Rain And Bamboo Shoots

by Juan L. Mercado

“The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain,” the cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle sings in the 1964 Broadway musical “My Fair Lady.” She’d been taught to speak “proper English” by  phonetics professor Henry Higgins, who casually bet he could teach her enough to blend with London high society.

George Bernard Shaw wrote the original stage play “Pygmalion” in 1913. And in the stage version, Audrey Hepburn played Eliza and Rex Harrison played Higgins.

“Now once again, where does it rain?”

Higgins asks. “On the plain, on the plain,” the flower girl sings. “And where’s that soggy plain?” “In Spain, in Spain”—some way from Sweden, where the World Water Week assembly opened Monday in Stockholm.

Managing rain is key to eradicating poverty and hunger in dry lands that anchor 44 percent of the world’s cultivated systems, which barely feed 2.1 billion people, scientists said on the opening day of the conference.

The scientists came from Oxford University, Pacific Institute, Rockefeller Foundation, and Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Conference delegates flew in from 130 countries and 200 organizations.

World Water Week is a meeting held since 1991. It began as the Stockholm Water Conference and expanded into today’s World Water Week. Earlier themes ranged from “Drainage Basin Security” in 2003 to “Sanitation Issues” in 2008 to water in an urbanizing world in 2011.

“Dry lands in semi-arid and subtropical climates are fragile regions where the poorest countries and most malnourished people cluster,” the  scientists said. “The challenge of global importance” is to build capacity to tap severely underutilized rainwater. It would address an “ominous congruence” between ill-fed populations and reliance on increasingly “limited and unpredictable” rain.

By 2050, “business as usual” will mean two billion small farmers “[eking] out a living at the mercy of rainfall that is even less reliable today due to climate change.” Sustainable management of rainwater in dry and vulnerable regions has been a blind spot in previous goals and targets.

Rains today pour “in intense, often convective storms,” the experts said. “[These] generate flash floods, and surface runoffs undermine rain-fed agriculture and traditional irrigation systems.”

Setting out to eradicate poverty and hunger without harnessing “the productivity of rain is a serious and unacceptable omission.” These human goals “cannot be achieved without a strong focus on sustainable management of  rainwater.”

The task ahead is to “build resilience and raise farm yields by bringing management techniques to bear on rainwater.” These range from rainwater catchments, supplementary irrigation to better oversight in water use.

Factor into any “hunger goal” a target on resilient rainwater management by improved watershed management, the scientists urged the United Nations General Assembly. “Set specific targets that aim for a doubling in food yield per unit of rainwater.”

Heavier and more frequent rains are likely to lash the Philippines in the years ahead, according to a joint study by scholars from Oxford University, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS). Chances for storms like Supertyphoon “Yolanda” to slam the Philippines every two years are on the upswing due to altered weather patterns.

The study’s authors are the ADB’s Vinod Thomas, PIDS’ Jose Ramon Albert,  and Oxford’s Cameron Hepburn.

Like most parts of the globe, the Philippines has felt increasing temperatures, the weather bureau Pagasa notes. There have been statistically significant increasing number of hot days but a decreasing number of cool nights.

During the last 60 years, maximum and minimum temperatures increased by 0.36 C and 1.0 C. There’s been a slight increase in the number of tropical cyclones with maximum sustained winds of greater than 150 kilometers per hour and above, notably in the Visayas.

More people will be at risk in Asia and the Pacific, most of them in Southeast Asia. The data underscore the need for governments “to build disaster resilience into national growth strategies as investment.”

Jacked-up risks result from a confluence of three factors: rising exposure of populations, increasing vulnerabilities, and the changing nature of the hazards themselves, the PIDS’ Albert points out.

The heaviest toll has been inflicted on low- and lower-middle-income economies. And these catastrophes threaten otherwise dramatic progress on poverty reduction over the past three decades.

Japan plows in five percent of its gross domestic product, achieving positive benefits. “High returns are evident even in periods where spending is less.” In Bangladesh, the establishment of effective warning systems and evacuation centers paid off. Dhaka reported 185 deaths in 1997 compared with 300,000 in 1970. Give  priority to forest protection as well as investment in renewable energy plus low-carbon technologies.

Climate policy at the international level is moving rapidly toward agreement on an emissions pathway and distributing responsibilities between countries, writes Oxford’s Hepburn. A feasible framework can be constructed where each country takes on its own responsibilities, based on a shared understanding with other nations.

Pagpatak ng ulan, tutubo ang labong, makikilala na ang gagawing bumbong, a Filipino proverb says. When the rain falls, bamboo shoots grow and one can tell which can be made into water tubes.

E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.com


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