No Wars for Water: Why Climate Change Has Not Led to Conflicts is the title of an article that recently appeared online in Foreign Affairs. My OSU colleague Aaron Wolf is a co-author.
The photo is from the article and is over the Mediterranean Sea looking south down the Nile.
A brief summary of the article:
The policy community has long prophesied about the coming water wars. But don't expect them anytime soon. More likely, tensions over access will merely exacerbate existing regional conflicts.
Here are the first two paragraphs:
The world economic downturn and upheaval in the Arab world might grab headlines, but another big problem looms: environmental change. Along with extreme weather patterns, rising sea levels, and other natural hazards, global warming disrupts freshwater resource availability -- with immense social and political implications. Earlier this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence published a report, Global Water Security, assessing hydropolitics around the world. In it, the authors show that international water disputes will affect not only the security interests of riparian states, but also of the United States.
In many parts of the world, freshwater is already a scarce resource. It constitutes only 2.5 percent of all available water on the planet. And only about .4 percent of that is easily accessible for human consumption. Of that tiny amount, a decreasing share is potable because of pollution and agricultural and industrial water use. All that would be bad enough, but many freshwater bodies are shared among two or more riparian states, complicating their management.
The comments (scroll to the bottom) raise some good points. The first one by Michael Clark caught my eye:
This article has left me befuddled. It's ill-conceived and nearly nonsensical on many levels. I will, however, only focus on one sentence, which is the first in the last paragraph: "If the past is any indication, the world probably does not need to worry about impending water wars. "
I would argue that the past is not, indeed, any indication of the probability of water-based conflict now or in the future. I base this on scientific reasons. First, there is climate science itself. Perhaps the authors are unaware that we are living in a time characterized by an anomalously high concentration of atmospheric carbon. This condition, in geological time, is a blip and, in human time, brand spanking new. The levels of carbon since 1950 have skyrocketed. Prior to this, variability in water availability was much less volatile.
Second, there is population. The world's population has grown massively in the last century and will continue to do so geometrically. This, in concert with an increasing variability in water availability, will surely result in future conflicts predicated solely on water.
Anyway, all of this is simply meant to say: utilizing the past as a means by which to predict the probability of future water wars is a poorly conceived methodology. Of course we need to worry about water wars, and policy considerations should be developed as such.
Interesting. Clark posits that we are in a 'nonstationary' phase, where what has happened in the past cannot be relied upon to accurately predict the future. In hydrology we now realize that nonstationary processes are no longer the exception, so it stands to reason that conflict, as influenced/exacerbated by hydrology and climate change, could now be a nonstationary process as well.
Food for thought, that's for sure.
"During the Soviet era, these two rivers were managed relatively effectively." - from the article, referring to the Syr Darya and Amu Darya river basins of Central Asia.