A map of water stress by country by 2020.

Water Stress – Make Streamgauges Not War

The World Resources Institute used an ensemble of climate models and socioeconomic scenarios to rank future water stress globally. Notwithstanding the uncertainties inherent in their methodology, the results align with intuition; countries with a trend toward greater water demand than supply are setting themselves up for water stress. Tragically, many of the countries at the head of the list are already experiencing strife and turmoil and the study does not shy away from making an explicit connection.

Syria needs better hydrological information.

They suggest, for example, that drought and water shortages in Syria created disaffection for the reigning government that resulted in the 2011 civil war: “dwindling water resources and chronic mismanagement forced 1.5 million people, primarily farmers and herders, to leave their land, move to urban areas, and magnify Syria’s general destabilization.”

Fourteen of the 33 most water vulnerable countries are in the Middle East. There are already many challenges to peace in this region. What we don’t need now, or over the next couple of generations, are more reasons that cause people to suffer and hence be inclined to engage in conflict. Water stressed countries need better hydrological information.

Climate change is a challenge that we must learn to adapt to; chronic mismanagement of water resources is not. The surest path to change course from water over-use, mis-use, abuse to a secure and sustainable water future is to ensure that decisions are well-informed by relevant, reliable, and trustworthy hydrological information.

There is an unfortunate negative feedback loop between civil strife and water management.

Water resources monitoring and the subsequent development of sustainable water infrastructure does not happen during times of war. The result is that conflict has no hope of resolving the underlying issues. To paraphrase a 1960’s slogan – ‘make streamgauges not war’.

This is global problem not a regional one.

While some countries are not making needed investments to monitor and manage their water resources to enable sustainable development, the impact of these strategies will not be locally contained. There is already a migration crisis, which is a warning of the flood of climate refugees we can expect over the coming decades.

Water rich regions of the world can either choose to ignore the pre-conditions for social failure in water stressed regions of the world, or they can be pro-active and take steps to help develop needed water monitoring and sustainable water infrastructure. What is our responsibility for global water security and how can we better live up to that responsibility?

Featured Image Source: Water Stress by Country: 2040 | World Resources Institute

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