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Feeding a Thirsty World

About two weeks ago, I attended the Feeding a Thirsty World: Harnessing the Connections Between Food and Water Security event at the Wilson Center. Speakers from Winrock International, Water Global Practice of the World Bank, Environmental Change and Security Program at the Wilson Center, Sustainable Water Partnership, and Corteva Agriscience led discussions on the linkage and the overlap between water security and food security. I learned that the relationship between water and food security is a complex because you can’t have food security without water security. If we are only providing water solely for drinking purposes than we are only solving half of the problem. We are not developing self-reliance or empowering communities to take care of their water or agriculture systems.

More than 70 percent of global water use is for agriculture while more than 25 percent of the global population lives in areas facing severe water scarcity and more than 820 million people are food insecure. Water consumption for food production will need to increase by 70 percent before the year 2050 in order to meet the demand for a growing population. In addition, we have to consider the environmental stressors that also affect food and water availability, like the increase in floods and droughts due to changes in climate patterns. Many countries are lacking in safe access to drinking water. 3 out of 10 countries lack safe drinking water in their home globally. There are serious consequences such as political instability, economic decline, and increase in conflict and insecurity. So how can we feed a thirsty world?

There were three takeaways from the discussions: Nutrition Is More Important than Calorie Intake, The Development of Child’s Brain in Relation to Human Capital and From Relief and Recovery to Growth and Resilience. I go into greater detail on each topic below.

Nutrition Is More Important than Calorie Intake

Water scarcity has long term effects on food access which leads to poor nutrition and poor health. Total agriculture productivity needs will have to increase by 50% to meet the current demand for nutrition. We can produce enough food and calories but the water demand is very massive. The demand for water and food don’t always overlap with each other. We have the capacity to produce calories but nutrition is different than calories met. Nutrition requires a more complex diet. For a nutritional diet you need access to foods like nuts, animal sourced protein, fruits, and vegetables, but the production for these food sources tend to be more localized. Both water security and food security are contextual issues therefore a universal solution cannot be applied.

Water is important for nutrition but it hasn’t been a major topic in the food security development community. Neither has food security in relation to the water security development community. One of the reasons is that these development communities have been isolated from one another both financially and administratively, and as a result there can be a hesitancy to combine them perhaps out of the fear of less funding. Some of the greatest needs are in governance and management improvements where there can be a lack of policy coordination.

Possible Solutions

There are two basic trends linking water and nutrition security in policy development: building policy and funding linkage between food security and water security efforts are very important but still an evolving discussion about how they can relate in the future. Another is increasing the focus on supporting small-holder farmers specifically their ability to irrigate and to manage their water effectively. They are largely responsible for food security in many parts around the globe because they dominate the food production system. In some places in Africa, small-holder farmers produce up to 90 percent of the food. Irrigation is a strategy that can be used as a solution, but small-holder farmers need a different set of irrigation tools than larger scale systems.  Small scale irrigation farmers are a part of a broader development program. We should encourage the support and improvement of existing practices of small-scale irrigation farmers by focusing on their potentials rather than building centralized systems that are managed by national governments.

The Development of Child’s Brain in Relation to Human Capital.

Water security is an underlying driver of healthy child growth. Malnutrition can stunt the growth of a child’s brain. Stunting is a red flag for physical and cognitive challenges faced later in life. Early investments in children brain growth lay the groundwork for the development of human capital. The World Bank started the Human Capital project last October which includes a human capital index that measures the amount of human capital that a child born today can expect to attain by the age of 18 given the risks of poor health and education in the country where he or she lives. The distribution of human capital across the world is imbalanced and many countries are projected to have a lower index. If we fail to invest in solutions that unlock food security and nutritional gains today, these future generations may fall short of their potential.

Possible Solutions

The World Bank has developed a framework for demonstrating linkages between water security, food security, and nutrition which is an important determinant of human capital outcomes. There are four basic pathways: production, income, water supply, and women’s empowerment.

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The World Bank developed six nutrition sensitive enhancements to the types of irrigation investments that the World Bank supports as seen below. Two examples of countries, Uganda and Somalia, were mentioned where they have begun to incorporate these nutrition sensitive enhancements. Both countries face chronic food shortages and water insecurity.

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From Relief and Recovery to Growth and Resilience.

We need to move beyond relief and recovery to growth and resilience. Not only making sure that farmers have enough food for survival but moving towards a surplus to assist in livelihood.

Possible Solutions

There are ways to provide stability and opportunities to increase livelihood: empowering more young men and women to have a platform to create innovative solutions, increasing access to data and information and providing an understanding of the data, and pushing for more responsibilities at the community level enabling households, local leaders, and organizations to take charge. Improving water use by making it more sustainable and productive and improving disaster risk management are efficient objectives to these approaches.

