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Piracy at sea and the commerce behind it (Part 1)

The long term solution to piracy lies in the world reverting to ships flying with the flag of their own nationality, not flags of convenience 

Veeresh Malik

Maritime piracy has resumed in full force after a lull. And it mainly affects the Indian seafarer in captivity. One reason for this is the standoff between Indian government and pirates on the issue of some Somalians in Indian custody. The Somalians demand that their colleagues be released, while the law in India will take its own course. This has left Indian seafarers to rot in terrible conditions. The Kenyan invasion of South Somalia, ignored in the Indian media despite the ancient ties with the Horn of Africa, has just increased the risks. The Indian seafarers are likely to, once again, become pawns in the conflict.

From torture and beatings to starvation, as well as being denied access to any form of interaction with the authorities, Indian seafarers are in a miserable condition. They will risk their lives due to economic compulsions, and more, on voyages in waters, where Indians have traditionally sailed. Whether by conventional “dhows”, or on modern ocean liners, they are the new targets, and the pirates roam from the Horn of Africa to the furthest reaches of the Southern Indian Ocean. With attacks from submarines and drones now making no difference between friend and foe, stuck on ships, retaliation is expected. Western forces seek a higher involvement of the Indian Navy.
Matters have reached a point where the demanded ransom “rates” for Indians in Somalian captivity is the same demanded from Europeans. In some cases, release is denied outright. In addition, the previous rule of “no bloodshed” is now being openly flouted, as is evident from the killing of two European tourists and kidnapping of others from the Swahili resorts in Northern Kenya near Somalia. Near death-type of torture is also being reported.
The Indian crew left behind from the ASPHALT VENTURE have still not returned, despite ransom being paid. In the case of another European owned ship with Indian seafarers onboard, the ransom amount, after almost being settled, has gone up to three times what it was a few weeks ago. This is because the insurance company of the owner refuses to come to the table anymore – having lost interest in the ship and cargo. The attack on what is called “Jubaland”, at the Southern end of Somalia, by multi-national forces, is one reason.
In the midst of all this, the Indian government and private ship-management agencies have clamped down on all information. Even the families of those affected are kept in the dark. A possible reason for this could be that the real ship-owner, who is often hidden behind the forwarding address of a tax-haven seldom comes forward to help. This is because his K&R (Kidnap and Ransom) Insurance and other covers are adequate to pay for the vessel and cargo. Therefore, losing the asset is certainly profitable for the actual ship owner in a recessionary market. Consequently, the whole of the Indian Ocean has been declared a War Zone.
Brutally explained, companies find it more profitable to collect insurance on a hijacked ship. Humans on board are often seen as cheap collateral damage from the third world countries. The ship owner, or the charterer, frankly stands to gain if the hijacked ship just sinks quietly with all people on board. Therefore, only media coverage and bad publicity are a worry; hence families are asked to keep quiet by threatening to deny them their dues. They even keep the regulatory authorities, in this case the Directorate General of Shipping, quiet or as make them an accomplice.
This is why, at a workshop on piracy in the Indian Ocean, one had the amazing experience of seeing on stage a combination of NATO, British Royal Navy, EU Forces representative, Ship owners and an International Union Representative. With the Indian Government and the Indian Navy in the audience, the point that our friends from the countries, which control international shipping legislation globally were making, sounded like this:
1) The older pirates, of Captain Blackbeard and Johnny Depp variety, were romantic creatures. Switch to slide of good-looking lady-killer type smiling white guy from Pirates of the Caribbean with sword.

2) The modern-day Indian Ocean pirates, of African variety, are terrible terrorist creatures. Switch to slide of scarred big black guy, with huge teeth grimacing, while wearing Islamic head-dress with AK-47.

3) The true pirates, wearing fine bespoke suits in global banking centres, were simply business executives. This person did not get a slide, and chose to be hidden behind global free trade anonymity armed with impeccable Queen’s English.
Leading from this, we were told that it is very important for Indians to persuade the Indian Navy to provide more security to all vessels in the area, while keeping the European Navy free. This led to surprised grins from some Indians present at the workshop for following reasons:
1) If the Indian Navy did not step out and guard the Indian Ocean, then supermarket shelves in Europe would not be able to carry the same discounted prices (as generations of people who did not really work hard for a living had got used to).

2) The European powers are busy with Libya, and maybe Syria, Iran or others would need their ships for those theatrics, or maybe even an un-announced invasion of Somalia by the Kenyans.

