War Likely in Next Decade
Bank says dwindling water supplies will inhibit growth,
while the UN warns of rising possibility of conflict over
TELL AL-SAMEN (Syria) - From the searing plains of Mesopotamia
to the steadily expanding deserts of northern China to
the cotton fields of north-west Texas, the struggle for
water is igniting social, economic and political tensions.
The World Bank has said dwindling water supplies will
be a major factor inhibiting economic growth, a subject
being discussed at a weeklong international conference
in South Africa, which began yesterday about balancing
the use of the world's resources against its economic
Global warming, some experts suspect, may be adding
to the strain.
Droughts may be extended in already dry regions, including
parts of the United States, even as wetter areas tend
towards calamitous downpours and floods like those ravaging
Europe and Asia this summer.
In general, the world's climate may be more prone to
extremes, with too much water in some areas and far too
little in others.
Both the United Nations and the National Intelligence
Council (NIC), an advisory group to the CIA, have warned
that the competition for water is likely to worsen.
'As countries press against the limits of available
water between now and 2015, the possibility of conflict
will increase,' the NIC said in a report last year.
By 2015, according to estimates from the UN and the
US government, at least 40 per cent of the world's population,
or about three billion people, will live in countries
where it is difficult or impossible to get enough water
to satisfy basic needs.
'The signs of unsustainability are widespread and spreading,'
said Ms Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy
Project in Amherst, Massachusetts.
'If we're to have any hope of satisfying the food and
water needs of the world's people in the years ahead,
we will need a fundamental shift in how we use and manage
water,' she said.
An inescapable fact about the world's water supply is
that it is finite. Less than 1 per cent of it is fresh
water that can be used for drinking or agriculture, and
demand for that water is rising.
Over the past 70 years, the world's population has tripled
while water demand has increased sixfold, causing increasing
strain especially in heavily populated areas where water
is distant or is being depleted or is simply too polluted
Already, a little more than half of the world's available
fresh water is being used each year, according to one
rough but generally accepted estimate.
That fraction could climb to 74 per cent by 2025 based
on population growth alone, and would hit 90 per cent
if people everywhere used as much water as the average
American, one of the world's most gluttonous water consumers.
Water tables are falling on every continent, and experts
warn that the situation is expected to worsen significantly
in years to come.
Around the world, the question of water ownership has
never before seemed so divisive.
Despite efforts by the UN and others, the world has
yet to come up with an accepted formula on how shared
waters should be divided.
That situation applies to nearly 300 rivers, including
the Nile, the Danube, the Colorado and the Rio Grande,
all subject to major disputes.
In 1997, a UN convention declared that international
waterways should be divided reasonably and equitably,
without causing unnecessary harm.
But Turkey, along with China and Burundi, refused to
sign the agreement, a sign of reluctance on the part of
major upstream countries to cede their dominant positions.
Beyond current water shortages, one reason for the tension
is a lack of optimism that pressures on the world's water
supply might be eased.
Of course, some new technologies, including advanced
irrigation techniques, innovative desalination methods
and bold water-moving schemes, offer some hope.
But experts say the task of making fresh water available
where there is none - from seawater, from icebergs, or
by moving surface water long distances - remains too costly
to be widely adopted.
Most easily accessible fresh water sources have already
been tapped.--New York Times