I love water. This may be because I have a degree in geography and spent a lot of time studying it, or because I am made up of approximately 70 per cent water—either way, I love water. And just like most great loves, I am worried that this love affair will end possibly in war or the demise of water all together. I swear I am not crazy—what I am referring to is the dwindling water resources available.
There is much debate as to what the next World War will be about. Some believe World War III will be over oil, but I, along with some academics, believe the next war will be over water. For example journalist Steven Solomon argued in his book, Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization, that water is going to surpass oil as the world’s scarcest critical resource. This is very possible, seeing as the fresh water supply is only 2.5 per cent, of the world’s total water supply, and of that, less than one per cent is readily accessible for human use because the majority of it is locked in glaciers.
When you combine the limited amount of fresh water with the world’s continuously growing population, we are soon to be, if we haven’t hit it already, at a critical point where demand cannot meet the need. According to the World Health Organization, more than one out of six people lack access to safe drinking water, which is roughly 1.1 billion people, and as the world population continues to grow, this numbers will become more alarming.
Unlike the first two World Wars, a war over water would have no solution, because you can’t produce more water and we can’t live without it. What we are already seeing is a divide between the countries that have access to water or can afford it, and the ones that cannot. Egypt, Pakistan and China are just a few countries facing critical water issues already, and this list will only continue to grow as we move further into the 21st century.
What most people don’t realize is that water is not just something we need for drinking—about 70 per cent of world water use is for agriculture, which plays a huge part in why water shortage is a big concern. Water is important for drinking, sanitation and industrial use so water resources diminishing will have a serious impact on food security. We have already witnessed this with Saudi Arabia. They were self-sufficient in wheat production until they depleted an aquifer that was used for irrigation, and now they are phasing out wheat production.
We are already witnessing land acquisitions, which are part of a new global politics of food scarcity, which is directly linked to water acquisitions, which means that there are new relationships forming around which countries have access to water source.
What does the future hold for water? I wish I knew the answer, but unfortunately no one does. I hope people soon realize the pending dangers and consider conserving or are prepared to cope with a further crisis, or potential World War.
What I find even more alarming is Solomon’s statement that “those societies that find the most innovative responses to the crisis are most likely to come out as winners, while the others will fall behind.” Will we witness an even larger divide between the developed and the developing countries? I wish this wasn’t a question I had to ask, but I think it will soon be a reality.
I have a sneaking suspicion that soon others will realize they love water too, hopefully it’s not too late.