e-book Water: The Final Resource: How the Politics of Water Will Impact the World

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Moreover, annual and national averages tend to mask local and seasonal differences. Colombia Comoros Congo, Dem Rep. People's Rep. Korea, Rep. Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao Peoples Dem. Water resources face a host of serious threats, all caused primarily by human activity.

They include pollution, climate change , urban growth, and landscape changes such as deforestation. Each of them has its own specific impact, usually directly on ecosystems and in turn on water resources. This damages aquatic ecosystems , impairs water quality and hinders inland shipping. Major pollutants include for instance organic matter and disease causing organisms from waste water discharges, fertilisers and pesticides running off from agricultural lands, acid rain resulting from air pollution, and heavy metals released by mining and industrial activities.

Mexico City, Parched and Sinking, Faces a Water Crisis

A striking example is the drastic reduction in size of the Aral Sea and Lake Chad. Little is being done to address the causes, which include poor water management practices and deforestation. In recent decades, much more water has been extracted from underground sources. The benefits of withdrawing groundwater are often short-lived, while the negative consequences — lower water levels and depleted resources, for example — can last a long time. Land and mountain glaciers are shrinking more rapidly in recent years.

Extreme weather events stemming from global warming, such as storms and floods, are likely to become more frequent and severe. However, based on current knowledge, scientists can only make general predictions about the impact of climate change on water resources. Meeting a continuous and ever increasing demand for water requires efforts to compensate for natural variability, and to improve the quality and quantity available. Today, this technique is used in Asia to replenish underground supplies.

It is relatively inexpensive and has the advantage of allowing local communities to develop and maintain the required structures themselves. Diverting surface water into the ground can help reduce losses from evaporation, compensate for variations in flow, and improve quality. Middle East and Mediterranean regions are applying this strategy. Dams and reservoirs have been built to store water for irrigation and drinking. Moreover dams can provide power and help control floods, but they can also bring about undesirable social and environmental impacts.

The Future of Water

Transferring water between river basins can also help alleviate shortages. China, for instance, already has major interbasin links, and is planning more. The impact of these projects on people and the environment must be monitored closely. Worldwide, non-potable water is used for irrigation and industrial cooling. Cities are also turning to water re-use to supplement drinking water supplies, taking advantage of progress in water treatment. The cost of this technique has dropped sharply, but it relies heavily on energy from fossil fuels and hence raises waste management and climate change issues.

At present, most water policy is still driven by short-term economic and political concerns that do not take into account science and good stewardship. State-of-the-art solutions and more funding, along with more data on water resources, are needed especially in developing nations. To assess the state of our water resources, we must fully appreciate the roles of different parts of the water cycle — such as rain, meltwater from glaciers , and so on. Otherwise, it remains difficult to develop adequate protection and mitigation strategies.

Poor water quality and unsustainable use of water resources can limit the economic development of a country, harm health and affect livelihoods. On a positive note, more sustainable practices are starting to be adopted. The traditional response to rising demand for water was to store surface water in reservoirs, divert flow to dry regions and withdraw groundwater. Now these methods are increasingly supplemented by water reuse, desalination and rainfall harvesting. Certain regions are even going to the extreme of exploiting non-renewable groundwater resources.

Some countries have programs to reduce demand and losses from urban water distribution systems but more efforts are necessary. However, this will involve changes in behaviour requiring education and political commitment.

Climate Change Impacts

Such efforts to conserve water and reduce demand are not only useful in regions where water is in short supply, they can also bring economic benefits in wetter regions. Decentralised approaches to water resource management that focus on river basins are increasingly pursued even across borders. Exchanging information between countries that share river basins will yield both economic and environmental benefits. Our water resources are under pressure.


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More reliable information is still needed regarding the quality and quantity of available water, and how this availability varies in time and from place to place. Human activities affect the water cycle in many ways, which needs to be understood and quantified to manage water resources responsibly and sustainably.

