Cathy Reade creade at squirrel.com.au
Tue Aug 15 12:28:15 CEST 2006

16 August 2006


An international development conference will today (16 August) hear from
water specialists from China, the Indo-Gangetic Basin, the Mekong and our
own Murray-Darling about how their countries balance the demands on their
rivers for water for food and water for nature. They are speaking at the
Crawford Fund’s international development conference: “Water for Irrigated
Agriculture: Finding a Flow For All” at Canberra’s Parliament House.

(The event will be opened by The Hon Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign
Affairs at 9am followed by a keynote address by Dr Frank Rijsberman,
Director General of the International Water Management Institute, the world’
s pre-eminent research institution on management of water for food and
agriculture. A press conference will be held at 12pm. The Hon. Malcolm
Turnbull will address the future of Australia’s water policy at 3.35pm)

“There are lessons to give and to take from other countries who place
significant reliance for food production on specific rivers and basin
regions,” said The Hon Neil Andrew, Chairman of the Crawford Fund.

“Today we will hear whether Australia and our neighbours are carrying-out
‘world’s best practices or worst disasters’ in balancing their demand for
water with their need to protect their precious rivers,” he said.

“If we thought we were on our own in managing a difficult water resource in
our Murray-Darling, then today’s speakers will soon dispel that myth,” he

Dr Philip Hirsch, Director of the Australian Mekong Resource Centre,
explained that the Mekong is shared among six countries (China, Myanmar,
Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam), more than 60 million people, a
diverse range of ethnic groups, and between those who depend on the river
for subsistence together with those who see its potential as a resource for
economic growth.

“Only 10% of the Mekong's water is currently appropriated for direct human
use. Dams regulate only 5% of the river's water. In a region whose
inhabitants include some of the world's poorest people, development
pressures are strong. Yet this same development can threaten the livelihoods
of those who depend most on the river,” said Dr Hirsch.

"Key environmental issues include threats to Cambodia's Tonle Sap (Great
Lake), acidity and saltwater intrusion problems in the Delta, flood
management, drought, land clearance, ground-water extraction, problems
associated with irrigation including salinity, and development that isolates
the river from its floodplain."

Dr Hirsch explained that the Mekong River Commission was established to help
manage water between its member countries.

"The Mekong River Commission is at an important turning point and faces
significant governance challenges. Its leadership and stakeholders need to
decide whether it should become more pro-active in support of the river -
and those who depend on it - or whether the it is going to put its main
energies into promoting infrastructure development."

"The Mekong's advantage is that it’s a river whose water is only very
partially committed, and in which problems of water quality and quantity
remain quite limited and localized. The disadvantage is that this means
limited political will and interest, either in establishing enforceable
rules to share the river's water resources, or for member countries to place
trust in a river commission that governs for the widest public good."

Professor Li Rui, Director, CAS Institute of Soil and Water Conservation,
Yangling, Shaanxi, China explained a similarly significant water resource in
North China, including the Yellow River, Huaihe River and Haihe River

“North China is highly significant in terms of China’s politics, economy,
culture and water resources. It supports 35% of the population, produces 32%
of China’s GDP and provides 42% of China’s irrigated area. The region is
facing a very severe water shortage which is a big challenge for sustainable
social, economic and environmental development,” he said.

“Groundwater is over-exploited, with excess usage debts near to 90 billion
m3, affecting 70% of the plain area. In recent years scarcity of water
resources is becoming increasingly severe due to a drier climate, reduced
runoff, increased demand for water for industry and cities, and increasing
agricultural irrigation.”

Professor Li explained China’s answer has been a major engineering effort to
carry water from south to north China, as well as efforts at water-saving,
water-carrying and water quality protection, wider use of runoff water and
groundwater, and better management of all water into and out of the Yellow
River Basin.

Dr Tushaar Shah, Principal Scientist at the International Water Management
Institute explained that the Indo-Gangetic basin - indeed the whole of South
Asia - has experienced a groundwater boom that accounts for over 70% of
irrigated areas.

“At some 400 million, the Indo-Gangetic basin is home to more poor people
dependent on farming than all of Africa. The region has brought a higher
proportion of geographic area under cultivation, a higher proportion of
cultivated area under irrigation, and a higher proportion of irrigated area
dependent on groundwater than any other place on earth.”

“Managing groundwater irrigation in Australia is child’s play compared to
the Indo-Gangetic basin. Just over 5% of Australia’s irrigated areas depend
upon groundwater compared to 70% in India and 90% in Bangladesh.“

Further information, photos, additional press releases, the program,
abstracts and bios are available at www.crawfordfund.org or by contacting
Cathy Reade, Public Awareness Coordinator, Crawford Fund on 0413 575 934.

The ATSE Crawford Fund wishes to thanks the sponsors for this event,
Alliance of the CGIAR Centers; AusAID - the Australian Agency for
International Development; Australian Centre for International Agricultural
Research; Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and
Forestry; Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage;
CRC for Irrigation Futures; CSIRO Land and Water; CSIRO Livestock
Industries; Grains Research and Development Corporation; International Water
Management Institute; Land & Water Australia; Murray-Darling Basin
Commission; National Water Commission
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