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Great Lakes Article:

Future water shortages could foster new conflicts
Global scarcity may breed instability

By Joan Lowy / Scripps Howard News Service
January 2, 2002

World water at a glance
   
   * Agriculture accounts for two-thirds of water use worldwide and 80 percent to 90 percent in many developing countries.
   * By 2015, nearly 3 billion people -- 40 percent of the projected world population -- are expected to live in countries that find it difficult or impossible to satisfy the food, industrial and domestic needs of citizens.
   * Half of the world's 6 billion people lack proper sanitation, and 1 billion cannot get safe drinking water. Three-quarters of these people live in Asia.
   * An estimated 5 million people die each year from waterborne diseases, most of them children.
   * Since 1950, the global renewable freshwater supply per person has fallen 58 percent as world population has swelled from 2.5 billion to 6 billion.
   * More than 20 percent of the world's known 10,000 freshwater fish species have become extinct, been threatened or endangered in recent decades. In the United States, 37 percent of freshwater fish species, 67 percent of mussels, 51 percent of crayfish and 40 percent of amphibians are threatened or have become extinct.
   Sources: Global Water Policy Project; United Nations; Population Reference Bureau; Worldwatch Institute, World Resources Institute.)
   



   WASHINGTON -- It is a frightening scenario: Millions of refugees streaming across borders in search of water, governments shaken from within by water riots, hostile nations pushed over the edge in open warfare by conflicts over scarce water.
   It's a picture that appears increasingly possible in the coming decades. By 2015, nearly 3 billion people -- 40 percent of the projected world population -- are expected to live in countries that find it difficult or impossible to mobilize enough fresh water to satisfy the food, industrial and personal needs of their citizens.
   Some of the globe's most water-stressed nations are straight out of today's headlines: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Iran, Israel, Jordan, and Syria. The next war in the Middle East is just as likely to be about water as about oil or religion.
   "If we don't do something about it, it means an unstable world," said former Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., who discussed water issues with officials in Jordan and Syria in July on behalf of the U.S. State Department.
   Even water levels in the Great Lakes, the single largest collection of liquid freshwater on the planet, are dropping. Diminishing ice packs in Lake Superior over recent winters have dropped water levels in lakes Michigan and Huron to their lowest points in nearly 40 years.
   In Amman, Jordan, "you turn the tap on one day a week," Simon said. "You either get by with things you have in your pots and pans the rest of the week or you can pay for little vans that deliver tanks and things of water to your house. Of course poor people can't afford that."
   Earlier this year, a report by the British relief and development charity Tearfund warned that millions of people in water-short countries may be forced in the future to leave their homes to look for clean water supplies, creating a new phenomenon -- water refugees.
   There were water riots by farmers in the Sindh province of Pakistan earlier this year after an upstream province withheld water on the Indus River. Last year, thousands of farmers in the Yellow River basin of China clashed with police over a government plan to divert water to cities and industry.
   According to the World Commission on Water, human water needs will grow by 40 percent over the next two decades. Environmentalists are lobbying for a 10-percent cut in water use to protect ecosystems, while agricultural scientists say farm water use, especially irrigation, should be boosted by up to 20 percent over 25 years to secure food supplies.
   The CIA now considers global water scarcity "a significant issue in security," said John Gannon, a former assistant director of the CIA and former chairman of the National Intelligence Council.
   Water shortages "encourage refugee movements, which if they spill over into other countries can very much engage us," Gannon said. "When we moved into Afghanistan, we moved into a country that already had a very serious refugee problem. If people don't have water, they can't live. They are going to move or they are going to die."
   The Middle East is "the most worrisome" region because "other issues are working against the ability of countries or groups to negotiate with one another," Gannon said. "Water becomes one more problem that they face, but they have less political commitment to deal with the issue and that is where it could become the straw that breaks the camel's back or become the issue that in combination with others topples them into conflict."
   
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