The CSS Blog Network

Central Asia: A Dangerous Thirst

Photo: UNDP in Europe and Central Asia/flickr.

This article is included in our ‘Conflict Hotspots 2014’ dossier which can be accessed here.

On the grand scale, Central Asia’s water problems have been well documented since the fall of the Soviet Union. Journalists wrote of the apparently inexorable shrinking of the Aral Sea, once one of the four largest lakes in the world; by 2007, at a tenth of its normal size, it had split up into several smaller bodies of water. An excellent view of these broad shifts can be found at Aqueduct’s Water Risk Atlas.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has warned of war if upstream countries Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan pursue power generation projects that might alter, or make open to political manipulation, the supply of water needed to irrigate Uzbekistan’s cotton crops. Public anger over a decline in basic services fuelled the unrest that led to the overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010. (See our report Decay and Decline.) Bakiyev sold water to Kazakhstan during a period of electricity shortages in his own country. Across the region corruption and neglect undermine confidence in government and contribute to political discontent. » More

Reducing the Risk of War with Water

Reservoir and intake tower behind the Katse Dam, Lesotho. Photo: Beest/Wikimedia Commons.

Water has become a hot button issue on the international stage. The fear of water scarcity and its implications for human security has been acknowledged by leaders and decision makers across the globe. For example, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has warned that “the consequences for humanity are grave. Water scarcity threatens economic and social gains and is a potent fuel for wars and conflict.” Yet, the challenges posed by water scarcity are a manifestation of the lack of management of resources rather than an actual physical shortage. So while conflict over water resources is possible in many parts of the world, the threat is not due to scarcity but mismanagement. This begs a question – can water bodies ever be jointly managed for equal benefit? We at the Strategic Foresight Group (SFG) believe so.

The Good News

According to the findings of our new report “Water Cooperation for a Secure World”, any two countries that are engaged in active water cooperation do not go to war. We are also convinced that if countries cooperate to ensure water supplies they are also far less likely to come to blows over ideologies, economic competition and other factors. Indeed, cooperation between states over water resources not only reduces the chances of war, but also enhances the prospect for social and economic development in other areas. » More

“Water Wars” Unlikely, But Failure of Cities Could Cause Conflict: Interview with Ben Crow

USS Bonhomme Sailors connect potable water to berthing and messing barge

USS Bonhomme Sailors connect potable water to berthing and messing barge. Photo: Official U.S. Navy Page/flickr.

Because of a broadening of actors involved in water security, and decreases in irrigation demand in some areas, so-called ‘water wars’ will likely be avoided, though the failure of governments to provide basic municipal services in cities could be a source of conflict, said Ben Crow, professor and department chair of sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“It’s quite possible that the failure of governments to provide access to water and sanitation, and, more broadly, to the rights of city living, could be a cause of instability and lack of government legitimacy,” he said. » More

World Water Week 2011

Queuing for water. Photo: Oxfam International/flickr

For many of us, water is such a fixture of everyday life that we take it for granted and even waste it — forgetting that more than 1 billion people in the developing world do not have access to it at all. Today, clean, safe drinking water is scarce. Though a basic human need, so many people around the world spend much of their time searching for it and, too often, failing to find it.

The 2011 World Water Week lasts from 21 to 27 August in Stockholm, Sweden– hosted and organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute. » More

Footprints in the Water

Valuing water, photo: Steve Wall/flickr

Yes, water. This seemingly endless resource that covers 70 percent of the Earth’s surface. A resource that in a profound way forms the very core of who we are and how we live and yet gets little attention and even less press – perhaps precisely because of its ubiquity. Water, we tell ourselves, rains down from the sky and shoots through our kitchen taps; water is everywhere and used for everything. We can’t possibly be leaving any kind of dent in its incessant flow, let alone calculate any ‘footprint’ associated with it?

Yet this omnipresence is profoundly misleading. The water that we can easily use and consume, the fresh water of this world, only makes up about 2,6 percent of total supplies. An increasingly scarce and contested resource particularly in the poorer, more drought-prone parts of this world, fresh water, many experts believe, will become the future frontier of clashes, conflicts and even wars. Papers warning of ‘water wars’ in the Nile river basin or in the Mekong Delta are increasingly common, indicating that the political science community, not just ecologists, is beginning to take note.

Beyond expert circles, however, the issue still struggles to make it to the center of popular consciousness and debate as a key, if not the key challenge of the future. Water and water scarcity are issues that elude most people’s thoughts because in richer countries at least we are rarely faced with its limits. However, nearly half of the world’s population already suffers from some form of water-related distress, either due to lack of access to safe drinking water (an estimated 884 million people) or because of unsafe sanitation practices (for more than 2.5 billion people). An estimated 3.5 million people die every year due to illnesses related to poor water or related hygiene standards. In an important, if still primarily symbolic move, the UN recently declared clean water a human right in an attempt to bring the issue to the forefront of public discussion. » More