Monday, March 19, 2012

War for water is not a far cry.

Water is going to be new battleground.


Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi

The battles of yesterday were fought over land. Those of today are over energy. But the battles of tomorrow may be over water. Along with population growth and increasing per capita water consumption, massive pollution of the world's surface water systems has placed a great strain on remaining supplies of clean fresh water. Global deforestation, destruction of wetlands, dumping of pesticides and fertilizer into waterways, and global warming are all taking a terrible toll on the Earth's fragile water system.

The combination of increasing demand and shrinking supply has attracted the interest of global corporations who want to sell water for a profit. The water industry is touted by the World Bank as a potential trillion-dollar industry. Water has become the “blue gold” of the 21st century.

In any parts of the world, one major river supplies water to multiple countries. Climate change, pollution and population growth are putting a significant strain on supplies. In some areas renewable water reserves are in danger of dropping below the 500 cubic meters per person per year considered a minimum for a functioning society.

In recent times, several studies around the globe show that climatic change is likely to impact significantly upon freshwater resources availability. In India, demand for water has already increased manifold over the years due to urbanization, agriculture expansion, increasing population, rapid industrialization and economic development. At present, changes in cropping pattern and land-use pattern, over-exploitation of water storage and changes in irrigation and drainage are modifying the hydrological cycle in many climate regions and river basins of India.

Due to warming and climate change rainfall trend has been badly affected worldwide. This change has adversely affected the groundwater recharge.

Water scarcity is expected to become an even more important problem than it is today.

In a case study of Jharkhand state of India groundwater recharging is mainly dependent on rainfall. Though Jharkhand receives sufficient amount of rainfall (900 to 1400 mm/year) but from last several years the rainfall pattern is very erratic. From last two years Ranchi city the capital of Jharkhand state received sufficient rainfall but distribution of rainfall was not uniform. It rained heavily just for two to three days in the month of August and September which resulted in heavy runoff and less infiltration affecting groundwater level.

The process of urbanization and industrialization from last 20 years has caused changes in the water table of Jharkhand State of India as a result of decreased recharge and increased withdrawal. Many of the small ponds which were main source of water in the surrounding areas are now filled for different construction purpose affecting the water table.

By 2100, water scarcity could impact between 1.1 and 3.2 billion people, says a leaked draft of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report due to be published in April 2007. The report focuses on the consequences of global warming and options for adapting to them. In February 2007 the panel released a report on the scientific basis of climate change.

The IPCC predicts critical water shortages in China and Australia, as well as parts of Europe and the United States. Africa and poor countries such as Bangladesh would be most affected because they were least able to cope with drought.

Major cities worldwide may face a water shortage crisis by 2050 if relevant governments don't react quickly. The water shortage will mostly affect basic daily needs such as drinking, cooking, bathing and washing clothes, and the poor residents of the world's major cities in developing countries are the ones who will suffer most.

"By 2050, big cities that will not have enough water available nearby include Beijing, New Delhi, Mexico City, Lagos and Tehran. China and India will be particularly hard hit unless significant new efforts are taken by their cities,".

There are several principal manifestations of the water crisis.

  1. Inadequate access to safe drinking water for about 884 million people.
  2. Inadequate access to water for sanitation and waste disposal for 2.5 billion people.
  3. Groundwater over drafting (excessive use) leading to diminished agricultural yields.
  4. Overuse and pollution of water resources harming biodiversity.
  5. Regional conflicts over scarce water resources sometimes resulting in warfare.

Potential Hot Spots:

Egypt: A coalition led by Ethiopia is challenging old agreements that allow Egypt to use more than 50 percent of the Nile’s flow. Without the river, all of Egypt would be desert.

Eastern Europe: Decades of pollution have fouled the Danube, leaving down-stream countries, such as Hungary and the Republic of Moldova, scrambling to find new sources of water.

Middle East: The Jordan River, racked by drought and diverted by Israeli, Syrian and the Jordanian dams, has lost 95 percent of its former flow.

Former Soviet Union: The Aral sea, at one time the world’s fourth largest inland sea, has lost 75 percent of its water because of diversion programs begun in the 1960s.

