Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 24, 2010

Water quality, water scarcity, water risks

Filed under: Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on October 24, 2010

Contamination of the Artibonite River with human waste is the probable source of the cholera outbreak in Haiti.  As of Sunday afternoon there have been at least 250 deaths.  Cholera is a quick killer and difficult to contain.   (Read more from the BBC.)

This is the first time in nearly a century that cholera has presented in Haiti.  As a result human hosts are unlikely to have much immunity and the death rate could be much higher than in areas where cholera is more common.  Cholera has been absent from the Caribbean since about 1960.

The cholera epidemic is likely to worsen in the days ahead.  Major media will be covering.  For more detailed information the Pan American Health Organization is posting updates at http://new.paho.org/hai/index.php?lang=en

(Monday Upate: This morning the BBC is reporting, “Health officials have said there are signs that the cholera outbreak in central Haiti may be stabilising. Although the death toll moved past 250 with more than 3,000 people infected, fewer cases were reported.”)

The risk of cholera has been recognized since the January earthquake in Haiti.  A CDC Pre-Decision Brief on cholera is interesting to review nearly eight months on.  See CDC brief at: http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/earthquakes/haiti/waterydiarrhea_pre-decision_brief.asp

Field reports and requests for assistance are focusing on oral rehydration salts, clean water, soap, and water filtration devices, IV solutions (normal saline mostly), tubing and catheters, antibiotics: doxycycline, cipro, and trimethoprim/sulfa (cotrimoxazole).  Some resources have been predeployed.


On the same day that the cholera outbreak in Haiti was first being reported an advocacy group released a study pointing to serious problems ahead for US water systems.

 The Ripple Effect: Water Risk in the Municipal Bond Market assesses the risk of water scarcity for public water and power utilities in some of the country’s most water-stressed regions.  From the report:

Water is a linchpin of the U.S. economy, but its availability is being tested like never before. More extreme droughts, surging water demand, pollution, and climate change are growing risks that threaten water supplies in many parts of the United States. In some regions, water scarcity is already crimping economic production and sparking interstate legal battles. The stresses are especially severe in regions experiencing rapid population and economic growth, including the West, Southwest and Southeast. Among the most immediate threats:
The City of Atlanta’s water supply could be cut by nearly 40 percent as early as 2012 due to the ruling of a federal judge;
Lake Mead, the vast reservoir for the Colorado River, is quickly approaching a firstever water shortage declaration that would reduce deliveries to fast-growing Arizona and Nevada;

Hoover Dam, which provides hydropower to major urban centers in California, Arizona, and Nevada, may stop generating electricity as soon as 2013 if water levels in Lake Mead don’t begin to recover.

More regular droughts and heat waves are likely to increase the operating costs of power generators in the Southeast, among them the Tennessee Valley Authority,which was forced to slash power generation for two weeks at three of its facilities in Alabama and Tennessee because of heightened water temperatures, costing the utility an estimated $10 million in lost power production.


The water-related risk in Haiti is acute and life-threatening.  The water-related risk being reported in the United States is more a matter of managing an emerging chronic condition.  Other than water what they share is the challenge involved in working effectively to manage even known risks.

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Comment by Dan O'Connor

October 24, 2010 @ 7:23 pm

This has been a recurring theme for me over the last several years in developing and articulating a broadening homeland security point of view. I suppose anytime you voice an opinion and/or point of view, you’re bound to have disagreement; so be it.

Water and natural resources are more important long term than the billions spent on arcane policy and inadequate infrastructure protection and should have more emphasis placed on them, in terms of a National Security Issue and a Homeland Security issue.

There is much going on in and about water. Studies by the United Nations point out that by 2025, 2/3 of the world will be water poor.

If all the information available paints a picture that water will be the “oil” of the 21st century and wars will be fought over it wouldn’t that make it a National Security/Homeland Security Issue? Even side stepping the hyperbole, one must register that there is something happening here!

Whether it’s a growing water shortage, water poisoning, water rights being bought, beverage companies purchasing millions of gallons a day and selling it back to us at a 3000% mark up the battle over water will only increase.

Natural gas fracking is poisoning large aquifers throughout the United States. Our factory farming and extended farming in deserts are taking up water from aquifers or watersheds. Our huge petrochemical farming machine and over fertilization dumps monumental amounts of nitrogen into waterways, robbing water of oxygen.

By some estimates, it takes 2, 500 gallons of water to yield one pound of beef. For further understanding, one can also read authors such as Marc Reisner, a former staff writer at the Natural Resources Defense Council and the author of the highly acclaimed Cadillac Desert, a history of water and the American West. Writing in the New York Times in 1989,(yes, 1989) Reisner wrote: “In California, the single biggest consumer of water is not Los Angeles. It is not the oil and chemicals or defense industries. Nor is it the fields of grapes and tomatoes. It is irrigated pasture: grass grown in a near-desert climate for cows. In 1986, irrigated pasture used about 5.3 million acre-feet of water — as much as all 27 million people in the state consumed, including for swimming pools and lawns…. Is California atypical?

