Water covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface but for the most part it is composed of salt water and even the sweet one is not always accessible: only 0.3 is found in rivers and lakes and can be used by humans . The danger of tensions and conflicts linked to the access and control of scarce water resources for several years is at the center of the debate of analysts around the world. And many consider that the wars of our century will break out due to disputes over control of the so-called blue gold, especially in areas where it is scarce and supply depends on cross-border rivers and lakes.
Ismail Serageldin, a former vice president of the World Bank, warned in 1995: „If the wars of the 20th century were fought for oil, those of the 21st century will have as their object water“.
The Nile, the longest river in the world, is a source of tension between the various African countries it passes through. The controversy over the distribution of its waters was first addressed in 1929 when an agreement signed by Egypt, Sudan and Great Britain gave Cairo forty-eight million cubic meters of water, while in Khartoum it was four. The negotiation, however, excluded Ethiopia, which has since begun to claim its rights over river water. The potential conflicts do not concern only Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia, but also the other countries bathed by the Nile, considered not a simple stream, but the very reason for the existence of the nation.
Water is being fought: so far 507 conflicts linked to the control of water resources have been documented by the World Bank. Among many, the example of the civil war in Syria, where according to many experts the sequence of many years of drought has certainly contributed to the unleashing of the crisis. And at this rate, in an overpopulated planet and whose climate balance is changing in an unfavorable direction, there is the risk that the increasingly strategic water will be fought and died. By 2030 – according to United Nations data – even 47% of the world population will live in areas of high water stress. And even the CIA, in one of its documents, stated that „water issues are primarily a question of world stability“.
Although 70 percent of the planet Earth is covered by water – of which today is World Day – only a very small part, 0.5 percent, of fresh water is potentially usable for this fundamental resource for life. humans and their billions of farm animals. To get our hands on it, we fight militarily, but also economically: as has long been the case with agricultural land and mineral resources, states and companies are already at work to grab water. Taking it away from other states or – much easier – to local communities guilty of living near a resource of immense value. After the land grabbing, therefore, the hour of water grabbing has already played, a neologism that will probably become increasingly common in the future.
Conflicts over water are legal or military conflicts over the water supply. Conflict potential exists in the distribution, use, availability and pollution of potable fresh water.
While adequate access to clean water is unevenly distributed around the world, and many people therefore have to „fight“ for it, there is hardly any „fighting“ in the sense of warfare over water. Most of the disputes were resolved through negotiation and legal action.
Consider the last decade of water usage statistics from each of the G20 nations. Now, what these numbers tell us is that none of these countries directly measure how much water they use. These are all estimates and are based on obsolete models that do not take into account the climate crisis, nor do they take into account its impact on water.
In 2015, Chennai, India’s sixth largest city, was hit by the worst floods it had seen in a century. Today its water tanks are almost dry.
Now, everything is changing much faster than most countries monitor their national water data. And although there were predictions for serious water shortages, for example in Chennai, none of them could actually help us identify exactly when or where this would happen.
This is a new kind of problem, because the speed with which every aspect of our water cycle changes is accelerating.
It is difficult to imagine life without a meteorological service, but before modern weather forecasts we had no commercial air travel, it was normal for ships to get lost in the sea and a single storm could produce a food shortage. Then we had radio networks and telegraphic services, but more importantly, we began to follow the movement of the storms.
And this has laid the foundations for a global data collection effort, on which every family and every company depends. This was the result of a co-ordinated and coherent data collection as well as the result of the production of a culture that has seen greater value in openly evaluating and sharing everything it could discover about the risks we face.
A global meteorological service for water would help us predict water scarcity. It could help us detect contamination before it spreads. It could protect our supply chains, guarantee our food supplies and, perhaps above all, enable us to understand how much we depend on water.