There are many other countries of the world that are severely impacted with regard to human health and inadequate drinking water. The following is a partial list of some of the countries with significant populations (numerical population of affected population listed) whose only consumption is of contaminated water:

§ Sudan: 12.3 million

§ Venezuela: 5.0 million

§ Ethiopia: 2.7 million

§ Tunisia: 2.1 million

§ Cuba :1.3 million

Water stress is set to become Asia’s defining crisis of the twenty-first century, creating obstacles to continued rapid economic growth, stoking interstate tensions over shared resources, exacerbating long time territorial disputes, and imposing further hardships on the poor. Asia is home to many of the world’s great rivers and lakes, but its huge population , pollution and exploding economic and agricultural demand for water make it the most water-scare continent on a per capita basis. Many of Asia’s water sources cross national boundaries, and as less and less water is available, international tensions will rise.

The poor management of river basins, environmentally unsustainable irrigation practices, an overuse of groundwater, and the contamination of water sources have all helped aggravate Asian water woes. The over exploitation of subterranean water in the large parts of the Asia has resulted in a rapidly falling groundwater saturation level- known as the water table. In the Gangetic delta, wells have tapped into naturally occurring arsenic deposits, causing millions of people in Bangladesh, and Eastern India including Jharkhand and Bihar to be exposed to high levels of poisonous arsenic in drinking water and staple agricultural products like rice. In some Asian coastal areas, the depletion of groundwater has permitted saline seawater to flow in to replace the freshwater that has been extracted.

The Ganga, which is virtually synonymous with Indian civilisation, is dying. Pollution, over-extraction of water, emaciated tributaries and climatic changes are killing the mighty river, on whose fecund plains live one in 12 people of this planet. The Ganga basin makes up almost a third of India's land area and its rich soil is home to millions of people. However, indiscriminate extraction of water with modern tube wells from the river as well as its basin, coupled with the damming of its tributaries for irrigation, have seriously reduced its flow. Climate change has added to the threat.

RIVERS are the lifeblood of the Bangladesh economy and social life. Its cultural life is also deeply related to rivers. It is extremely unfortunately that its three main rivers, Ganges-Padma, Brahmaputra-Jamuna and Surma-Meghna are dying.

As per a survey of the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), there are three hundred and ten rivers in Bangladesh. Out of these fifty-seven are border rivers, the condition of one hundred and seventy five is miserable, and sixty five are almost dead. Eighty percent of the rivers lack proper depth. The latest study reveals that one hundred and seventeen rivers are either dead or have lost navigability . Such rivers/canals include Brahamaputra, Padma, Mahananda, Gorai, Meghna, Titas, Gomati, Kushiara, Dhaleswari, Bhairab, Sitalksha, Turag etc.

As per a report of BWDB, India is controlling the water of 57 rivers along with the Farakka barrage. Because of inadequate facilities for dredging, these rivers have become canals. Additionally, India has withdrawn water of several rivers including Surma, Kushiara and Mahananda. Sluice gates have been constructed on the rivers Senoa, Jamuna, Panga, Pan, Hatoori and Sui (situated near Panchagarh).

Apart from the scourge of Farakka barrage, a new dam, named Tipaimukh dam, is under construction in India.

Asia will continue to have the world’s largest number of people without basic or adequate access to water. The Asian water sector is plagued by serious problems, including inadequate infrastructure and poor system maintenance, financially strapped utilities, low-cost recovery, growing pollution, watershed degradation, and unsustainable groundwater extraction. Owing to leaks and system inefficiencies, a sizable portion of the water supply is lost before reaching the consumer.

As water distress intensifies and global warming accelerates, local, national, and interstate disputes over water are likely to become endemic in Asia.

Water, for its part, could trigger increased conflicts within and between states, and open new political disputes in Asia. Water shortages, likely to be aggravated by fast-rising use and climate change, pose a potential threat to political stability, economic modernization, public health, food security, and internal cohesion in a number of Asian states. A study of Asia’s biggest rivers-the Indus, the Brahmaputra, the Yangtze, the Yellow, and the Ganges-by different experts has found that the “ upstream snow and ice reserves of these basins-important in sustaining seasonal water availability- are likely to be affected substantially by climate change,” although the extent of impact will vary from basin to basin.

The sharing of waters of the river Kaveri had been the bone of contention of a serious conflict between the Indian states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The genesis of this disparity, itself, lies in two controversial agreements, one signed in 1892 and another in 1924, between the Madras Presidency and the Princely State of Mysore.