Only in the sense that agriculture in California, despite all the desert grass and irrigated rice, accounts for proportionately less water use than in most of the other western states. In Colorado, for example, alfalfa to feed cows consumes nearly 30% of all the state’s water, much more than the share taken by Denver…. The West’s water crisis — and many of its environmental problems as well — can be summed up, implausible as this may seem, in a single word: livestock.”

Combining this with massive urbanization and grow out of arid cultures causes the hydrologic cycle to not function correctly because rain needs to fall back on green stuff — vegetation and grass — so that the process can repeat itself.

We also send huge amounts of water from large watersheds to megacities and some of them have 10 to 20 million people, and if those cities are on the coast, quite a bit of it gets dumped into the ocean. It is not returned to the cycle. Arizona was never meant to have lawns, pools, and golf courses.

I am not a rabid environmentalist. I do however see utility in discussing this as a security issue. Recently I read an article about China and what is being called an unchecked land grab, the likes of which has not been seen since the 19th century. A million Chinese farmers have joined the rush to Africa, according to one estimate.

Some of the world’s richest countries are buying or leasing land in some of the world’s poorest to satisfy insatiable appetites for food and fuel. In the new scramble for Africa, nearly 2.5m hectares (6.2m acres) of farmland in just five sub-Saharan countries have been bought or rented in the past five years at a total cost of $920m.

The farmland purchases are being driven by food security concerns, rising demand and changing dietary habits, expanded biofuel production and interest in what is, in theory, an improved investment climate in some African countries.

In fact China, well known for its interests in minerals and oil, appears to be one of the more modest “neocolonialists” of African agriculture. Vast tracts of the continent’s arable but fallow land are being bought by companies from India, South Korea, and several oil-rich, food-poor Arab nations. Couple this with India and its growing influence in Kenya.

Indian farming conglomorates and companies too have purchased hundreds of thousands of hectares of land in Africa, described as a “challenge to China” in the new scramble for resources. India, China, the United States…

CANADA….Yes, the neighbor to the north has hydrocarbon stores, smaller urban concentrations and more available water than anyone. Cananadian resources, American Logistics, and Mexican labor… this is not a pipe dream, but happening right before our eyes. I just do not think these relationships can be dismissed or glossed over as irrelevent.

Water, farmable land, and discussion over our food sources vulnurability all must be discussed as potential threats and issues in terms of strategic value to the United States. Esoterically, one could see this as a continuation of the constant need and shifting domains of energy. Energy, security, and influence. This is indeed relevant to national and homeland security.

We debate and discuss what homeland security is, terrorism and policy ad naseum… our security as a people and as a Nation must be more than the focus on terror. Until we grow to embrace our capabilities instead of our limitations, our resilience will be limited and our penchant for overlooking a panopoly of issues and opportunities will continue.

I encourage both comment and criticism, but security is much more than what its not …its bits and pieces of many things, conglomerated in many ways to create a challenging equilibrium.
Thanks for the post Phil.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 25, 2010 @ 5:10 am

Dan, Many thanks. Very helpful scan of the horizon — and over the horizon. Makes sense to me. While I agree water and related issues are important national security issues, I would welcome a discussion that gives at least as much attention to water and related as objects of stewardship. When we frame issues with a national security lense — and I suppose with a homeland security lense — there is a subtle embrace of advesarial thinking. We have adversaries. We need to think about them. But we have also inherited a great legacy. An ethic of stewardship is less focused on enemies and competitive needs and more focused on our shared abundance and how to care for it. Both angles are, I think, helpful.

Comment by John Scoggin

October 25, 2010 @ 6:14 am

What amazes me is that the Haitians were caught unaware by this outbreak. Cholera is not a new, novel organism and can be prevented via relatively simple public health measures.

What is the public health community doing in that country?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 25, 2010 @ 6:51 am

Mr. Scoggin, I hope some real experts might chime in, but it is my impression that:

1. The risk of cholera in Haiti was recognized (See CDC link in original post). Some prevention and mitigation measures have been undertaken. If this morning’s news reports that the cholera epidemic is being contained continue to hold true, it would be a significant success for those mitigation strategies.

2. Given the whole range of risks present in the post-earthquake period, the specific risk of cholera may have been “triaged” to a second tier. With the cholera bacterium not presenting in Haiti for a century, the public health community could reasonably have given other risks higher priority.

It is also important to note that sanitation has been given considerable priority, but the resources available have been insufficient to fully engage risk or opportunity. For me this strategic ambiguity is, in itself, valuable to recognize.

Comment by "Water" and DHS: A Serious Concern

October 25, 2010 @ 8:21 am

William Danshin, CEO of (PWC) Pure Water Corporation -Vancouver and Boston – see: http://www.deferum.com, a global waste water and water purification “expert” addressing the substantial prerequisite infrastructure (waste water and water purification) requirements throughout Africa, for instance a $100 million project in Ghana, a $10 million much needed project in Rwanda, readied since 12th January to help the good people of Haiti states, “PWC is recruting any who are willing to put up a strong mind and a strong back into the reconstruction of a quality Haiti where we will see a sustainable economy in Haiti as well.”