3) Most of all, it costs a lot of money to keep the European and NATO naval ships working in the Indian Ocean even when the dirty work below the deck was done by cheap labour from third world countries.

(Note – it is not only “flag of convenience” merchant ships that employ cheap seafarers to work in subhuman conditions. This practice is now followed by warships from developed countries also.)

Source: http://maritimesecurity.asia/free-2/piracy-2/piracy-at-sea-and-the-commerce-behind-it-–part-1/

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MARITIME NEWS | ‘Seawind’ crew: end of the ordeal?

The Brazilian Attorney’s Office for Labour and Work will file an injuction to ensure that the crew members of  the Panama-flagged cargo ship Seawind, have their rights protected. According to the Chief Attorney Nicodemos Fabrício Maia, the injuction will also require that the 14 seafarers be allowed to return to Bulgaria, in accordance with ILO Conventions 166 and 178.

The Seawind and its cargo of granite were arrested on July 9 due to debts that reportedly amounted to US$ 560,000. SInce then, the ship has been anchored two nautical miles off the port of Mucuripe, in Fortaleza. The captain, Nicolay Simeonov, says that eight crew members had to be taken to shore as a result of health problems. He also declared that the food and water onboard are enough for only three more days, and that the ship is also running out of fuel.

Source (in Brazilian Portuguese): http://www.direitoce.com.br/noticias/51793/.html

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PIRACY | Hijacked Algerian seafarers “appeal for urgent help”

From Echorouk (Algeria), 2011.06.24

One of the 17 Algerian sailors held for about six months now by Somali pirates off the Somali coasts, namely Moundhir Abderrahmane, got in touch by phone with his family settled in the western province of Tipaza and heartily appealed to the Algerian authorities to take swift action in order to end their appalling ordeal at the hands of the callous Somali pirates.

He described the situation of the crew on board the hijacked MV Blida bulk carrier as horrendous, stressing that the Algerian seamen were underfed, ill-treated and in a poor health condition owing to the pirates’ heavy-handed and unyielding practices.

The hapless Algerian seafarer urged, on behalf of all his comrades, the Algerian authorities to act without further prevarication and rescue them before it is too late.

He expressed the cherished hope that their much-awaited rescue would happen before the start of the holy month of fasting of Ramadhan, slated for early August, because the Algerian sailors’ patience was wearing thin on account of their dire and unbearable plight, as he sadly put it.

Members of the Algerian sailors’ families have meanwhile staged protracted sit-ins in front of the maritime company “I.B.C”, the ship owner in the district of Hydra in upper Algiers to pressurize the company managers into taking the necessary steps to help liberate their unfortunate sons from the pirates’ clutches. However, this vexed issue seems to be very intricate to sort out as Justice Minister Tayeb Belaiz said recently that Algeria would not pay any ransom to the Somali pirates.

Mr Belaiz underlined in a statement to the press that Algeria was the first country to have “called, before the UN general assembly, for the payment of ransom to criminals and kidnappers to become a criminal act”. Paying ransom encourages criminals and finances terrorism, he said.

The MV Blida, a 20,586 tonne Algerian-flagged bulk carrier, was captured on January 1, 2011 by the Somali pirates, around 150 miles south-east of Salalah, in southern Oman.

The vessel had left Salalah port and was headed for Dar-e-Salaam in Tanzania when it was attacked by the pirates.

MV Blida has a crew of 27, including 17 Algerians, as well as Ukrainians and Filipinos and is carrying a cargo of clinker. [It] was registered with MSC(HOA) but had not reported to UKMTO.

There are now 28 vessels and 654 hostages being held by pirates off the coast of Somalia, according to EU NAVFOR.

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PERILS OF THE SEA | Piracy, torture and starvation: a nightmare on board

From The Hindu, 2011.06.24:

Tortured by a group of drunk pirates and starved for days together, freedom seemed distant for the six Indian sailors on board m.v. Suez, who had almost given up hope of meeting their families.

And when freedom dawned upon them after ten months in captivity of Somali pirates, they could not believe their nightmare was over and were going to be reunited with family and friends.

“We were beaten when they were drunk and they would use anything they could get their hands on to beat us. We were sure they would kill us. There were moments when I wished they would just kill us so that we escape the torture,” said N.K. Sharma, a rescued sailor.

Ravinder Singh, said, “I feel so happy. I have waited for 10 months for this moment. I didn’t think I would see this day…I thought we all would be killed.”