The state of Karnataka feels that it has not got its due share of water utilization viv a vis Tamil Nadu. Karnataka claims that these agreements were skewed heavily in favour of the Madras Presidency, and has since demanded a renegotiated settlement based on "equitable sharing of the waters". Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, pleads that it has already developed almost 3,000,000 acres (12,000 km2) of land and as a result has come to depend very heavily on the existing pattern of usage. Any change in this pattern, it says, will adversely affect the livelihood of millions of farmers in the state.

Parched throats in Rajasthan are crying hoarse over Gujarat allegedly stealing its share of the Mahi river waters by constructing the Sujalam Sufalam irrigation canal.

The issue has the potential of starting a water war between the two neighbours after Ashk Ali Tak, a Congress MP from Rajasthan, raised the issue in Rajya Sabha recently. Tak says Gujarat did not take Rajasthan into confidence before launching the project as stipulated in an agreement signed between the two states in 1966.

Such is the deep nexus between water and global warming that the increased frequency of climate change-driven extreme weather events like hurricanes, droughts and flooding, along with the projected rise of ocean levels, is likely to spur greater interstate and intrastate migration- especially of the poor and the vulnerable- from delta and coastal regions to the hinterland.

As the planet warms, water grow scarcer. Global warming will endanger the monsoon, which effects much greater than those of drought alone-particularly in India given that 70 percent of India’s rainfall comes from the monsoon.

The declining snow cover and receding glaciers in the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir could trigger renewed hostilities between India and Pakistan, neighbouring states in the South Asian region that are at odds on a host of issues.

The two countries share the Indus River, one of the longest rivers in the world. The river rises in southwestern Tibet and flows northwest through the Himalayas. It crosses into the Kashmir region, meandering to the Indian and Pakistani administered areas of the territory.

Pakistan and India have long been embroiled in a territorial dispute over Kashmir, but have so far managed to uphold a World Bank-mediated Indus Water Treaty (IWT) that provides mechanisms for resolving disputes over water sharing. Any drastic reduction in the availability of water in the region has the potential of causing a war between the hostile south Asian neighbors.

The Indus water system is the lifeline for Pakistan, as 75 to 80 percent of water flows to Pakistan as melt from the Himalayan glaciers. This glacier melt forms the backbone of irrigation network in Pakistan, with 90 percent of agricultural land being fed by the vastly spread irrigation network in Pakistan, one of the largest in the world. Any disruption of water flow would cause a grave impact on agriculture produce in Pakistan.

The Indus Waters Treaty is a water-sharing treaty between the Republic of India and Islamic Republic of Pakistan, brokered by the World Bank (then the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development). The treaty was signed in Karachi on September 19, 1960 by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and President of Pakistan Mohammad Ayub Khan. The treaty was a result of Pakistani fear that since the source rivers of the Indus basin were in India, it could potentially create droughts and famines in Pakistan, especially at times of war. However, India did not revoke the treaty during any of three later Indo-Pakistani Wars.

Until now, the Indus Water Treaty has worked well, but the impact of climate change would test the sanctity of this treaty. Under the treaty signed in 1960, the two countries also share five tributaries of the Indus river, namely, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. The agreement grants Pakistan exclusive rights over waters from the Indus and its westward-flowing tributaries, the Jhelum and Chenab, while the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej rivers were allocated for India’s use.

Transboundary water sharing between India and Pakistan will become an extremely difficult proposition as surface water would become a scarce commodity with the depletion of water reserves up in the mountains.

The sharing of the Ganges waters is a long-standing issue between India and Bangladesh over the appropriate allocation and development of the water resources of the Ganges River that flows from northern India into Bangladesh. The issue has remained a subject of conflict for almost 35 years, with several bilateral agreements and rounds of talks failing to produce results.

The Farakka Barrage is a dam on the Bhagirathi river located in the Indian state of West Bengal, roughly 10 km (6.2 mi) from the border with Bangladesh. India uses it to control the flow of the Ganges river. The dam was built to divert the Ganges River water into the Hooghly River during the dry season, from January to June, in order to flush out the accumulating silt which in the 1950s and 1960s was a problem at the Kolkata Port on the Hooghly River. Bangladesh claims that its rivers were drying up because of excess drawing of water by India. In May 1974 a joint declaration was issued to resolve the water–sharing issue before the Farakka Barrage was put into operation. This was followed by an interim agreement in 1975 to allow India to operate feeder canals of the barrage for short periods.

