The announcement this week of the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games sets Japan up for unprecedented challenges politically, economically, logistically, and facing a public health crisis precipitated by the novel Covid-19 pandemic.
The International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government had put on the brave face for a number of weeks amid concerns for athlete’s safety, hoping to weather the storm of growing calls for the postponement of the Games due to the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.
The president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach and Japanese prime minster Shinzo Abe finally bowed to pressure from the Athletes, Sports Federations and National Olympic Committees to postpone the games until the summer of 2021.
The Olympics have avoided postponements several times previously, even following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and another attack during the 1972 Munich Olympics. The announcement of the postponement marks the first time in history the Games have been postponed owing to a public health crisis.
There will be real world implications and hurdles for the Japanese government following this decision. This will likely have political, economic and logistical ramifications for the nation of the rising sun.
Japan has spent more than 12 billion US dollars on the event. Sponsors and broadcasters have spent huge sums marketing and advertising. There are now questions being asked as to how these huge investments would be recouped.
At a time when Japan’s economy is already stumbling, the delay of the Olympics could deal a serious blow to the economy. In a report early this month, SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. projected that a cancellation of the Games would erase 1.4 percent of Japan’s economic output.
It is being wondered who will foot the bill for the additional costs of the leases and maintenance of facilities and venues.
Jiro Yamaguchi, professor of political science at Hosei University in Tokyo, muses that the postponement “could be a political burden because the government must make additional expenditures for the preparation of the Olympic Games during an economic crisis”. He further adds: “the Olympic Games might be a liability rather than a political opportunity for prime minister Abe”.
It is now left to be seen if the bets made by Japan´s prime minster Shinzo Abe that the Olympic Games would be a boost for the Japanese economy through tourism and consumption; and Japan´s public health policy in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic – would prove to be wise.
Tobias Harris, an expert on Japanese politics at Teneo Intelligence in Washington recons it will be a “grand farewell a few months before Abe´s set to leave office”.
That is if all the variables at this precarious point manage to coalesce nicely in 2021.
In all of this, it must not be lost on us that the reason for the postponement of the Games was due to a public health crisis that resulted in a loss of confidence for the safety of the athletes, officials and spectators.
The narrative from sceptics is that Japan has supressed potential Covid-19 cases by deliberately under testing its population.
Gerald L. Curtis professor emeritus of political science at Columbia University reckons prime minister Abe “has been playing a kind of Russian roulette, betting that the virus won’t suddenly spike and giving the public a false sense of security by not testing large numbers of people. If his luck runs out and the virus spreads, he won’t be prime minister when the Olympics come to Tokyo next year.”
Japan is no stranger to very serious setbacks, and recovery stories. In 2011, Fukushima was the site of the Nuclear disaster following a Tsunami. Still recovering from that misfortune nine years ago, the Prefecture was supposed to be the location for the start of the Olympic Torch relay. It would have been a symbolic testament to Japan’s powers of recovery from adversity. A resource it would still have to deploy going forward given the postponement of the Olympics and the logistical hurdles that has created.
The Tokyo Olympics Organising committee has had to extend the employment of 3,500 workers for another year. These workers were due to return back in the Autumn to Corporate Sponsors from whom they were “seconded” by the Tokyo Organising Committee.
Sales of Olympic Village into Apartments would have to be re-evaluated. Renovation plans put on hold; and contracts for prospective buyers re-examined. Hotel bookings have been thrown into disarray with the postponement – potentially leaving a seismic financial and logistical void – made even worse for them by an almost certain drop in tourism from the Covid-19 Pandemic.
In the face of these multiple uncertainties, however daunting they may sound, Japan has a history, resources, human capital and resilience of rising to the occasion when the chips are down. Providing the global pandemic does not get disastrously worse in 2021, one could make a bet that Japan, against all odds, would find a way round these head winds.
Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) which has been rapidly spreading across the world at an alarming rate, southern Africa, or more accurately Africa, had been waiting with bated breath for the pandemic to eventually breach its territories.
Since COVID-19 was officially reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) by China on 31 December 2019, and eventually categorised as a global emergency by WHO on 30 January 2020, the region of southern Africa has responded in varied but largely preventative measures at its respective points of entry.
Out of the reported 403 cases of Coronavirus infections in the African continent, southern Africa has 210 confirmed cases to date (20 March 2020). South Africa has confirmed 202 cases, Mauritius has reported 3 cases, Zambia has reported 2 cases, Namibia 2 cases and Eswatini has reported 1 case of COVID-19. So far in southern Africa there have been no reported deaths as a result of the infection.
