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The Caspian Sea is set to fall by 9 metres or more this century – an ecocide is imminent

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The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image of the Caspian Sea, left, on June 4, 2010. The map on the right shows the impact of Caspian Sea level projections of -30 feet and -60 feet at the end of the 21st century. Red regions fall dry.(NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team / Map by Prange, M., Wilke, T. & Wesselingh, F.P. The other side of sea level change.)

Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a beach at low tide with gentle waves beyond. And yet there are no tides.

This is what we found when we visited the small harbour of Liman, on the Caspian Sea coast of Azerbaijan. The Caspian is actually a lake, the largest in the world and it is experiencing a devastating decline in its water level that is about to accelerate. By the end of the century the Caspian Sea will be nine metres to 18 metres lower. That’s a depth considerably taller than most houses.

It means the lake will lose at least 25 per cent of its former size, uncovering 93,000 sq km of dry land. If that new land were a country, it would be the size of Portugal.

As we found in our new research, the crisis may well result in an ecocide as devastating as the one in the Aral Sea, a few hundred kilometres to the east. The Caspian’s surface is already dropping by 7 cm every year, a trend likely to increase.

In five years, it might be about 40 cm lower than today and in ten years almost one metre lower. Maritime countries worldwide are coming to terms with one metre or so of sea level rise by the end of the century. The Caspian Sea faces a drop of that size — except it will happen within a decade.

Climate change is the culprit. The Caspian Sea waters are isolated, its surface is already around 28 metres below global oceans. Its level is the product of how much water is flowing in from rivers, mostly the mighty Volga to the north, how much it rains and how much evaporates away.

At the end of the century, the Volga and other northern rivers will still be there. However, a projected temperature rise of about 3? to 4? in the region will drive evaporation through the roof.

Future misery despite past crises

The Caspian Sea has a history of violent rises and falls. In Derbent, on the Caucasus coast of Russia, submerged ancient city walls testify to how low the sea was in medieval times. Around 10,000 years ago, the Caspian was about 100 metres lower. A few thousand years before that it was about 50 metres higher than today and even overspilled into the Black Sea.

Yet people who lived beside the sea were able to overcome the swings. No human infrastructure was around to be destroyed and many animal species simply moved up and down with the sea levels, as they had done over the past 2 million years or so. But this time is different. The fall will affect the Caspian’s unique and already stressed animal and plant life, along with human societies along the coasts.

In some areas, the coastline is about to retract hundreds of metres a year or more. Can you imagine building new piers and harbours that fast? By the time they are ready, the sea will have moved kilometres or tens of kilometres further away. Coastal promenades will soon be landlocked. The beaches of today will be the sand ridges stranded in barren plains of tomorrow.

The drop will also affect lowland rivers and deltas around the Caspian Sea. Once-fertile plains will become too dry for watermelon and rice farming to continue.

Unique Caspian life in peril

The town of Ramsar, on the Iranian coast, gave its name to a global wetland convention. But as the sea recedes, the town is becoming landlocked and the surrounding wetlands will be gone within decades.

The shallower “shelves” of the northern and eastern Caspian are major food supplies for fish and birds, yet the entire northern and eastern shelves will transform in dry barren lands. This will devastate fish species, the Caspian seal and a richness of molluscs and crustaceans species unique to the sea.

These Caspian inhabitants have already suffered badly in the past century from pollution, poaching and invasive species. About 99 per cent of Caspian seal pups are raised on the winter ice of the north Caspian. Yet both the winter ice and indeed the whole north Caspian will disappear.

Remaining biodiversity hotspots in depths between 50 metres and 150 metres will be affected as rivers dump nutrients into the deeper central basins combined with rising temperatures. This will decrease oxygen levels and developing ecological dead zones could affect the remaining refuges of Caspian species. A genuine ecocide is around the corner.