PWC has collaborated as well with US and Canadian companies to offer a practical, earthquake resistent housing and multi-level building design with rainwater retention and solar package to bring an eco-friendly housing and building – reconstruction – solution to the wonderful and resilient people of Haiti.

When we discuss Homeland Security and “water” – we note Danshin who states, “The global business model for response to major disaster relief is not working and needs to be changed.”

Vancouver’s Danshin points to the following quotes emphasizing the reasons why he and his global PWC team have been addressing global “water” needs professionally for many years, “Water is today’s issue. It is the oil of this century – not a question. water is the world’s most critical resource – more vital than oil, water sustains Life and thus the global food chain. Water sustains industry and thus the global economy.”

William Danshin further states that when addressing response and reconstruction in Haiti and other localities unfortunately affected by such natural or man-made disasters, PWC’s philosophy emphasizes the “Necessity to build sustainable economies on the foundation of ‘good water and clean energy’ utilizing valued skill sets and proven innovative technologies for: clean water, recycled waste water, alternative energy, waste materials & waste water treatment /reuse, waste to ‘green energy’ and ‘reuseable’ raw materials.”

Moreover, Danshin says that “This is the PWC vision for Haiti and certainly for a host of substantial ($10million to $250million per) project requirements throughout Africa and shortly PWC partnering with India to address numerous such needs.”

In my interest and dedication to local first responders and the necessity for the federal government to further fund our municipalities with more training and budget funding as local communities are stretched to the limit and our dedicated first responders, police, firefighters and EMT’s at the political whim and abuse of the local politicians, I see the “Haiti” experience and the poor global response as a dire warning. While I applaud William Danshin and his PWC team and others like him inherent with expertise and compassion, as well as especially all those who since 12th January have been on the ground in Haiti to help survivors, for me, it is not only about Haiti and cholera, it is about “water” and how it affects and will have far more reaching ramifications for Homeland Security and others.

“When the Rivers Run Dry: Water — the Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century” by Fred Prarce should be on the reading list at DHS HQ. While we should clearly see the nearly 1 billion souls globally who today have no access to a clean glass of water, it is not necessary that we have the William Danshin global perspective for concern, but having the necessity of looking very closely at our own “water” challenges and how we will address a growing problem.

This week, I have opportunity to meet with esteemed Russian scientists and engineers arriving from Moscow to discuss filtration technology unknown to others which can be employed by the oil industry and/or those like Danshin and his PWC team addressing water filtration requirements. When I meet these gentlemen to discuss global and local response technologies to assist folks so negatively affected by unfortunate scenario, I will not hesitate to point to their (Soviet) Aral Sea which has shrunk 50% since 1960 and once the source for one sixth of the Soviet Union’s seafood, many refer to it as an “aquatic graveyard” and this once freshwater lake, now twice as salty as the average ocean! A crisis affecting nearly 40 million or more people where it is reported that life expectancy has fallen from 64 years to 51!

The disaster we see by the “Aral Sea” gross mismanagement has been caused by greed and related to deriving profits from cotton growing without concern as to management of local resources. Again, greed and more greed!

If we look to Australia, theMurray-Darking Basin, once responsible for 40% of Austrlia’s agricultural output, is drying up and in Iraq, the Shatt-al-Arab marshlands, 6,000 square miles of wetland are endangered and have fallen prey to greed and mismanagement, disregard. I say, criminal…do you not?

While I am very much a proud American and gladly outspoken and certainly weary about this Goldman Sachs infilitrated administration and the inexperience Washington displays on both sides of the aisle where greed and self-accolade reign over the necessity of portraying a Washington understanding of the many issues – like water resources and management thereof – affecting Homeland Security, yes, kudos to people like William Danshin in Vancouver and his global PWC team and to the doctors and nurses, and so many in Haiti trying desperately to house and bring quality of Life to 1 (one) million homeless still in tents nearly a year later….

….however these devoted people and others reaching out to fellow human being need help, your help, government, charitable funding and other to do their work for unfortunately, mankind’s inability to portray a government of any kind suitable to addressing the needs of fellow human being has been to no avail, no matter what form of government since Babylon and man’s greed bringing further destruction to the environment enhanced rather than thwarted by new 21st century technologies will ultimately depict man’s greed as what Herbert Armstrong translated from the Hebrew words, “tohu” and “bohu” from biblical scripture and so noted in his book, “Mystery of the Ages” offering a global view of this greed and mismanageemnt of our resources and especially our apparent disregard for our “water” as a world of “waste and empty” where he references the Biblical verse Jeremiah 4:23 — “I beheld the earth, and. lo it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light..”

Just as the Russian central planners had no concern as to the Aral Sea and the folks living around it and only greedy for export revenues, we here in the States are seeing BP and others with the same disregard and we have seen only the beginning of serious “water” issues which may very well result in local and even more far reaching ramifications, maybe even War related to water….

DHS HQ…pay attention!

God Bless America!

Christopher Tingus
GlobalH2OSolutions, Inc. – Consultants
PO Box 1612
Harwich, MA 02645 USA

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 30, 2010 @ 8:40 am

The Cholera problem in Haiti continues to expand and looks like initial source was UN/US sponsored encampment that had human waste dumped into nearby river.

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