Statistically speaking, the region has lagged behind the global curve for Coronavirus infections and deaths, however for southern Africa this is more than just a numbers game. This is a global crisis that has a very local impact. Without taking into account the rate of infections within the region, there has been an almost immediate economic impact that southern Africa has had to contend with as a result of COVID-19. This is a factor that is likely to continue and may spell more economic trouble for the region if the outbreak is not contained. In addition to this, it will test the preparedness of the region for coronavirus. Any inadequacies in preparedness at a local level, is likely to affect the region and its stability, therefore this is also a testing of the efficacy of regional crisis cooperation.
From the onset of the outbreak southern Africa has been vulnerable to the wider economic consequences of Coronavirus. China, the United States, the European Union and United Kingdom are all some of the region’s biggest trade partners and southern Africa has not been impervious to the almost instantaneous negative economic effects that have come with virus outbreak. Since the outbreak African airlines have reportedly lost $400m as a result of having to suspend flights from China and later other affected parts of the world such as Italy. The airlines include Air Mauritius and South African Airways among others in Africa. In South Africa on 24 February it was reported that the Rand had weakened due to lack of investor confidence caused by the rapid spread of the Coronavirus. Similarly, in Angola the outbreak of the Coronavirus in China contributed to projections of a drop in oil demand from China. In other parts of the region, especially those that have a strong reliance on tourism such as Namibia, Botswana, Madagascar and Mauritius, there were restrictions and subsequent cancellations of visas and entry for people coming from countries most heavily affected by COVID-19.
Several countries in the region, including South Africa which has the strongest economy in the area, have been struggling to stimulate their economies and any interruptions to some of the traditional streams of income through trade and investment could spell disaster for some countries like Zimbabwe that is already on the brink of economic disaster. The region had imposed some stringent measures against affected countries at the onset of the virus outbreak to prevent infiltration within its territories, and this may have delayed the outbreak of COVID-19, however the economic ramifications were felt. With the presence of COVID-19 in at least 5 countries in the region, it is likely to add further pressures to the economy as most of the fragile health services will begin to experience further strain. The economies in the region have already shown vulnerability to the outbreak before any cases of infection were reported, it is likely that the region will face further instability as a result of this as the timeframe and ability for containment is uncertain.
COVID-19 in southern Africa will test two things: the region’s preparedness and its ability to coordinate and cooperate effectively. The Coronavirus is the biggest threat to public health since the Ebola Crisis. Lessons from the Ebola, HIV , Malaria, Cholera and Measles outbreaks, as well as the world’s response to COVID-19, will all be examples the region can draw from to tailor its response to the Coronavirus. In some ways, southern Africa is in familiar territory because it is no stranger to the outbreak of contagious diseases, although it must be noted that it remains unclear how COVID-19 will behave in the region and therefore cannot guarantee sufficient preparedness. This is also taking into account that a fragile health system, as is the case in most of the countries in the region, is likely to affect the effectiveness of tackling the outbreak. There are also high numbers of the population that are affected with underlying health issues such as HIV and Tuberculosis and this stands to significantly impact how successfully Coronavirus can be contained.
A number of the health systems in southern Africa are fragile, however this is true in varying degrees within each country. One indication of this is that Zimbabwean President Mnangagwa has already declared a national disaster over Coronavirus on 18 March 2020, this despite there being no confirmed case of the virus in country. On the other hand Zimbabwe has been battling a collapsing health system where a number of Zimbabweans have been seeking medical aid in countries like Zambia, an outbreak on the scale of what has occurred in China or Italy would be disastrous. While in South Africa on 19 March 2020, President Ramaphosa announced that he would build a fence along the border with Zimbabwe to stop infected people from entering South Africa this after he had earlier declared COVID-19 a national disaster. South Africa has one of the more developed health systems in sub-Saharan Africa, however it too reportedly has a limited availability of ICU beds. A spread that follows the trajectory of China could result in a high mortality rate in South Africa. Individual countries in the region may attempt to combat the outbreak unilaterally as it has been indicated by the actions of South Africa towards Zimbabwe, however the disparity in the resilience of each country’s health system within the region may mean regional cooperation is required to combat COVID-19. How effectively southern Africa can contain Coronavirus, is not just a numbers game but a matter of regional stability and economic wellbeing.
