U.S. Intelligence Warns that Global Water Shortage May Lead to War in the Future

The U.S. Intelligence warns that in the coming decades water shortages across the globe will lead to conflict and possibly war between nations.  The report, which was requested by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, notes that within the next ten years the risk of war over water shortages will most likely be minimal; however, beyond 2022, the risk will increase, particularly in areas such the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Many on this planet already suffer from the effects of having very little to no access to clean water.  According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), 884 million people do not have access to clean water and approximately 3.575 million people die from water-related illnesses each year.  The report warns that in the future, water shortages will also be the impetus for war and terrorist attacks.

The report, which is based on a classified National Intelligence Estimate on water security, alleges that corrupt and weak governments, floods, poverty, and scarcity of water could lead to the downfall of a number of states.  In the past, nations have worked on resolving water shortage crises through negotiation, but the report warns that as the problem becomes more severe, water may be used as leverage or as a weapon by terrorist organizations.  The report also says that more powerful upstream nations will have the upper hand (no pun intended) over their neighboring downstream nations, and may try to use water as a means of control.  Furthermore, water-related infrastructure such as dams and reservoirs may more frequently become the target of attacks by terrorists and other threatening forces.

What is concerning is that dozens of nations, such as Botswana, Cambodia, the Congo, Gambia, Sudan, and Syria, obtain water from rivers that flow into bordering nations considered hostile.  Furthermore, there has already been conflict over water among nations in the Middle East such as Israel and Syria.  Although the report failed to mention any specific nations that are at risk for water-related conflict, the report made mention of the Amu Darya in Central Asia, the Brahmaputra and Indus in India and South Asia, the Euphrates and Tigris in the Middle East, the Mekong in China and Southeast Asia, and the Nile in Egypt and Sudan.

Additionally, population growth and an increase in water usage have placed a strain on already existing water resources. According to the World Bank, the global demand for water is doubling every 21 years. Environmental concerns, such as desertification and climate change, raise even more questions and concerns regarding our existing water sources.

Currently, there are several theories and arguments on how to solve the global water shortage crisis.  Some believe that technological advances such as desalination – a process in which saline water is converted into freshwater – is the answer to water shortage crises, whereas others believe that a more business-minded approach is needed.  For instance, the Harvard Middle East Water Project believes that water could be made into a commodity for sale in order that demand and supply are both taken into consideration.

The United States may have come up with the best approach yet: education.  Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who requested the U.S. Intelligence report on water security, has also recently announced the launch of the U.S. Water Partnership, a gathering of 28 public and private organizations to discuss and share their expertise on water management with various countries.

To learn more about the water shortage crisis and to see what you can do to help, please visit: http://water.org/water-crisis/water-facts/water/.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/4727549270/

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