By Neena Rai
June 29, 2011, 9:20 AM GMT
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.
Professor Patricia Wouters at the IHP-HELP
Centre for water law, policy and science at University
of Dundee, said the world could face a future of “water
wars” as deterioration in climatic patterns and global
population growth leave people struggling to stake
their claim to the natural resource.
The World Bank in a report said that 1.4 million
people could be facing water scarcity by 2025. But
the Organization for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD) forecast is even more gloomy.
It estimates that 47% of the world’s population could
face water stress in the same period – equivalent to
more than three billion people.
The issue isn’t restricted to countries that typically
see temperatures soar, such as Cyprus, which in
2009 was forced to import water in tankers and ration
its use. Northern hemisphere nations like the U.K. are
also finding themselves in the midst of a drought in
some regions, forcing governments to start to take
action. The U.K. government, for instance, plans
to issue a Water White Paper this December that
will focus on the future challenges facing the water
industry and measures to increase protection of river
flows during summer months.
Parts of the U.K. are currently marked as having
drought status and other areas of the country are
deemed to be at risk of drought. The U.K.’s Department
for Environment Food and Rural Affairs held a second
drought summit Monday, at which Secretary of State
Caroline Spelman warned the prospect of a dry
summer and dry winter could have a serious impact
on the country’s water reserves.
“We’re going to keep working with farmers, water
companies and environmental groups to minimize
the impacts of drought, because this year is sign of
things to come,” she said. “The climate is changing
and these extreme weather events will become more
common. How we deal with that problem will be one
of the key parts of our Water White Paper, which will
be published later this year.”
This may be a far cry from a declaration of war
on other more water-abundant nations, but reaching
this stage in some countries isn’t beyond the realms
of imagination. Egypt and Ethiopia have been battling
the issue for the share of the Nile’s water reserves,
and Israel – already fighting Palestine for territory
that includes precious water reserves – has started
to charge the agricultural sector high rates for using
Even in the U.K., the armed forces are being
prepared for potential conflicts over water.
Professor Wouters said that military plans are
being prepared on a 30-year horizon, but that the
water security topic had somewhat fallen off the
table since the financial crisis. Portugal and Spain
are facing serious water scarcity issues but the
agricultural sector there is having to shout loudly for
its voice to be heard above the noise of the countries’
current financial woes.
Maybe Israel’s entrepreneurial approach to
the issue is the way forward. Nevertheless, the fact
remains that water scarcity is now firmly on the
agenda of the world’s governments, and isn’t going to
water-wars-may-lie-ahead/>. Retrieved on: March 11, 2012.