Water will be a contributor to conflict and/or political tension, but rarely the sole reason for war. Conflict is most likely to occur when one or more of the following pre-conditions are met: 1) an outright lack of subsistence water is present, 2) the combination of water scarcity with non-defined water ownership fans already unstable political climates, 3) the lack of water availability is perceived as overly restrictive to economic growth and 4) the nation(s) in question have the means and the perception war, rather than peaceful means, will assist them in achieving their water related objectives.
PART I: DIPLOMATIC AND POLITICAL PRESSURE POINTS
Diplomatic and Political pressure points are those regions with a shortage or forecasted shortage of water where political instability is a real possibility. Parts of the Middle East reflect the second aforementioned criteria for potential water related conflict. This is because political tension and instability exists, and climate change is affecting an already conserved water resource.
Even stable and wealthier countries in the Middle East are facing difficulties with water. Countries like Israel and the United Arab Emirates have the know how and infrastructure to convert and distribute non-suitable water such as sea-water and sewage water, but are facing increasing demand, costs and potential shortages. When water becomes scarce in the nations that can’t utilize, convert or disperse water to its population, desperation, frustration, and lack of economic options can lead to an increased possibility of war emerging from public pressure on government leaders. If those representatives are of the mindset war can be advantageous, the risk of water war can intensify.
Several conflict resolution groups exist precisely to prevent the outbreak of water related war and resolution of disputed water resources. These organizations include the International Water Management Institute, The water databanks project, The Mekong River Commission and others. The role of these organizations is to facilitate, mediate and resolve conflicts and limitations on water supplies. According to globalpolicy.org, the success of these organizations may inhibit or bypass future conflict.
PART II: LESSONS FROM THE HISTORY OF WAR
In a book specifically about the causes of war, Stephen Van Evera, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Political Science Professor, describes the likelihood of war stemming from five hypotheses including false optimism, first strike advantage, political instability, opportunity, control of resources and conquest. Of particular note, is the fourth of these hypotheses because the scenario directly refers to control of resources.
If war were to break out specifically because of water supply issues, the possible causes or catalysts for such war include 1) bankruptcy of water service providers, 2) inability of national government(s) to provide public water, 3) shortages and infrastructural limitations of militarily aggressive neighboring States and 4) the belief in war as a possible solution to disputed water rights.
Nevertheless, in a country without any military capacity whatsoever, even a country without water cannot go to war over it. Thus the element of first strike advantage proposed by Van Evera is also a factor, for without that, the outcome and feasibility of war becomes a viability concern that can reduce the probability of conflict over war. In light of this, the trail of political support and historical aggressions between nations becomes an additional factor in predicting the probability of water war.
PART III: WATER CONSUMPTION FACTS AND ISSUES
In a report by Kaitan Oki of the Kyoto Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, research is provided indicating measurement of future water consumption, and availability may be inaccurate due to incomplete and/or skewed data. Moreover, inaccuracies in future water availability forecasts can and are caused by inaccuracies in forecast variables such as unpredictable climactic and weather related events, miscalculation of water run off etc. Exact impact of technological advancements, and adjustments in water policies are also somewhat subjective in water forecast models. Thus, the precise availability of water in the future is unknown, but the calculated water consumption trends and climate patterns are certainly alarming.
Water appropriations by governments that do not encourage efficient use of water may be susceptible to unsustainable cost structure that can increase pressure on the government and water utilities to provide water. If this pressure increases to the point of incapacitation of a water infrastructure either innovation, reform or war can result.
According to Michelle Mairesse, Water Conservation Advocate and Executive Editor of the Hermes Press, privatization and commoditization of water use encourages water on the one hand, but curbs it on the other. For example, attaching cost to water may cause consumers to conserve it, but it may also drive water providers to develop new ways to sell more water hence increasing consumption.
PART IV: AVAILABILITY OF WATER IN THE FUTURE
There is no shortage of studies and findings indicating global water supplies are destined to change. The U.S. Geological Survey, Kyoto Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, and Global Water Policy Project are just a few organizations that have raised awareness of water supply issues. In one German University study presented by the British Broadcasting Corporation, most of the Middle East is forecasted to have below half a million liters of water per person per year by the year 2050.
One cause for regional water shortages is global warming which causes changes in weather patterns, glacier levels, water evaporation, river flows etc. Most of the regions forecasted to have the least water available for consumption are regions of the world already experiencing significant water supply concerns. The most heavily concentrated water issues are predicted by water analysts to span across North Africa, through the Middle East and into Northern China.
Future availability of water is not so much of a concern as the capacity to attain and distribute water among a nation. The University of Michigan’s Global Change Program states less than 1% of the world’s fresh water is available for human use. However, also according to the Global Change Program, under 30% of that water is currently used by humans. This means, that with effective improvements in efficiency, technology, infrastructure, policy etc. not only can water use be improved, but water availability can be increased.
Obstacles rest in technology’s path to widespread water distribution. Scarcity of water exacerbated by commercialization of the water industry, lack of existing infrastructural capacity to sustain a growing population’s water needs, and politicization of water resources and usage are all potential inhibitors of a more public water availability and sustainable water consumption. The tug of war between efficiency, human distribution, and non-commercialization and commoditization, inefficient water use and consumption trends and policies will have a great impact on the possibility of war arising from water shortages.
This is more likely to play out in regions most susceptible to water shortages and water resource conflict. If those regions and/or countries are able to affordably and effectively make use of technology in addition to peacefully resolving any politically heated water resource claims, water related conflict may be avoided even if a country is politically unstable because water is no longer an issue on the table
Technology, regulatory policy, and conflict resolution groups could end up saving existing and future water pressure zones from conflict. Reverse osmosis, cost improvements in de-salination, water recycling, nano-filtration and infrastructural efficiency are some of the practical ways water can be conserved. If those countries with the least amount of wealth and technological know how do become able to benefit from these and other non-confrontational solutions, water war can be avoided at least in some areas.
The countries that meet the pre-conditions for water war are the countries that need the most attention in order to diffuse water conflict before it happens. These countries fit best into existing models of pre-war conditions making them the more likely candidates for water war.