The situation cries for action, but possibilities are limited. Rising global CO2 levels, the main driver of climate conditions causing the Caspian crisis, can only be dealt with global agreements. In Soviet times, large scale water diversions from Siberian rivers were proposed to deal with the shrinking Aral Sea to the east. But such large works — in the case of the Caspian Sea, a canal from the Black Sea might be considered — come with huge ecological and geopolitical risks.

Yet action is necessary to safeguard the Caspian Sea’s unique plants and animals and the livelihood of the people who live around it. The stranded small harbour in Liman is further from the sea every year. If no action is taken, it will be left alone in more than one way.

(The Conversation)



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Domestic debt restructuring will cripple EPF, ETF – JVP

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By Sirimatha Rathnasekera

The Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees’ Trust Fund (ETF) will lose about 600 billion rupees during the proposed domestic debt structuring, Co-Convener of the JVP affiliated National Trade Union Centre (NTUC) Wasantha Samarasinghe claimed.

Samarasinghe is of the opinion that the government is planning not to pay 20 to 25 percent of the loans it has taken from domestic sources. Successive governments have borrowed significantly from the EPF and ETF, he said.

Samarasinghe said that due to the depreciation of the rupee, the real value of EPF and ETF funds had decreased by half. “In such a context, can these institutions take a 20 percent haircut? This might be a big problem to the workers,” he said.

The NTUC Co-Convener said that a number of domestic banks, too, had lent to the government and domestic debt restructuring might lead to a collapse in the banking system.

However, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says that they are confident of reaching debt sustainability without re-structuring domestic debt, which would lead to problems in the banking sector.

“There have been concerns among domestic bond investors about rupee debt/internal debt to be restructured following comments made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to the effect that financial advisors were looking at domestic debt. However, there has been no request to restructure domestic debt. We are confident that we can make debt sustainable without restructuring domestic debt,” Dr. Weerasinghe told the media at the CBSL’s 6th Review of the Monetary Policy stance for this year, at the CBSL head office auditorium, in Colombo, on Thursday.

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Powerful CEBEU says yes to restructuring but on its terms

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Sri Lanka will experience periodic power cuts until 2027 if the government did not take steps to increase electricity production, the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) said yesterday.Due to electricity shortages, the Norochcholai Power Plant had been operational non-stop, sometimes even without scheduled maintenance, CEBEU President, Saumya Kumarawadu said.

“A generator is down. We will get it back online within 14 days. We had started maintenance on another plant in June and it was to be back online in September. But it has been delayed till November,” he said.

Kumarawadu said there would be 10-hour power cuts without Norochcholai. However, the power cuts could be reduced in two weeks when the generator was restored, he said.

He added that while they support restructuring of the CEB, they oppose de-bundling and selling the CEB to various private actors.

“Power cuts might have to go on till 2026 or 2027 unless new plants come up. A proposal to build an LNG power plant is still languishing in the Cabinet,” he said.

The CEBEU President also said that the electricity tariff was last increased in 2012. In 2014, the tariff was reduced. Without increasing electricity tariffs, the CEB will have to get increasing amounts of money from the treasury.

“The government should have increased the tariff at regular intervals. We haven’t increased in a decade and suddenly we have increased by a large amount.That’s why it has come as a shock to people,” he said.

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SJB opposes blanket privatisations

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… questions logic of selling cash cows like Telecom and Insurance

The SJB was opposed to the privatisation of profit-making government entities, Chief Opposition Whip, MP Lakshman Kiriella, said yesterday, in Colombo.Kiriella said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had told The Economist magazine that they are thinking of privatising Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance.

“These are two institutions that make a profit. What is the point in privatising these?” he asked.

MP Kiriella said that they are not opposed to privatizing SriLankan Airlines, which has been making losses for years.

“We can talk about these things in Parliament. Even when we privatize loss making entities we have to take a number of things into consideration. What will happen to the workers? How will we compensate them? How will we re-skill them? We have to talk about these things openly before doing anything,” he said.

The Chief Opposition Whip said that one of the main reasons why people oppose privatization is because everything is done in secrecy.

“People wonder why things are hidden from them. We need to be open and transparent when we restructure,” he said.

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