Torture apart, food was scarce for the sailors who starved for many days. “Some days we just got water. We used to get boiled rice, spaghetti and potato once a week,” Mr. Sharma recalled.

Adding to the ordeal, their vessel ran out of fuel and faced the danger of capsizing, said Sharma. “Besides the physical torture, we faced the danger of capsizing as our fuel had run out and we were drifting. One way or the other, we were sure our end was near,” he said.

Prashant Chauhan, another rescued sailor said that even after Pakistan human rights activist Ansar Burney facilitated their release the sailors were still not sure if their freedom was real.

“Even during our travel to Karachi, I didn’t think we were actually going back to our families. The thing we thought would never happen was hapenning now. When I de-boarded my flight I realised this was real. Our nightmare was truly over,” Chauhan said.

The rescued sailors, however, refused to comment on the role played by the Indian government in facilitating their release, which has come in for sharp criticism from the media and families of the sailors.

“Indian and Pakistani media helped us a lot. As far as the Indian government’s role in the release, I don’t want to comment on it,” said Ravinder.

Now all that the sailors want to do is to be spend time with their families and to recover from the nightmare. .

“We’ve been through a lot these past few months. I just want to get back to my family,” said a visibly overwhelmed Biju from Thiruvanthapuram.

The crew of the m.v. Suez was brought to Karachi on Thursday by Pakistan Navy warship PNS Zulfiqar, which had picked up sailors from the waters off Oman. The MV Suez had sank somewhere off the coast of Oman after running out of fuel.

The crew, including 11 Egyptians, four Pakistanis and one Sri Lankan, were shifted to Pakistani warship PNS Babar after the m.v. Suez ran out of fuel and started sinking.

The crew was then transferred to another warship, PNS Zulfiqar, for the voyage to Pakistan. The m.v. Suez, owned by an Egyptian company, had been first boarded by Somali pirates in August last year.

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PIRACY | Freed Indian seafarers back home

From The Hindu (India), 2011.06.24:

After 10 months in the captivity of Somali pirates, six Indian sailors of MV Suez vessel touched down on home soil on Friday to an emotional welcome from family members.

The sailors came by an Emirates flight from Dubai which landed at IGI Airport at 9.36 am, and were received by family and friends carrying garlands.

Relatives broke down in tears at the sight of the rescued sailors as their children carried placards that read ’Thank you Ansar Burney uncle, we love you’, in a reference to the Pakistani human rights activist who facilitated their release from the sea brigands.

Closely holding his three-year-old son, Ravinder Singh Bhulia, one of the released crew members who hails from Rohtak, said, “The Indian and Pakistani media helped us a lot. As far as the Indian government’s role in the release, I don’t want to comment on it“.

With tears rolling down her cheeks, his wife Champa said, “The pain would never go“.

Another released crew member Prashant Chauhan said, “I am very happy. I waited for this moment for 10 months“.

The Indians were part of the 22 member crew, including four Pakistanis, a Sri Lankan and 11 Egyptians, who were freed last week after ransom was paid to the Somali pirates.

The crew of the MV Suez was brought to Karachi on Thursday by Pakistan Navy warship PNS Zulfiqar, which had picked up sailors from the waters off Oman.The MV Suez had sank somewhere off the coast of Oman after running out of fuel.

There was no government representative to receive them at the airport.

N K Sharma, another released crew member, said, “Whatever the Pakistan government has done is really praiseworthy. We don’t know what the Indian government did or did not, but the Pakistan government has treated us well.”

Recounting his ordeal, Sharma said they starved for many days and on some days they just got water.

“We used to get boiled rice, spaghetti and potato once a week,” he said.

Family members of the released men thanked Mr. Burney for facilitating the release of the sailors, but complained that the Indian government did little to save the sailors.

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YEAR OF THE SEAFARER | Let us treat seafarers with dignity

A tribute to the community of seafarers in this year of the seafarers

By Fazlur Chowdhury, maritime adviser with General Organisation of Sea Ports in Bahrain

Originally published in Lloyd’s List, 2010/09/23

WHEN I joined a merchant ship as a cadet in 1963, life at sea was different.

As a young man it was always very exciting to call at new ports, see new lands, meet new people and of course get to know about their history and culture.

By choice of our unique profession we contributed to the world trade but in the process made new friends.

Almost 90% of the world trade is still sea-borne trade. How many of us ever thought of the fact that if all the sea-going ships were to be tied up in ports for merely two weeks, we would probably find the supermarket shelves empty. Today’s hectic modern lifestyle would come to a stand-still.

