FLORENCE, South Carolina— One fifth of the world experiences water scarcity, and another 1.6 billion people live in areas without the appropriate infrastructure to transport water to those in need.
As defined by the UNESCO International Hydrological Programme, water security is the “capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socioeconomic development.”
According to a report published by the World Economic Forum in 2013, the water supply crisis is ranked among the top five global risks in terms of likelihood and potential impact. As the human population increased fourfold in the 20th century, the demand for water became nine times higher. In 2030, the global demand for fresh water is expected to exceed the current supply by over 40 percent. The imminent increase in demand will likely lead to competition and affect food, energy and human security around the world. Additionally, 4 billion people will be residing in areas where the supply of water is far less than the demand for it. In the future, water insecurity may pose economic, political and social challenges.
Given the relative growing scarcity of the water supply, the idea of the global water insecurity causing violence and conflicts has often been discussed. The CIA has stated that floods, shortages and poor water quality may eventually lead to instability and regional conflicts. In 2001, Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general at the time, declared that “fierce competition for fresh water may well become a source of conflict and wars in the future.”
Over a decade later, the competition for water has yet to cause a significant act of violence or war. At the 2014 Aid & International Development Forum in Malaysia, Janani Vivekananda spoke about the notable lack of water-based global conflicts: “if you come at it analyzing water like other resources, you’ll see an absence of conflict in a lot of situations where you might expect to see conflict.”
A Babylonian conflict 4,500 years ago was the only true “water war” that had ever been recorded in history. However, a few conflicts have since been linked to the water insecurity problem. A 2012 report by the International Crisis Group identified the dispute over water as a source of tension between India and Pakistan. Likewise, tribal groups living in the Lake Turkana region at the Kenya-Ethiopia border have participated in bloody battles due to conflicts over the availability of and access to water. American environmental group, International Rivers, has stated that the tribal groups in the Lake Turkana area have a “long history of resource conflicts over water.”
Fortunately, minor conflicts due to water insecurity are unlikely to escalate into an international crisis. Since water is such an important resource and means of survival, cooperation is mutually understood between any contending parties.
Sources: IRIN, UN Water, World Economic Forum
Photo: Green Mom