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Combating water scarcity in Argentina through technology and expertise

Updated: Dec 21, 2022


Introduction


There a is growing agreement that the effects of climate change wont be uniform; there may be a readjustment among the elements of regional climate systems, creating circumstances for unexpected climate patterns, including species extinction, invasion of non-native species, changes to regional ecosystems, sea levels, precipitation patterns, and increased flooding and water scarcity (Parry et al., 2007). Argentina is located in the southernmost part of the American Continent, having an economy highly depended on agriculture as its agricultural output can account for up to 10% of its GDP and up to 55% of its total exports (Pissani and Miazzo al., 2017). Despite the fact that Argentina is a country with abundant water resources and the country with the biggest water basis, namely the Río de la Plata River Basis, the distribution of these resources is inequitable (MCTeIP, 2012). Argentina is currently experiencing the consequences of a protracted drought that has disrupted its agricultural industry. This drought is being caused by the La Niña effect, a weather pattern that often results in decreasing rainfall in the nation's major producing regions. The area currently seems to be entering the third summer of La Niña in a row (Moore et al., 2022).


This article examines the climatological effect of drought and water scarcity in Argentina, as well as their major impact on the agriculture sector and the societal fabric. The article also focuses on the technological solutions, combined with the expertise of the Argentinian population which could help the country to overcome this crucial situation.


Argentina’s agricultural sector


Favoured by the climatological conditions and its geographical position, Argentina’s agricultural sector plays a major role in the economy of the country. Specifically, in 2016 the agricultural sector contributed to the 6.4% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), compared to the world’s average GDP, namely 3.6%, at the same period (World Bank, 2016). Argentina’s agricultural sector has been enlarging, putting the country on the second place of wheat producers in the Southern Hemisphere after Australia (Gro Intelligence, 2022) and among the biggest crops exporters, as on average it produces 100 million tonnes of seed yearly (SayDS, 2015) (figure 1). More that half of the country’s land surface (54%), is used for agriculture (Wold Bank, 2017) and it focuses on the cultivation and export of four main corps; soybean, sunflower, corn and wheat (MCTeIP, 2012).


Figure 1: Percentage of world exports represented by Argentina, 2017

Notes: In 2017, Argentina was the biggest exporter globally of soy bean oil (48% of the global market), peanut oil (36%) and oilcake (15%). Argentina was also in the second place -globally- with regards to exports of wheat flower (7.7%); third of soy bean (4.9%); fourth of maize (15%) and sunflower seed oil (6.3%); fifth of unmilled barley (6.2%); and sixth of miscellaneous wheat (7.5%). In 2020, the country was world’s leader exporter in Soybean Meal, Soybean Oil, Ground Nuts and Bran.


Source: Simoes, A.J.C and Hidalgo, C.A (2011), The Economic Complexity Observatory: An Analytical Tool for Understanding the Dynamics of Economic Development. Workshops at the Twenty-Fifth AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence (2011), Exporters by product dataset, 2017, available at:


Having an economy, heavily based on agricultural commodities exports, Argentina appears to be a significantly reliant country on water resources for its agricultural activities. Precisely, in 2016, 2.1 million hectares of country’s land, was watered using surface water by 61% and groundwater by 35% (FAO and PROSAP, 2015; SIPH, 2016a). Consequently, the country is specially threatened by droughts and floods that could potentially lead to economic and social risks and losses (OECD, 2019). For instance, in 2017-2018 the most severe drought in the history of the country in the last 50 years, resulted in the drop of maize by 21% and of soybeans by 33%, compared to the previous year (Bolsa de Cereales de Rosario, 2018).



The phenomenon ENSO


The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a phenomenon provoked by the interface of the ocean and atmosphere in the area of Pacific Ocean and consists of two intense phases. The first phase is related to warm events and is also called El Niño years, while the second is associated with cold events and is known as La Niña or El Viejo years. The period of time that does not coincide with none of the two extreme phases, is referred as ‘Neutral. On seasonal to annual time scales, ENSO is the primary cause of climate variability in many parts of the world (Trenberth, 1997).