The subject of this article is the seafarers who keep these ships operating all over the world. If one wants to single out a community that has contributed more than any other to the cause of international trade and commerce then it has to be the seafarers. This is a community that remains out at sea, away from their near and dear ones for months at a time. There is no denying that it is their profession by their own choice but in the process they contribute so much to the cause of international trade, commerce and communications.

This in turn gives rise to friendship and closer relationship amongst nations. In today’s world of open door competition seafarers from several developing countries work together on ships in the spirit of friendship and brotherhood. In recognition of their special role, the seafaring community had always been treated with love, affection and respect. Ports around the world used to have recreational facilities to provide a home away from home.

Unfortunately things have changed. There are two factors. An incident in the year 2001 commonly referred to as 9/11 has perhaps caused more change than anything else. Terrorists’ actions in the US, Kenya, Spain, Bali and many other places claimed thousands of innocent lives and took away our peace of mind. The terrorist threats continue to exist and nobody knows for certain when and where the next will occur. Everyone has to be on guard to deny any further chance to the terrorists.

However, we must not suffer from any terrorist phobia. If we give up our modern lifestyle and do not enjoy the fruits of the modern civilisation built over ages then we help the terrorists achieve their goals.

This is one reason why the United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/ RES/ 57/ 219 ‘Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism’ affirms states must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law. Not granting shore leave to innocent seafarers in the name of security threat is nothing other than depriving the seafarer of their age-old tradition of recreational facility. It amounts to violation of human rights and dignity.

The other factor is a series of high profile ship related pollution cases around the world. Rightly or wrongly in most cases the master and chief engineer of the subject vessel is immediately arrested and put behind the bar like a criminal. The seafarers are kept in detention for days together without even any formal charge and in some cases without any access to lawyers or solicitors. This is certainly gross violation of human rights. The concept of natural justice of being innocent unless proved guilty is brushed aside and it falls upon the seafarers to prove that they are not guilty. The local authorities are always very eager to look to be doing something. The easiest thing to do is to put the master and chief engineer behind the bar. Sometime the marine professionals are the easiest scapegoats for the failure of others and thereby keep attention diverted when the issue is fresh and burning.

The tanker Prestige suffered structural damage in heavy weather and the master’s request for a place of refuge was refused. Instead the Spanish authorities towed the vessel 133 miles away from the coast of Spain exposing the damaged vessel to further perils of the sea, until finally six days later it sank. In the opinion of salvage experts, in a suitable shelter, the vessel could have transferred most of its cargo to other vessels and any limited spill out could be contained and later recovered/skimmed off. Nobody questioned the decision of the local authority; instead the master was arrested immediately despite having complied with all the orders and instructions. The suffering that Apostolos Mangouras underwent in Spanish jail is known to all. In any case the Prestige incident taught us two important things. It has now become a part of the Solas for coastal states to have designated shelters. It also identified the need for pre-arranged command structure which the UK has now done in the shape of a SOSREP.

In case of the tanker Tasman Spirit, which was under advice and guidance of fully licensed local pilot, it is again the master and crew of the vessel who were taken to police custody immediately after the incident as if they conspired and put the ship aground. It was later revealed that Pakistan was not even a party to Civil Liability Convention and the arrest was an effort to ensure that damages can be recovered. The innocent seafarers had to suffer for shortcoming on part of the government officials. There are many more such incidents where seafarers had to suffer for no fault of their own.

Now we look at another incident – this time it is not a ship but an oil rig named Deep Sea Horizon that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast Louisiana, US. The blast not only killed eleven persons but also caused the worst ever pollution known in human history. I have not heard of any police arresting any master, engineer or any other person. However, all measures have been taken to stop further pollution, clean-up the spill and compensate all affected. Inquiry and investigations are under way. The cause of the blast will be found and remedial action will be taken to avoid such explosion in future. It does not rule out punitive measures against any individual found to be negligent. That is the right way forward.

Denial of shore leave and locking up ship’s officers as the first action for any pollution incident is wrong. Being aware that seafarers work and live on ships involved in international trade and that access to shore facilities and shore-leave are vital elements of the seafarers’ general well-being and, therefore to the achievement of safer shipping and cleaner oceans, all coastal states should make recreational facilities available for the seafarers and allow them normal shore leave facility unless there is specific reason not to grant such facility to any individual. Asking them to obtain prior visa from the seafarers country of origin amount to denial of shore leave because sudden change of program may lead to unexpected destinations for which they were not prepared at the start of the voyage.