I hope these summarized points will cause you to reflect on the current inefficiencies of our global food and water systems and the ways that can support us in to moving towards a more sustainable and equitable future. For more information visit https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/feeding-thirsty-world-harnessing-the-connections-between-food-and-water-security where you can have access to view the full footage of the event.

Jazmin Kimble is an Urban Planner and Urban Designer  from Long Island, NY. She has a passion for empowering and planning adequate, equitable communities through the lens of Geodesign, Urban Design, Community Development, Architectural Design, Sustainability, Environmental Solutions, and Community Engagement. Jazmin believes the culture and the history of a community is what makes it unique. This approach allows her to design with communities from a holistic viewpoint.

Thailand Crash

Thailand’s Deadly Roads and the Global Pandemic of Traffic Crashes

A total of 463 people died in 3,791 traffic crashes in Thailand between December 27, 2018 and January 2 of 2019. Yes, you read correctly. In the span of seven days, 463 people lost their lives during the country’s “seven dangerous days” over the New Year holiday when Thais were traveling to visit friends and family for the one week festival. This was an increase to 2017’s 423 deaths during the “seven dangerous days”.

Thailand’s roads are the deadliest roads in Southeast Asia. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 22,941 people die each year in traffic crashes in Thailand. That’s an average of 62 deaths per day. 73% of those deaths are people riding motorcycles, which have become the most popular form of transportation for many households. Thailand is also ranked 2nd in the world for most lethal roads after Libya by the World Health Organization. Their road collision-related death rate is 32.7 out of every 100,000 people. In Libya, in 2015 their reported rate was 73.4 deaths out of every 100,000 people. In United States an estimated 40,100 people were killed in 2017 with a current death rate of 12.4 out of every 100,000 people. But understand that even though United States has a higher total of traffic crashes per year than Thailand it has a lesser rate because United States has an overall population of 325.7 million whereas Thailand has a population of 69.04 million.

Why is Thailand’s traffic fatality rate so high? One of the noted obstacles to safer roads is lack of enforcement of traffic rules. Drunk driving and speeding are the most reported causes of crashes. In addition to drunk driving and speeding, the failure to wear helmets and seatbelts and the lack of restraints for children are among the biggest risks for road safety that is embedded in the culture. Cultural habits can be difficult to change. The number of police traffic stops have increased in certain areas and there have been more signs mandating motorcyclists to wear helmets, but are those the only factors when it comes to tackling this problem, especially if they have proven to not be efficient enough?

Road safety is a worldwide issue that is not addressed enough. Road crashes have been labeled a global pandemic by the Pulitzer Center and are the eighth leading cause of death for people of all ages, with 1.35 million people dying on the road in 2016. These crashes and untimely deaths are preventable.  Globally, there are proper measures to approach this great issue that requires a collaboration of disciplines:

  • Policies and enforcement in regards to proper speed limits, alcohol impairment, seat-belt use, child restraints, and safety helmets.
  • Adequate road design and transportation facilities (bicycle, pedestrian, motorcycles, and transit). When possible separate motor vehicles from more vulnerable modes such as people walking and biking. Promoting safer and more efficient travel for all users: motorists, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians. Placing traffic calming and proper signage.
  • Encouraging and implementing the use of safe and flexible modes of public transportation.
  • Powerful public awareness campaigns
  • Making vehicles more protective and visible for occupants, pedestrians, and cyclists. Using high-mounted brake lights and reflective materials on cycles, carts, rickshaws and other non-motorized forms of transport.

For something so preventable, traffic crashes in Thailand and around the world really need a bigger outcry.

Jazmin Kimble is an Urban Planner and Urban Designer  from Long Island, NY. She has a passion for empowering and planning adequate, equitable communities through the lens of Geodesign, Urban Design, Community Development, Architectural Design, Sustainability, Environmental Solutions, and Community Engagement. Jazmin believes the culture and the history of a community is what makes it unique. This approach allows her to design with communities from a holistic viewpoint.

Interstate highway 45 is submerged from the effects of Hurricane Harvey seen during widespread flooding in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Richard Carson - RTX3DKUO

The Impacts of Heavy Rainfall on the Environment

The recent rain events this past week caused extreme flash flooding throughout the Northeast region. Parkways, streets, and metro or subway stations in New York, Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Massachusetts flooded leaving motorists, pedestrians, and commuters stranded and exposed to horrid conditions. I have become worrisome, not particularly of the increase in the intensity and frequency of torrential downpours, but of our current incapacity and mismanagement to handle all of this water. Every time we face intense rain, I have to think to myself: What towns or streets will face flooding? Who would want to walk through a transit system with murky water past their ankles with absolutely no knowledge of what bacteria or toxins lurk in that water? How much more can our water systems take from the toxic materials and untreated wastewater due to outdated infrastructures and sewer systems? Are we really placing public and environmental health, safety, and the quality of life for all as a top priority? Climate change has brought an increase of rain intensity and frequency. Rainfall intensity is the measure of the amount of rain that falls during a period of time while rainfall frequency is the amount of times it rains during a specified period of years. An increase in air and water temperature brings an increase of precipitation.  But we cannot isolate climate change, we must also pay close attention to the factors that it engages with. I can certainly name a few: presence of impervious surfaces, lack of greenspaces, outdated infrastructures and sewer systems. All of these factors exacerbate flooding and can be detrimental to our water systems.

