By 2025 1.8 billion people will be living in regions of absolute water scarcity. Global water use grew at more than twice the rate of human population increase in the last century. Of the world’s population without access to clean and safe water, 37% live in sub-Saharan Africa. These are just some of the shocking statistics that highlight the urgent need to ensure access to clean and safe water for people across the world.
Tomorrow is World Water Day 2014, a day that aims to increase global recognition of the water resource scarcity challenges we face. It seems that more and more we are hearing reports of water scarcity leading to transboundary conflict, particularly in regions that may already be politically unstable. For example, in 2006, Israel bombed irrigation canals that supplied water from the Litani River to 10,000 acres of farmland in Lebanon. And these conflicts are not new, the fight over the water of the Jordan River was one of the causes of the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Syria. In a 2012 report from the U.S. National Intelligence Council entitled, “Intelligence Community Assessment on Global Water Security,” North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia were identified as regions that are likely to face serious challenges managing water resources.
Water stresses have also led to cooperation though, and much more often than they have led to conflict. How this will change as water scarcity intensifies is unknown. Something like 3,600 agreements and treaties on water have been signed to date including the establishment of the 1957 Mekong River Commission between Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, an ongoing partnership held up as being successful. The UNESCO–Green Cross International project entitled “From Potential Conflict to Cooperation Potential” (PCCP), launched in 2006 aims to help parties negotiate and prevent conflict over water.
In their 2006 International Herald Tribune article, “A global problem: How to avoid war over water“, Watkins and Berntell suggest a four-part solution based on:
1) Improving domestic water policies that support efficiency and conservation;
2) Negotiating with other nearby countries when planning such things as river alterations and shared groundwater usage;
3) Establishing intergovernmental river-basin institutions; and
4) Bringing together political leaders and technical experts to find solutions and promote cooperation.
Of course it isn’t just water scarcity that can pose a threat to national and international security. Conflict over energy is just as evident, if not more so in the media, and this year’s World Water Day has a theme of “Water and Energy”. The UN launched their World Water Development Report today. Key messages for this year’s report on water and energy include:
- Water requires energy and energy requires water
- Supplies of both are limited and demand is increasing
- Saving energy is saving water. Saving water is saving energy
- The “bottom billion” urgently needs access to both water and sanitation services, and electricity
- Improving water and energy efficiency is imperative as are coordinated, coherent and concerted policies