Criminalisation and victimisation of seafarers for no fault of theirs is barbaric and inhuman. With regard to the incident of Prestige Capt Roger MacDonald said: “It should be great concern to every European Union national that a democratically elected European Government got away with locking up a ship-master for three months in a high security prison without charge and without access to lawyers.” The secretary general of the International Maritime Organization said: “Punishing treatment meted out to seafarers, on whom international sea-trade and prosperity of nations depend, was not only disrespectful, wrong, unfair and unjust but also contrary to international law.”

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is the paramount Convention on all sea related matters. We should, therefore, try to achieve our primary objectives through UNCLOS-82. Article 73 and 292 of UNCLOS-82 have clear provisions against unreasonable detention of seafarers and for their release against suitable bond or guarantee. Article 230 is very specific that monetary penalties may be imposed to control pollution of marine environment except in the case of a willful serious act of pollution in the territorial sea.

In the field of marine environment there is a number of international instruments to deal with various aspects of ship related marine pollution. They range from the subject of control and prevention of discharge by oil, chemicals, garbage, sewage and even exhaust by different annexes of the MARPOL-73/78. There is OPRC-90 that deals with preparedness and response (national as well as regional) in case of accidental pollution (how to contain and restrict and then the clan-up). There is Intervention-69 that gives powers to a coastal state to take pre-emptive precautionary action should it feel threatened by an accident or incident. In the field of compensation regime it has got CLC-69/ 76/ 92 to pay for by the carrier. There is Fund-71/ 76/ 92/ 2000/ 2003 to pay for on top of CLC.

The importance of protecting marine environment has gone to the extent of imposing restrictions and limitations on exchange of ballast water and use of anti-fouling paint on ships. These instruments are the outcome of lead given in the UNCLOS-82. There should be no need for putting people behind bar unless there is evidence of deliberate action or willful misconduct. Arresting people for cheap publicity or popularity should be discouraged.

On this occasion of the World Maritime Day the Secretary General of IMO says in a message to the world’s seafarers: “Our intention is to pay tribute to you, the world’s 1.5m seafarers – men and women from all over the globe.” As a seafarer, I say the best tribute we can pay to the seafarers is to do something which will prevent them being bullied in future.

I call upon both IMO and ILO to work together to prepare a draft document and then call a diplomatic conference to adopt a convention under title ‘Fair treatment to Seafarers’. The document, with all due respect to the sovereignty of every state, should make it binding upon them to ensure that visiting seafarers are given shore-leave (without insisting on prior visa) and that states should provide such recreational facilities as are considered appropriate to their history and culture except where there is reason for not granting such shore-leave.

In case of accidents or incidents resulting to loss or damage to human life, property or environment, the state which has the jurisdiction may inquire, investigate and deal with the matter in a manner acceptable under international treaties, practice and procedures. The flag state of the vessel should be involved in the process of investigation. Unilateral arrest of seafarers should be avoided unless there is clear evidence of deliberate misdeeds. Where arrests are already made, the seafarers should be treated with dignity and be provided with full access to legal support for grant of bail. Unless criminal negligence is established, monetary fine/penalty should be preferred to jail sentence.

Fazlur Chowdhury is the maritime adviser with General Organisation of Sea Ports in Bahrain. He was previously director general of Shipping in Bangladesh, deputy chief examiner of the UK-MCA and maritime administrator in Gibraltar.


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HUMAN RIGHTS | Water map shows billions at risk of ‘water insecurity’

Originally published in bbc.co.uk, 2010/09/29

About 80% of the world’s population lives in areas where the fresh water supply is not secure, according to a new global analysis.

Researchers compiled a composite index of “water threats” that includes issues such as scarcity and pollution.

The most severe threat category encompasses 3.4 billion people.

Writing in the journal Nature, they say that in western countries, conserving water for people through reservoirs and dams works for people, but not nature.

They urge developing countries not to follow the same path.

Instead, they say governments should to invest in water management strategies that combine infrastructure with “natural” options such as safeguarding watersheds, wetlands and flood plains.

The analysis is a global snapshot, and the research team suggests more people are likely to encounter more severe stress on their water supply in the coming decades, as the climate changes and the human population continues to grow.

They have taken data on a variety of different threats, used models of threats where data is scarce, and used expert assessment to combine the various individual threats into a composite index.

