According to a new report, conflicts over water scarcity and water control could threaten the stability of countries critical to American foreign policy in the next decade. As finite resources continue to diminish and countries and multi-national corporations (MNC's) try to control water, it will become the new oil.
The world is starting to feel the symptoms of chronic water shortages in third world countries, as documented in “A World Without Water.” 8 year old Vanessa in El Alto, Bolivia, travels one mile to fetch water from an unreliable well. Her family, like billions of other people around the world, do not have access to potable water. Her family cannot afford water from the French controlled water company because the fee is more than Vanessa’s father earns in a year. Water is a privilege available to those who can afford to pay for it, but it is controlled by a few foreign MNC’s. “I don’t have friends because we don’t have water, they don’t want to play with me, they say I’m a filthy pig,” says Vanessa, crying and thirsty.
A Wolrd Without Water
Every child learns that our finite supply of water can never run out, as long as it remains part of the hydrological cycle. But what use is it if it is polluted or extracted from its natural cycle? Only 3% of Earth’s water is fresh while 97% is salt water. Much of that 3% is already polluted from chemicals used to maximize agricultural productivity.
Although major wars over water have yet to occur, according to Fred Pearce, author of “When the Rivers Run Dry,” the first modern water war, occurred in 1967, called the six-day war. Three years earlier, Israeli engineers created a dam to reroute the Jordan River into Israel without the consent of Jordan. The then commander of the Israeli forces Ariel Sharon, said, “while the border disputes were of great significance, the matter of water diversion was a stark issue of life and death.” Today, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank gives it control of the western aquifer and its control of the Golan Heights gives it control of the Jordan River. In part, the Arab-Israeli issue is a conflict over water and future negotiations will include water control.
The director of the Columbia Water Center, Dr. Upmanu Lall, warns that as soon as 2025, large parts of the world could experience perennial water shortages, which can lead to conflicts. According to Tony Clarke, author of “Blue Gold”, demand for water will increase in the coming years because urbanization will also increase. This will allow big businesses to privatize and commodify something that has trickled down for thousands of yearsfor profit.
Although conflicts over water is happening now in third world countries, rich nations can prolong the issue but they are not exempt from it. 5 years ago, Alabama, Florida and Georgia argued over rights to the water supply that was being used by millions of people in the states. While there was no war, governors of the three states defamed each other in news presses. Now San Diego is accusing Southern California water officials of overcharging San Diegans for water. Similarly, in 2003, head of the South Korean Farmers Union, Lee Kyang Hae, was protesting against WTO’s unfair practices that were hurting his countries farmers, Hae climbed on top of a police barricade and stabbed himself in the heart, in front of hundreds of TV cameras.
As climate change and perennial droughts continue to affect the third world, it is only a matter of time until water becomes the new oil. Until then, Vanessa and a billion other children like her will continue to fetch water from unreliable wells. As she sits on a hill overlooking an icy mountain, with the sun visibly at its highest peak, Vanessa asks her father a childish question, “all that snow up there, will it make water?” “That snow is all ice, [he says], and when the snow disappears there will be no more water, even the U.S. will have none so they’ll come here and take our ice.”
Hassan Mirza has worked as a political-military analyst intern for the Hudson Institute.