Is the water war imminent? | By M A Hossain, Dhaka


Is the water war imminent?

WITH the world’s population increasing and climate change worsening water scarcity, the likelihood of a global water war grows. Due to water being a finite resource, conflicts over water are becoming more prevalent as demand surpasses supply. The United Nations estimates that by 2025, half of the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas, increasing the urgency of this issue. Water wars are conflicts between nations concerning access to water resources, which can be triggered by population growth, climate change, and irregular distribution of water resources. In the future, water wars may become more frequent as nations compete for access to this vital resource.

The concept of a water war is not new. Historically, water has been a cause of conflict in many parts of the world. The Tigris-Euphrates river system, for example, has been the subject of disputes between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq for decades. In recent years, tensions have risen over the construction of dams and the diversion of water resources, leading to fears of a potential conflict. The potential for conflict over water resources is particularly acute in regions where water is already scarce. The Middle East, for example, is home to some of the world’s most water-stressed nations. The Nile River, which provides water to over 300 million people, is also a source of tension for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

South Asia is home to over 1.7 billion people, many of whom face significant water challenges. The region is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, with rising temperatures and changing weather patterns leading to increased water scarcity. The Himalayan region, which is a crucial source of freshwater for the region, is also under threat from melting glaciers and artificial obstacles in the natural flow. As a result, conflicts over water resources are becoming more common in the region, with disputes over the sharing of river waters between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh being particularly contentious.

Water wars are a potential consequence of climate change and population growth. As the global population increases, the water demand will also increase, leading to competition for limited resources. This competition could lead to conflict between countries, and regions. In some cases, water wars could be fought over access to water resources, while in other cases, they could be fought over control of water resources. Climate change could lead to an increase in extreme weather cases, such as floods and droughts, which could further exacerbate the water crisis. Already, we are seeing the effects of climate change on water availability. In some parts of the world, droughts are becoming more frequent and severe, while in others, rising sea levels are contaminating freshwater resources.

A hydro-crisis could also be triggered by a sustained El Niño event, which is a periodic warming of the Central Pacific Ocean. If we have a prolonged period of warm water in the Central Pacific Ocean, it can underscore the drought that’s already happening in certain regions. Another factor contributing to the likelihood of water wars is the unequal distribution of water resources. Many of the world’s largest rivers cross national borders and countries upstream have an advantage in terms of water access. This has led to tensions between upstream and downstream nations, as the former can use their control of water resources as a political bargaining chip.

Water wars are not limited to disputes between nations. In some cases, conflicts over water can arise within a single country. In India, for example, the distribution of water resources between different states has led to violent clashes between farmers and other groups. Water resources like the Nile, Ganges- Brahmaputra in the Indian subcontinent, the Indus in Asia, and the Tigris-Euphrates and Colorado rivers are highlighted as potential hotspots.

The potential for water wars highlights the need for global cooperation to manage this vital resource. The UN has acknowledged water as a human right, and efforts are underway to improve water management and conservation. However, more needs to be done to address the underlying causes of water scarcity and prevent conflicts from arising. One solution is to invest in infrastructure to increase water efficiency and reduce waste. Desalination plants, for example, can provide a reliable source of freshwater in coastal areas, while water recycling systems can help reduce the demand for freshwater resources. Investing in these technologies can help ensure that water is used more sustainably and reduce the risk of conflicts over water resources.

Another approach is to promote international cooperation and dialogue to manage shared water resources. The UN has established some initiatives to promote cooperation between nations, including the Water for Life Decade and the International Year of Water Cooperation. These efforts aim to build trust and collaboration between nations and reduce the risk of conflicts over water resources. Historically, wars have been fought over land, resources, and economic gain. But, the prospect of water wars in the future is a very real one. As water becomes scarcer and demand continues to rise, conflicts over water resources are likely to become more expected. However, by investing in water efficiency and promoting global cooperation, we can help ensure that water is used more sustainably and reduce the risk of conflicts over this vital resource. The need for action is pressing, and now is the time to act.

—The writer is a political and defence analyst based in Bangladesh.

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