War over water

There is no doubt of water’s importance to human life and indeed, life itself.  As well as the sun, there is almost no living organism (or none) that can survive without it.  Sustenance aside, humanity may well utilise water in every possible and probable way – harnessing the power of its flow for electricity, using it to regulate cars (or anything with an engine), create steam, grow crops and feed livestock, as well as for its most common every day uses.  Like many of the earth’s natural resources however, the current state of the world’s water supply is beginning to raise questions of its sustainability and the subsequent consequences of its ever-increasing scarcity.

Recent figures state that there are 1 billion people worldwide without access to clean drinking water, while more than twice as many don’t have an adequate supply of consumable water, or water for cooking and cleaning.  Lack of water is a massive factor in many of the world’s biggest problems – in particular, those of malnutrition, hunger and disease (which the world food programme says is causing 25 000 deaths per day).  The livelihood of the many millions of those who depend on agriculture to survive is also being affected.  As time passes – and some countries and continents are only getting drier – the situation revolving around water scarcity is becoming more and more perilous.

Only accepting scarcity causing conflict, and not accepting our own role in this, shuns the responsibility that we have to educate society and humanity on creating, maintaining and sustaining adequate means of ensuring that water is available and accessible to everybody.  This clearly isn’t happening – damage we have been doing to the environment and our water is simply unacceptable:  Runoff from highways  – which can add up to the equivalent of an oil tanker spill in a year; and sewage – where astonishing figures can be found: some noting that Britain’s entire sewage production in a day is in excess of 1 billion litres (some of this is still piped out to sea), are aspects of our every day lives that are polluting our water, almost without real knowledge of its extent and its consequences.

However large they are, even a slight change in the toxicity of our oceans and rivers can cause many lifeforms to suffer.  The New River at the California/Mexico border carries over 75 millions litres of raw sewage with it each day.  Theoretically, sewage could easily be broken down and even provide nutrients to our earth and its water.  Unfortunately though, all of the synthetic chemicals that are increasingly ever-present in our bodies make this impossible – the excess nutrients that end up in our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans can often cause algal blooms that can kill massive amounts of natural life and result in years of unbalance to an ecosystem.

And if our sewage dumping problems didn’t seem bad enough, there is also evidence that radioactive waste being dumped by French and British companies is being carried around the oceans water’s by its currents, and causing extraordinary levels of toxicity downstream.

Addressing these problems and limiting their damage should surely be a priority, rather than fighting over a resource that we seem to be slowly poisoning.  What’s more is that futile wars will not ensure the longevity of our earth’s water, and hence the human race.  War over water selfishly neglects future generations and a massive amount of compounding facets of their lives.

Areas where conflict is occurring more often are frequently being seen in developing countries with poor infrastructure.  Peru for example, sees more than 2 million people not having access to drinking water in the capital Lima.  To make matters worse, the majority of the population lives in the driest parts of the country where there is only around 1.8% of Peru’s fresh water supply.  Recognising that these issues cause problems which may lead to conflict, should also lead to the realisation that we are essentially shooting ourselves in the foot by neglecting our water supply.  By also effectively managing distribution, the rate of conflict (in Peru’s case, at a local level especially) can surely be drastically reduced.  The economic and social gains to be inherited are surely a distinguishable motivation for world leaders, further highlighting the importance of effective management and education.

While future conflict over water may affect the state of the world, water crises resulting from human damage, weather patterns (which are more often being affected by our own behaviour) and poor decision making will certainly impact our lives.  – Perhaps to a far greater extent.  In Australia recently, drought conditions were so severe for many parts of the country’s states that residents faced heavy restrictions (and fines for not following them) on water usage.  At one point in Queensland’s Brisbane, many dams were in single figures in terms of the percentage of their capacity remaining, and watering of lawns and hosing of paths was made illegal, while home owners were sent timers in the mail set to countdown four minutes – the recommended showering time to keep water usage per person down to 150 litres a day.  Managing our water in a more sensible manner will not only serve to sustain our supply of water, but it will also lessen the chance of conflict arising over its scarcity.

Educating against irresponsible, ineffective and inefficient water use – that is ultimately causing the demise of a resource that some allege we will be fighting wars over in the future (UN reports claim that access to water will be responsible for war in Africa in the next 25 years) – is a far more pressing concern when it comes to our survival.  Perhaps the irony in it all – in these times of technological advancement and forward thinking (some argue, that technology reaches a point where its benefits are outweighed by its harms) – is our lack of knowledge for natural remedies to our water problems.  In an ever-increasingly urbanising world, there is no longer room for ponds and tanks, or native trees – all of which will preserve our water’s supply. Whether or not this is a concern for the companies with millions to make from developing our world, is a question with an often unfortunate answer.

Soon enough too, the market for supplying water to under-privileged communities will also become a lucrative one, and just as wars have been fought in the past over land, oil and gas (for example) conflict over water is almost inevitable.  The pure necessity of water’s availability for our survival however, means that it is imperative that these wars (however and whenever they occur) result in sustainable, responsible management of this precious resource – lest we master our own demise.   What is more important – planning to manage and sustain our water supply, or planning to fight over its death?

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