U.S. report warns of global water tensions

The American intelligence community warned in a report released on World Water Day (22 March 2012) that problems with water could destabilize countries in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia over the next decade, according to the New York Times. Increasing demand and competition caused by the world’s rising population and scarcities created by climate change and poor management threaten to disrupt economies and increase regional tensions, the report concludes.

2012.03_Global_Water_SecurityPrepared at the request of the US Department of State, the report is based on a classified National Intelligence Estimate completed last October that reflected an increasing focus on environmental and other factors that threaten security. An estimate reflects the consensus judgment of all intelligence agencies.

While the report concludes that wars over water are unlikely in the coming decade, it states that countries could use water for political and economic leverage over neighbours and that major facilities like dams and desalination plants could become targets of terrorist attacks. Coupled with poverty and other social factors, problems with water could even contribute to the political failure of weaker nations.

The public report, unlike the classified version, did not specify countries at greatest risk for water-related disruption but analyzed conditions on major river basins in regions with high potential for conflict – from the Jordan to the Tigris and Euphrates to the Brahmaputra in South Asia.

»During the next 10 years, many countries [...] will almost certainly experience water problems – shortages, poor water quality, or floods – that will contribute to the risk of instability and state failure, and increase regional tensions«, according to the report. »Additionally states will focus on addressing internal water-related social disruptions which will distract them from working [...] on important policy objectives«.

The report warned that water shortages would become acute in some regions within the next decade, as demand continued to rise. While disputes over water have historically led to negotiated settlements over access, upstream countries will increasingly use dams and other projects »to obtain regional influence or preserve their water interests« over weaker countries downstream.

This is already happening on the Tigris and Euphrates, where Turkey, Syria and Iran have harnessed the headwaters of the two rivers that flow through Iraq.

The release was timed to the announcement by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of a partnership to promote conservation and improved management in conjunction with corporations like Coca-Cola and Ford and nongovernmental organizations like the Nature Conservancy.

The report said that improvements in management – like the use of drip irrigation systems – could ease the potential for shortages, especially in agriculture, which accounts for 70 percent of the world's water use.

Source: New York Times


acrobat_icon Global Water Security


» Secretary Clinton to Announce Water Partnership on World Water Day

» Secretary Clinton Launches New U.S. Water Partnership