However, India withdrew from the process of negotiations by September 1976 as both nations grew apart after the killing of Sheikh Mujib and establishment of military rule. Bangladesh protested India's unilateral action at a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and at the 31st session of the U.N. General Assembly. At the urging of other nations and the U.N., both India and Bangladesh agreed to resume dialogue, but with no results.

In China, at present, the government estimates that 30 million people are already being displaced by climate change. Some authorities set the figure higher, at up to 72 million. A one-meter rise of sea level would flood of all of Shanghai, plus 96 percent of the province around it. Egypt will loose 12-15 percent of its arable land, creating 14 million refugees. As the sea encroached, salt water would move into the foreshortened Nile, threatening the irrigated lands that produce almost all of Egypt’s food.

In some areas, more destructive river flooding is also predicted, for instance through a heavier than usual monsoon. In Bangladesh, melting glaciers in the Himalayas would add to such floods.

Rising sea levels also threaten delta areas-such as the Mekong in the Vietnam, the Yangtze in China, the Irrawaddy in Myanmar, the Tigris- Euphrates in Iraq, the Indus in Pakistan, the Orinoco in Venezuela and the Amazon in Brazil-that hold more than one billion (two billion by 2050).

China’s water resources are overallocated, inefficiently used, and grossly polluted by human and industrial wastes, to the point that vast stretches of rivers are dead and dying, lakes are cesspools of waste, groundwater aquifers are over-pumped and unsustainably consumed, uncounted species of aquatic life have been driven to extinction, and direct adverse impacts on both human and ecosystem health are widespread and growing.

The major watersheds of the country all suffer severe pollution. Three hundred million people lack access to safe drinking water. Desertification, worsened by excessive withdrawals of surface and groundwater, is growing in northern China. In 2005, the Chinese government acknowledged that 50,000 environmentally related protests occurred that year, many of which were related to water degradation.

The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ) estimates that hundreds of millions of Chinese are drinking water contaminated with inorganic pollutants such as arsenic and excessive fluoride, as well as toxins from untreated factory wastewater, inorganic agricultural chemicals, and leeching landfill waste . In an extreme indication of the growing concern over water quality, local farmers in contaminated regions grow grain with poor quality water, sell that grain, and purchase grain from other parts of China they believe has safer water. In the Huai He basin, widely acknowledged to be extremely badly polluted, there are numerous villages where no young men have been able to pass the physical examination for entering the Army, which some analysts ascribe to water-related illnesses and contamination.

The shrinking of China’s rivers at their mouths has long been observed and attributed to overuse and excessive withdrawal of water along those rivers. Recently, however, drying of China’s major rivers has also been observed at the source and headwaters of those rivers, leading the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) to conclude that climate change is already having an effect. The water resources of the Sanjiangyuan region - the headwaters of the Yangtze, Yellow, and Lancang rivers – depend on glacier melt and appear to be diminishing. This region, also known as the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, provides 25 percent of the water flowing down theYangtze River, 49 percent of the flow of the Yellow River, and 15 percent of the flow ofthe Lancang River. The Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau used to host 36,000 glaciers covering an area of 50,000 sq km, but their area has shrunk by 30 percent over the past century. In 2007, Chinese scientists warned that major glaciers in China, including the most well-known “Glacier No. 1” at the headwaters of the Urumqi River in the Tianshan mountains had decreased by over 10 percent in the past four decades and that the rate of retreat is accelerating. The loss of river flows from the dwindling Glacier No. 1 is threatening oases in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

China’s water resources are unevenly distributed. Because much of China’s water policy revolves around massive transfers of water from one region to another, or large infrastructure projects that affect multiple political jurisdictions, there are growing regional conflicts over water-management decisions.

