An often overlooked aspect of climate change is water availability. As water becomes scarcer, people get more aggressive in protecting their water rights. In fact, the fight over who gets to use the world’s water has been a long, ongoing battle. So, who’s fighting over water? Well, water is arguably the world’s most important resource. Nearly all human activity, including commerce, transportation, sanitation, migration patterns, and survival are intrinsically linked to water. Yet, nearly 800 million people, or 11% of the global population lacks access to clean drinking water. Part of this comes from the distinction between human rights, economic viability, conflicting laws, and environmental concerns. This means that there is rarely a solution which satisfies all involved. According to one study, between 1950 and 2000, there were more than 1,800 international conflicts over water. This doesn’t even include domestic or internal disputes.
Generally, water disputes that deal with international commerce, like fishing or agriculture, are addressed by the World Trade Organization. They even have internal groups to deal with disputes. When it comes to domestic water management and resources, the UN steps in. However, they focus more on activism and education to prevent conflicts, rather than solving existing ones. For example, in the Middle East, the UN runs a program to train water professionals to avoid future disagreements over how water is internationally allocated. In particular, the Middle East is one of the most severe water crisis zones. It’s been said that future wars in the Middle East are more likely to be fought over water than over oil. With only 1% of the world’s freshwater available to about 5% of the global population, disputes over river basins have the potential to spiral out of control in an already volatile area. Primarily in question are the Euphrates, Tigris, and Jordan rivers.
For example, the Jordan river runs along Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. However, Israel has restricted Palestine’s access to the river as part of their ongoing conflict. Those who control water can use it to their political advantage. Another popular example is that of Bolivia’s privatization of water. In 2000, water rights in Cochabamba were given over to a private company, which proceeded to raise prices significantly. This caused protests and eventually riots during which a civilian was killed. Eventually the privatization was reversed. Water availability might be one of the most conflict prone issues the world has to deal with. Especially as populations continue grow while the amount of water continues to drop. Water shortages affect businesses, economies, and populations, and no country is immune to the effects of running out of water. Unfortunately, this complicated issue has no obvious solution outside of cooperation and compromise. One reason that the borders and rights are so complex is because of the value of the large bodies of water beneath them. To learn about the science of aquifers and how they were formed, check out this video from DNews.
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