Thesis Statement: Water and its scarcity will continue to fuel conflicts among nations.
Water will become a potential flashpoint for future regional and possibly global conflicts. In the position of Australian Council Future Fellow and University of Adelaide associate Professor Sarah Wheeler, the future global water crisis is the most significant threat that will challenge international peace and order in the next ten years. This holding is supported by the findings of the “Global Risk Perception Survey,” outpacing the spread of contagious illnesses, “weapons of mass destruction,” regional and inter-country conflicts, and failing to address the problems and effects of climate change. Wheeler avers that water resources are items that must be controlled to impose their interests over competing states and parties. Given that water resources are slowly being diminished, and the parallel decreasing number of potable and drinking water resources, it is highly posited that this resource will continue to be a flashpoint for conflicts either between parties and communities within countries or between regional neighbors (Chang).
With the rising levels of violence in countries such as Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, there is also the problem of declining water resources across the globe. Countries in the Middle East, Northern Africa, Latin America, and South Asia are or will experience severe and decreasing water supply shortages that are impacting food production and even power development projects. Aside from international conflicts, the growing shortages will play a heavy role in the rise of extremism in the world. Nevertheless, the current data sets are still attempting to come up to date with the actions on the ground. Countries like Iraq and Syria where US intelligence efforts are in high gear aver that these countries are slowly facing rising cases of terrorism owing to these unprecedented water deficiencies (Ahmed).
There is a growing recognition that the phenomenon of “peak oil” is nowhere near the magnitude of “peak water” owing to the fact that though there are alternatives to crude oil and other fossil fuel based energy sources when these are eventually depleted, there is no alternative for water. The shortage of water is expected to hit 1.2 to 1.7 billion people, and concern in the global community is growing. Water resources have been identified as an “urgent security issue,” and even the United Nations Security Council has acknowledged that water deficiency across the globe will be a trigger or an exacerbating factor in the development of wars in other parts of the world.
Nonetheless, there is a challenge on defining what accurately comprises “water security;” this dilemma seems to have found a remedy with the proffer of UN Water. In the definition of the international agency, “water security” can be understood as “the capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable and quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability (Leahy).
Arsenault (2012) disclosed the report of the United States Director of National Intelligence stating that the threat of wars will continue to rise as demand for water will outstrip available supplies by 40 percent come 2030. On a global scale, hundreds of millions of people do not have access to safe potable water. By the year 2030, at least one out of two people in the world will be living in “high water stress” regions. With breakneck population increases and higher industrial demands, extractions of water resources have risen threefold over that past half century. Ignacio Saiz, director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights, global water supplies must correspond to the needs and requirements of the global population. Regrettably, social inequality and marginalization are significant causes for the imbalances of the distribution of water supplies.
The planet’s water resources are composed of 97 percent salt water and less than three percent is fresh; one percent of that freshwater resource is drinkable within easy access to the region’s populations. “Water scarcity” can be defined as “people having access to less than 1,000 cubic meters of water per year.” Though there is only one documented case of a “water war” that occurred more than 4,500 years ago between Lagash and Umma in the Tigris Euphrates region, there are those that state that a more modern war was fought between Israel and its Arab enemies in 1967. There are analysts who hold the position that Israel maintains its occupation of the Golan Heights over water concerns, and it is known that Senegal and Mauritania have battled over grazing rights on the Senegal River (Arsenault).
The scope of the issue
In January 2014, scientists retrieved data from two NASA satellites and disseminated the data to a small group of analysts in the scientific community who keep track of the world’s water resources. In the satellite images released by the scientists, it showed the regions that were prone to or were experiencing the largest losses to their water stores; the areas tagged by the images corresponded to some of the world’s largest underground water resources. The images generated by the GRACE satellites showed that the depletion of the world’s water resources was continuing at a rapid rate in the world’s largest and most extensive aquifers. This is particularly true in the Middle East and North Africa as a result of years of mismanagement and re4source exploitation. Irrigation, alleviating water needs of the urban centers, “fracking” and oil exploration activities, cooling down power generation facilities-all of these activities consume great amounts of water that further weaken freshwater supplies.
