Strategic Weekly Analysis

25 May 2011 FDI Team

  • Vol. 2, № 18.

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    From the Editor’s Desk

    Dear FDI supporters,

    Welcome to this week’s edition of the Strategic Weekly Analysis. This week, FDI is pleased to unveil an updated website. The new website is more interactive and accessible. It features a fast, easy to use search engine, a comprehensive archive and offers the choice of viewing FDI papers in either PDF or web-based formats. The address remains unchanged at www.futuredirections.org.au.  We encourage you to take a look around and explore the new features.   

     

    In the SWA this week, the Northern Australia research programme reports on the end of the La Niña weather phenomenon, which, as one of the strongest on record, wreaked havoc across much of Northern Australia.

    Meanwhile, the Global Food and Water Crises research programme investigates the Chinese Government’s admission that the giant Three Gorges Dam project is having negative ecological effects. It also reports on an “Eco Villages” project in Tanzania, designed to promote ecological, social and economic sustainability in rural communities.

    Also in Africa, the Indian Ocean research programme looks into South Africa’s recent local government elections, in which the Democratic Alliance has consolidated its support and may, in time, come to rival the governing African National Congress.

    Upcoming Strategic Analysis Papers include Iran’s Increasing Arc of Influence, an examination of Iranian attempts to adopt a more prominent position within the Indian Ocean region and, from the Global Food and Water Crises research programme, comes an analysis of the future of desalination plants as a potential answer to global water crises. The Northern Australia research programme will release, Pilbara Prospects, an investigation into key challenges confronting the Pilbara region. 

    I trust that you will enjoy this edition of the Strategic Weekly Analysis.

    Major General John Hartley AO (Retd)

    Institute Director and CEO

    Future Directions International

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Northern Australia Welcomes End of La Niña

Background

The end of the capricious La Niña weather pattern will provide ecological stability for Northern Australia.

Comment

According to climate models surveyed by the Bureau of Meteorology, La Niña, or “the girl” in Spanish, the weather phenomenon responsible for flooding and increased cyclonic activity over Northern Australia, has begun to dissipate. Since the beginning of May, sea surface temperature conditions have returned to normal and the Bureau forecasts “neutral conditions” over the winter months.

The 2010-11 La Niña cycle was one of the strongest on record, with Asia and northern Latin America experiencing heavy rains and flooding. Australia experienced its third-wettest year since records began, with torrential rains over Northern Australia, higher intensity cyclonic activity and over 30 deaths.

La Niña weather patterns occur at varying intervals, usually around once a decade, and last for around
12-24 months. La Niña, the counterpart to El Niño (the Christ Child), is characterised by warmer than usual sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near Australia and cooler temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. The cause of the change in temperature remains unknown. Temperature variances influence south-east trade winds across the tropical Pacific Ocean, increasing moisture levels across eastern and northern Australia. Over the last month, sea surface temperatures have returned to normal.

The meteorologists’ forecast for neutral conditions is particularly good news for Northern Australia. The lack of a return to El Niño, which brings drought, bodes well for the agricultural and pastoral sectors. Similarly, the end of extreme weather will bolster the resource and hydrocarbon sectors with periods of better weather resulting in higher levels of productivity.

As highlighted by the significant economic and ecological damage from the 2010-11 event, a significant gap exists in the scientific understanding of La Niña. To develop mitigation strategies to manage disasters, such as the Queensland flooding, it is imperative that effective studies to determine thecatalysts for temperature variation in the Pacific Ocean are developed, particularly when the forecasts of climate change are taken into account.

Liam McHugh

Strategic Analyst

FDI Northern Australia and Energy Security Research Programmes

[email protected]

 

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Chinese Admit Three Gorges Dam Failures

Background                                           

The Chinese Government has issued a statement admitting that the $23 billion Three Gorges hydro electric dam project is leading to deterioration in the ecology of the region and is vulnerable to geological disasters. The managers of the dam are confronted with conflicting demands for the water, while trying to return profits to their shareholders.

Comment

One of the concerns is the rise in algal blooms and floating rubbish. The project has increased pollution and has also led to the loss of wetlands. In addition, more than one million people have been forcibly relocated to make way for the dam.

Compounding the problems facing the project is the severe drought that has hit central and eastern China. Record-low rains have meant that approximately 1,400 reservoirs have been drained. The government has responded by releasing significant amounts of water from the Three Gorges Dam. The risk of landslides has increased as the ground dries in the drought. The dam has been blamed by some environmentalists as a contributing factor in the May 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province. The huge volume of water in the dam when it is full is said to increase the danger of earthquakes and landslides.

