Friday, July 03, 2015

The Water Wars To Come

“1 billion people in the developing world don’t have access to clean drinking water. With this lack of clean water comes rampant disease, sickness and death; it’s estimated that a child dies from water-related illnesses every five minutes.  The U.S’s drought particularly in California has become a kind symbol of bad times to come. The bad news is that as horrible as this is, things are actually about to get a whole lot worse that many of us even expect. A 2012 National IntelligenceCouncil report predicts that: “The developing world, with its rapidly expanding urban centers, will see the biggest increases in water demand, as its population grows larger and more affluent.” Put simply, there’s a whole lot of demand and very little supply. The report continues “Between now and 2040, global demand for fresh water will increase, but the supply of fresh water will not keep pace with demand…annual global water requirements will reach 6,900 billion cubic meters (bcm) in 2030, 40 percent above current sustainable water supplies.”

That’s right: we’re looking at a global water shortfall of roughly 40 percent, which will leave billions of people without adequate water. The report warns that, over the next decade, water will increasingly become a political asset as well as a weapon — something that countries with the abilities to “to construct and support major water projects,” will use as leverage against those that don’t. In this way, water will become a means by which nations “obtain regional influence” and dominance over others. Those with the means to do so will find themselves in a race to buy up as much water — and therefore, as much political power — as possible. The report also warns that, after the next decade, conflicts over water may not stop at political squabbling. It says that “as water shortages become more acute beyond the next 10 years…future water shortages and a well-established pattern of water problems…will aggravate regional tensions” between nations, leading to “political conflict and even war.” The report goes on to suggest that water-centered terrorism may become a trend. Considering that “the fear of massive floods or loss of water resources would alarm the public,” radical groups will be motivated to target infrastructure such as dams, desalinization facilities and water pipelines. As water-related infrastructure projects become “high-publicity targets,” terrorists will use them to garner media attention and damage important public resources. The biggest threat to peace, however, isn’t sabotaged dams but rather the threat of state failure, with countries collapsing from within due to lack of water. The report suggests that water scarcity will destabilize key political and economic systems, which may cause countries already under considerable strain to buckle and implode.

 Factors that may contribute to this level of instability is the approximately 70 percent of the world’s water supply is devoted to agriculture, which makes a water crisis a huge threat to agricultural output and food markets. Due to the global population boom of recent years, many nations have “over-pumped their groundwater to satisfy growing food demand.” The report warns that, without mitigation, nations risk exhausting their current water supplies. This would result in a decline in food production, causing market failure and mass starvation. Because hydropower is still an incredibly important means of generating electricity, water shortages pose a huge threat to developing countries and their infrastructure. Without sufficient hydropower, developing nations will need to switch to an alternative source of energy, or face mass destabilization.  When combined with poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions— water shortages contribute to social disruptions that can result in state failure.

The report warns against the what is perhaps the most common solution suggested around the globe: water privatization. It is also water privatization that is favored by many powerful political and corporate actors, including the World Bank. The report warns that: “ Privatization can threaten established use patterns by increasing the costs of water or transferring ownership of water sources to private companies without proper local governance structures. Privatization also makes water supply vulnerable to market forces which can lead to instability, as people become unable to afford water and/or become restive as they perceive their right to water being threatened.”

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