Friday, March 23, 2012

Competition over water 'could fuel instability'

WASHINGTON: Drought, floods and a lack of fresh water may cause significant global instability in the coming decades as developing countries scramble to meet demand from exploding populations while dealing with climate change, according to a US intelligence report.
The assessment says the risk of an all-out water war in the next 10 years is minimal although competition for the precious resource could create tensions within and between states and threaten to disrupt national and global food markets.
Beyond 2022, however, the report says, the use of water as a weapon of war or a tool of terrorism will become more likely, particularly in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.
The risk of an all-out water war in the next 10 years is minimal, a US intelligence report says. But beyond 2022, the use of water as a weapon of war or a tool of terrorism will become more likely, particularly in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.
The report does not identify the specific countries most at risk, but instead focuses on seven specific rivers and water basins, including the Mekong River, which flows through several South-east Asian countries before emptying into the South China Sea.
The report is drawn from a classified national intelligence estimate and was prepared at the request of the US State Department.
It says floods, scarce and poor quality water, combined with poverty, social tension, poor leadership and weak governments will contribute to instability that could lead to the failure of numerous states.
Those elements 'will likely increase the risk of instability and state failure, exacerbate regional tensions, and distract countries from working with the United States on important policy objectives', says the report, which was due to be released at a State Department event to commemorate World Water Day yesterday.
Annual global water needs will be 40 per cent above current sustainable water supplies by 2030, according to a 2009 report by the 2030 Water Resources Group, a World Bank-sponsored collaboration that included Coca-Cola and Nestle among its members.
'We assess that a water-related state-on-state conflict is unlikely during the next 10 years,' the intelligence report says, noting that in the past, countries have tried to resolve water issues through negotiation.
'However, we judge that as water shortages become more acute beyond the next 10 years, water in shared basins will increasingly be used as leverage; the use of water as a weapon or to further terrorist objectives, also will become more likely beyond 10 years.'
The report predicts that upstream nations - more powerful than their downstream neighbours due to geography - will limit access to water for political reasons and that countries will regulate internal supplies to suppress separatist movements and dissident populations.
At the same time, terrorists and rogue states may target or threaten to target water-related infrastructure like dams and reservoirs more frequently.
Even if attacks do not occur or are only partially successful, the report said, 'the fear of massive floods or loss of water resources would alarm the public and cause governments to take costly measures to protect the water infrastructure'.
The report looks at seven river basins based on its management capacity, which is defined as the ability of nations, treaties and organisations in an area to manage political grievances over water.
The management capacity of the Amu Darya in Central Asia and Afghanistan, and the Brahmaputra, which flows from Tibet through India to Bangladesh, was graded 'inadequate'.
That for the Mekong River; the Tigris and Euphrates in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran; and the Nile Basin in northern Africa was 'limited'.
It was 'moderate' for the Indus River in South Asia and the Jordan River that separates Israel from the Palestinian territories.