World: The Water Challenge

Water scarcity is likely to be the igniter of future regional instability and conflicts.




Why is it happening ?

In recent years, water and the lack of it have been the source of regional instability and conflicts. In 2018, the Water Conflict Map showcased multiple events that highlights water’s increased role in regional conflict and instability including: protest in Iran over mismanagement, corruption and lack of water that led to dozens of deaths; the terrorist attack on a water infrastructure in Syria; the death of eight people killed in the ongoing conflict over access to water between farmers and herders in Mali; and the Russian-led attack on the Donetsk Filter Station in Ukraine which affected water supply to 350,000 people; and many more water-related conflicts or tensions, occurring in the Mekong, the Sahel, Central Asia, and the Nile.


As the most important natural resource in the world, access to water is being disputed all around the globe. With climate change and a growing global population, together with inter- and intra-state conflicts, access to fresh clean water is decreasing. This reduced access to water toppled with water’s essentiality for life has led to disputes instead of transboundary water cooperation, mismanagement instead of good governance, and in the extreme case war instead of peace.



Why does it matter?

Water is a security and human rights issue and it relates to several of the UN’s 2015 Sustainable Development Goals, most specifically to SDG 6, which calls for clean water and sanitation for all people. Water composes 50-65 percent of the human body in an adult, and around 75-78 percent in infants.


For domestic purposes, water is used for cooking, drinking, bathing, washing; in agriculture, it is used for farming, gardening, fisheries; in industries for manufacturing; recreationally, for swimming, rafting, boating, surfing; and, it is also used for hydropower generation. Thus, it is no wonder that water is and should be regarded and defended as a human rights issue - human survival depends on it, both in terms of its consumption and its usage for food production and to generate energy.


On the other hand, looking at water as a security issue, it must be highlighted that since 2012, water crises have been recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the top five global risks in terms of impact. It was initially considered an environmental risk, and since 2015, it has been identified as a societal risk.


Water has an impact over food security, our health, energy security, climate change, socio-economic development, pharmaceuticals, pollution/marine litter, biodiversity, among several others.


What can you do about it?

At the individual level, there are several steps one can take to help combat the “water challenge” worldwide problem. The most direct and obvious is to conserve water at home by adopting some basic habits that can also save money. These include turning off the tap while brushing your teeth, or while washing hands and dishes, taking a shorter shower, using the dishwasher only when it is full or not using it at all, and installing a rain barrel.


Likewise, one can also take up the “Water Challenge”, which consists of drinking only water for two weeks, and giving up your coffee or cocktail. The overall aim is to put aside the money that would be spent on soda, juice, sports drink, alcohol, and donate it to The Water Project, contributing to the funding towards a new water project in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Sierra Leone or Uganda.


Holistically speaking, there must be greater cooperation on this issue. At the UNSC level, although the Netherlands, a non-permanent member, tried to push for this issue as a priority, it is yet to be addressed by the permanent members, let alone with a proactive approach, given the global dimension of the water crisis.


On a more positive note, there have been a few dispersed efforts. The UNECE Water Convention, promoting transboundary water cooperation, has opened for worldwide signature and ratification, it aims at supporting the enhancement of bilateral and regional dialogues, contributing to better water governance, transboundary water cooperation, and availability of this precious resource.


And, the EU has just approved new Council Conclusions on EU Water Diplomacy, last November, by which it shall assume an ever more active role, partnering up with other international organizations, NGOs, think tanks.


However, while these paper moves are yet to produce results, they hope that that through more and better-coordinated efforts at the international level, with the ambition and will of the UN, the EU and other nations the water challenge will be put forward as a priority in the security agenda with a due and effective response.

Ágata F. Swiatkiewicz is a senior contributor to The Intelligence Brief. 

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