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Water Scarcity and Warfare

by cskendrick Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 02:57:48 PM EST

Two years ago, I started a short series of diaries on the apparent relationship between countries with rapidly-diminishing water resources and their likelihood in a given historical period to be either at war, or near war, or at risk of one or both.

The first cut defined, more or less, the theater of conflict for the so-called Global War on Terror.

the second installment applied this same approach to the year 1940...and defined the battle space for World War II

At which point, I became confident in applying the same method as a forecasting tool, the results of which suggested that even if there is no significant degradation in the global environment, this was going to be a rough century.

Two years later, I revisited the speculative findings, by checking on developments, with a particular interest in areas I'd not seen as having ongoing war issues at the time.

Oops. A lot of them did then, and those that did not do now.

The relationship is even stronger than I realized.

Water, the Sine Qua Non of Life

Water is a nonnegotiable requirement for life, never mind economics, and it's not an easily-transferrable resource, either. Either you live where the water is, or you accept constraints on your numbers or your choices as a society.

For some reason, some societies accept neither; others so swiftly outgrow their ecological limits that they have no choice other than sudden, significant downturn in both quality of life, population and power relative to neighboring states with water...or to acquire water from neighbors, by force if necessary.

A lot of rationalizations for war are bandied about, have always been bandied about, always will be bandied about. Being parched is not the exclusive reason for countries falling on one another with bloodthirsty abandon.

Still, it's unsettling to see just how much this one explanation can tell us about where the wars are.

The 2004 Analysis: Where the Water Wars Are

Following is a list of countries projected to experience (a) the largest adverse change in population as a percentage of the number of people the local water supply can support, and (b) where that percentage exceeds a threatening threshold (calculated to be 91.2%, half a standard deviation above the global mean as of 2010).

These were my original projections of danger areas for the rest of the decade. Two years ago, quite a few were already either at war, or right next door to trouble:


Ongoing War

Peripheral to Ongoing War

Country    Proj. pop/capacity %, 2010
Kuwait               104.6%
Gaza Strip           114.3%
Chad                  94.0%
Uganda               101.8%
Eritrea              107.4%
Mauritania            94.9%
Comoros              103.5%
Benin                 94.9%
Iraq                  92.5%
Sudan                 93.9%
Burkina Faso          94.2%
Syria                 99.8%
Afghanistan          105.5%
Burundi              102.4%
Ethiopia             105.2%
Tanzania             106.9%
Djibouti             108.6%
Togo                 104.9%
Pakistan             101.6%
Yemen                130.6%
Philippines           93.7%
El Salvador           99.6%
Tajikistan           106.1%
Oman                 131.1%
Kyrgyzstan            97.1%

As a quick perusal will reveal, this is not a comprehensive list of all war-risky locations on the planet; for example, where's China (which has incredible water issues) or North Korea (which is a perennial contender in the Most Likely To Start World War III Contest)? China's population growth is no longer so acute; the scale of water issues is severe, but the perception is that China has the time and resources to mitigate the risk.

As for North Korea, well, no deterministic model (especially one so simple as this one) can capture every idiosyncrasy.

Some Questions Raised

A friend of mine who is a political science professor pitched a sortie of questions my way, when I brought this apparent relationship to his attention. (I've updated some of the answers to reflect the subsequent two years of experience, most of it in Iraq)...

1. Is this a temporaneous finding, unique to right now?

Uh, no. Water is the sine qua non of life. It has a vast array of agronomic and industrial applications, for which there are no inexpensive substitutes, and for many roles it is water, or nothing. People have been fighting over water across time, across country, across culture, for water is not only valuable. It is also power. And there is not shortage of exemplary violent disputes over that latter commodity.

2. What is it about water scarcity that gets people's dander up?

When water is scarce, a host of other goods become more expensive, and water is a commodity that cannot be easily done without. Those who can lay claim to water access at the expense of the weak rarely hesitate to assert their dominance. This is the ultimate form of wealth and power disparity; unequal distribution of life. All forms of inequity generate resentment and potential for spontaneous violence, and increase recourse to violence across other, more conscientiously-maintained societal cleavages such as race, class, ethnicity, lifestyle and religious affinity.

In extremis, all such disputes are set aside by the Hobbesian contest for a day's water ration. When merely scarce, water agitates all other forms of conflict and resentment, reducing the room for negotiation and compromise.

3. Are there sociological and economic variables that raise or lower sensitivity to this 'water-war' relationship?

Scarcity of an indispensible resource provides a challenge for the legitimacy of any regime. It is likely that autocratic and other inequitable social orders face more acute challenge from water scarcity, more social unrest.

On the other hand, scarcity of water and firm control of water resources by a repressive regime would strengthen the its hand, as it would enjoy yet another form of life or death control over its subjects.

Democracy and water scarcity. It is difficult to see how a free and representative polity could persist with inequitable distribution of water. Either a republic would assert fair rationing, or fall to tyranny, or simply fall to pieces.

I imagine free societies can weather moderate long-term or severe short-term drought better than nondemocracies, as there is more say held by those affected by public policy choices in the choices being made. However, past a certain threshold I do not envisage a free society persisting, and either tyranny, anarchy, or civil war as the parts of society set against one another over control over what water resources remain.

4. How does water scarcity translate into increased probability of conflict?

To restate from 2. - When merely scarce, water disputes agitate all forms of conflict and resentment, making the room for negotiation and compromise more constrained in all cases. The precise mechanics of this...need more work. I'll update as I collect my thoughts.

5. What options are there, to make the world less war-prone?

The Romans had a good idea -- bring the water to where it is scarce, from where the water is plentiful. Some aqueducts ran for scores of miles. Modern-era, large-bore pipelines run for thousands of miles. I suspect we can make something happen, to bring water to where it is required, and provide an additional means of revenue for those countries willing to trade in water. Collective water projects would raise mutual tolerance levels, expand the negotiating space by magnitudes, introduce creative solutions to heretofore insoluble disputes over land and sovereignty, and be a win-win gambit. Hey, even Halliburton could make some money doing something constructive for a change. But if they overcharge us, we'll have to slap 'em around. :)

6. While we are on the topic - Is scarcity of water an impairment to both the introduction and the sustenance of democracy?

I see introducing democracy into a region where there is emergent water scarcity to be a dicey proposition. I see introducing democracy into a region where there is existing water scarcity to be a very, poor bet, if such efforts do not focus on improving water infrastructure first. It is no accident that the U.S. army has made getting Iraq's water supply up to specs its top civic reconstruction priority; they know that without fresh water, they can kiss free elections good-bye, no matter what the timetable.

And you can rate the relative success of the Iraq project on where the water is most/least plentiful. Check it out on a map; it is no accident that northern Iraq and extreme southern Iraq (near Basra and the delta marshlands) are relatively well-off, while the heavily-populated (and far drier) central region is not. Areas within the Sunni triangle with good water are relatively passive (Tikrit, never shortchanged under Saddam, is sullen but you don't hear much about it). And areas outside that region with thirst issues (the entirety of Al-Anbar, for example) are quite dangerous places to visit. There is no appropriate analysis of the strategic picture in Iraq without taking water into account.

The 2006 Do-Over: Yep. The Water Scarcity-War Relation's Even Stronger Than I Thought

Okay, let's take a new look at our prediction list from 2004....


Ongoing War

Peripheral to Ongoing War

Country    Proj. pop/capacity %, 2010

Kuwait               104.6% just coming off a sucession crisis, Breathless concerns about Iranian sleeper cells, Shia minority in Kuwait tolerated, but circumstances may change

Gaza Strip           114.3% Generic Google Search on "Gaza Strip"...pick your poison

Chad                  94.0% ACTIVATED VOA: Concerns over violence, UN Aims to curb Darfur spillover, keyword search: Chad Darfur

Uganda               101.8% ACTIVATED Ugandan defense forces have been operating from bases in southern Sudan though that might be changing. This is less in concern over the Darfur genocide than Ugandan rebels operating out of Sudan. Uganda's also noted as donating military aid to Somalia's government-in-internal-exile. Uganda was hip-deep in the Congo War, though officially that contest is over.

Eritrea              107.4% ACTIVATED keyword search Eritrea Ethiopia; a proxy war is emerging in Somalia between these two enemies.

Mauritania            94.9% ACTIVATED US Special Forces have been conducting counterterrorist ops in the Sahara for some time. Then there's the 2005 coup d'etat, hot on the heels of a failed coup in 2003, and, wow! It turns out that Mauritania has oil, which often accompanies an absence of freedom when found in developing societies.. Mauritania also has something else that is statistically bad for freedom and stability: slavery.

