an increased focus on resource mobilisation.

Examples of work to date include:

  • Support on severe weather forecasting through regional offices for national meteorological offices.
  • Supporting the interfacing of climate data in developing countries with Met Office systems through CLIMSOFT.
  • Sponsored training on statistics through Reading University
  • Working with ComputerAid in Uganda to support local meteorological offices and building their relationships with District Planning Offices.
  • Sponsoring e-management courses

Also mentioned was the WMO’s World Climate Conference, which takes place in August 2009, and which considers climate services.

Information and resources

Would it be possible to request:

  • Copies of the powerpoint presentations provided by Met Office colleagues? Anca’s slide on the tipping of probability is extremely helpful to guiding understanding on how to ‘use’ climate information.
  • Available documentation of the pilots supported through the VCP?
  • Documentation on the cross-disciplinary work supported through PRECIS

Availability of the climate change atlas produced for DFID and climate impacts work undertaken  for the FCO

For consideration and follow up

How could the humanitarian and development community participate in Regional Climate Outlook Forums?

Disaster Watch on IRIN: what information is on there? How good is it?

Understand more on link with FEWSNET, and the climate information which they employ.

Consider the tropical cyclone/storm information provided through Benfield, its sources and differences to Met Office approach.

Look at the PRECIS online access system developed by Cuba.

The recent Copehagen meeting included a presentation on the state of the climate in 2030.

Learning for the dialogue

Several Met Office colleagues had experience of working with the humanitarian and development community. Bernd Eggen had worked on educational outreach for 5 years prior to joining the Met Office, Adrian Thomas has previously worked for UK NGOs< Kirstine Dale supports the climate information requirements of government ministries, including DFID.

Explore the use of monthly forecasts for the humanitarian community. How could this information be made available to this community? How could they use it?

Can we describe ‘expert’ judgement? The elements required to enable good interpretation of models. Are there elements which would assist non-experts to discern ‘good’ climate information and most appropriate use of climate information?

Can we learn more about weather extremes, particularly relevant to the humanitarian community?

Working with the WMO and national meteorological offices. How can humanitarian and development organisations best support and work with national meteorological offices? The opportunities and constraints of accessing information through national meteorological offices, whether due to insufficient resources or capacity for outreach.

Need to clarify who are the ‘users’ of climate information: for the Met Office, current users may primarily be national meteorological offices. For the humanitarian and development community, users are primarily communities and/or national or regional partners.

Save the Children has identified 20 priority countries for their DDR work. There was discussion about how climate information had informed or could inform country selection.

The IPCC is a review of research existing by a specified deadline. The review is informed and limited by existing research focus and priorities.

There is a need for informed understanding of the methodologies employed within climate reports and information.  Could the Met Office provide an analysis of the methodologies employed within some key reports used or produced by the humanitarian community to support appropriate use of relevant bodies of climate information?

Richard Ewbank raised concerns from partners over the impact of wind – the intensity and duration is reported to have increased and was raised as the primary weather concern amongst partners in Central America and parts of East Africa. Unfortunately both wind and visibility are extremely difficult to model.

The huge resources entailed in developing climate information made clear that there are significant resources required to produce information tailored for the development and humanitarian communities.

Consideration of why Cuba so advanced in both adoption of PRECIS model and DDR approach.