Stopping the Water Wars before they begin


Posted on: 01 April 2011 by Alexander Hay

As our world nears water shortages, scientists propose a solution

As our cities get ever bigger, they use ever more water. This is bad news if supplies of freshwater begin to run out. Indeed, water shortages could cause wars as nations fight over supplies. (India and China are so drought-prone, they will both look towards the relatively moist Himalayas with envious eyes.)

Fortunately, some scientists have looked into the problem and use this report to make some helpful suggestions:

...Urban population can be usefully divided into three categories reflecting their perennial water shortage status (Table 1). A total of 162 million people will live in cities that will have perennial water shortage in 2050. The majority of people in this category will be in Asia (94 million), although Africa will have a greater percentage (7.7%) of total urban dwellers under perennial water shortage. A second category is people in cities that will not have perennial water shortage by 2050 at the 100-km buffer distance, but the buffer distance needed to avoid perennial water shortage will increase from 2000 to 2050. This potentially implies infrastructure investment to enable short-scale (<100 km) water transport to satisfy the needs of a projected 2050 population of 720 million. Again, the majority of people in this category will be in Asia (338 million), but Africa will have a greater percentage (36.3%) of total urban dwellers in this category. Finally, a third category is people in cities that do not seem likely to have problems with perennial water shortage, whose population will grow from 1.0 billion to 2.9 billion from 2000 to 2050. Many city dwellers who fall into this residual category will, however, face seasonal water shortage...

...Beyond the financial costs of meeting the urban water shortage challenge, there is the risk of endangering wildlife and the natural systems on which they depend. Freshwater systems are already one of the most altered habitat types (30). Without careful planning, the demands of urban dwellers may threaten many more freshwater species. Of the two broad strategies outlined above, landscape management and water efficiency are probably less likely to impact freshwater biodiversity than further infrastructure development. The lack of adoption of revenue-positive watersaving techniques points to incomplete or perverse incentives for water-use efficiency and suggests that work to realign these incentives might help alleviate urban water shortage...

...Supplying the world’s urban dwellers with adequate water in 2050 will pose a challenge. More than 1 billion people will live in cities without sufficient available water within their urban extent, and these cities will need to invest in other ways to get water. It is a solvable problem but one that will take money, time, political will, and effective governance. For countries with moderate to high per-capita income, domestic investments seem likely to be adequate to find solutions to water shortage if sufficient political will can be found. However, for countries with low per-capita income, domestic investment is likely to be inadequate, and new financing institutions and commitments by the international community will be needed. These kinds of commitments are crucial if the world is to ensure that all urban residents can enjoy their fundamental human right to adequate drinking water...

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Alexander Hay

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Trevor Bacon posted 03 April 2011

Like energy, water is one of the most import issues facing the planet.  Archaeological evidence shows time and time again that civilisations are threatened or destroyed more often by the mundane than the extraordinary.
How well we do is dependent on the decisions that are being made today. Infrastructure is a long-term solution, often costly and the benefits are not seen if they are successful.  If we continue to with the short-term thinking that seems most often to define our politics things could turn out a little less well. So we may solve the liquid fuel problem by growing bio fuel but how may that impact on water use and food security. When we import anything from grain to cotton we are essentially importing water and that impacts on somebody else’s access.  As we know money talks and richer countries are now and will attempt in the future to solve these problems, not by spending more on these imported goods to finance infrastructure to create water sustainability but view the process more in terms of a mining exercise. 

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