Impervious Surfaces…

The large surface area of impervious surfaces like roads, parking lots, and roofs, that have replaced our natural landscape, do not allow water to infiltrate into the ground and speeds up the process of rainwater runoff entering the drainage systems. The runoff and the pollutants collected from impervious surfaces are either turning into floods or entering our water systems at a faster rate than it can be managed.

Lack of Greenspaces…

This kind of ties in with impervious surfaces. I think it’s safe to say that the more impervious surfaces we create, the less access to greenspace we have. Greenspace is extremely crucial. It provides benefits such as reducing and filtering polluted stormwater runoff, reducing soil erosion, and improving air quality. When we lack greenspace, we have to deal with a lot of preventable challenges. With a lack of soil and vegetation to absorb and filter the rainfall, we experience flooding and overloaded sewers. With a lack of vegetation, we experience an increase in air temperature (Note what I stated earlier about the effects of an increase in air temperature).

Outdated Infrastructures and Sewer Systems…

The outdated infrastructures and the combined sewer systems were built only to hold a certain capacity of rainfall. In addition, transit systems and roadways aren’t effectively updated or repaired. Poor management leads our infrastructures to dilapidate and become swamps. In the recent floods, water leaked through the concrete vaulted ceilings of the WMATA Capitol South metro station. In a few of New York’s subway stations, water entered through the ceiling and stairways flooding the stations. Combined sewer systems are typically found in older cities. When the capacity of the system is surpassed, the untreated wastewater and stormwater runoff flows into our waterways or can back up into buildings through the pipes or overflow from the storm drains onto the streets.

 

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Flooding on the George Washington Memorial Parkway

GW Parkway at DCA

Flooding on the George Washington Memorial Parkway

Martha Custis Drive in Parkfairfax

Flooded street on Martha Custis Drive in Parkfairfax, Virginia

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Water leaking through concrete vaulted ceiling in Capitol South Metro Station, WMATA

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Flooding conditions in Capitol South Metro Station, WMATA

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Flooding conditions in NYC Subway Station, MTA

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Flooding conditions in NYC Subway Station, MTA

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Flooding conditions in NYC Subway Station, MTA

Now What…

With climate change there will be an increase of storm intensity and frequency, but how do we plan and design for worsening conditions? As the climate changes we must adapt our habits, the way we design, and our management of infrastructure. Stormwater management practices are used to reduce stormwater runoff, control flooding, reduce erosion, and improve water quality. These practices include green stormwater infrastructure (GSI), flood control reservoirs, and tunnels (SMART Tunnel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and the Deep Tunnel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin addresses flash flooding and stores millions of gallons of overflow and sewage). Green infrastructure can be used to not only address our stormwater issues but to beautify our communities by creating healthy environments. Just imagine walking, driving, or riding your bike down a green street filled with a canopy of trees, native vegetation, GSI interventions, enhanced sidewalks, public art, and other street design features. A green street utilizes green infrastructure, improves public health and safety, and can even yield economic benefits.

We also have to contemplate all of the paved vacant lots or unused parking lots. For an example, malls all over the United States have an immense amount of parking.  What can we do with these spaces? These are opportunities to implement green infrastructure and green spaces for public spaces that can incorporate activities, pop-up spaces, farmers markets, etc.

In addition to the stormwater management practices, the timely repair and maintenance of infrastructure needs to be a requirement or else it will not function properly. Also, funding should be appropriately allocated to ensure that the proper solutions are identified and instated.

The strategies will not be the same in every location because the approach should be acclimated to the specific needs of that region based on in-depth analysis, research, and community engagement. However, with careful and purposeful consideration and action we can move in the right direction. I leave you with this: How can you be a part of the movement to create safe, equitable, and sustainable infrastructures and communities?

 

Jazmin Kimble is a Geo-Designer, Urban Designer, and Architectural Designer from Long Island, NY. She has a passion for empowering and planning adequate, equitable communities through the lens of Geodesign, Urban Design, Community Development, Sustainability, Environmental Solutions, and Community Engagement. Jazmin believes the culture and the history of a community is what makes it unique. This approach allows her to design with communities from a holistic viewpoint.





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