The result is a map that plots the composite threat to human water security and to biodiversity in squares 50km by 50km (30 miles by 30 miles) across the world.

Changing pictures “What we’ve done is to take a very dispassionate look at the facts on the ground – what is going on with respect to humanity’s water security and what the infrastructure that’s been thrown at this problem does to the natural world,” said study leader Charles Vorosmarty from the City College of New York.

“What we’re able to outline is a planet-wide pattern of threat, despite the trillions of dollars worth of engineering palliatives that have totally reconfigured the threat landscape.”

Those “trillions of dollars” are represented by the dams, canals, aqueducts, and pipelines that have been used throughout the developed world to safeguard drinking water supplies.

Their impact on the global picture is striking.

Global water availability, 'unmanaged' condition

Global water availability, 'unmanaged' condition

Global water availability, 'managed' condition

Global water availability, 'managed' condition

Looking at the “raw threats” to people’s water security – the “natural” picture – much of western Europe and North America appears to be under high stress.

However, when the impact of the infrastructure that distributes and conserves water is added in – the “managed” picture – most of the serious threat disappears from these regions.

Africa, however, moves in the opposite direction.

“The problem is, we know that a large proportion of the world’s population cannot afford these investments,” said Peter McIntyre from the University of Wisconsin, another of the researchers involved.

“In fact we show them benefiting less than a billion people, so we’re already excluding a large majority of the world’s population,” he told BBC News.

“But even in rich parts of the world, it’s not a sensible way to proceed. We could continue to build more dams and exploit deeper and deeper aquifers; but even if you can afford it, it’s not a cost-effective way of doing things.”

According to this analysis, and others, the way water has been managed in the west has left a significant legacy of issues for nature.

Whereas Western Europe and the US emerge from this analysis with good scores on water stress facing their citizens, wildlife there that depends on water is much less secure, it concludes.

Concrete realities One concept advocated by development organisations nowadays is integrated water management, where the needs of all users are taken into account and where natural features are integrated with human engineering.

One widely-cited example concerns the watersheds that supply New York, in the Catskill Mountains and elsewhere around the city.

Water from these areas historically needed no filtering.

That threatened to change in the 1990s, due to agricultural pollution and other issues.

The city invested in a programme of land protection and conservation; this has maintained quality, and is calculated to have been cheaper than the alternative of building treatment works.

Mark Smith, head of the water programme at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) who was not involved in the current study, said this sort of approach was beginning to take hold in the developing world, though “the concrete and steel model remains the default”.

“One example is the Barotse Floodplain in Zambia, where there was a proposal for draining the wetland and developing an irrigation scheme to replace the wetlands,” he related.

“Some analysis was then done that showed the economic benefits of the irrigation scheme would have been less than the benefits currently delivered by the wetland in terms of fisheries, agriculture around the flood plain, water supply, water quality and so on.

“So it’s not a question of saying ‘No we don’t need any concrete infrastructure’ – what we need are portfolios of built infrastructure and natural environment that can address the needs of development, and the ecosystem needs of people and biodiversity.”

Dollars short This analysis is likely to come in for some scrutiny, not least because it does contain an element of subjectivity in terms of how the various threats to water security are weighted and combined.

Developing countries are urged to think carefully about “concrete and steel” solutions

Nevertheless, Mark Smith hailed it as a “potentially powerful synthesis” of existing knowledge; while Gary Jones, chief executive of the eWater Co-operative Research Centre in Canberra, commented: “It’s a very important and timely global analysis of the joint threats of declining water security for humans and biodiversity loss for rivers.

“This study, for the first time, brings all our knowledge together under one global model of water security and aquatic biodiversity loss.”

For the team itself, it is a first attempt – a “placeholder”, or baseline – and they anticipate improvements as more accurate data emerges, not least from regions such as Africa that are traditionally data-scarce.

Already, they say, it provides a powerful indicator that governments and international institutions need to take water issues more seriously.

For developed countries and the Bric group – Brazil, Russia, India and China – alone, “$800bn per year will be required by 2015 to cover investments in water infrastructure, a target likely to go unmet,” they conclude.

For poorer countries, the outlook is considerably more bleak, they say.

“In reality this is a snapshot of the world about five or 10 years ago, because that’s the data that’s coming on line now,” said Dr McIntyre.

“It’s not about the future, but we would argue people should be even more worried if you start to account for climate change and population growth.

“Climate change is going to affect the amount of water that comes in as precipitation; and if you overlay that on an already stressed population, we’re rolling the dice.”


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