Argentina has heavily been affected by the lengthly drought, caused by the La Niña phenomenon, leading to a severe disruption to its agricultural domain. The country is under the third sequential summer disrupted by La Niña, causing major issues to farmers due to water deficit (Chiummiento, 2022). According to the report of National Drought Monitoring Board, published in September 2022, the area of Formosa and the western area of Chaco, Rio’s Paraná and Paraguay, have been significantly affected, experiencing 27 months of drought, while the east region of Salta and Santiago del Estero was also impacted, having 25 months of drought. However, 53 geographical areas in the center of the country facing the most severe drought, leading to the affectation of winter crops, and delay in summer sowing due to lack of humidity. Additionally, in the North part of Argentina it is expected that the yield of corn will be notably low, while in some cases sowing will be impossible, affecting eventually the cultivation of corn and soybeans as well (MAGYP, 2022).


At this point, it would be also important to define drought. All types of drought are caused by a lack of precipitation. Its presence is initially characterised in terms of these natural characteristics when this insufficiency lasts for a protracted period of time (i.e., meteorological drought). (Wilhite and Glantz, 1985). The natural occurrence is the result of ongoing, significant perturbations to the atmosphere's worldwide circulation pattern.The agricultural, hydrological, and socioeconomic varieties of common drought, on the other hand, give more weight to the human or social components of drought (figure 2). Because socioeconomic drought links human activity to aspects of meteorological, agricultural, and hydrological drought, it differs significantly from the other categories. This could be caused by variables influencing the availability or demand for a resource or socioeconomic item (such as water, grazing, or hydroelectric power) that relies on precipitation. It may also be the result of the diverse ways that a drought affects various demographic groups, based on who has access to or is entitled to what resources, such as land, and/or who has access to or is entitled to relief resources (Wilhite, 2005).


Figure 2: The different types of droughts


Water Security of the Argentinian population, especially in the central-western region, is a crucial issue, associated with efficient water resources management. Going back to 1940s, the nation implemented several public policies targeting at the guarantee of water supply, via the building of reservoirs, the construction, improvement and modernisation of irrigation channels and the encouragement of groundwater extraction (Rivera, et al., 2021). In spite of the beneficial effects that dams have on the production of electricity, the storage and transport of water, there are still several issues with how they may affect wetlands, breeding communities, and downstream ecosystems (Montaa et al., 2016). Between 2010 and 2018, water agencies of the country declared a hydrological alert situation due to drought, putting pressure on the adoption of a legislative framework, including measures, and policies for the prevention and healing of the harmful socioeconomic and societal circumstances of drought (Dirección General de Irrigación, 2018).






Figure 3. Pie chart showing the proportion of articles published in local media (expressed as percentage) describing the impacts of the recent hydrological drought conditions over CWA for each of the main affected sectors.





With respect to the domestic water consumption, numerous restrictions and penalties were adopted and implemented as an attempt of minimising water misuse. Specifically, the cost of water increased and charing fees were applied based on water volume consumed (Rivera et al., 2017). However, the domestic water use os the country surpasses the average suggested consumption suggested by the  the World Health Organisation (Howard and Bartram, 2003). Figure three depicts the articles referred to the most affected domains as a result of the latest 10-year hydrological drought. The table considers six main sectors: agricultural, cattle, domestic water supply, ecosystems, hydropower, and tourism and recreation. Agriculture reflects 40% of the articles, while there is an almost equal observed media coverage with regards to the rest of the domains (Rivera, et al., 2021).


An important discrepancy in the correlation bettween the quality of drinking water and sawage and the income level of population can be noted in Argentina. Particulary, in 2015 Argentina’s gross national income (GNI) per capita was USD 12 150 (World Bank, 2015). During this year the access to drinking water in urban areas was granted to 87% a of the population, in rural areas the percentage was droping ti 54.7%. With regards to sewage, in urban areas 58.2% of Argentinian people had access and in rural areas, only 6.4% (SIPH, 2016a) (figure 4 and 5). Comparing argentina with a neighbouring country, Chile, and with a barely higher GNI per capita rates (USD 14 310 in 2015), we realise that its efforts for drinking water coverage in urban areas, households’ access to sewage and wastewater handling in 2017, were 99.97%, 97.15% and 99.97% respectively (SSIS, 2017).