Does eastern Europe need to increase security measures to handle mass migration?
Some countries certainly think so. Feeling threatened by both the coronavirus and the potential surge of migrants, several states in eastern Europe has increased their border security throughout February. After Turkey announced that it would no longer stop Syrian refugees from going to Europe there has been concern that a new wave of migrants will hit the region. Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina agreed at a meeting in Sarajevo to strengthen cooperation in combating illegal migration, including better coordination; data exchange; and joint patrols. Bosnian border police chief Zoran Galic said that this cooperation was needed in addressing the growing migratory pressure on the borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its neighbours. At the end of February, Croatia put up a barrier about three meters long at a border crossing with Bosnia to facilitate controls and prevent the illegal passage of migrants. Tuzson, the state secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office in Hungary, said that vigilance in protecting the border was essential, adding that patrol forces had been doubled in south of Hungary.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Sziijarto labelled mass migration a threat to humanity during a counter-terrorism conference in Vienna. He connected mass migration to at least 30 terror attacks since the migrant crisis in 2015, adding that promoting mass migration could present “a very serious threat to the whole of humanity.” Bosnian Security Minister Fahrudin Radoncic has called on the EU to recognise that the migratory crisis is not only a humanitarian question, but a security crisis. He said that in Bosnia and Herzegovina there was a lack of about 1,200 border police, and that each border police officer had to patrol a 25-km stretch of land. The main problem, he said, was that 93% of aid from some EU countries is given to humanitarian organisations and only 7% to security agencies. Croatian Interior Minister Bozinovic said that there was an increase in organised crime that accompanied illegal immigration. In only the first month of 2020 Croatian police had arrested 95 human traffickers, Bozinovic said. In addition, there are significant health concerns as many migrants are exposed to respiratory infections and skin diseases as a result of poor conditions in camps.
These concerns should be recognised and addressed. However, some consider that the current state of refugees and migrants is a more pressing issue. Many of those entering Bosnia and Herzegovina illegally have been detained and ended up in camps with poor conditions. If they are not given proper shelter and medical care many will die. These countries’ views of migrants and refugees as security threats have also been criticised. The European Council on Refugees and Exiles warned that refugees “seeking protection should not be treated as a security threat, with heavy-handed military tactics and language,”. “We are alarmed at the hysterical and inappropriate language of political leaders: this is not a war; this is not an invasion.” In addition, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor warned that Hungary’s continued policy of denying foods to asylum seekers in transit zones to deter refugees was disturbing. The organisation also called on the EU to apply the infringement procedure against Hungary for its serious and repeated violations of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.
The way these countries handle migrants has not gone unprotested by migrants themselves. Hundreds clashed with police as they attempted to break out of a camp in western Bosnia in protest of the conditions under which they were held. There were no reports of injuries, but witnesses said they saw police detaining migrants who were shouting “stop beating us”, among other things. Many of these migrants also complained about Croatian border guards, accusing them of violent push-backs and mistreatment when they had tried to cross the frontier on earlier occasions. “The Croatian police are very, very bad. We want the border to be opened. Please don’t hit us anymore. Don’t remove our jackets, shoes and socks. They take it all,” camp resident Salam Batu told Reuters.
The desire to bolster border security has only been fuelled by the outbreak of the coronavirus. “The current wave of migrants is not a threat only with the direct risk of terrorism. Most of the illegal migrants are arriving from territories like Iran, which is also a focal point of the coronavirus,” said Istvan Hollik, the communications director of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party. “We cannot put at risk the security of the Hungarian people, so we continue to say ‘no’ to immigration and we protect the Hungarian borders.” Officials in Croatia has also cited migrants and refugees as a risk factor for further spread of the virus. These fears about the coronavirus are not helped by the strong anti-refugee sentiment that already exist in these countries.
In addition, public health experts believe that it is refugee and migrant communities that the coronavirus pose the real risk to. Dr Adam Coutts, a public health specialist at Cambridge University, said this was due to “high geographical mobility, instability, living in overcrowded conditions, lack of sanitation and WASH (waters, sanitation and hygiene) facilities, and lack of access to decent healthcare or vaccination programmes in host communities”. This also raises the concern that that the fear of coronavirus could discourage rescue attempts of migrants at sea. In addition, we have already seen anti-Chinese prejudice across the states. This may now be extended to anyone that is foreign and is considered “out-of-place” in the countries.
