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Will the 21st century be defined as the century of water conflicts?

Increasing
population, water resources scarcity and climate change may constitute an
explosive mix. The unwavering skeptics response to the prophets of water conflict
is that the absence of related interstate conflict in the past is evidence of its future
improbability. For the prophets, increasing pressure on the resource will lead some
states to fight each other to settle arguments over the division of a vital resource,
one that governments increasingly view as an object of sovereignty. My contention
is that water scarcity may lead to violent intra and interstate conflicts should the
states fail to take necessary measures for efficient water management system and
global institutions that will serve to provide a forum for states to discuss water
problems and come up with solutions leading to peaceful resolutions of water
related disputes.
Introduction
The author Mark Twain once remarked that "whisky is for drinking; water is for
fighting over" and a series of reports from intelligence agencies and research
groups indicate the prospect of a water war is becoming increasingly likely.
In March 2012, a report from the office of the US Director of National Intelligence
said the risk of conflict would grow as water demand is set to outstrip sustainable
current supplies by 40 per cent by 2030.
Over the next 20 years, the average global supply of water per person is expected
to drop by one-third, according to the UNs World Water Development Report 2003.
These predictions, if turned out to be correct, will likely lead to socio-economic
problems and instability within and among the nations given that fresh water is
required for drinking, hygiene and providing food; and adequate water to produce
energy and support economic activities such as industry and transportation.
What does history teach us?
Some experts believe the only documented case of a "water war" happened about
4,500 years ago, when the city-states of Lagash and Umma went to war in the
Tigris-Euphrates basin.
But Adel Darwish, a journalist and co-author of Water Wars: Coming Conflicts in the
Middle East, says modern history has already seen at least two water wars.
"I have [former Israeli prime minister] Ariel Sharon speaking on record saying the
reason for going to war [against Arab armies] in 1967 was for water," Darwish told
Al Jazeera.
Some analysts believe Israel continues to occupy the Golan heights, seized from
Syria in 1967, due to issues of water control, while others think the occupation is
about maintaining high ground in case of future conflicts.

Syria and Iraq have fought minor skirmishes over the Euphrates River.
One thing is quite clear from the birds eye view that water issue has not yet
resulted in devastating wars but past cannot be extrapolated as the resource
shortage may add fuel to the fire of already existing bitter hostilities in South Asia
and middle east and could result in large scale war.
So what needs to be done to secure future from devastating wars?
Policies to mitigate water shortage and associated negative effects:
As stated above, the world is entering in a new era where finite water constraints
are starting to limit future economic growth and development. It is imperative that
wide ranging measures at local and international levels be taken in order to
minimize and mitigate socio-economics risks that could trigger wars.
Steps are needed to be taken in relation to water management, institutions and
capacity development in order to cope with future challenges. Policies should
address following key areas:
Hard Infrastructure:
Dams
Dams and water reservoirs need to be built in developing countries for storage.
Dams will serve to reduce exposure of socio-economic lives of people to adverse
water related weather shocks. Firstly, this will serve to prevent floods as it will
capture excess water in times of heavy precipitation. Dams will also serve to
provide water in times of drought.
Wetlands and forests
Natural ecosystems such as forests and wetlands generate important economic
services which maintain the quantity and quality of water supplies. Wetlands and
forests perform two important functions in relation to climate change. They have
mitigation effects through their ability to sink carbon, and adaptation effects
through their ability to store and regulate water. Wetlands and forests will help to
mitigate or avert water-related disasters such as flooding and drought.
Efficient irrigation infrastructure
Developing nations rely heavily on canal irrigation system that results in significant
wastage of water resources. It is imperative that these infrastructures must be
managed so that water is used efficiently with minimal wastage.
Drip irrigation and targeted water distribution to crops will significantly reduce rate
of evaporation of water and therefore results in reduced water wastage.

Water treatment plants


Water treatment plants should be built in order to purify used water and those
obtained from sea water. This will serve to increase the supply of water for drinking
and irrigation purposes.
Soft Infrastructure:
Emerging twenty-first century water management can be thought of as increasingly
focused on soft infrastructure, most notably associated with institutions, policy,
legislation and dialogue between competing users.
They constitute a range of generally complementary actions, including cultural
values, water pricing, water conservation, economic incentives/disincentives, and
social recognition for reducing inefficient water use practices, diversifying water
sources and similar activities.
Social Institutions and their capacity
Institutions are often defined as rule of the game and consist of both informal
constraints (sanctions, taboos, customs, traditions, and codes of conduct) and
formal rules (constitutions, laws, regulations, and property rights).
Nations will need to institute rules and regulations governing the use of water.
Institutions, equipped with sufficient resources, will be needed to make sure people
value water as a scarce resource and pay the price of its wastage. Establishment of
institutions will offer following advantages:
Determine restrictions and provide for mediation of conflicts. Institutions set certain
individual and collective restrictions to water use: who can use what water, how
much, when and for what purposes.
This will serve to reduce natural, economic, technical and social uncertainties. For
example, the successful negotiation of tensions and conflicts over shared waters will
reduce uncertainties for the par- ties concerned and lead to more rational water use
and allocation.
Address global warming
Steps need to be taken in order to mitigate global warming which is assumed to be
a significant long term factor for the water resources.
Mitigation: mitigation involves reducing the future production of GHGs or increasing
the capacity of carbon sinks to absorb more carbons from atmosphere. Mitigation
involves:

Promoting green technologies through legislation and incentives


Energy efficient appliances need to be used

Forests and wetlands need to be preserved

Constraints
Investment in green technologies, dams and other relevant infrastructure will need
considerable investment over longer period of time. Developing countries, most
vulnerable from water scarcity, have limited financial resources in this regard.
Human and technical skills are also lacking which hampers their ability to come up
with other cost effective and efficient methods for coping with water related
challenges.
They are also least equipped with resources to adapt to changing realities and are
dependent on rich nations for technologies and means to reduce their vulnerabilities
stemming from water and other resource shortages.
Conclusion
Water is an irreplaceable resource and the socio-economic cost to humanity will be
enormous if nations dont take note of the situation and act in concert to cope with
the challenges. There will be geopolitical instability, increased hunger and
malnutrition and possibly devastating wars and tensions due to water scarcity. The
need of the hour is to invest in hard infrastructures (dam, irrigation system) as well
as on soft ones such as formal and informal institutions if impending water scarcity
is to be avoided.
Global concerted steps are also needed for tackling global climate change and its
adverse impacts. Rich countries will have to assist poor countries financially and for
building their capacity to cope with challenges arising out of water shortage.
Global cooperation is only way to reduce the risks of increased hunger, disease,
energy shortages and poverty resulting from unavailability of water. The chances of
conflict will likely go down.