Figure 4: Water and sanitation services coverage in Argentina, 1991-2015

Sources: INDEC (2019), “Censo Nacional de Población, Hogares y Viviendas (1991-2001-2010)”, oficial website, https://www.indec.gob.ar/indec/web/Nivel3-Tema-2-41 (consulted in May 2019) ; SIPH (2016a), “Plan Nacional de Agua”, https://www.argentina.gob.ar/sites/default/files/2017-09-29_pna_version_final_baja_0.pdf.; SIPH (2016b), Plan Nacional de Agua Potable y Saneamiento, 2016, https://www.argentina.gob.ar/sites/default/files/interior_agua_plan_agua_saneamiento.pdf


Figure 5: Evolution of water and sanitation coverage by network in rural areas in Argentina, select years



Anticipatory solutions via technology and expertise


Designing policies and programs for drought preparedness, mitigation, and relief requires a complex understanding of how vulnerable individuals are to drought. Determinants of vulnerability at the micro level include: the household's physical assets, such as its land, animals, and money; productive labor is one example of human capital;

social capital, for instance, assertions that can be made on other households in the neighbourhood, possibly for labor, food, or productive resources (Wilhite, 2005).


The adoption of technology could help solve many of the challenges associated with effective water resource management as well as provide a greater portion of the population with access to better services. Specifically, technology could be a significant contributor as soon as it is combined with increase of expertise, especially of local agriculture farmers, and the adoption of the adequate policy-related decisions. ICT systems and other cartographic applications, for instance, could assist in a better forecast water risk and disasters, enabling water authorities in formulating and delivering more contemporary safety standards (figure 6).


For instance, the Argentinian government aims to collect, process, and store basic data from the national water network to help national, provincial, and inter-jurisdictional water and environmental organisations properly plan and construct water infrastructure as well as increase the effectiveness and sustainability of water consumption in all of its varied forms. In order to further facilitate the exchange of information between territorial entities, it is anticipated that the availability of data will significantly increase through the installation of more measuring stations as well as the integration of data gathered by national, provincial, and inter-jurisdictional bodies within the Integrated Hydrological Database (OECD, 2019b).


A substantial step has been taken during the 2015–2019 administration toward creating a national strategy to address water-related risks as part of a long-term vision. The National Water Plan (NWP), which was introduced in 2016, aims to put water at the center of social and economic growth. The national government wants to achieve 75% of sewage connections and universal access to drinking water by 2023. The NWP also intends to improve drought and flood protection by strategic initiatives that integrate both hard infrastructures, such creating flood protection infrastructure in urban areas or increasing the number of dams, and better early warning and information systems. Additionally, the NWP aims to meet the agricultural sector's irrigation needs by increasing the area that is cultivated (Empinotti et al., 2019).


Additionally, according to the The World Bank (2018), with the help of the World Bank pilot project, funded by a grant from the United Nations Climate Change Adaptation Fund and launched by the MAyDS, small farmers in the southwest of the Buenos Aires Province are implementing sustainable land management practices, such as improving irrigation efficiency or planting perennial legumes to fertilise the soil, with the goal of promoting land restoration and the capacity of productive ecosystems (Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria, 2019).


Figure 6: Exogenous factors affecting water management in Argentina


Source: OECD (2019b), Water Governance in Argentina, OECD Library, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1787/a76fd8a3-en



However, in the Argentinian government’s agenda, there are more drastic scientific solutions as a response to drought and the resulting crops vulnerability. Particularly, the HB4 wheat event from Bioceres Crop Solutions has received permission for growth and consumption from Argentina's Ministry of Agriculture. The HB4 trait is now the sole drought tolerance technology available for wheat and soybean crops worldwide, increasing wheat yields by up to 20% (Nature biotechnology, 2019). Argentina is the world's top producer of wheat and the first nation to use the HB4 drought-tolerant wheat technology.


Conclusion


The path to climate change adaptation, inclusive growth, and sustainable development in Argentina depends on ensuring long-term water security. Effective multi-level governance and planning are necessary for controlling water hazards and ensuring everyone has access to clean water and sanitation in a nation with such a wide range of territorial and hydrological variety. The role of governance is crucial for both lowering societal vulnerability and mitigating climate change through energy and climate change policies. Still, the environmental governance and climate adaption in Argentina face challenges. Naturally, technological advancements and the expertise of locals, transferred via best practices, education and specialisation can lead to a relief of the societal impact of drought and water scarcity. Nevertheless, there are more drastic measures on table at the moment, provoking questions on their effectiveness. Undoubtedly, Argentina, being in an urgent situation, needs not only remedy and recreational measures, but sustainable and long-lasting anticipatory solutions.



References


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