One expert said: “Before the enemy was the migrant, now the enemy is the migrant carrying the coronavirus.” Disease control can become an excuse for attacking the movement of migrants and refugees. There is of course genuine fear of further spread of the virus. However, some countries might use the outbreak as an excuse to crack down on immigration. The virus gives weight to the arguments of those that want national border controls tightened. For instance, the Hungarian government “indefinitely suspended access to border transit areas of asylum-seekers” according to Hungarian Prime Minister Orban’s national security adviser Bakondi. He added that “we observe a certain link between coronavirus and illegal migrants”, but provided no evidence to back this up. Meanwhile the World Health Organisation has warned that trying to restrict border security probably won’t work, and might actually hinder, the global fight against the virus. It could “interrupt needed aid and technical support, may disrupt businesses and may have negative social and economic effects on the affected countries.”
This area has for years been the crossing point for people trying to flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Given the geographical positions of countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Hungary these migration issues will not die down any time soon. In fact, the situation will only worsen as the coronavirus spreads across eastern Europe. This could lead to a humanitarian crisis which would not only have damaging effects on migrants, refugees and these three countries themselves, but also on the region as a whole.
US President Donald Trump’s Peace plan, officially called Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of Palestinian and Israeli people or commonly known as the Middle East peace plan has caused a great amount of controversy since its unveiling on the 28thJanuary 2020. On February 1st2020, the Arab League unanimously voted to reject Trump’s plan designed to end the decades long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Member states agreed the initiative did not meet the minimum rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people insisting on a two-state solution based on borders prior to 1967 which includes east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state of Palestine. The emergency meeting in Cairo was requested by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, who pressed Arab states to take a clear stance against the US’s peace plan. States such as Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain which are close US allies joined other members in rejecting the proposal after initially welcoming efforts to solve the protracted conflict. The Arab league is not the only organization to reject the proposal. Following the league’s decision, the European Union, The African Union and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation have rejected either all or parts of the plan on the 4th9thand 3rdof February 2020 respectively. According to EU foreign affairs minister Josep Borrell the proposal breaks with Internationally agreed parameters adding that unresolved final status issues, which include the borders of a Palestinian state and the final status of Jerusalem, must be decided in negotiations between both parties. The EU minister warned that if implemented the plan would not go unchallenged. During the annual African Union Summit, the chairperson of the AU Commission said it had been “conceived outside of international consideration and in absence of Palestinian concerns”. South African president Cyril Ramaphosa compared the plan to elements of South Africa’s previous apartheid system. The plan was rejected by Palestinian leaders before the unveiling of the plan due to Trump’s prior policies that neglected Palestinian interests such as the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In response to the announcement of the plan the Palestinian Authority cut all ties with the US and Israel on the 1stof February 2020.
The Proposal is controversial primarily because of its political portion widely considered to favour Israel and neglect Palestinian aspirations. For instance, the plan recognises Palestinian rights to only 70 percent of the occupied West Bank and allows for Israeli sovereignty over Israeli settlements in the West Bank which, according to United Nations Security Council resolution 2334, constitutes “a flagrant violation of international law”. Over 300,000 Israeli citizens live in 121 government recognised Israeli settlements in the West Bank and roughly 200,000 live in settlements located in 12 neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem. The construction of settlements in what is widely regarded as occupied Palestinian territory began after 1967 when Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza strip in the Six-Day War and is a major point of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. In return for annexing portions of the West Bank, the plan proposes the possibility of land swaps stripping 350,000 Arab-Israeli citizens residing in 10 towns within the Israeli Triangle Zone of their citizenship. Palestinians will be given the Negev desert which is cut off from other Palestinian territories and the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be connected via a high-speed transportation link crossing under or over Israel. Moreover, Israel would be allowed to annex the entire Jordan Valley which is vital for Palestinian agriculture since it provides access to the Jordan river which irrigates 80,000 hectares of agricultural land in the West Bank. Israel regards the valley as militarily strategic.
