Posted by: indiesfaves | January 19, 2011

The Future of Water excerpt from Maude Barlow’s Blue Covenant

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt of Chapter 5 in Maude Barlow’s latest book, Blue Covenant. She is touring with her book across the country; see Food and Water Watch for her full schedule.

The Future of Water

The three water crises – dwindling freshwater supplies, inequitable access to water and the corporate control of water – pose the greatest threat of our time to the planet and to our survival. Together with impending climate change from fossil fuel emissions, the water crises impose some life-or-death decisions on us all. Unless we collectively change our behavior, we are heading toward a world of deepening conflict and potential wars over the dwindling supplies of freshwater – between nations, between rich and poor, between the public and the private interest, between rural and urban populations, and between the competing needs of the natural world and industrialized humans.

Water Is Becoming a Growing Source of Conflict Between Countries

Around the world, more that 215 major rivers and 300 groundwater basins and aquifers are shared by two or more countries, creating tensions over ownership and use of the precious waters they contain. Growing shortages and unequal distribution of water are causing disagreements, sometimes violent, and becoming a security risk in many regions. Britain’s former defense secretary, John Reid, warns of coming “water wars.” In a public statement on the eve of a 2006 summit on climate change, Reid predicted that violence and political conflict would become more likely as watersheds turn to deserts, glaciers melt and water supplies are poisoned. He went so far as to say that the global water crisis was becoming a global security issue and that Britain’s armed forces should be prepared to tackle conflicts, including warfare, over dwindling water sources. “Such changes make the emergence of violent conflict more, rather than less, likely,” former British prime minister Tony Blair told The Independent. “The blunt truth is that the lack of water and agricultural land is a significant contributory factor to the tragic conflict we see unfolding in Darfur. We should see this as a warning sign.”

The Independent gave several other examples of regions of potential conflict. These include Israel, Jordan and Palestine, who all rely on the Jordan River, which is controlled by Israel; Turkey and Syria, where Turkish plans to build dams on the Euphrates River brought the country to the brink of war with Syria in 1998, and where Syria now accuses Turkey of deliberately meddling with its water supply; China and India, where the Brahmaputra River has caused tension between the two countries in the past, and where China’s proposal to divert the river is re-igniting the divisions; Angola, Botswana and Namibia, where disputes over the Okavango water basin that have flared in the past are now threatening to re-ignite as Namibia is proposing to build a threehundred- kilometer pipeline that will drain the delta; Ethiopia and Egypt, where population growth is threatening conflict along the Nile; and Bangladesh and India, where flooding in the Ganges caused by melting glaciers in the Himalayas is wreaking havoc in Bangladesh, leading to a rise in illegal, and unpopular, migration to India.

While not likely to lead to armed conflict, stresses are growing along the U.S.-Canadian border over shared boundary waters. In particular, concerns are growing over the future of the Great Lakes, whose waters are becoming increasingly polluted and whose water tables are being steadily drawn down by the huge buildup of population and industry around the basin. A joint commission set up to oversee these waters was recently bypassed by the governors of the American states bordering the Great Lakes, who passed an amendment to the treaty governing the lakes that allows for water diversions to new communities off the basin on the American side. Canadian protests fell on deaf ears in Washington. In 2006, the U.S. government announced plans to have the U.S. coast guard patrol the Great Lakes using machine guns mounted on their vessels and revealed that it had created thirty-four permanent live-fire training zones along the Great Lakes from where it had already conducted a number of automatic weapons drills due to fierce opposition, firing three thousand lead bullets each time into the lakes. The Bush administration has temporarily called off these drills but is clearly asserting U.S. authority over what has in the past been considered joint waters.

Similar trouble is brewing on the U.S.-Mexican border, where a private group of U.S.–based water rights holders is using the North American Free Trade Agreement to challenge the long-term practice by Mexican farmers to divert water from the Rio Grande before it reaches the United States.

 

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