Water wars could be a real prospect in coming years as states struggle with the effects of climate change, growing demand for water and declining resources, the secretary of state for energy and climate change warned on Thursday.
Ed Davey told a conference of high-ranking politicians and diplomats from around the world that although water had not been a direct cause of wars in the past, growing pressure on the resource if climate change is allowed to take hold, together with the pressure on food and other resources, could lead to new sources of conflict and the worsening of existing conflicts.
"Countries have not tended to go to war over water, but I have a fear for the world that climate instability drives political instability," he said. "The pressure of that makes conflict more likely."
Even a small temperature rise – far less than the 4C that scientists predict will result from a continuation of business as usual – could lead to lower agricultural yields, he warned, at a time when population growth means that demand for food was likely to be up by 70% by 2060. By the same time, he noted, the number of people living in conditions of serious water stress would have reached 1.8 billion, according to estimates.
"Climate change intensifies pressures on states, and between states," he told the conference, gathered to discuss whether climate change and natural resources should be regarded as a national security issue. "[Its effects] can lead to internal unrest … and exacerbate existing tensions. We have to plan for a world where climate change makes difficult problems even worse."
But Davey recalled previous global catastrophes that had been averted, including the threat of nuclear armageddon during the cold war, and successes such as the elimination of smallpox. He urged governments to work on adapting to climate change as a matter of urgency, as well as striving for an international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
His call was echoed by Ali Bongo Ondimba, president of the Gabonese Republic. He told the conference that Africa was the most vulnerable part of the world to climate change, but that African people had been responding to a changing climate for thousands of years – his own Bantu people had been forced, centuries ago, to move around Africa as areas dried out and food became scarcer.
Gabon had already started to take action to protect the 88% of its land that is covered by rainforest, and to reduce carbon emissions by its industries, with a view to a "transformation" by 2025.
He warned that seeking to lift people out of poverty could not be achieved at the expense of degrading natural resources. He warned that policies for economic growth across the continent must reflect this immediately: "The impact [of degradation] cannot be reversed by policies conceived too late."
Conflicts and wars over water is nothing new in human history. All empires and great powers have always had their main cities near sources of water .... whether by the sea and/or by a major river. Cutting off these sources of water will guarantee conflict and war, and with water becoming a precious resource in the 21rst century .... wars over fresh water will probably be the eventual outcome.
The above image (click on the image to expand it) sums up the world's water situation perfectly...
Floods and water shortages in the next 30 years will make it hard for many countries to keep up with growing demand for fresh water, particularly in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, the U.S. intelligence community reported Thursday.
Water problems in the next decade will add to instability in countries that are important to U.S. national security, the report said. Floods and shortages also will make it hard for some countries to grow enough food or produce enough energy, creating risk for global food markets and slowing economic growth.
"I think it's fair to say the intelligence community's findings are sobering," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who requested the report last year. "These threats are real and they do raise serious security concerns."
Clinton, speaking at an event to mark World Water Day, announced a new U.S. Water Partnership, made up of private companies, philanthropy and advocacy groups, academics and government. The group will coordinate efforts to solve water problems and make U.S. expertise more accessible.
"We believe this will help map out our route to a more water-secure world," Clinton said.
The intelligence assessment, drafted by the Defense Intelligence Agency with contributions from the CIA and other agencies, was aimed at answering how water problems will affect U.S. national security interests. The classified version, finished in October, named specific countries expected to have water problems, but they weren't identified in the unclassified version. The public version said only that analysts focused on "strategically important countries" along major rivers in the Middle East, Central and South Asia and North Africa.
- Agriculture, which takes 68 percent of the water used by humans, is one of the biggest areas where countries need to find solutions to water problems. Desalination may be economical for household and industrial use, but it isn't currently economical for agriculture.
- Wars over water are unlikely in the next decade. Still, as water shortages worsen, countries that share water basins may struggle to protect their water rights. And terrorists "almost certainly" will target water infrastructure.
- Industrial demand for water will remain high, because water is needed to generate power, run industry and extract oil, gas and other resources. This means that water shortages and pollution likely will harm the economies of "important trading partners" of the U.S.
The report covers the period to 2040. In that span, population growth and economic development will be the key reasons for growing water demand, while water supplies will decline in many places.
Climate change, meanwhile, will bring a higher risk of droughts and floods. Water stored in glaciers and snow will decline. Sea-level rise will mean that coastal storms will cause more damage.
"At times water flows will be severe enough to overwhelm the water-control infrastructures of even developed countries, including the United States," the report noted.
The least-prepared areas the intelligence analysts studied were the basins of the Amu Darya and Brahmaputra rivers. The Amu Darya basin in Central Asia (Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) is expected to have poorer food security throughout the next 30 years. The Brahmaputra basin (Tibet, India and Bangladesh) is expected to have tensions over water-development projects, reduced potential for hydropower after 2020 and reduced food security, especially for fisheries, the report said.
Clinton said that in northern India, too much use of ground water could leave millions of people without enough food and water.
Competition for increasingly scarce water in the next decade will fuel instability in regions such as South Asia and the Middle East that are important to U.S. national security, according to a U.S. intelligence report.
An all-out water war is unlikely in the next 10 years, as nations will be more likely to use water as a bargaining chip with each other, according to the report from the Director of National Intelligence released today. As shortages become more acute, water in shared basins will increasingly be used as leverage, and the adoption of water as a weapon by states or terrorists will become more likely after 10 years, it found.
“These threats are real, and they do raise serious security concerns,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a speech today at the State Department, which requested the report. The study was drawn from a classified national intelligence estimate.
The report, drafted principally by the Defense Intelligence Agency, reflects a growing emphasis in the U.S. intelligence community on how environmental issues such as water shortages, natural disasters and climate change may affect U.S. security interests. It assumes no major changes in water-management practices.
Population and economic growth are the biggest near-term drivers of water shortages, while climate change rises as a threat, Clinton said.
Increased tensions over water will require the U.S. to take a leading role in water development, she said. As nations increase water-related projects to gain influence, vulnerable dams, irrigation projects and reservoirs could become more attractive targets for terrorists or military strikes, according to the report.
Depleted groundwater for agriculture, which uses 70 percent of water, could destabilize markets and contribute to price swings such as those last year that sent food costs to a record and created unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, the report’s authors said.
“Many countries important to the United States will experience water problems -- shortages, poor water quality, or floods -- that will risk instability,” the study found. “North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia will face major challenges coping with water problems.”
Annual global water requirements will be 40 percent more than current sustainable water supplies by 2030, according to a 2009 report by the 2030 Water Resources Group, a World Bank- sponsored collaboration that included Coca-Coca Co. (KO) and Nestle SA (NESN) among its members.
The report also examines seven river basins that may present risks to U.S. security interests, ranking as “inadequate” the management capacity of the Amu Darya in Central Asia and Afghanistan, and the Brahmaputra, which flows from Tibet through India to Bangladesh. The study defines management capacity as the ability of nations, treaties and organizations in an area to manage political grievances over water.
In northern India, overuse of groundwater may limit access to food and water for millions of people, and wells in Yemen may run dry in a decade, Clinton said. China will also face strains because of its rapid economic development, population growth and reliance on the Himalaya mountains for fresh water, Maria Otero, the State Department’s undersecretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights, told reporters.
The intelligence report described the political stability of the Mekong River watershed in Southeast Asia; the Tigris and Euphrates in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran; and the Nile Basin in northern Africa as “limited.” The report rates the Indus in South Asia and the Jordan in the Middle East as “moderate.”