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Water shortages expected to fuel conflict, social unrest and migration

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By Anastasia Moloney

From Yemen to India, and parts of Central America to the African Sahel, about a quarter of the world's people face extreme water shortages that are fueling conflict, social unrest and migration, water experts say.

With the world's population rising and climate change bringing more erratic rainfall, including severe droughts, competition for scarcer water is growing, they said, with serious consequences.

"If there is no water, people will start to move. If there is no water, politicians are going to try and get their hands on it and they might start to fight over it," warned Kitty van der Heijden, head of international cooperation at the Netherlands' foreign ministry.

"It's threats like these that keep me up at night," the diplomat told a webinar hosted by the World Resources Institute(WRI), a U.S.-based research group.

According to the WRI, 17 countries face "extremely high" levels of water stress, while more than two billion people live in countries experiencing "high" water stress.

One in four children worldwide will be living in areas of extremely high water stress by 2040, researchers estimated.

In terms of water availability, "at some point we are going to hit the wall, and that wall might be different in different places", Heijden said.

Climate change is compounding the challenge, she said, with cities such as India's Chennai and South Africa's Cape Town battling severe water shortages in recent years related in part to erratic rainfall.

Disputes over water have for millenia served as a flashpoint, driving political instability and conflict, the water experts said.

And "the risks of water-related disputes are growing .. in part because of growing scarcity over water", said Peter Gleick, co-founder of the California-based Pacific Institute, which jointly published the report with WRI and The Water, Peace and Security Partnership.

But as water scarcity grows, water systems are also increasingly becoming targets in other types of conflicts, said Gleick, whose institute has compiled a chronology of water conflicts that dates back 5,000 years.

In Yemen, years of fighting has destroyed water infrastructure, leaving millions without safe water to drink or grow crops. Wells and other water facilities also have been targets in Somalia, Iraq, Syria and other countries, he said.

SMARTER IRRIGATION

Recurring droughts in parts of Central America and the African Sahel in recent years have triggered migration as subsistence farmers, whose harvests have been decimated by low rainfall, seek refuge and jobs in other countries.

One key to tackling water scarcity is boosting investment in more sparing use of water in agriculture, an industry that absorbs more than two-thirds of the water used by people each year, the experts said.

Farmers in some drought-hit areas are switching to more efficient sprinkler or drip irrigation, and are using remote monitoring tools to make sure they apply just the right amount of moisture at the right time and in the right place, they said.

Conserving forests, wetlands and watersheds, including those around cities, can help absorb rainfall, helping stem crop losses from flooding and drought.

"Where possible such green infrastructure should be used with or instead of traditional physical infrastructure like dams, levies (or) reservoirs," said Charles Iceland, head of global and national water initiatives at WRI.

That's both because it can cost less and because it encourages preservation of ecosystems, he said.

As water becomes more precious, communities living in water-scarce hot spots must be included in making decisions about its use and management, the experts said.

"Only in that way can we make real progress," said Heijden, noting that women and youth need to have a strong voice in those decisions.

She said a range of options were available to deal with worsening water scarcity, but getting them into practice could be a challenge.

"We know the many solutions that are there, but to actually implement them we still face many barriers, be they technical, financial or in terms of political will," she said.

© Thomson Reuters Foundation

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Naturally, the boffins don't mention population control as the best, perhaps only, solution. Once again, they're arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

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While I concur with JeffLee, changes in rainfall and water use will still create local pressures. Population control is undoubtedly part of the solution but not all and education/improved living conditions/healthcare which are the precursors to effective long term population control are also what is needed to facilitate the other changes to manage the water shortage situation.

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Author seems to have overlooked politics as a cause of the problem, e.g. what Israel has been doing to Palestine for decades...

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Or the attempted Arab genocide of the Israelis attempted on at least three occasions since the Holocaust?

