Climate emergency: water emergency: humanitarian emergency

(by A Planeta)


The climatic emergency considerably affects the water system. This is the greatest threat to the most vulnerable ecosystems, which include, along with peatlands, lakes. Global warming affects them by reducing rainfall and therefore their volume and flow, and by the warming of their waters. In turn, these effects increase other impacts such as pollution, lack of oxygen, invasion of species, in short, their balance. All this has a direct effect on their life and other associated ecosystems. And due to our dependence on the liquid element, the human effect is also very direct, being greater in the most vulnerable areas.

The reduction of lakes is something that has been proven to progress in parallel with global warming, with rising temperatures, and that affects all the lakes in the world. It also affects large dams or reservoirs, affecting the objectives for which they were created (irrigation, water supply, hydroelectricity).

The Great Lakes of North America1 are the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth. They support a wide variety of ecosystems and play a vital role in the economies of these two powers. They have seen their flow reduced and their temperature increased2. In this case, in addition to climate change, their flow has been affected by dredging, and the discharge of wastewater affects their pollution but also their temperature.

Aculeo lake (Chili)

Local impact: Pyrenees and the Yesa case

Here, it affects the existing lagoons in the Pyrenees, or ibones, for which the Pyrenean Network of Observatories of Ecosystems Vulnerable to Climate Change (REPLIM) assesses the impact and proposes ways of mitigation. In the Pyrenees there are 197 lakes that are experiencing a reduction.

A paradigmatic case of the effect of climate change and the reduction of precipitation on water systems can be seen here, in the project for the heightening of Yesa’s wall.3 Yesa is already suffering a gradual decrease in its level, due mainly to global warming. However, the project plans to triple its capacity: from 447 Hm³ to 1525 Hm³. To overcome this reduction in flow, the idea was to transfer water from other reservoirs, increasing the capacity of existing reservoirs (Malvecino) and building others (La Loteta4, Laverné and Aspurz).

Drought in the Yesa reservoir

The 1998 Ebro Hydrological Plan5 rescued the old project of «transferring the waters of the Salazar river to the Yesa reservoir» by means of a reservoir on this Pyrenean river in the locality of Aspurgi (Aspurz). This way 170 hm3 of its 291 hm3 of flow would be transferred to Yesa by means of a subway aqueduct crossing the Leire mountain range. Among the few positive news we have, we can share that this summer this project disappeared from the new Hydrological Plan of the Ebro basin 2022/2027.6 We ignore how the CHE (Ebro’s Hydrological Confederation) thinks of solving the lack of water needed for the Yesa dam, due to the climate emergency. But this way, growing Yesa make not sense (neither before!!!)

The most important lakes of the Chilean Andes are in

Like the Pyrenees, the Andes are an area with many dams and projects. The Andes are home to numerous lakes which are habitats and water reservoirs, also indispensable for other ecosystems and for humans. A few days ago a research7 was published in the Journal of Hydrology8 that shows the reduction in the surface of the most important lakes in the Andes of Chile between 6% and 25%. The cause is the megadrought that has affected the region since 2010.

The number of lakes and their respective surface area decreases latitudinally from south to north, which is related to the decrease in precipitation. The decrease of water in the lakes has implications for human water supply.

Lakes Calafquén, Panguipulli and Riñihue in the Chilean Andes.

Climate change, another front for Kurdistan

The implications of this reduction in the volume of rivers and lakes due to climate change always affect the most sensitive places and the most vulnerable communities and sectors. That is the case of Kurdistan, especially on the Syrian side affected by a 10-year war that has not ended, in Iraq, also affected by the war, and in Turkey by the repression and displacement. Add to all this the Covid 19 crisis that has affected the whole world, but in which water is also of crucial importance to ensure hygiene.

The UN has warned that periods of drought are set to become longer and more severe across the Mediterranean. According to the Global Crisis Risk Index 2019, Syria is the country most at risk, compounded by its conditions after 10 years of war, and because in many places the war has not yet ended.

Low levels in the Tabqa reservoir of FDNS (Rojava Azadi)

To the water reduction caused by climate change, we must add the reduction caused by the Turkish government of the flow through reservoirs in the headwaters of the main rivers, on which ecosystems and thousands of people depend downstream in Iraq and Syria. Turkey uses it to blackmail Iraq and especially Basur (southern Kurdistan) to get oil at a better price, and Rojava and Syria to sabotage its revolutionary project in the north. It is what is called using «water as a weapon», one more way to fight the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (FDNS) in addition to military operations, forest and crop fires (see more on this aspect in the report «Democratic Energy Transition in Rojava«).

This summer climate change caused the worst drought in 70 years, even more severe than the 2006-2009 drought that preceded the civil war, and in Iraq the worst in 40 years. The drought caused water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates to drop to historic lows, which has affected Kurdistan as well as other countries. The Euphrates originates in Turkey where 90% of its volume comes from, and flows through Syria. Syria is also affected by desertification, so its dependence on this great river is total. But in some parts of Syria, its flow has almost disappeared. Two out of three drinking water stations are pumping less water or have stopped working. The drought also leads to a higher concentration of pollution, making it undrinkable.

This has led to a humanitarian emergency. 12 million people have been affected by the lack of water and the associated effects on agriculture, livestock, and electricity production with hydroelectric plants interrupted. In agriculture, irrigated crops are particularly affected, but also others more resilient to drought, such as olive trees, which have dried up. In livestock, many animals died. In terms of electricity, the Tishrin dam has seen its water level drop by five meters this year, and is now only a few centimeters below the level at which it is no longer possible to produce electricity. Across northeastern Syria in September, power generation fell by 70% and power outages are as high as 19 hours a day.

This situation is forcing people to leave their communities and even the country. The Norwegian Refugee Council expected a new exodus of refugees.

Olive tree drought in FDNS

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1 Lake Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario.


3 Santxikorrota. El Salto, 2018. Storm threat over Barron and Aspurz

4 This one also with geotechnical problems:




8 from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, the Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad, Universidad de Chile and Universidad de Tarapacá.

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