Economics · International Affairs

Water Security in the 21st Century

Water is one of the fundamental aspects for life on Earth and an inalienable substance for all living beings. However, with the influence of climate change, global warming and the effects of the ever-changing technological and industrial advancements we have come to endanger our water resources, which are vital for our prosperity, survival and stability. Not only do we threaten our lives as humans but also, harm the ecosystems like the Mangroves in India, the Coral Reefs in Australia, the Amazon rainforest in South America, etc., so much so that in the 21st century the mismanagement, pollution and unequal distribution of water resources fuels the debate that World War III will be the result of water shortages and the absence of clean drinkable water. Not to mention that water terrorism is also a serious concern and is thought to rise in the recent future. About 80% of the global population confronts high levels of threat to water security.[1] But what do we understand by the term water security and how can we overcome this issue?

According to two prominent figures in their field – D. Grey and C. W. Sadoff, Water Security is “the availability of an acceptable quantity and quality of water for health, livelihood, ecosystems and production, coupled with an acceptable level of water-related risks to people, environments and economies”.[2] The most vulnerable are the poorest, living in areas with difficult drainage and hydrology, around slopes and terrains not suitable for irrigation and agriculture, etc. But if earlier water insecurities were a local problem, now due to globalisation, international trade, and climate change it has become a global problem.

Is it the job of the governments or individuals and societies to solve their water issues?

The issue of water security has been the subject of a number of governments’ agendas and policies, has been the issue of unprecedented number of scientific research programs. Traditionalists believe that Governments should only look after the security of their citizens, and not other aspects and commodities, like water. However, due to the changes in the mind-set of international community, environmental security has come to occupy a central position in politics and policies. Yet, because water is divided into multiple agencies, e.g. water companies controlling, cleaning or distributing to the public, it makes it harder for Governments to control or regulate it, especially if they lack the necessary infrastructure or the information to undertake the job. “Movement towards secularization of water resources, as has been done in many Middle Eastern countries, is problematic [as they marginalize certain groups of the population]. Experiences on the upper Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, the Indus, and the Colorado in the United States abundantly illustrate this fact.”[3] So, as Macquarrie further suggests, instead of making the state responsible for the water security, it may be better managed on a local level, with collaborations at the regional, national, and international levels. Salman MA Salman, a ‘water lawyer’ for 30 years believes that with political will and an inclusive river basin management organisation that will have real power and authority to make decisions will be the best option to overcome inter-state conflicts that beam from water security issues.[4]

According to the World Economic Forum 2011, water insecurity has been identified as one of the world’s greatest threats with a $400 billion annual ‘risk to businesses’. Studies carried out by the World Bank have shown that decentralization of water institutions will result in a better management system and have positive outcomes for all actors. At the Second World Water Forum in 2000, it was agreed that the best method for water management and security was “integrated water resources management” and that the delegations agreed to collaborate with actors at different levels and also follow the UN system.[5]

Dr Chad Staddon of the University of the West of England opines that water security heavily depends on the individuals too and we are all responsible for our actions. He suggests that the aggregate of the individual behaviors and decisions could make the most impact. This could be done my measuring our water usage, calculate our water footprint using online applications or just paying attention, making knowledgeable choices, etc. In his opinion, Governments “rarely lead, they generally follow, but only once the direction of travel is firmly established.”[6] These arguments indicate that water security lies at the individual level, starting from the bottom and ending with the international organisations.

Sustainable water resources and supplies is something that we all should strive to achieve together. Will wars occur due to water problems? It is highly unlikely. However, due to unequal distribution and over/under allocation of water resources across borders it may give rise to political tensions among neighbouring states, like in the case of Indus River dispute between India and Pakistan, the Colorado River dispute between USA and Mexico, etc. Water terrorism is also a potential threat. As Peter H. Gleick has listed in his paper “Water and Terrorism” it is something that can be traced back to 4500 years and has occurred throughout history; yet now it is becoming more advanced, with terrorists attacking water plants by using biological and chemical substances or simply attacking the infrastructure. Cyber terrorism has become a method too, for example in the case of Queensland, Australia in April 2000 where “police arrested a man for using a computer and radio transmitter to take control of the Maroochy Shire wastewater system and release sewage into parks, rivers and property.”[7]

As the now popular saying goes: ‘We live on this planet as if we have another one to migrate to’. It may sound funny but it is true since we mistreat our planet and yet, are not ready for the repercussions. We need to change to avoid the natural or man-made calamities. The best way to achieve this goal is to make smarter choices, cooperate and collaborate together at local and global levels, to include “joint fact-finding, trust building, conflict prevention and resolution, and pursuits of social justice,” to be open to dialogue, knowledge exchange and partnership building including negotiation and arbitration law.[8]

By: Tatevik Tadevosyan

References

[1] Vörösmarty, C. J., McIntyre, P. B., Gessner, M. O., Dudgeon, D., Prusevich, A., Green, P., et al. (2010) “Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity” Nature, 467, 555−561

[2] David Grey and Claudia Sadoff (2007) “Sink or Swim? Water security for growth and development” Water Policy 9(6):545-571

[3] Patrick Macquarrie (2008) “Water Security in the 21st Century” http://www.e-ir.info/2008/04/02/water-security-in-the-21st-century/

[4] “A Blueprint for Managing Water Conflicts” (2012) The International Relations and Security Network http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Articles/Special-Feature/Detail/?lng=en&id=153955&contextid774=153955&contextid775=153953&tabid=1453350824

[5] “Ministerial Declaration of The Hague on Water Security in the 21st Century”, The Hague (2000) http://www.worldwatercouncil.org/fileadmin/world_water_council/documents/world_water_forum_2/The_Hague_Declaration.pdf

[6] Dr Chad Staddon “Water consumption and behavior change” (2015) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-g-_GRpREE4

[7] Peter H. Gleick (2006) “Water and Terrorism” http://www2.pacinst.org/reports/water_terrorism.pdf

[8] “Facing 21st Century Challenges on Water Security and Peace” (2013) UNESCO-IHE https://www.unesco-ihe.org/facing-21st-century-challenges-water-security-and-peace

Leave a Reply