Comoros              103.5% EXACERBATED Volcanic eruptions on Grand Comore Island have poisoned much of the existing water supply. The island archipelago nation is known as a coup-prone country, the most recent successful one being the 1999 overthrow; there have been two failed attempts since. An Islamist-minded president was elected in May 2006, the first time a Comoran(?) head of state attained power through peaceful means.

Benin                 94.9% MITIGATED Benin is unusually dry, being situated in a leeward location relative to the water-bearing westerlies that cross the Guinea Coast. One sees a similar thing in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean, where you can find cactuses and patches of desert. Still, we have here a Carnacki-esque Happy Story of improved water infrastructure.

Iraq                  92.5% EXACERBATED by, you guessed it, the war. Iraq needs $15BN to fix water infrastructure. As for how the war proceedeth... keyword search Iraq, uh, you tell me.

Sudan                 93.9% keyword search: Sudan Darfur EXACERBATED, AND HOW. The situation in East Africa is getting worse by the year. Relief organizations warn of displacements on the order of 300,000 persons. And while Sudan and Ethiopia are trying to mend fences after a history of tensions, The Oromo Liberation Front, operating out of Sudan, does not help much.

Then there's the Sudanese perception that the trouble in South Sudan is Uganda's civil war, relocated. And, last but not least, we have the Sudan government insisting that Ethiopia remove its troops from Somalia..

There is speculation that Somalia's powerful Islamist faction, which just threw out a peace deal with the Ethiopian-backed government, will be playing host to a party that some Arab commentators fear will turn into a region-wide religious war.

Involved, directly or directly, are nations on both sides of the Red Sea. The Ugandan government is seeking permission to deploy its army to Somalia from its parliament.

And, just so you don't feel left out, the United States has 1,800 troops in Djibouti and there's one report of US troops sighted on Kenyan-Somalian frontier. No problem, though; No plans for US invasion of Somalia.

Burkina Faso          94.2% EXACERBATED; Ongoing tensions with neighbors, The Ivory Coast in particular, over guest laborers. In the case of Ivory Coast -- try three million of them -- 20% of the country's entire population. The particular trouble, though is Drought and recourse to contaminated water by thirsty people; it is estimated that 60% of the country lacks access to sufficient water. Then there is the matter that Burkina Faso is a favorite hunting ground for slavers, who steal children for the cocoa plantations.

Syria                 99.8% ACTIVATED Syria and Jordan in Water War, Turkey in position to cut off water to Syria and Iraq. And if that was not enough, the Shia contingent of the Lebanese government resigned in protest over talks to obtain for Hizbollah and Amal more say in the government ahead of investigations into the assassination of former PM Hariri, which is thought by many to have been a Syrian plot. Tensions between Israel and Syria remain very high, as do between the United States and Syria, currently over Accusations of arms smuggling to Hizbollah. Not to miss an opportunity to insult and alienate everyone in the room, John Bolton accused Lebanon of covering for Syria.

Afghanistan          105.5% EXACERBATED, AND HOW. Afghanistan is currently suffering a drought, as well as an ongoing war that is getting competitive in its deadliness with the gratuitous conflict in Iraq. An estimated 2.5 million are threatened, mostly attributable to two decades of nonstop conflict destroying existing water infrastructure, and preventing the increase in same to accommodate Afghanistan's rapidly growing population.

How bad is bad? An estimated 50-80% of cereal production in northern Afghanistan was lost this year. Drought in subsistence/agrarian economies equals famine.

As for the ongoing war, The Taliban offensive has surprised the Americans. Fighting has been Very intense, as NATO forces have pushed an offensive of their own.

Burundi              102.4% EXACERBATED Burundi has the quadruple-whammy of being the poorest country on the planet, severely overcrowded, almost completely deforested, and one of the most conflict-prone countries in the world. And from my thinking this is no accident. Similar neighbor Rwanda only escapes this list on account Rwanda already experienced the worst of its meltdown (read: holocaust) in the prior decade.

Now, for some good news, a cease-fire was signed between the government and the rebel FLN was signed in September 2006, and African Union peacekeepers (read: South African troops, as likely) are being requested to help implement that agreement.