Coupled with the effects of climate change that amplifies the effects of dry spells, the global community will be now forced to consider water resource usage in a manner that it has never done before. The decreases in water resources can only be described as immense; from 2003, portions of Turkey, Iran, Syria, and in Iraq located along the Tigris and Euphrates waterway has lost more than 140 cubic kilometers of freshwater in the last seven years. This amount roughly corresponds to the amount of water in the Dead Sea. A small portion of the water lost in the region is due to a 2007 drought and to inadequate snow buildup in the mountain areas of the region.
Farmers in the area, faced with the possibility that drought will kill of their livelihood, began to pump large amounts of groundwater on a massive scale. For example, Iraqi authorities allowed the drilling of more than 1,000 wells to be able to cope with the effects of the drought, overusing the available water resources in the region. The rates of groundwater losses in South Asia were even higher; in a 2,000 kilometer patch of land stretching from eastern Pakistan to the Northern Indian plains and traverses into Bangladesh, this land is the most extensively watered in the world; three out of four farmers in the region are heavily depended on water pumped from groundwater resources to irrigate their crops and that use of this water resource is steadily rising.
In a ten year period, groundwater in the region was extracted at 70 percent faster than the rate in the 1990s. Satellite calculations evinced a stunning annual loss of more than 540 cubic kilometers of groundwater reserves. It can be said that the Indian agricultural sector was “pumping itself into a crisis.” United States security policy makers are predicting possible wars and extremist attacks with regards to access to water. The 2012 US national security report disclosed that the abuse of the region’s water resources as being conducted by regional giant India as well as other countries in the region can degenerate into a source of hostilities that can have the potential to undermine American national security.
The disclosure centered in water resources located in regions and countries that are hostile to US interests. Among these regions include the Nile River Basin, the Mekong Delta, the Tigris Euphrates River, the Indus, the Jordan, and the Amu Darya. It is expected that in the next decade, many important allies of the United States will experience water crises that can trigger and fuel current or future destabilization initiatives in their respective countries, raise regional acrimonies, and hinder them from effectively working with the United States to pursue its interests in the region (Goldenberg).
The Middle East and North Africa: Flashpoint over water
The Middle East is set for a debilitating water crisis in the next quarter century. The aftermath of heat waves across the globe will compel an increasing number of people from the country side into overcrowded urban centers and stifle and even kill off economic progress. To exacerbate the problem, reports from the World Resource Institute (WRI) claim that water crisis will amplify current regional wars; it is also considered as one of the major factors that contributed to the increasing levels of violence in Syria since 2011.
Parchedness and water supply deficiencies in Syria are one of the major triggers for the explosion of violence in the country that spilled over to Syria’s civil war. Rapidly water stores and incessant mismanagement coerced 1.5 million Syrians to squeeze themselves into already saturated urban centers and losing their source of income and thus further amplify the injustice in the country. The WRI predicts that of the 33 nations that will experience “extremely high water stress” in 2040, 14 of these countries are located in the Middle Eastern and Northern Africa (Orsal).
The research from the United Nations states that approximately 30 countries will be hardest hit by water shortages by 2025; this is an increase from the initial estimate of 20 countries in 1990. Of the 30, 18 of these states are found in the Middle East and from North Africa; these include Israel, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, and Egypt. One of the earliest anticipated conflict zones for water is between northern and southern Yemen; this intra-country conflict is addressed to draw in the other countries in the region if the tension between the two parties is not amicably settled. If this situation deteriorates, the country’s water crisis will result in the loss of 750,000 jobs, further dampening the income levels in one of the poorest nations in the Middle East by one quarter over the next 10 years.
Scholars frequently point to Yemen’s incessant tribal conflicts as one of the main reasons for this problem; however, environmental issues may be undergirding the country’s internal conflicts in the south as well as the communal wars in general. Another potential flashpoint is the Nile region; in the late 1980s, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak declared that he will send a demolition crew to destroy a dam project located in Ethiopia. With respect to the Nile controversy, collaboration between all parties will be beneficial for the amicable solution of the problem. In this light, it can be proposed that all countries can develop plans to build dams and water impounding infrastructures as well as work to reduce water lost to evaporation. In the opinion of Stockholm Water Institute director Anton Earle, if the contending parties were able to come to some form of an agreement, then the supply of water that can be accessed in the region will greatly increase (Arsenault).
In the midst of the savagery of the Syrian civil war and the blistering heat wave, there is a growing body of evidence that evinces the use of water as a “weapon of war.” In the past months, approximately five million people in the nation’s urban areas and communities have experienced long and often times required disruptions in their water supplies. For example, in the city of Aleppo, where the conflict has resulted in a number of supply disruptions, many of the residents’ experienced interruptions lasting up to 17 days up to over a month in some areas. Without a stable water supply, children were left with no choice but to collect water from standpipes and rationing stations.
The uncertainty of conflict can render even the basic task of collecting usable water a lethal proposition; three children have been killed while getting water from sources in Aleppo. Water shortages carry additional threats to Syrians as well; other areas such as Damascus are forced to consume unclean water from unmonitored and exposed water sources. These sources greatly increase the threat to the health and welfare of the children and risking the contraction of hepatitis, diarrhea, and typhoid, among others. The heavy fighting has damaged or destroyed pipelines as well as other critical infrastructures and given the intensity of the fighting in the country, repairs are almost impossible to accomplish (UNICEF).
The specter of “water fueled terrorism”
The Middle East where the US is leading a multinational coalition against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group is also one of the regions that are expected to suffer an unprecedented drought in the coming years. This is a disturbing portent of things to come and develop in the region for US security interests; prior to the eruption of the civil war in Syria, the country experienced a destructive water crisis that fueled the migration of nearly a million Sunni farmers to coastal areas dominated by the Alawite sect, triggering internal tensions that degenerated into a civil war.
However, water deficiencies do not need to automatically translate to the onslaught of conflicts. In the opinion of water management commentator Roger Patrick, though Israel has gone to war with its regional rivals in the past, a combination of efficient resource management approaches and desalination initiatives, Israel has been able to successfully cooperate with Jordan on the use of water resources in the region for a number of years. Though it seems that there is hope for a peaceful resolution of the impending “water bomb,” the situation with Israel and Jordan presents one side of the proverbial coin. Though Israel has sufficient water resources, the United Nations continues to warn that the Gaza region will be rendered unfit for human habitation due to the deteriorating water crisis in the area. Prevalent water deficiencies across the region of the Occupied Territories are rooted not in the acts of nature, but rather with the prejudiced policies of the occupying powers in the region (Ahmed).
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations agency tasked with assessing and expounding climate sciences, believes that water and its availability will be the main issues for societies to address in the era of climate change. It is also expected that conflicts will erupt over issues related to water within countries rather than between states. Regardless of social or racial status, people have a right to access safe drinking water, and must be addressed as a right innate to the global community (Arsenault).
Arsenault, Chris, “Risk of water wars rises with scarcity” <http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/06/2011622193147231653.html (2012) (Accessed 9 May 2016)
Ahmed, Nafeez, “New age of water wars portends ‘bleak future’ <http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/new-age (2015) (Accessed 9 May 2016)
Chang, Charis, “Why everyone suddenly has a thirst for water” <http://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/conservation/why-everyone-su (2015) (Accessed 9 May 2016)
Goldenberg, Suzanne, “Why global water shortages pose threat of terror and war” <http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/feb (2014) (Accessed 9 May 2016)
Leahy, Stephen, “Water crisis hitting food, energy-and everything else” <https://www.globalpolicy.org/the-dark-side-of-natu (2013) (Accessed 9 May 2016)
Orsal, Osman, “Water wars? Devastating shortages and will fuel MidEast conflicts for 25 years-report”<https://www.rt.com/news/313729-water-drought-middle-east/ (2015) (Accessed 9 May 2016)
UNICEF, “Severe water shortages compound the misery of millions in war-torn Syria” <http://www.unicef.org/media/med (2015) (Accessed 9 May 2016).