In one of the most serious examples of regional water conflict, there is a long history of violence over allocations of water from the Zhang River, a tributary of the Hai He that originates in Shanxi Province and flows through both Henan and Hebei provinces. Conflicts over excessive water withdrawals and the subsequent water shortages have been worsening for over three decades between villages in Shenxian and Linzhou counties. In the 1970s, militias from competing villages fought over withdrawals. In 1976, a local militia chief was shot to death in a clash between Shexian’s Hezhang village and Linzhou’s Gucheng village over the damming of Zhang River. The violence escalated significantly in the 1990s: in December 1991, Huanglongkou village of Shenxian county and Qianyu village of Linzhou city actually exchanged mortar fire over the construction of new water diversion facilities. In August 1992, bombs were set off along a distribution canal collapsing part of the canal and causing flooding and economic losses. Despite efforts to mediate the dispute, violence continued in the late 1990s with confrontations, mortar attacks, and bombings, leading up to a clash on Chinese New Year in 1999 that reportedly killed nearly a hundred villagers and caused millions of dollars of damages to homes and water facilities. Some progress has been made to negotiate a settlement to this dispute, but new projects in the region may fuel new disputes.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (L.T.T.E.) in the year 2006 shut down the Maavilaru dam's sluice gate near the town of Kantalai in the northeastern Trincomalee district, which cut off water supplies for 60,000 people in government-controlled areas. This led the Sri Lankan military to commence an aerial bombardment of Tiger positions and a ground offensive to gain control of the reservoir's control point. The Tigers claimed that their actions were sparked by the government's failure to build a water tower to supply L.T.T.E.-controlled areas and responded by going on the offensive in Mutur. More than 500 people were killed over the disputed waterway.

Vietnam has engaged in several dam construction projects without consulting with Cambodia, as has Laos. Coupled with long-standing historical animosities between states in the region such as between China and Vietnam and Thailand and Myanmar, as well as internal frictions caused by poverty and a number of long-standing insurgencies, water disputes act as a potential catalyst for regional conflict.

The crisis over water in the Middle East is escalating. Despite existing agreements, dwindling resources – increasingly affected by pollution, agricultural/industrial initiatives and population growth – have elevated the strategic importance of water in the region. For Middle Eastern nations, many already treading the razor’s edge of conflict, water is becoming a catalyst for confrontation – an issue of national security and foreign policy as well as domestic stability. Given water’s growing ability to redefine interstate relations, the success of future efforts to address water sharing and distribution will hinge upon political and strategic approaches to this diminishing natural resource.

In the Middle East, water resources are plummeting. While representing 5% of the total world population, the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region contains only 0.9% of global water resources.1 The number of water-scarce countries in the Middle East and North Africa has risen from 3 in 1955 (Bahrain, Jordan and Kuwait) to 11 by 1990 (with the inclusion of Algeria, Israel and the Occupied Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen). Another 7 are anticipated to join the list by 2025 (Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Libya, Morocco, Oman and Syria).

In addition to its scarcity, much of Middle Eastern water stems from three major waterways: the Tigris-Euphrates, Nile and Jordan River systems. Mutual reliance on these resources has made water a catalyst for conflict, spurring confrontations such as the 1967 War (fomented by Syria’s attempts to divert water from Israel) and the Iran-Iraq War (which erupted from disputes over water claims and availability). Recognition of water’s role as an obstacle in interstate relations has spurred numerous attempts at resolution, including diplomatic efforts (most notably the 1953-1955 U.S.-brokered Johnston negotiations) and bilateral and multilateral treaty efforts, ranging from the 1959 Agreement for the Full Utilization of Nile Waters to the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian Treaty.

Along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, Turkey and Syria are currently approaching a massive confrontation over water resources. Relations between the two countries, strained at best, have been exacerbated since the 1980s by growing tensions over water, which have brought them to the brink of war several times.

The Jordan River Basin has also emerged as a flashpoint for conflict over water. Resources in the area, suffering serious overuse as a result of pollution and population growth, have increasingly impacted interstate relations.

Between Jordan and Israel, water resource issues are reaching a fever pitch. Despite the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian Treaty – which established comprehensive guidelines regulating the distribution, preservation and availability of water from the Jordan and Yarmouk Rivers – conflicts over water have risen to the forefront of relations between the two countries. Jordan, fed only by underground sources and the Jordan River, has experienced an escalating water deficit – one that is expected to reach 250 million cubic meters (nearly 1/3rd of current annual consumption) by 2010. At the same time, Israel – currently utilizing almost all available water from its National Water System (consisting of the West Bank Mountain Aquifer, the Coastal Aquifer and the Lake Kinneret Basin) – has been forced to resort to overexploitation of available resources for expanding agricultural and industrial ventures. As a result, water has become a critical bone of contention between the two countries.