Perhaps this is an auspicious beginning. However, the structural reasons for violence will have to be addressed right away.

Ethiopia             105.2% (See Sudan...Eritrea...Somalia.) As an additional: Parts of Ethiopia are currently suffering from too much water -- flooding -- and The US Air Force is flying relief to Ethiopia, which has been courted as a new ally as the shifting geopolitics of the War on Running Out of Oil, I mean, the War on Terror look to make the lower Red Sea region more important.

Tanzania             106.9% EXACERBATED...by Privatization An interesting sub-thread to farming out all these links has been the topic of water works privatization, and the failures of same. El Salvador is one glaring case, and Tanzania is the other, in which a debt-forgiveness scheme, so long as Tanzania privatized its water works, fell through as millions of customers in the large capital city of Dar es Salaam experienced a degradation in services.

The project was intended to be a model for subsequent waterworks initiatives elsewhere. Boy, was it -- a bad model. It speaks volumes that few places in the America have private water companies. It makes a person wonder why a massively-validated market failure should fare better in a capital-scarce circumstance.

Elsewhere, on the island of Zanzibar (also part of Tanzania), Unnecessary use of water has been banned indefinitely since January 2006. Zanzibar has been host to persistent

While Tanzania is relatively stable...so far...the country has a tendency to become embroiled in neighboring conflicts, either as a combatant, an opportunist, or a host for other countries' refugees. Among the most prominent conflicts was Tanzania's war with Uganda under Idi Amin, which resulted in the infamous tyrant's ouster. The two countries became allies as a result, the Tanzanians developing a reputation as good invaders to have around, almost akin to the traditional (if currently distressed) reputation of the Americans.

Tanzania happens to have an interest in the developing Somalia conflict due to some ethnic affinities between parts of the Somali people and those of Tanzania, as well as having been invited to participate in the US-led Contact Group on Somalia.

Djibouti             108.6% (See Sudan...Eritrea...Somalia.)

Togo                 104.9% ACTIVATED and EXACERBATED Togo's ecological situation is comparable to that of Benin -- dry tropical. Also, an election crisis in 2005 sparked fears of civil war, and the circumstances of distrust have not fully changed, and Togo's transition to democracy is well and truly stalled, with neither government nor opposition trusting the other. Political violence has killed at least hundreds and generated tens of thousands of refugees. Incidents of police brutality and press intimidation are reported; including this very recent instance in which the president's own brothers beat up a journalist. Talk about hands-on government!

Pakistan             101.6% EXACERBATED Civil opposition, even violence, directed against the Musharraf regime is very much on the uptick.

Musharraf, has survived repeated assassination attmpts, but the latest attempt was made by young officers in the Pakistani Air Force, which calls into question Musharraf's hold on his own armed forces.

Also, there are conflicting accounts of the role the Taliban played In a suicide attack that killed 42 Pakistani Army recruits, a reprisal for an October 30 raid that destroyed a madrassa, killing 82.

Still, there is some good news, should the plan to invest $1.1. billion to improve the Pakistani surface irrigation network goes through. Of course, it takes peace to make peace, and if Pakistan falls into civil war, this plan might fall by the wayside.

Yemen                130.6% EXACERBATED. Yemen is contributing aid to the besieged Somalian government. Also, the country maintains a precarious balancing act between support for the Washington-led War on Terror and widespread popular support for Islamist causes.

As if that were not enough, clashes with a Shia sect called the Zaydi only add to the fun. Oh, little tidbit; the Zaydi are purportedly Iranian backed.

And, last but not least...Al Qaida, those people who weren't in Iraq before Bush invaded, made two foiled attacks on oil facilities in Yemen in September per a note received October 13, but reporting this news was dated for November 7...and then only by a few American vendors (CBS, WaPo), and  per the Washington post version, released at 6:55PM EST on the night of the election, when I imagine there was significantly more attention being paid to incoming results.

Philippines           93.7% EXACERBATED Oh, it's a lot rougher in the Philippines than the American media know, therefore you do not know. Per the BBC the past two years have choice.

First, there's the resumption of a hot war with

the New People's Army -- Communists, in case the name didn't give it away.

Then you have Abu Sayyaf, an Islamist organization, still going strong.

