12 September 2012

Water—a matter of security

When we think about security in the global sense we tend to focus on terrorism although, according to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, Iran is now the most significant threat to security in the world. Of course it isn't, and terrorism is actually a trivial threat on the world stage. A number of other phenomena are vastly more threatening to people's security, including oppression by dictatorial regimes such as Syria's, diseases such as malaria, and of course the most ominous of all, global warming. And then there's the increasing scarcity of that basic necessity of life—water.

Not that we should need it, but we have received yet another warning about the looming global water crisis, this time in the form of a book entitled The Global Water Crisis: Addressing an Urgent Security Issue, released by The InterAction Council, a group consisting of former heads of state or government. The authors of the book are experts in a broad range of water issues.

They discuss how increasing water scarcity can affect our security in various ways including effects on human health, food and energy reliability, the sustainability of ecosystems, political stability, economic development, and of course the potential for migration and conflict. They also, on the hopeful side, discuss opportunities available in addressing the crisis.

They point out that in 2010, the UN General Assembly formally recognized the “right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.” This is of course a statement of the obvious, but is important nonetheless as formally establishing this basic need as a human right.

The book mentions some chilling facts including that lack of clean water and proper sanitation kills about 4,500 children every day. Compared to such facts, and the potential for future conflicts over water, the terrorist threat pales into insignificance. Sensibly, our efforts to achieve security for the world's people should focus on those areas that pose the greatest threat, and water scarcity is very high on the list.

1 comment:

  1. If anything this report is understated. I came across a UN report this morning dealing with the Asia/South Asia region that has 60% of the world's population but just 36% of global freshwater resources. A good deal of what does exist is severely contaminated by agricultural runoff and industrial discharge plus untreated human waste. This is particularly true in India and China.

    A couple of weeks back I came across a Chinese assessment that, by 2020, the country would consume every drop of freshwater it received. Now, with something in the range of 40% or more of that water so contaminated as to be unfit for human consumption or even agriculture, how will China begin to cope?

    With the headwaters of so many rivers located in India's Arunachal Pradesh and with both Indian and Chinese armies deployed along its disputed borders, this could be where the big Asian water war begins.