“Drought Spreads Pain From Florida to Arizona” is the headline in today’s the New York Times. The story is frightening. “Climatologists say the great drought of 2011 is starting to look a lot like the one that hit the nation in the early to mid-1950s. That, too, dried a broad part of the southern tier of states into leather and remains a record breaker,” reports the New York Times.
As the number of people lacking access to water rises, millions, perhaps billions, around the world are expected to face a similar situation as water shortages become more common.
By 2030, nearly 50 percent of the world’s population will be living in areas of “high water stress”, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Environmental Outlook to 2030 Report (PDF). Because of rapid population growth, and increased industrial demand, water usage has tripled over the last 50 years, says the UN. Some experts worry that the wars of the future will be fought over so-called “blue gold”, as thirsty people and powerful corporations fight for remaining supplies.
Up to 30 nations will be “water poor” in 2025
The countries where water scarcity is the biggest problem are some of the same places where political conflicts are fuelling potentially explosive situations. Up to 30 nations will be “water poor” in 2025, up from 20 in 1990, hydrology experts say. Eighteen of them are in the Middle East and North Africa, including Egypt, Israel, Somalia, Libya and Yemen. Senegal and Mauritania fought a war in 1989 over grazing rights on the River Senegal, while Syria and Iraq have fought over the Euphrates River. Because Yemen could effectively run out of water by 2025, a resource conflict between south and north Yemen could be the scene of the next water war.
The Nile is another flash point. In 1989, former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak threatened to send demolition teams to destroy a dam project in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, Bolivia, South Africa, India, Botswana, Mexico have seen water related protests. And governments and military planners around the world are increasingly worried about the problem. So worried, in fact, that in February this year the US Senate issued a report titled “Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity And Central Asia’s Growing Importance For Stability In Afghanistan And Pakistan“.
Because 97 percent of all the water on earth is salt water, with less than one per cent of the planet’s drinkable water readily accessible for direct human use, new technologies and new thinking will be needed for dealing with scarcity. The Stockholm International Water Institute has called for global cooperation in the search for solutions.
Earth, Water, Air and Fire
“The four elements of classical thought, Earth, Water, Air and Fire, are represented in the New7Wonders of Nature,” says Bernard Weber, founder and president of New7Wonders. “In the case of water, we need to understand that something so essential to life is neither the plaything of politicians nor the property of faceless corporations. Our dealings with the planet’s resources must be determined by respect and a rational approach to issues that range from population growth to sustainable development.”