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Water Wars Escalate

Sustainability | August 24, 2018

Conflicts over water have been happening since the beginning of time. Disputes over access to water resources happen for several reasons including lack of water, military action, political clashes or development disputes. The combination of expanding and shifting populations, increased energy consumption, resource mismanagement, overuse, and climate change is stressing water supplies.

Already a billion people, or one in seven people on the planet, lack access to safe drinking water and more than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. About 96% of the Earth’s freshwater is groundwater contained in aquifers while the remaining 4% is on the surface in streams, lakes, rivers and wetlands. Satellite images confirmed that groundwater depletion is happening at a very rapid rate in almost all of the major aquifers in the arid and semi-arid parts of the world.

With more than 200 rivers and 300 groundwater basins and aquifers shared by two or more countries, there is increasing tension and disagreements over ownership. Shortages threaten food production and energy supply and put additional stress on governments struggling with poverty and social issues. 

Since 2010, there have been 263 notable conflicts over water. Many have occurred in drought-stricken areas in the Middle East and Northern Africa however, the violence is not isolated to these geographic areas.

  • In Cape Town, violence broke out at a line waiting for water at a spring after severe drought leaves the city with dwindling water supplies. After restrictions were imposed in early 2018, citizens have taken to collecting water from local springs, which are not counted in their water restrictions. In response to this violence, guards are posted at the spring and restrictions put on how much water can be collected.drought-stricken areas in the Middle East and Northern Africa however, the violence is not isolated to these two geographic areas.
  • Bombs were detonated at hydroelectric power plant in East Java, Indonesia.
  • Northeastern Brazil has seen growing conflicts after severe drought reduces water availability. News agencies report that one person a day is being killed from "water wars," which involve locals fighting over scarce supplies.

Shortages Threaten Instability

A new analysis commissioned by the United Nations identified areas around the world most at-risk for "hydro-political" strife. This analysis was part of the U.N.'s Transboundary Waters Assessment Program.

The analysis identified that risks for conflict are expected to increase over the next 15 to 30 years in four hotspot regions -- the Middle East, central Asia, the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin, and the Orange and Limpopo basins in southern Africa.

Additionally, the Nile River in Africa, much of southern Asia, the Balkans in southeastern Europe, and upper South America are all areas where new dams are under construction and neighboring countries face increasing water demand, may lack workable treaties.

Aaron Wolf of Oregon State University and one of the leaders in the emerging field, consulting with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the U.S. State Department and numerous foreign governments sums up the issue, “Water management is conflict management. On a warming planet with a growing population and shrinking reserves of fresh water, the skills to solve these kinds of cross-border disputes are increasingly vital.”

Military Shift

The NY Times reported a significant shift in the US Pentagon’s stance on conflict resulting from climate change. The Pentagon has characterized the threat  as a present-day threat calling for immediate action. This represents a significant shift for the military, which has in the past focused on climate change as a future risk. Before, the Pentagon’s response to climate change focused chiefly on preparing military installations to adapt to its effects, like protecting coastal naval bases from rising sea levels. The new report, however, calls on the military to incorporate climate change into broader strategic thinking about high-risk regions — for example, the ways in which drought and food shortages might set off political unrest in the Middle East, China, and Africa.

Conservation is Key

Conservation is going to play a critical role as our water sources become more scarce. Hydrofinity is helping businesses conserve water with its unique XOrbs laundry solutions. This new technology changes the most basic operating principles of the washing machine by replacing the massive quantities of hot water used in traditional washing machines with XOrbs reducing water usage by up to 80%.

Topics: Sustainability

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