Is Water the Future of War?

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor-At-Large

There is no consensus among water analysts on whether there will be global wars over water ownership, but all factors point to a likely explosion of both intra and inter-state conflict of the precious liquid.

A US.intelligence assessment released Thursday painted a grim picture of the future of water in the world.

“Fresh-water shortages and more droughts and floods will increase the likelihood that water will be used as a weapon between states or to further terrorist aims in key strategic areas, including the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa,” reported the Washington Post.

According to UNESCO, globally there are 262 international river basins: 59 in Africa, 52 in Asia, 73 in Europe, 61 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 17 in North America, and overall, 145 countries have territories that include at least one shared river basin.

UNESCO states that between 1948 and 1999, there have been 1,831 “international interactions” recorded, including 507 conflicts, 96 neutral or non-significant events, and most importantly, 1,228 instances of cooperation around water-related issues.

As a result, some experts argue that the idea of water wars is rather far fetched given the precedent of water cooperation that has been exhibited by many of the countries around the world.

“Despite the potential problem, history has demonstrated that cooperation, rather than conflict, is likely in shared basins,” says UNESCO.

However, the fact remains that throughout the world, water supplies are running dry, and the situation is being compounded by inappropriate management of water resources which will unravel previous international cooperation around water.

“Water has four primary characteristics of political importance: extreme importance, scarcity, maldistribution, and being shared. These make internecine conflict over water more likely than similar conflicts over other resources,” says Frederick Frey, of the University of Pennsylvania.

“Moreover, tendencies towards water conflicts are exacerbated by rampant population growth and water-wasteful economic development. A national and international ‘power shortage,’ in the sense of an inability to control these two trends, makes the problem even more alarming,” he adds.

Already, a third of the global population is said to be short of water, sparking fears of social fallout and violence, especially among the world’s poorest and most malnourished people.

Water is perhaps one of the most important yet overlooked elements to earthly life. That’s why the depletion of this precious resource portents serious clashes between communities and nations.

Water, that special liquid which is essential for the survival of all living things, could become a bombshell that will rip apart communities and nations if not managed properly in today’s world.

As global water sources become depleted due to a combination of factors including overpopulation and overuse, it is inevitable that there will be an increase in competition for the special liquid.

Both climatic and human-induced changes are having a negative impact on the world’s water resources. The increasing variability caused by climate change will have numerous consequences on human life.

According to the World Water Council, population growth – coupled with industrialization and urbanization – will result in an increasing demand for water and will have serious consequences on the environment.

Potential social and political division and unrest over access to water will hit hard marginalized populations in developing countries.

As water resources run dry, there will be a reluctance to share the resource in a peaceful and equitable manner. According to US military analysts, “global-warming water problems will make poor, unstable parts of the world – the Middle East, Africa and South Asia – even more prone to wars, terrorism and the need for international intervention.”

It is predicted that sea-level rise floods will potentially destabilize South Asia countries such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam. The Middle East and North Africa is also faced with acute water shortages, a situation that will pit the countries in the region against each other.

“The only matter that could take Egypt to war against is water,” the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat tellingly said in 1979.

Water security is increasingly becoming a military priority for many of the countries in the Middle East, and the threat of wars between countries is real.

In Africa, the scarcity of water will result in food insecurity for already marginalized communities, especially in the rural areas where the majority of the people live. And this will form the basis for internal extremism as people will be forced to migrate and compete for resources.

In all corners of the globe, the animal kingdom will suffer immensely as human beings fight each other over access to water.

“Water is connected to everything we care about – energy, human health, food production and politics,” said Peter Glieck, president of the Pacific Institute, a global think tank, “And that fact alone means we better pay more attention to the security connections. Climate will effect all of those things. Water resources are especially vulnerable to climate change.”

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