Trump’s Middle East Plan imagines a demilitarized Palestinian state where Israel would be responsible for security at all international crossings into the proposed state with Palestinian airspace continuing to be under Israeli control. Palestine would not be allowed to have intelligence and security agreements with states and organizations Israel deems a threat to its security and the Israeli navy would be able to block prohibited weapons from entering Palestine. The plan further recognises all of Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel despite long-standing Palestinian aspirations to have East Jerusalem as their own capital. Instead the plan proposes Abu Dis, a village over 4 kilometres away from the old city, as the new capital of the envisioned Palestinian state. Under the plan refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and those of the 1967 Six-Day-War would have no right of return nor would their descendance. The return of Palestinian refugees would be subject to Israeli approval and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the near east created in 1949 would be terminated. Furthermore, the plan was made without any input from the Palestinians and designed by a team whose members had close ties to Israel and Israeli settlements. The team was led by Jared Kushner, Trumps son-in-law who, according to The Guardian has close family ties to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and had no expertise or prior experience pertaining to the Middle East in general. Kushner’s team included US ambassador to Israel David Friedman who has close ties to the Jewish Settler Movement in the occupied territories. Friedman has reportedly questioned the need for a Palestinian state and compared critics of Jewish settlements in the West Bank to Nazi collaborators. According to the proposal the main goal was to create a Palestinian state that lacks the ability to threaten Israel which essentially entails “the limitation of certain sovereign powers”. Hence it can be argued that the plan did not have the intention of establishing a fully autonomous sovereign Palestinian state that resembles other states in the international system.
The announcement in January sparked small, sporadic demonstrations in the West Bank cities of Tubas, Bethlehem and Tulkarem. At least 41 people were wounded in small scale clashes following the use of rubber bullets and tear gas by Israeli forces against protesters in the Jordan Valley, Tulkarem and the Al-Orub refugee camp on the 29thof January 2020. A series of security incidents in the West Bank relating to the plan followed in February. For instance, Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian teenager with Israeli citizenship during clashes in Hebron on the 5thof February. Another teenager was shot dead in Tulkarem in clashes with Israeli forces on the 7thof February. At least 14 Israeli soldiers were injured in a car ramming attack suspected to be terror related outside a night club in Jerusalem. The car was later found in a town outside Bethlehem in a town called Beit Jala, but the motorist has yet to be caught. Amid such high tensions, Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians during a protest in Jenin against the demolition of a Palestinian house. Incidents have also occurred in the Gaza Strip currently governed by the armed Palestinian group Hamas. The Israeli army reported two mortar shells fired from the enclave towards Israel on the 5thof February. On the 6thof February Israeli aircrafts struck Hamas positions after Palestinians launched projectiles and explosive balloons from the Strip. Two rockets were launched from the Gaza strip on the 16thof February prompting Israel to cancel a slight easing of the blockade in Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt since 2007. The armed group Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired 20 rockets from the Strip in response to Israeli forces shooting dead a Palestinian accused of planting an explosive device on the Gaza separation border. Israel carried out a number of airstrikes on what it referred to as “terrorist sites” in Gaza and near Damascus Syria. The PIJ have confirmed that two of its fighters have been killed in Syria. Tensions between Palestinians and Israeli forces are still high.
If implemented the plan could have significant security implications for the Middle East region. This could further strain what historically are sour relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Nineteen Arab league members including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the UAE currently fail to recognise Israel as a legitimate state. Seven Arab countries joined forces against Israel in the Arab-Israeli War including Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan who bitterly opposed the establishment of an Israeli state in what they considered Arab territory. The very same countries were also involved in the Six-Day-War against Israel in 1967. The state of Israel survived both wars and in 1967 occupied the West Bank and Gaza strip. Thus, due to the history between Arab states and Israel as well as the continuing occupation of Arab-Palestinian territories, anti-Israeli sentiment has been historically high among Arab nations. Only Jordan and Egypt have peace treaties with Israel. The peace between Israel and Jordan in particular will likely be tested. Jordan, a kingdom where half the population is estimated to be Palestinian by origin or identity, has a complicated history with Israel. The kingdom annexed the West Bank and east Jerusalem following the Arab-Israeli War and subsequently lost the territories to Israel during the Six-Day-War. The kingdom has supported the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s efforts to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza strip despite tensions between the Hashemite monarchy and the PLO that culminated in a conflict in 1970 known as Black September. In 1994 the two nations signed a peace treaty officially ending a state of enmity between the two countries. Both states currently have some economic ties and cooperate on security and intelligence matters. In 2016, Israel and Jordan signed a deal worth ten billion US dollars which allows Israel to pump natural gas to Jordan’s national electricity company despite demonstrations in Jordan against the deal.
