Water scarcity is a significant global issue that could reshape international conflict dynamics. The depletion of life-sustaining resources, such as rivers and aquifers, has led to increased tensions and the emergence of water-driven conflicts.
Climate change is causing a significant decline in global water resources, posing a threat to stability and security. Water-driven conflicts can lead to displacement, loss of life, and economic turmoil. To address this, international society must research affordable solutions, establish water-sharing agreements, and adopt water-saving practices. Failure to do so could threaten global stability and modern civilization’s existence.
The Earth’s 70% water surface is covered with saltwater, with only 3% of it being fresh water. This leaves only 0.33 percent available to humans and other life forms. By 2025, two-thirds of the global population could live under water-stressed conditions, with 1.8 billion people in areas with absolute water stress.
The depletion of freshwater sources is causing international tension and increasing the risk of water wars in vulnerable regions, with factors like climate change, population growth, and shrinking water sources escalating the likelihood of future conflicts.
South Asia, particularly India and Pakistan, are facing water wars due to their dependence on rivers from Himalayan Glaciers. The melting ice has intensified Glacial Lake Outburst Floods and reduced frozen water deposits. The Indus Water Treaty (1960) has maintained a fragile equilibrium, but growing water shortages and India’s construction of new dams have strained relations between New Delhi and Islamabad.
In Central Asia, climate change and growing populations have intensified competition over shared water resources. The construction of upstream dams by Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan on Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers has raised concerns about downstream water availability for Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. The drying-up of the Aral Sea and gradual reduction of water in the Caspian Sea further exacerbate the water crisis.
The fertile land of the Ferghana Valley is heading towards desertification due to global warming, making it a flashpoint for water-based conflict. In April 2021, a border clash between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan over irrigation water distribution killed 40 people and displaced more than 30,000 residents.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is the most water scare region in the world, with 60% of fresh water resources flowing across international borders. The Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, critical sources of water for Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, have strained relations since 1960 due to factors like erratic weather patterns, global warming, increasing population, and uncoordinated water management projects. Instead of crafting an equitable and sustainable trans-border agreement, the risk of regional water-induced conflicts has increased substantially.
The Precarious State of Water Resources
The global water crisis is escalating due to a growing global population, urbanization, and changing consumption patterns. Nearly 2.2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water services and 4.2 billion live without sanitation.
Climate change, exacerbated by extended droughts, erratic rainfall, and glacier melting, has disrupted ecosystems and affected freshwater availability. In regions like the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, climate change exacerbates water scarcity, leaving millions vulnerable to water-related disasters. These statistics highlight the global dimension of the water crisis.
Water as a Catalyst for Conflict
Water scarcity has led to conflicts at various scales, including intra-state disputes in India, inter-state conflicts like the Nile River conflict between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, and global security implications. Intra-state conflicts often stem from disputes over water allocation, straining social cohesion and escalating ethnic, political, or economic tensions.
Inter-state conflicts, like the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia, raise concerns over downstream water flow, resulting in diplomatic standoffs. Control over crucial waterways like the South China Sea adds complexity to international relations.
Climate migration, caused by water scarcity and climate-induced disasters, may force millions to migrate, putting immense pressure on host countries and potentially sparking conflict over resources and territory.
Mitigation and International Cooperation
Water-driven conflict is a growing issue requiring immediate action from international organizations, governments, and civil society. Sustainable resource management, including efficient agricultural use and water-saving technologies, is crucial.
Conflict resolution mechanisms like international mediation and diplomacy can help defuse tensions. Addressing climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, transitioning to renewable energy, and promoting climate resilience are also essential. Prioritizing clean water access to marginalized communities can mitigate water scarcity and prevent conflicts.