However, the worst problem is that water rationing has begun in the Philippines, as distribution, ecological degradation, and rapid population growth challenge the ability of the country to take advantage of its natural water wealth.

Other contentions in Philippine society include ongoing displeasure with the Arroyo government, expressed most clearly by the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny, and a subsequent (some maintained contrived) Coup Attempt in February 2006.

Perhaps the most insidious development is the proliferation of private armies, sometimes affiliated closely -- some might say too closely -- with local politicians. The premise is to boost security and supplement regular armed forces against the persistent Communist and Muslim insurgents in the east and south, respectively. Critics (hand raised) decry the danger of warlordism; it is not so far to go from where the Philippines is now to where Somalia is now.

There is concern that the recruitment of civilian militias is cover for something far more dastardly -- Intimidation, even assassination, of critics of the Arroyo regime.

This isn't looking good.

El Salvador           99.6% EXACERBATED El Salvador's problem is contaminated water, both from pollution and tectonic activity, both quakes and vulcanism, that can contaminate or destroy aquifers. Then, of course, there's the poverty, and some good news -- such as this USAID project, to provide direct water connections to the most needful households.

How many need clean water? 90% of El Salvador's water is contamined, 50% of the population drinks contaminated water.. That's considered bad.

Presently, conditions in El Salvador appear stable. But we're going to keep an eye on things, just in case.

Tajikistan           106.1% EXACERBATED Severe water shortage hits Tajikistan; this is part and parcel of the severe drought striking Afghanistan and, in fact, the entirety of Central Asia, which is experiencing disputes already; Tajikistan is choosing to revitalize old Soviet hydroelectric projects to both generate electricity and control over headwaters that flow downstream to larger (and more militarily powerful) states such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Tajik relations with the latter have deteriorated somewhat, though that might be overplayed as all the Central Asian republics (save Turkmenistan) are part of the Sino-Russian-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization which lists as one of its purviews joint use of water resources. One imagines the Chinese are mostly concerned with obtaiing access to Russia's unmatched freshwater reserves (unmatched save, perhaps, by Brazil), though any deal that quenches the thirst of the PRC and raises income for the Federation would stand to benefit the smaller members of the alliance, as well.

Oman                 131.1% EXACERBATED Oman's water woes have been seen coming for a while. Sue Hutton writes of serious shortfalls and ambitious water works projects by the Sultanate. Gulf News describes the shortage as severe. The chief threat is population growth; never a lush land, Oman's population has doubled since 1987, and this poses severe challenges in a country that, simply put, may well be tapped out, unless a cost-effective means of desalinating seawater is developed.

Kyrgyzstan            97.1% EXACERBATED See Tajikistan, Afghanistan; the countries' troubles are intertwined.

Alternative Measure: The Water Poverty Index

In 2002, The National Environment Research Council produced this gem, explained in the technical notes as:

The Water Poverty Index (WPI) measures, for a given country, the impact of water scarcity and water provision on human populations. WPI is a number between 0 and 100, where a low score indicates water poverty and a high score indicates good water provision. WPI is the culmination of an interdisciplinary approach that combines both the physical quantities relating to water availability and the socio-economic factors relating to poverty to produce an indicator that addresses the diverse factors that affect water resource management.

WPI is comprised of five component indices: Resources, Access, Capacity, Use, and Environment. Each of these component indices is made up of sub-indices.

Curious to see how this stacked up versus my own estimate, here are the most water-impoverished states, per the WPI, a low score being the most at-risk...

Cape Verde............41
Burkina Faso..........42
Sierra Leone..........42
Central African Rep...44

There is considerable overlap between this list and my own.

Dissenting Opinion: Water Tensions Will Not Lead To War

In the interests of The Fairness Doctrine....more or less...Arunabha Ghosh of the United Nations Development Program shares this:

...putting to rest the theory of water wars between countries who share rivers and lakes, Ghosh told TOI, "In past 50 years, 37 stray incidents of violence have taken place between countries over water, 30 of which have been in the Middle East. However, none of them were wars. The last war fought over water was 4,000 years ago.

Also in the last 50 years, over 200 treaties on water were negotiated between countries. India and Pakistan, despite two wars and constant geopolitical tension, have for half a century jointly managed shared watersheds through the Permanent Indus Water Commission."

