One of my favorite University professors was my history teacher, Dr. Raymond Smith at Central Washington. He said history only teaches us that the events that are most historically defining tend to be the one’s whose emergence was least noticed.
I was thinking about Dr Smith’s words as I walked through my garden. Darn it, my garden needed more sun not rain! Water, water everywhere best describes the month of August of 2008. It seems so abundant. But, what if our geopolitical future is not a world shortage of oil, but water? What is our role nationally and locally? If local and regional governments have demonstrated the ability to lead in global emissions reduction, can we lead in water resource management? Can we develop a new economy around water resource technologies like we’ve done in computer, bioscience and nanotechnology?
I think we can and should be a leader. In July, King County entered into a ‘twinning’ agreement with Thailand Wastewater Management Authority. The agreement was an Eco-Asia program funded to United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that promotes improved access to clean water and sanitation.
Why clean water? Well, water conflicts have already led to war. The Six Day War between Israel and its neighbors was a water resource conflict. Lilach Grunfeld, in her Spring 1997 case study on the value of the Jordan rive wrote “Following more than 10 years of silent tensions, the conflict flared again. The Syrian government, inside its borders, attempted to divert the Banyas River, which is one of the Jordan River’s tributaries. This was followed by three Israeli army and air-force attacks on the site of the diversion. These incidents regarding water issues led up to the outbreak of the Six-Day War in June 1967 between Israel against Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. During that war, Israel captured the Golan Heights and the site of the Banyas headwaters, which enabled Israel to prevent the diversion of the Banyas by the Syrians. Israel also gained control of the West-Bank, the Jordan River as well as the northern bank of the Yarmouk.”
Since 1999 United Nations officials have openly discussed where water and resource wars will occur. Klaus Toeper, former director-general of the United Nations Environment Programme felt the need for “monitoring worldwide reserves of drinking water and establishing cooperative agreements for the use of bodies of water, including groundwater.” He also calls for “…economic instruments to stimulate use of new technologies to promote water conservation.”
Kevin Watkins director of the Human Development Report Office at the UN Development Program, and Anders Berntell, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute write, “Water conflicts are invariably shaped by local factors. But the sheer scale of these conflicts makes it impossible to dismiss them as isolated events. What we are dealing with is a global crisis generated by decades of gross mismanagement of water resources.”
Watkins and Berntell further note, “The facts behind the crisis tell their own story. By 2025, more than two billion people are expected to live in countries that find it difficult or impossible to mobilize the water resources needed to meet the needs of agriculture, industry and households.”
The conflict in Sudan has become daily headline news. In the Foreign Affairs article “Sudan’s Perfect War” Randolph Martin says, “In the longer term, southern Sudan’s economic interests are likely to lie in the north. The oil boom may last only 30 to 40 years. In the not-too-distant future, southern Sudan’s real strategic value will be its water and agricultural resources. Neighboring Egypt — which has seen its own population double to 70 million in the last 20 years — depends for water on Sudan.”
In an Age of Global Warming it is becoming increasingly clear that water will be this century’s defining issue. We will need entrepreneurs, academicians, technologist, investors, and political leaders that sense these subtle, yet profound, trends and seize the opportunity to grow our 21st century economy. It is imperative that we add water resource technologies to the mosaic of other high tech industries of this region’s New Economy.
Water is fundamental for life and health. The human right to water is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity. It is a pre-requisite to the realization of all other human rights. –The United Nations Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights, Environment News Service, 27 Nov 02
- World Water Council
- United Nations: The power of Water
- King County in ‘twinning’ agreement with Thailand Wastewater Management Authority
- Environmental Cooperation-Asia (ECO-Asia)
- Water War Flashpoint Map
- World Water Assessment Programme
- CIA – The World Factbook — Field Listing – Environment
- War Over Water Predicted By United Nations Environment Official
- Israel – Territory Occupied in the 6-Day War
- Jordan River Dispute: Lilach Grunfeld, Spring 1997
- Fact File: The Six-Day War
- Sudan’s Perfect War
- Environmental degradation and conflict in Darfur: implications for peace and recovery
- Water In the Middle East Conflict
- Water in Conflict
- Common Dreams
Kevin Watkins is director of the Human Development Report Office at the UN Development Program. Anders Berntell is executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute.