If we look into the history of the world, we can see that in the pre-20th-century, most of the wars and conflicts in the world were over the control of land and its natural resources.
Eventually, boundaries were established, resource treaties were arranged, and natural resources moved to the back of people’s minds as the industry’s age was in full swing, and many human-made solutions were made available.
Wars were now fought over conflicts surrounding opposing worldviews, ideas, and beliefs.
What would happen if suddenly natural resources, like water, in particular, were to become recognizably scarce?
What is already happening in regions of the world where water is scarce? Conflict, forced displacement, and a rise of extremism are just some of the observable effects.
The United Nations reports some water-related challenges:
- 2.2 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services. (WHO/UNICEF 2019)
- Over half of the global population or 4.2 billion people lack safely managed sanitation services. (WHO/UNICEF 2019)
- 297,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water. (WHO/UNICEF 2019)
- 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress. (UN 2019)
- 90 percent of natural disasters are weather-related, including floods and droughts. (UNISDR)
- 80 percent of wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused. (UNESCO, 2017)
- Around two-thirds of the world’s transboundary rivers do not have a cooperative management framework. (SIWI)
- Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of global water withdrawal. (FAO)
- Roughly 75 percent of all industrial water withdrawals are used for energy production. (UNESCO, 2014)
Water scarcity is not an issue that affects the developing world; this is an issue the whole world needs to set about solving. The level of thinking and management required is higher than the individual national government.
This is because natural resources like rivers, mountains, etc. are not confined to political borders.
Therefore if one country, for example, builds a dam upstream to harness the energy, the neighboring downstream country will be affected. This has been a noted problem in Ethiopia and Egypt, who share the Nile river.
Right now, there is still enough water, but we cannot take for granted that this will be a prolonged state.
The question is, will humanity rise to the challenge and work out how to implement new technologies that will aid in the conservation and production of sustainable water sources?
The Council on Foreign Relations’ video program, “Countdown to Day Zero: Water Scarcity and Security,” discussed further.
Below are excerpts from what Luke Wilson and Josh Busby weighed in.
Luke Wilson says: These water scarcity issues can easily morph into security issues for the United States and countries around the world, whether it’s mass displacement or the rise of extremism. “There is this sense that if water isn’t managed, that people will go and search for the water…. And if they can’t find it, they will turn to someone who promises them something. And I think that’s where you see that extremist ideology being able to take greater hold. And, again, a lot of it comes down to governments being aware of that,” Wilson said.
Josh Busby argues: Other countries are even less well equipped to handle droughts, floods, volatile rainfall. And so we see these challenges testing us to our limits here at home. And it’s going to test other places that are even less well equipped even more. The history of water between states is largely been one of cooperation, but I think with rising water scarcity and volatility of rainfall with climate change, it’s going to get even more challenging in the future to prevent disputes over water both between and within states from escalating into conflict. And this point has been underscored by the National Intelligence Council in 2012, when it issued its report on water insecurity.
Busby continues: They concluded that, quote, “Many countries important to the United States will experience water problems, shortages, poor water quality, or floods that will risk instability and state failure and increased regional tensions and distract them from working with the United States on important U.S. policy objectives.” So for all these reasons, the risks here at home and the risks of places we care about overseas, this is a problem that all of us in the foreign policy community need to pay more attention to.
Future demand management and forecasting require infrastructure managers to look 10, 20, 50, 100 years ahead and assess demand requirements.
Water resources are also vulnerable to climate change effects. There is plenty of analysis and planning to be completed in this area of practice.
Inframanage encourages infrastructure managers to keep water scarcity issues in focus when completing future demand forecasting.