Climate change is altering weather patterns, endangering the water supply of over half of humanity. New thinking is required to avoid things boiling over
31 July 2019
“IS THIS the beginning of the water wars?” It is a question New Scientist asked back in 2008, as drought forced the authorities in Barcelona to consider importing drinking water from over the border in France.
It seems a little hyperbolic now. But a decade ago, it was a common theme that the next big conflict would be over water. Today such talk has all but disappeared from public debate, subsumed into wider concerns about climate change.
The two issues are, of course, inseparable. Global warming is altering weather patterns, prolonging periods of drought in some places, while making rainfall more intense and unpredictable in others. To see the future, look to Australia: while New South Wales experiences a prolonged drought, in February parts of northern Queensland had monsoon conditions with 1.4 metres of rain in just two weeks.
It is a slippery slope from water stress to water conflict. More than 4 billion people – half of humanity – experience severe water scarcity for at least one month a year. The Water Conflict Chronology, published by the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, lists 279 instances of conflict over water since 2010.
With global water demand projected to rise by 20 to 30 per cent by 2050, new flashpoints will emerge. A paper last year by researchers at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre identified five major regions of concern: the river systems of the Nile, Ganges-Brahmaputra, Indus, Tigris-Euphrates and Colorado.
Ensuring everyone has access to clean, safe and reliable drinking water is in all our interests, as is carefully managing this most precious of resources, wherever we live in the world. Big, forward-thinking solutions such as technology that can draw drinking water from the air can be part of the solution (see “How to suck water from desert air and quench the planet’s thirst“). Researcher Omar Baghi’s drive came from personal experience of water shortage as a child.
We must do all we can to ensure future generations don’t go to war over water.