However, Jordan remains a supporter of Palestinian aspirations for a state of Palestine based on borders before 1967 and its king is considered custodian of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest site, a situation that can be a source of tension between the Kingdom and Israel. Trumps peace plan not only burdens the current peace between Jordan and Israel but also could create instability within Jordan as Palestinians there would likely react negatively to Israel’s annexation of over 30 percent of the West Bank and demand the Hashemite monarchy take action against Israel. Other Arab states in the region, may also have to deal with a possible rise in anti-Israeli sentiment that could follow the implementation of Trump’s plan and can lead to a greater following for radical and terrorist groups. Israel itself would possibly be less secure as its own Arab-Palestinian population could experience some form of radicalisation if the annexation occurs. The situation in the West Bank and Gaza strip would likely worsen. Palestinian territories may experience another uprising putting further Israeli and Palestinian lives at risk.
Panama Water Crisis a Global Problem
Panama is experiencing a water crisis, with two decades of decreased rainfall and drought resulting in a decline in fresh water. The water crisis is affecting not only the population in Panama with a reduction in available drinking water but also the Panama Canal. With reduced access to water the canal is unable to operate at full capacity which is having a knock-on effect to the amount of trade passing through the canal. Water scarcity, however, is not unique to Panama and countries around the globe have been affected by a reduction in available drinking water including, France, China and South Africa. UN water expresses that it is unlikely that there will be a global water shortage, however individual countries and regions need to urgently tackle the critical problems presented by water stress. Water needs to be treated as a precious resource which is scarce. Focus needs to be put on managing the demand of fresh water.
Seventy percent of the earth is made up of water, however, only 3 percent of that water is fresh water. Water is a precious resource with some regions, having very limited or no access to fresh water at all. Water scarcity is more often then not caused by pollution, agriculture, population growth and climate change. Pollution to water comes from many sources including pesticides and fertilizers from farms, untreated human wastewater, and industrial waste. As well as people polluting the water by throwing rubbish into rivers and water ways. Agriculture uses most of the world’s accessible freshwater equalling about 70 percent however, due to leaky irrigation systems, inefficient application methods as well as the cultivation of crops which require a large amount of water 60 percent of that water is wasted. Many countries which produce large amounts of crops are close to or have reached their water resource limits; these countries include India, China, Australia, Spain and the United States. The population in the last 50 years has more than doubled. This rapid growth has transformed water ecosystems around the world. Today 41 percent of the world’s population lives in river basins that are under water stress. Water availability is a growing concern as freshwater use continues at unsustainable levels. Not only through drinking and sanitation, the population growth has put pressure on the production of commodities and energy which rely on freshwater to be produced. Increased population means more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere, which affects weather patterns globally. With the changes in weather patterns droughts will become more common in some places and floods in other. Glaciers and snowpack’s will disappear all affecting the freshwater supplies. Combined these will make less water available for agriculture, energy generation, cities and ecosystems around the world.
Panama is facing a water challenge despite having one of the highest levels of precipitation and also having more than 500 rivers naturally dividing the territory. Panama has water in abundance however is facing a crisis of running out of water. Not only for drinking water and sanitation but the Panama Canal as well crucial for the national economy. Panama is seeing a gradual decrease in rainfall with the last five years experiencing the worst in two decades. The rainfall in 2019 was 27 percent below average, which has resulted in years of droughts.
The Panama Canal requires 5.2 million cubic meters of water to function correctly. The waterways and artificial reservoirs which supply the canal’s lock mechanism began the dry season of 2020 with a depth of 84 feet, 10 percent short of the amount needed to operate without restrictions. In 2019 the water levels got so low that the canal authority had to implement limits on the amount of cargo that ships could cross with. In 2019 the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) implemented limits on the maximum authorised draft of shops transitioning the locks. The draft of a ship is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull. In January the limit was restricted to 49 feet, further reductions were made throughout the year. By July the maximum authorised draft has been reduced to 44 feet in the Neopanamaz locks and 39.5 feet in the Panamaz locks. At the beginning of 2020 the PCA implemented further restrictions on the transit of the canal. The number of slots available for ships will be cut due to droughts and a freshwater charge on ships will be implemented to maintain the thoroughfare’s levels. These actions are tightening access to one of the world’s most important trading routes. The charges were implemented on February 15 which include a fixed charge of $10,000 for any vessel over 125 feet long, as well as a variable surcharge based on the level of Gatun Lake at time of transit. The authority has reported that these measures were being imposed due to a lack of rainfall, negatively affected the supply of water from Gatun Lake. Historically the canal has handled 5 percent of world trade and the restrictions being implemented could damage this as it is limiting an important source of money for the Panamanian economy, as well as for global trade. The ACP are concerned that if rainfall does not rise and the restrictions stay in place ships transiting Pacific-Atlantic waters will opt for other global routes. These routes include the Suez Canal in Egypt or via Arctic transits north of Russia or Canada as polar ice melts. The ACP have said that millions of dollars need to be spent to guarantee the water supply to the canal.
