After a somewhat poetic introduction and a dusty chronology of the histories of man and water here is an instant update on both current and future water wars.
But first of all: th!nkers Kevin Rennie and James M. Dorsey already updated us on the water wars in Australia and along the Nile respectively. Don't miss those articles (and please comment below if I missed any other).
A world tour
“Reduction of arable land, widespread shortage of water, diminishing food and fish stocks, increased flooding and prolonged droughts are already happening in many parts of the world.”
- “The Solana Report” by the European Union, 2008.
From Africa: July 2009 BBC reported of a crime syndicate diverting half of Nairobi's water for farm irrigation. In the city water was rationed and feared a possible source of diseases. Even electricity was rationed – because the dams producing it were running dry. In the west Lake Chad is basically an essential source of life in a very arid region of all more or less “failed states”. Competition between tribes and nations is already intensifying as the lake is drying up rapidly. In Sudan there is a vicious cycle between environmental degradation and civil war going on: droughts caused desertification which triggered the war and the war worsened the environmental crisis in return. The drought aggravated tensions between Darfur's ethnic African tribesmen and nomadic Arabs who fought for their lives over shrinking grazing lands and scarce water. Violent skirmishes over water and grazing rights also persist among pastoral populations along the country's borders.
From the glaciers atop Central Asian mountain ranges a steady cycle of precipitation and thaw has provided freshwater for plants, animals and people for centuries. Further down the diminishing streams every conceivable environmental issue is to be found in the many different Asian countries. Tian Shan provides the water for the breadbasket and powerhouse of Kazakhstan. But due to miniscule drops in precipitation through the last 50 years they have shrunk by 36% already. Climate change will most likely accelerate this drastically. Competition for the remaining water resources will intensify. China is diverting rivers of freshwater from the melting glaciers in Tibet. No volume of appeals to the humanitarian concerns of the Chinese government is likely to convince them to set aside their obligations to see to the needs of their own people and industries.
About 360 million people or 1/20 of the world's population lives in the heart of the Arab world, in The Middle East – but the region has only about 1/70 of Earth's renewable freshwater supply. Conflicts in the region that have been described as being over natural resources include the Palestine versus Israel and the Iraq wars. In both cases a multitude of alternative excuses have been used for engagement in the conflicts. The Palestinian Territories are suffering from years of mismanagement and destruction of its water infrastructure. Scarce resources are being polluted as well as wasted. Most infrastructure serves a population four times the size it is designed for; for example, March 2007 the earthen wall of a sewage pond leaked to flood a village, killing four. Perhaps most telling of all is the attitude of the Turkish military which has warned its politicians that climate change and resulting water shortages are a direct security threat. At the same time the country is buying weapons from Israel and The West, allowing US military bases on its soil, slowing down the flow from rivers by dam construction - while monetizing on selling water.
Both science fiction movies and news media journalists have been creative with the writings on the wall. Today “water wars”– the idea that widespread wars could erupt from conflicts over water resources – is a rather stable term. Judging by hits on Google by November 2010 the term has about 20% the attention that “peak oil” has. But does history really forebode this wet world war? One writer examined the records and gave up writing a book on the subject:
“There are 263 cross-boundary waterways in the world. Between 1948 and 1999, cooperation over water, including the signing of treaties, far outweighed conflict over water and violent conflict in particular. Of 1,831 instances of interactions over international freshwater resources tallied over that time period (including everything from unofficial verbal exchanges to economic agreements or military action), 67% were cooperative, only 28% were conflictive, and the remaining 5% were neutral or insignificant. In those five decades, there were no formal declarations of war over water.”
- Wendy Barnaby, writer
The crystal ball
But will this peaceful trend be possible to sustain? Demand is very likely to go up, supply very likely to go down. Leading to cooperation or conflict. Before optimism sets in let us hurry on with a water-related highlight from some dystopic yet not unrealistic predictions:
Northern India 2036: India and Pakistan have shared glacier fed rivers for their water supply for decades although otherwise having a periodically hostile relationship. Droughts worsened by climate change, growing populations and increasing consumption have tempted governments to blame the hardships of their peoples on externalities - the neighbours - and forced Pakistan to ration food. After years of fragile peace a military coup and an attack on a dam escalates into an exchange of nuclear warheads. The result is hundreds of millions of casualties and two devastated countries still ruled by the same governments.
Or what? What current or future water war is missing above? Please share your wisdom!