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https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/israel-proves-the-desalination-era-is-here/

The link above is to an article in Scientific American magazine about new technology in desalination that is reportedly very cheap and easy. A couple of takeaways from the article: over half of all water consumed in Israel today is desalinated water, and the cost of the water from this new technology is cheaper than what we here in Southern California are currently paying to move water from Northern California down to here. There is currently plenty of ocean, and there are plenty of coastlines, so desalination would not be affected by a shortage of either of those.

An observation or two: large desalination plants require a stable government. So, the once-in-a-thousand year drought currently happening in parts of the Middle East, such as Syria, would not be addressed because the corrupt and incompetent government of Assad is primarily interested in keeping him in his position of dictator for life, and is not worried about taking care of the problems of the people. The more than 5 million Syrians who have fled their country might not have had to if the government of Assad cared to try to meet their water needs. The people of Syria might not have rebelled against the central government if that government had tried in the least to meet their minimal needs to stay alive.

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Thanks 1genn for the link, fascinating and informative.

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Naturally, the boffins don't mention population control as the best, perhaps only, solution.

That's because it isn't. It's a centuries old debunked pile of nonsense.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

he link above is to an article in Scientific American magazine about new technology in desalination that is reportedly very cheap and easy.

There are two major problems with desal not addressed in the article that are show stoppers for many. Number one, that giant intake pipe mentioned in the article is a major source of fish mortality. On the US west coast coastal power plants are being required to replace seawater cooling with air cooling (evaporation towers) to reduce the high fish kill associated with these power plants. That is the first show stopper. The second is what to do with the waste stream. The water Israel is taking may be free of pollutants but the waters off the US west coast are heavily polluted with surface street runoff, farm run off and the outfalls of several huge waste treatment plants that don't treat the waste water to tertiary standards. What would come out of a system like Israel's on the US west coast would be a concentrated mixture of both brine and all those pollutants removed by the desal process. It is toxic and cannot be dumped back into the ocean. It would have to be dried out and disposed of on land. There aren't sites available for this waste and the expense would make desal in a US west coast context too expensive to consider.

What is possible and indeed what is being done in So Cal now is to treat waste water to a potable standard and pump this now purified water back into aquifers for mixture with groundwater. LA is building a huge treatment plant to remove several dangerous chemicals in its groundwater, the legacy of Cold War defense plants in the LA Basin which badly polluted the aquifer there. Their plan is to combine groundwater recharge with purified waste water with these treatment plants to allow the LA Basin's groundwater to be used again as a drinking water supply, reducing or possibly in some years eliminating their need to use water from the Owens Valley.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Tortoise, the fact that The USA on the Pacific coast has fouled its own nest is irrelevant to the efficacy of the technology.

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An observation or two: large desalination plants require a stable government. So, the once-in-a-thousand year drought currently happening in parts of the Middle East, such as Syria, would not be addressed because the corrupt and incompetent government of Assad is primarily interested in keeping him in his position of dictator for life, and is not worried about taking care of the problems of the people. The more than 5 million Syrians who have fled their country might not have had to if the government of Assad cared to try to meet their water needs. The people of Syria might not have rebelled against the central government if that government had tried in the least to meet their minimal needs to stay alive.

It must also be noted that waters, irrigation and rivers are what led to the history of civilizations thruout history. The first civilization sprung up in Mesopotamia where the Tigris and Euprates are. It's always has been contested by nations such as the Macedonians, Greeks, Persians, Babylonians, Chaldeans, Romans, etc. And now it's in what we call 'Iraq'. The Ganges River figures prominently in India and its history. The ancient Egyptians based their civilization on the Nile. The Romans even tried to conquer all of that. Chinese civilization sprang up around the Yangzee River. There's the Congo River. And so on.

And its led to various wars as well and continues to today. Sometimes climate change affects it too. The Anasazi and Pima civilizations in the American Southwest practiced extensive irrigation but the region turned more arid.

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Tortoise, the fact that The USA on the Pacific coast has fouled its own nest is irrelevant to the efficacy of the technology.

How many coastal zones are pollution free today? The Red Sea might be one of the only such places in the world.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

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