Unfortunately, the situation with the Panama Canal is not all that is affecting Panama and causing a water crisis. There is a pressure on water resources in Panama due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and climate change have all affected the water in Panama. As well Panama has seen a drastic increase in recent years of flooding which contaminates the drinking water. Another aspect affecting the issue of flooding and water reduction is that the forest coverage has decreased significantly. Because forests play an important role in providing clean water, in addition, forests also absorb rainfall, refill groundwater aquifers, slow and filter storm water runoff, reduce floods and maintain watershed stability resilience. As well as a reduced forest in Panama there is also a lack of infrastructure, limiting access to drinking water and sanitation services in non-urban areas. The government in Panama have implemented actions of restoration and conservation around areas of watershed, including restoring forests in watersheds. Also, the implementation of sustainable water management and water infrastructure. The main cause of flooding as reported by Emilio Sempris the Minister of Environment in 2018 was that the storm drains have not been modernised in over 50 years since they were placed. Meaning that water has difficulty running away and causes flooding. Another key element is the lack of education of the population, with people throwing garbage into rivers and not understanding the consequences of their actions.
Water is an important resource and needs to be monitored not only by countries at risk of running out of or are low on water, but by all countries across the globe. It is not just third world countries which are at risk of running out of drinkable water which is crucial to human life. France in the summer of 2019 faced its worst droughts in 30 years. Rivers dried up, reservoirs were struggling to meet demands and rationing measures were implemented in the most severely hit areas. France experienced nine months of exceptionally dry weather with up to 60 percent less rainfall then normal. Climate change and the reduction in rainfall seemed to play a crucial role in the water shortage experienced in France. Farmers reported that their crops were at risk as irrigating fields were restricted in 50 of the country’s 95 departments. Another city which experienced a water crisis was Cape Town, South Africa in 2018. With rapid urbanisation, a dry climate and a high per capita water consumption, linked to three years of poor rainfall, the city announced drastic action was needed to avoid running out of water. A key priority for the administration in Cape Town was to reduce the demand a series of water-saving initiatives were introduced. Including instructions to limit shows to no longer than two minutes. Flushing the toilet when only necessary with a campaign slogan “if it’s yellow, let it mellow”. As well as the pushing of using recycled water. People were limited to a use of 50 litres per person per day which is low, considering the average daily per capital of use in California was 321 litres per person per day. The South African government took a risk and announced “day Zero” a moment when dam levels would be so low that they would turn off the taps in Cape Town and send people to communal water collection points. The announcement did prompt water stockpiling and panic as well as a drop in tourism bookings. However, it worked with the water use in Cape Town dropping from 600million litres per day to 507 million litres per day. Residents said that “The day zero campaign made us all think twice about water, we’ll never, ever, ever take water for granted again.” In most recent events we have seen the effects of climate change and reduced rainfall with the huge bush fires which hit Australia at the beginning of 2020. Due to drought the land was dry, and fires were able to spread easily causing mass devastation across the country. Successive droughts and the extra water that was needed to fight intense bushfires have caused an unprecedented shortage, with these regions now facing the prospect of the taps running out of water. As global temperatures continue to rise, cities and countries around the world will have to figure out how to do more with less water.
Proactive actions need to be taken by governments, businesses and even people across the globe to help prevent the running out of water. Water is a vital resource which needs to be taken seriously, to prevent water shortages. These preventions include sustainable water management, with the improvement of infrastructure as a priority. Using reclaimed water, rainwater harvesting, and recycled wastewater allow for a reduction in scarcity and ease the pressures on groundwater sources. Pollution control & better sewage treatment, without proper sanitation, the water becomes full of diseases and unsafe to drink. A key element in prevention is awareness of the potential scarcity of water and educating people on the possibility of water crises and how to prevent them. It is necessary to radically change the forms of consumption from individual use to supply chains of large companies.