Future

Drink From The Sea: From Iran To Australia, Desalinization Aims To Go Mainstream

Both economic and ecologic constraints weigh on the expansion of efforts to access endless sources of drinking supply by treating water from the seas and oceans. But progress is being made, and many still dream of solving a global water shortage with a fl

Getting H2O to Gaza (Middle East Children's Alliance)
Getting H2O to Gaza (Middle East Children's Alliance)
Martine Valo

Drink a splash of seawater? More and more countries are turning to desalinization to supply their water needs, even though the process is expensive and can also come with an environmental price to pay.

On April 16, the Iranian government announced the construction of a desalinization plant that would supply the northeast city of Semnan, whose 200,000 inhabitants live at the edge of the desert.

The water will be taken from the Caspian Sea, then treated and transported to Semnan via a 150-kilometers pipeline, across Mount Elbrus. The process is expected to cost one billion dollars.

The number of countries that have plunged into desalinization currently stands at 150, as severe droughts multiply, population continues to expand, and technology in the field expands. But according to Miguel Angel Sanz, innovation and development director at Degrémont, a Suez Environnement's subsidiary company: "Desalinization is a useful process in case of shortage but it is not a panacea." Still, he concedes, his business is booming.

Currently, 66.5 million cubic meters of soft water are produced in the world, from sea or brackish water, that is to say 8.8% more than in 2010. Global Water Intelligence and the International Desalination Association (IDA) listed 16.000 desalinization plants worldwide, 5% more than last year.

Veolia is one of the giants of the sector, with 800 factories around the world and a daily production of more than nine million cubic meters. Degrémont is another giant: it has already built 250 plants, which can supply water for more than 10 million people.

A political rationale

Treating sea water has gained more and more traction in the face of climate change and rising water consumption. Some governments even see it in political and strategic terms, as desalinazation can free them from having to rely on neighboring countries for something as basic as water supply.

So what could impede the growing success of this business? "Desalinization has two disadvantages: the economic context, that stopped many construction projects in 2009-2010, and the environmental impact," explains Jean-Michel Herrewyn, CEO of Veolia Eau, a division of the French firm Veolia Environment. "It is an energy-consuming industry that has an impact on sea life," says Herrewyn. "The industry had only focused on the economic context problem."

Industry experts have set as an objective to reduce by 20% their energy consumption, which would allow them to cut greenhouse gas emissions without losing economic viability.

It's no accident that desalinization first began in Persian Gulf oil and gas-rich countries: desalinization plants are so energy-consuming that it often needs a thermal power station. But other options are currently explored. To meet the needs of Australia, which already has five Degrémont factories, wind power plants have been built. But it's currently impossible to get the business going with renewable energies alone.

But the ecologically costs of desalinization go beyond energy consumption, as the water pumped back to the sea is always warmer, more salted and polluted with chemical residue.

"As the environmental impact decreases, the desalinization business will increase," Jean-Michel Herrewyn predicts. Still, another structural problem remains to be solved: the developing countries without the money to invest in an industry as pricey as desalinization tend to be the ones who need it the most.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Middle East Children's Alliance

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food / travel

Town Annihilated In Spanish Civil War Now A Paranormal Attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite. A growing number of tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town.

A famous old village in Spain, this place was witness of a bloody fight in the Spanish civil war.
Paco Rodríguez

BELCHITE – Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, the town of Belchite in northeastern Spain became a strategic objective for the forces of the Republican government, before their assault on the nearby city of Zaragoza. Belchite seemed a simple target, but its capture took longer than expected. More than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting, and the town was decimated, with almost half the town's 3,100 residents dying in the struggle.

The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one. The streets remained deserted. Stray dogs were the only ones to venture into the weed-covered, pockmarked ruins. A sign written on one wall reads, "Old town, historic ruins." Graffitis scrawled on the doors of the Church of San Martín recall better times: "Old town of Belchite, youngsters no longer stroll your streets. The sound of the jotas our parents sang is gone."

Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, must remain exposed.


For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

Haunting the filming of Baron Munchausen 

The journalist and researcher Carlos Bogdanich decided to find out whether such claims made any sense, and visited Belchite on a cold October evening in 1986. He went with a crew from the television program Cuarta Dimensión (Fourth Dimension). Toward dawn, he related, a force seemed to pull and control them for several hours. They moved as if someone were guiding them, unaware of what they were doing. He recalled later, "We went up the Clock Tower. We thought we'd go right to the top. The next day, when we saw what we had done, we couldn't believe it. We could have gotten ourselves killed, and still, something enticed us to do this."

The true sounds of war reappeared.

They didn't see anything strange. But listening back to the recordings, they discovered sounds that could be easily identified with the war: planes, bombs, tanks, shots or army songs. The mysterious recordings made a big noise at the time, in Spain and around the world.

The legend began to take off then and has yet to subside today. Another example of paranormal events took place in the town during the filming of Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989). Some members of the film crew saw two women dressed in traditional clothes who vanished when approached.

Belchite's mysterious ambiance also inspired the Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who shot parts of Pan's Labyrinth here; and Spain's Albert Boadella, who had his grotesque version of General Francisco Franco in Have a Good Trip, Your Excellency returns to Belchite.

Ruins of the village of Belchite, in Zaragoza, Spain

RICHARD MURPHY/WOSTOK/ZUMA

Tourists drawn to unexplainable phenomena 

Ordinary visitors have also encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends.

Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

There are four zones where the experiences have been more intense: the Plaza de la Cruz, the mass grave, and the town's two churches. In fact, there are mass graves in all four spots, both from the Civil War and the plague epidemic that hit the area in the Middle Ages.

Whatever the truth of the accounts, Belchite has become one of the most visited sites in the province of Zaragoza in recent years. And regardless of ghosts, its streets were the setting of horrible acts and a history that should not be repeated. The streets of Belchite are the open wounds of a town that had to reinvent itself to go on living.

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