Without Water Security, Insecurity Persists
Two new reports released by the United Nations (UN) and the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) stated the most basic fact: Water security is fundamental to overall security. Without ample supply of clean freshwater for drinking, farming, industry and ecosystems, societies are destabilized.
The report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) deals with the many water challenges that people involved in agriculture and how to overcome them. The problems confronting farmers are significant, with about three billion people live in farming regions with high to very high levels of water scarcity and shortages, with nearly 50 percent of them limited in their water resources. Worldwide, agriculture is the biggest water user.
The FAO notes that for agriculture to become water sustainable, it means doing more with less. It also, means that upgraded infrastructure is necessary, like creating water-harvesting storage and efficient irrigation systems. Infrastructure advancement must be joined with farming practices such as planting drought-tolerant crops and mixing crop varieties and water conservation in rainfed-dependent areas. Driving it all must be a push towards improved water management through good governance, inclusive institutions and data collection and accessibility.
The second report is the delayed release of the unclassified US Nation Intelligence Council memo on water insecurity. As water resources dwindle from climate change and overuse while demand grows with human populations and economic development, concern from governments, intelligence agencies and military grows, too. Instability can arise in places with severe water crises such as water scarcity or pollution, in which the people don’t have access to clean water for agriculture or industry, let alone physical well-being.
The report highlights countries of concern, like Syria, Iraq and other arid Middle Eastern locales where water is scarce but conflict prevalent. Other countries mentioned are in disputes over water, like Ethiopia and Egypt over the Nile water and the controversial Grand Renaissance Dam project, as well as others in North Africa and South and Southeast Asia. More developed countries are discussed, particularly as it regards disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic.
In all, the report is nothing groundbreaking and reiterates what is already known. But as Peter Gleick concludes in his analysis,
A report on water security that is five months late is better than no report at all, but the growing threat of water-related violence around the world, including risks that directly and indirectly affect US economic and security interests, requires far more attention from the federal government than it has been given in recent years. There is an opportunity now for the next administration to give it the attention it deserves.