This year, however, it is the lack of water filling the dam that is creating the problems. Flows upstream on the Yangtze River are down 40 per cent over the past month compared to the previous three years. The government is in a quandary. It is releasing water at the rate of 7,000 to 10,000 cubic metres per second to ease the drought downstream but this is dropping the dam’s water level. This, in turn, is cutting the capacity of the dam to generate power and is increasing generating costs. China’s second largest lake and largest freshwater lake, Poyang Lake in Jiangxi Province, is currently about ten per cent of its size during the high water season.

The situation highlights the vulnerability of dams to weather patterns and the difficulties dam administrators have in deciding between competing demands for water. Not only does a lack of rain cause water and food security implications, but also energy security concerns.

 In the situation where the dam needs to make a return to shareholders, as in the case of the Three Gorges Dam, maintaining water levels to maintain hydro-energy output may win out over the needs of farmers in the region, unless conditions to avoid this are put in place and enforced by the government.  Driven to maintain shareholder returns, the listed operator of the Three Gorges Dam Project, China Yangtze Power Co, is more likely to be concerned about falling profitability in hydro-electric production and meeting energy contracts, than in third party economic, social or environmental interests in the water.

Gary Kleyn

Research Manager

Future Directions International Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme

[email protected]

 

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A Step Towards An Eco-Friendly Lifestyle In Tanzania

Background

Tanzania is currently looking at developing a group of eco-villages with the financial support of the European Commission. Eco-villages are communities designed with the aim of promoting ecological, social and economic sustainability. To support the country’s efforts, the Commission launched the Global Climate Change Alliance in Tanzania on 26 October 2010. Tom Vens, the head of the political and press section at the European Union delegation to Tanzania, reported in the delegation’s 27 October media release, that the Commissionhad allocated €2.2 million ($2.9 million) to Tanzaniaas a financial contribution to the Alliance.

Comment

The main aim of this experiment is to encourage the adoption of an environmentally friendly lifestyle. With such a programme, the country hopes to counter most of its climate-linked problems, as well as serve as a model for the African continent, given its vulnerability to unpredictable climate changes. The project will be managed by Tanzania’s Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs and guided by a National Climate Change Commission, chaired by the office of the Vice-President.Mr Vens said that the projects will be built in rural communities aiming to cope with, and recover from, climate change, and that are looking at reducing the rate of carbon emissions. Given the emerging climate-linked problems, such as inconsistent rainfall, floods, droughts, rising temperatures, rising sea levels and changes in disease patterns, Tanzania has seen the need to curb inefficient natural resource extraction. Past practices have led to deforestation, soil erosion and pollution. In the selected villages, villagers will cook their food using biogas and energy-efficient kilns, instead of the usual charcoal and wood fuels, which are currently becoming scarce. In addition, they will create seawalls and coastal management systems in areas threatened by coastal erosion. Other solutions like reforestation, water harvesting, and planting drought-resistant crop species, will be discussed further.

The idea of such villages can be dated back to 1973. The late Julius Nyerere, first president of independent Tanzania, ordered scattered rural inhabitants into “Ujamaa villages”, where people would live collectively in “Harmony”. Although the main aim of the project was to create an egalitarian society and promote self-reliance, many moved willingly due to the shortage of food caused by a drought that ultimately halved the grain harvest. Some who refused were coerced. Tanzania’s food production gradually declined and therefore the project failed.This was partly due to the decline of commodity prices in the 1970s and also the absence of wider economic reforms. 

After such a long time, it seems there is a promising future for this new project. An article, written by Mohamed Issa and published in AlertNet, quoted Present Mlay,a climate change analyst, as sayingthat rural communities are determined to deal with the growing climate pressures, such as rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and increased floods and droughts. However, their limited ability to adapt to such changes tends to make matters worse.

If this project succeeds, there may well be a promising future, not only for Tanzania, but also for other developing countries in the same situation. The project faces substantial challenges, such as the diverse levels of knowledge among the people involved and the variety of customs in the regions they come from. Nevertheless, there is hope that the eco-villages can counter the pressures of climate change. In addition, there is even the hope that the villages will one day become eco-tourism attractions.