This summary is free and ad-free, as is all of our content. You can help us remain free and independant as well as to develop new ways to communicate science by becoming a Patron! Water conflicts occur because the demand for water resources and potable water can exceed supply, or because control over access and allocation of water may be disputed. Elements of a water crisis may put pressures on affected parties to obtain more of a shared water resource, causing diplomatic tension or outright conflict.

Besides life, water is necessary for proper sanitation , commercial services, and the production of commercial goods. Thus numerous types of parties can become implicated in a water dispute. For example, corporate entities may pollute water resources shared by a community, or governments may argue over who gets access to a river used as an international or inter-state boundary. The broad spectrum of water disputes makes them difficult to address. Local and international law, commercial interests, environmental concerns, and human rights questions make water disputes complicated to solve — combined with the sheer number of potential parties, a single dispute can leave a large list of demands to be met by courts and lawmakers.

As a resource, some consider water to be as valuable as oil , needed by nearly every industry, and needed nearly every day. Water-based industries are more visible in water disputes, but commerce at all levels can be damaged by a lack of water. International commercial disputes between nations can be addressed through the World Trade Organization WTO , which has water-specific groups like a Fisheries Center that provide a unified judicial protocol for commercial conflict resolution.

Still, water conflict occurring domestically, as well as conflict that may not be entirely commercial in nature may not be suitable for arbitration by the WTO. Certain lucrative areas, such as the Bering Sea , have a history of dispute; in Great Britain and the United States clashed over sealing fisheries, [17] and today Russia surrounds a pocket of international water known as the Bering Sea Donut Hole.

Conflict over fishing routes and access to the hole was resolved in by a convention referred to colloquially as the Donut Hole Agreement. Corporate interest often crosses opposing commercial interest, as well as environmental concerns, leading to another form of dispute. In the s, Lake Erie , and to a lesser extent, the other Great Lakes were polluted to the point of massive fish death. Local communities suffered greatly from dismal water quality until the United States Congress passed the Clean Water Act in Water pollution poses a significant health risk, especially in heavily industrialized, heavily populated areas like China.

In response to a worsening situation in which entire cities lacked safe drinking water, China passed a revised Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law. There is no single framework for dealing with pollution disputes local to a nation. According to Aaron Wolf, et all. They categorized these events as following:. A comprehensive chronology of water-related conflicts is maintained by the Pacific Institute in their Water Conflict Chronology, which includes an open-source data set, an interactive map, and full information on citations.

In this dataset, water conflicts are categorized as follows:. International organizations play the largest role in mediating water disputes and improving water management. Yet water conflicts that go unresolved become more dangerous as water becomes more scarce and global population increases. The UN International Hydrological Program aims to help improve understanding of water resources and foster effective water management. But UNESCO faces optimistic prospects for the future as water conflicts become more public, and as increasing severity sobers obstinate interests.

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The World Trade Organization can arbitrate water disputes presented by its member states when the disputes are commercial in nature. The WTO has certain groups, such as its Fisheries Center, that work to monitor and rule on relevant cases, although it is by no means the authority on conflict over water resources. Because water is so central to agricultural trade, water disputes may be subtly implicated in WTO cases in the form of virtual water , [27] [28] water used in the production of goods and services but not directly traded between countries.

Countries with greater access to water supplies may fare better from an economic standpoint than those facing crisis, which creates the potential for conflict. Outraged by agriculture subsidies that displace domestic produce, countries facing water shortages bring their case to the WTO.

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The WTO plays more of a role in agriculturally based disputes that are relevant to conflict over specific sources of water. Still, it provides an important framework that shapes the way water will play into future economic disputes. One school of thought entertains the notion of war over water, the ultimate progression of an unresolved water dispute—scarce water resources combined with the pressure of exponentially increasing population may outstrip the ability of the WTO to maintain civility in trade issues [29].

Water conflicts can occur on the intrastate and interstate levels.


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  • Interstate conflicts occur between two or more neighboring countries that share a transboundary water source, such as a river, sea, or groundwater basin.