The historically troubled relations between Israel and the Palestinians have also been magnified by water. Mutual reliance on the West Bank Mountain Aquifer, which rests atop the demarcating border of the disputed West Bank territory (and currently provides 1/3rd of Israel’s water supply and 80% of Palestinian consumption), has created friction between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Saudi Arabia is another country rapidly approaching a dramatic crisis over water. In Saudi Arabia’s case, however, the crisis stems from the country’s lack of rivers and permanent bodies of water, as a result of which it relies heavily upon underground water sources for its agricultural and potable water supply. At present, 90% of Saudi Arabia’s non-renewable deep-well water is utilized for agricultural purposes. These resources, already precariously low, have been significantly eroded in recent years as a consequence of the Persian Gulf conflict. Iraq’s burning of oil wells during the Gulf War further contaminated underground water resources already degraded by pollution seepage from agricultural activity, creating a deficit that has failed to be resolved to date, despite significant Saudi desalinization attempts.

The state of water resources has significantly affected the nature and stability of the current Saudi regime. Though buoyed by oil revenues, which have facilitated massive desalinization efforts, Saudi Arabia has failed to adequately address its growing water concerns. Consequently, Saudi Arabia has begun to seek other water sources, a focus that has had pronounced effects on the region. Saudi Arabia’s extensive exploration into the underground aquifers in its Eastern Province has reduced the agriculture and water availability of Qatar and Bahrain. The resulting political tension points to an emerging conflict over water resources in the Persian Gulf Peninsula, one that may engulf both Saudi Arabia and her neighbors.

When President Anwar Sadat signed the peace treaty with Israel in 1979, he said Egypt will never go to war again, except to protect its water resources. King Hussein of Jordan has said he will never go to war with Israel again except over water and the Untied Nation Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has warned bluntly that the next war in the area will be over water.

From Turkey, the southern bastion of Nato, down to Oman, looking out over the Indian Ocean, the countries of the Middle East are worrying today about how they will satisfy the needs of their burgeoning industries, or find drinking water for the extra millions born each year, not to mention agriculture, the main cause of depleting water resources in the region.

All these nations depend on three great river systems, or vast underground aquifers, some of which are of `fossil water' that cannot be renewed.

Iran for example had 2,025 cubic meter per capita in 1990, the figure projected for 2025 is between 776 and 860 cubic meter.

Libya's population of 4.5 million in 1990 is projected to increase to 12.9 million in 2025 and the oil revenues enabled the government to increase dependency on desalination, but they diverted - or rather wasted massive resources on a white elephant, the great man made river to mine fossil water in the south.

Egypt's 58 Million in 1990 are projected to reach 101 Millions in 2025 and already approaching water scarcity: its per capita availability is 1,017.

The main conflicts in Africa during the next 25 years could be over that most precious of commodities - water, as countries fight for access to scarce resources. Results from a recent study of current living conditions throughout Africa report that more than one billion people do not have enough clean water to provide for their basic human needs. As a result, more than 2,500 children are dying each day. Devastating drought is once again threatening the lives of African men, women and children. In the months ahead, as many as 14 million people will be at risk of starvation and malnutrition. Food shortages are particularly severe in eastern and southern Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda are also being affected.

Potential 'water wars' are likely in areas where rivers and lakes are shared by more than one country, according to a UN Development Programme (UNDP) report.

The possible flashpoints are the Nile, Niger, Volta and Zambezi basins.

The report predicts population growth and economic development will lead to nearly one in two people in Africa living in countries facing water scarcity or what is known as 'water stress' within 25 years.

With a growing population and a drying climate, Australia – like many rich nations – is running out of water. Solutions are not easy nor cheap ... and may require cities to tap their sewers. Adelaide has a reputation for having the worst water in Australia. Many Adelaidians prefer tank water, or bottled water; most have in-built water filters in their kitchens.

Adelaide takes its water from the Murray River. By the time it gets to Adelaide, countless small towns have extracted their local supply and returned their waste to the river.

