Wednesday, July 31, 2019

"Dire predictions of nations battling over water have not come true. The bitterest conflicts over water are closer to home"

From The Wilson Quarterly:
Beyond Water Wars
Former World Bank Vice-President Ismail Serageldin predicted in 1995 that “the wars of the next century will be about water.”
It was a bold assertion, anchored in human behaviors that have led to a growing scarcity of clean water in some of the most contentious political zones in the world.

Predictions of wars between nations over water have not come to pass. But there is no shortage of battles over this essential resource. Bitter conflicts over water at the subnational level already take a fierce toll on human life and welfare—and could grow into something more deadly.
Concern over “water wars” writ large has gained renewed traction as climate change, continued population growth, and increasingly polluted waterways pose growing risks to the world’s water. It remains a go-to concept, no matter what the facts are. 

“We’re seeing some of the same headlines we’ve been trying to knock down for going on 30 years,” says Geoff Dabelko, former director and current senior advisor to the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change & Security Program. “Despite the seemingly irresistible temptation for politicians and headline writers to proclaim otherwise, countries have not fought wars over water.”

Researchers have put the notion of "water wars" to the test. An analysis in the 1990s of 263 international water basins conducted by Aaron Wolf, Shira Yoffe, and colleagues at Oregon State University found conclusively that states are much more likely to cooperate over shared water than go to war. In fact, while water may be one of many factors influencing skirmishes between states, wars have rarely, if ever, been fought over water. To date, this finding continues to be backed up by empirical studies.

Dabelko says that the implications of clinging to the broad concept of “water wars” between nations comes at a cost. “When we focus so heavily on potential interstate wars over water,” he says, “we miss the mark on how important water is to fostering cooperation, to achieving development goals, and to managing the inevitable tensions over competing uses for water at local levels.”
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t large scale battles over water looming. Some of them are right in our own backyard. Last year, research by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) inspired a new spate of headlines about coming “water wars.”

The JRC researchers analyzed historical records of conflict and cooperation over transboundary water to identify the factors most relevant to “hydro-political interactions,” or transboundary conflict or cooperation over water. Then, they mapped those factors—water availability, population density, power imbalances, and climatic stressors, among others—against future climate and population projections. 

The result? The centre’s researchers identified five “hotspot” water basins where demographic and climatic conditions will increase “hydro-political risk” in already stressed basins.
Four of those hotspot basins might not come as a surprise: the Nile, the Ganges/Brahmaputra, the Indus, and the Tigris/Euphrates. But the fifth should bring a healthy dose of reality for those of us sitting in the United States: the Colorado River basin.

The Dynamics of Water Conflicts
The case of the Colorado River underscores the cross-boundary risks of a water crisis. The basin has been a source of contention for nearly 100 years, since California began lobbying for the Hoover Dam to secure the state’s water supply. While most of the water originates in the upper basin states (Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico), a majority of the demand is generated in the lower basin states (California, Nevada, and Arizona)—and in Mexico. In the United States, more than 40 million people and 5.5 million acres of farmland rely on the basin for water....

Throw the Mekong onto the hotspot list as well.