Aida Mliga

FDI Researcher

Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme

 

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Democratic Alliance Consolidates Position as South African Opposition

Background

In South African local government elections held on 18 May, the Democratic Alliance (DA) consolidated its support in Cape Town, Western Cape Province and the Midvaal municipality, to cement its place as the country’s chief opposition party. DA officials see it as confirmation that the tide is very slowly but surely beginning to turn against the governing African National Congress (ANC). Despite their optimism, a DA government in Pretoria is a long way off.

Comment

As the governing party in Cape Town, Western Cape and Midvaal, the Democratic Alliance was able to point to a demonstrable record in government. Focussing on the delivery of services, the DA’s campaign strategy was to contrast its achievements with those of the ANC. Although service delivery across the country has improved, there is a perception among many voters, regardless of race, that it has not. While the DA and the minor parties may not always benefit from such perceptions – and the DA’s record is not impeccable – the ANC tends to be their first casualty.

ANC concern at the DA’s strong showing during the campaign was reflected in the use of party heavyweights such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, ANC youth leader Julius Malema and Deputy Justice Minister Andries Nel in the tussle for Midvaal, some 60 kilometres from Johannesburg. An embarrassing semi-rural DA stronghold in the ANC heartland, Midvaal was named the top local government authority for service delivery in 2010 by the Gauteng Provincial Government.

Colourful rhetoric also featured, sometimes inflammatory, sometimes ridiculous. President Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema described DA leader Helen Zille, a former anti-apartheid campaigner, mayor of Cape Town and current Western Cape Premier, as a ‘madam [who] moves around doing a monkey dance looking for votes.’ President Zuma implored black voters and party members not to desert the ANC as they would face bad luck, sickness and the wrath of their ancestors.   

Voter turnout for South African local government elections is traditionally low across the board but particularly so among black voters, the ANC’s core supporters. White and coloured voters, seeing municipal elections as an area in which their parties stand a better chance against the ANC behemoth, tend to turn out in greater numbers. The 2011 poll saw a record number of voters take part and the DA increase its share of the vote to a record 21.97 per cent, to the ANC’s 63.65 per cent. In the 2006 elections, the DA polled 14.8 per cent; the ANC, 66.3 per cent. The ANC appears to have offset some of its lost support by gaining against parties such as the once-mighty Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party. A showing of below 60 per cent would have called into question President Zuma’s chances for a second term in office.   

This year’s result is indicative of both a growing electoral weakness in the ANC and the DA’s ability to point to a reasonable record in government. Looking ahead, in the national and provincial context, the legacy of Nelson Mandela may fade in time, particularly when contrasted with the populist antics of President Zuma and his likely successors in the ANC leadership cohort. The ANC’s role as “liberator” may come to resonate less with younger voters who were not brought up under apartheid, as they look for viable alternatives to the ANC incumbents. Regardless, the DA is unlikely to replace the ANC as occupant of the government offices in Pretoria’s Union Buildings for some time yet.

Leighton G. Luke

Manager

Indian OceanResearch Programme

[email protected]

 

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What’s Next?

  • US President Barack Obama continues his European schedule, meeting with UK Prime Minister David Cameron today and hosting a dinner for HM Queen Elizabeth II this evening at the residence of the US Ambassador in London. He crosses the English Channel later this week to attend the G-8 Summit in Deauville, France and the seventeenth Summit of Central and Eastern European Presidents in Warsaw.   
  • Indonesia is hosting anti-piracy naval exercises from 25-27 May. The Russian Pacific Fleet destroyer Admiral Panteleyev will be taking part.
  • Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s African visit continues until 28 May. Included in his schedule are the Second Africa-India Forum Summit and meetings with Ethiopian and Tanzanian officials to discuss terrorism and piracy.
  • In his first overseas visit as president, Burmese President Thein Sein will conduct an official visit to China from 26-29 May.
  • US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano will visit India on 27 May to meet with her Indian counterpart P. Chidambaram for talks on counterterrorism co-operation, intelligence sharing and bilateral security issues. Also to be discussed will be the security situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • Members of the Kazakhstan opposition are scheduled to hold a demonstration in the city of Almaty against Chinese influence in Central Asia on 28 May.
  • The Council for the National Interest is holding a public forum on the topic “All about Climate Change and the Carbon Tax”. Speaking will be Dr David Evans, who consulted full-time for the Australian Greenhouse Office (now the Department of Climate Change) for the past decade. It will be held 30 May at 7.30pm at the Royal Perth Yacht Club, Australia II Drive, Crawley. For more, call (08) 9277 1655 or e-mail: [email protected].

 

 

Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

 

 

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Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

Published by Future Directions International Pty Ltd.
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