The irony is that Australians live on the driest inhabited continent in the world - only Antarctica gets less rain. Of all the places in the world where it is essential to make the most of every drop of water, Australia is it. As Australia's population grows, this over-allocation of water is only likely to get worse. There will be more washing and cleaning, more drinking and, most importantly, more crops to grow to feed swelling populations - both locally and in export markets.

Water restrictions have been enacted in many cities and regions in Australia, which is the Earth's driest inhabited continent, in response to chronic water shortages resulting from the drought. Depending upon the location, these can include restrictions on watering lawns, using sprinkler systems, washing vehicles, hosing pavement, refilling swimming pools, etc. Increasing population, evidence of drying climates, coupled with corresponding reductions in the supply of drinking water have to led various state governments to consider alternative water sources to supplement existing sources, and to implement "water inspectors" who can issue penalties to those who waste water.

Nearly every Australian city will have to find new water supplies over the next decade as climate change and population growth stretch the nation's already limited water resources. The annual report by the Water Services Association of Australia found that after a decade of punishing drought, authorities in all of Australia's mainland capital cities will need to find new ways to provide water, such as desalination and recycling, in the next five to 10 years.

Do countries have the right to use water flowing through their territory as they wish? Or do they have an obligation to consider the needs of neighbors living further downstream?

That's been a constant dilemma for the Central Asian states since they became independent after the Soviet break-up.

Much of Central Asia's water flows from the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, leaving downstream countries Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan dependent and worried about the effects of planned hydropower plants upstream.

Tashkent fears that those two countries' use of water from Central Asia's two great rivers -- the Syr Darya and Amu Darya -- to generate power will diminish the amount reaching Uzbekistan, whose 28 million inhabitants to make up Central Asia's largest population.

After the collapse of communism in the 1990s, a dispute arose between Hungary and Slovakia over a project to dam the Danube River. It was the first of its type heard by the International Court of Justice and highlighted the difficulty for the Court to resolve such issues decisively. There are 17 European countries directly reliant on water from the Danube so there is clear potential for conflict if any of these countries act selfishly.

Experts worry that dwindling water supplies could likely result in regional conflicts in the future. For example, in oil-and-gas rich Central Asia, the upstream countries of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan hold 90 percent of the region's water resources, while Uzbekistan, the largest consumer of water in the region, is located downstream.

Water has also become a major source of tension between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. Turkey, located upstream of the Tigris and Euphrates river systems, began the Southeast Anatolia (GAP) Project in 1990, which will give it extensive control over the flow of Euphrates water and is expected to double Turkey's irrigated farmland.

The distribution of water resources in Europe is far from even, and is beginning to be the source of some significant problems. Europeans are becoming more concerned with how much water is available, and the quality of the water resources they use.

In Iceland, over 600,000 cubic meters of water are available per capita. This contrasts sharply with the densely populated nations of Western Europe. Many countries, such as Malta, also suffer severely from a generally dry climate.

In Russia, most of the population relies on water taken from rivers. Other European nations also receive water from surface sources, which often run over several countries, creating the potential for debates over water resources.

Belgium uses 70% of the water supplies available to it every year. Different European countries vary in how much water they withdraw from their supplies every year, ranging from 156 cubic meters in Luxembourg to over 4,000 in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Water is used for a variety of purposes in Europe. In the European Union, 53% of water is used for industry, 26% is used for agriculture, and 19% is used for domestic purposes.

In countries such as Austria and Switzerland, limited water resources are being used with an increased degree of efficiency. Despite efficiency gains, water use is still climbing in Europe.

Many parts of Europe do not have as much water as they need. In 60% of European urban and industrial areas, water resources are overexploited. Now that the problem is becoming of increasing concern, governments are searching for solutions domestically and internationally.

There is a famous Chinese proverb that warns “not only can water float a boat, it can sink it also.”

And with global water shortages on the horizon, climate change supporters say an extreme response will be needed from international governments to stem the potential for conflict it will create around the world.


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Eng, M., and Ma, J. 2006. Building Sustainable Solutions to Water: Conflicts in the United States and China. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. China Environment Series. pp.155–184.

Guo, Q. 2007. Digging deeper for cleaner water. China Ministry of Water Resources. April 24, 2007.