He added: "We do have evidence that there will be increased tension among nations sharing water. However, globally there is enough water for everyone. Managing shared water can be a force for peace or for conflict, but it is politics that will decide the course to be taken."

Sure. No one explicitly says "I'm making war with you over this water." However, warfare congregates where there is a rapid change in population, or sudden depletion in water resources, such that the room for negotiations of the sort that Ghosh speaks of is reduced.

What Ghosh points out is how so many conflicts could be reduced; it is well possible that cooperation between arch-rivals India and Pakistan over the Indus Valley watershed has kept the two growling neighbors at (mostly) peace for over a generation. However, lacking continuing improvement in population control, water infrastructure, water supply and organizational means and political will to cooperate and share water, the recourse is conflict and war, which serves to degrade water resources even further.

The Times of India article cited above underscores a point I've made: Water is difficult to transfer..

The problem is that some countries get a lot more than others. Almost a quarter of the world's supply of fresh water is in Lake Baikal in the sparsely populated Siberia. With 31% of global fresh water resources, Latin America has 12 times more water per person than South Asia.

Ghosh also notes that the Middle East just happens to be the world's most water stressed region.

Funny. That's where a lot of wars happen to be at the moment.


Four major challenges, all of them found in the case of Burundi, contribute to the risk of wars that, if not overtly over water, are conspicuously concentrated in areas of the planet where

  1. water distribution

  2. rapid population growth

  3. ecological devastation, and

  4. little tradition or incentive to negotiate

conspire to exacerbate the likelihood of violent resolution of conflicts. A nice way to say: Make. Wars. More. Likely.

So, what to do? The conceptual answers are child's play...

  1. improve water works, across international boundaries if need be

  2. either slow down the production of l'il punkins, or find somewhere with a surplus water supply willing to take them in.

  3. protect watershed environment, first and foremost conserve existing woodlands and marshes, and plant more trees.

  4. set up the machinery of international cooperation first and keep that apparatus well-practiced and well-maintained during good times, so it's in place when you really need it.

As for implementation, well, clearly it is beyond challenging for leaders, elected and appointed, doing the right thing by themselves, their constituents, their countries and their planet.

But I'm sure we can come up with some ideas to help out. :)


Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)
by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 02:59:09 PM EST
Im Moment noch Ja! Great diary - though needs rereading.
by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 03:06:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for making the attempt. :)

And glad to hear (based on the e-mail address) that Switzerland's still got plenty of water. :)

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 03:12:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would be interested in Israel - using the 1948 borders - both with and without the roughly 800,000 people cleansed.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 03:23:31 PM EST
The West Bank is presently enjoying about a 1MM surplus in water capacity terms.

Gaza is grossly overpopulated in terms of water capacity.

So are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

However, the Golan is water-rich and likewise southern Lebanon.

My guess is that this is why Gaza was dropped by the Israelis...

...that soon no more Jewish settlement of the West Bank will occur and those portions intensively occupied --- which happen to be where the water is -- with be formally annexed, and the rest of the West Bank sent packing just like Gaza...

... that never in a million years will Israel ever leave the Golan...

...with control over southern Lebanon's water being a nice-to-have, but based on the recent 'Summer War', perhaps that's a bit much under current conditions.

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 03:40:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What does your analysis say about Spain?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 03:39:58 PM EST
...but population growth is slow and on the verge of a sustained decline.

Shy of serious degradation in water works of the climate -- both possibilities, I suppose -- I think Spain's probably okay.

Besides...who in the neighborhood has more water? Andorra? :)

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 03:50:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We have way too many golf courses, population is actually growing faster than it used to because of immigration, and we have Morocco as an even drier neighbour.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 03:58:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are actually strong (and intensifying) internal tensions among different regions for access to water resources.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 03:59:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For another view of where the hot spots will be take a look at the views of Thomas P.M. Barnett.

Here is a good place to start (read the book proposal):

What is disturbing about his views is that he represents a pentagon insider who is a key adviser on how to restructure the military for the future. His thinly disguised racism and belief in the white man's burden is especially troubling.

PS. I didn't see Israel on your list (although I saw Gaza). Israel gets most of its water from disputed sources. How do they fit in?

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 04:02:14 PM EST
A lot of people are going to have to get over race-based worldviews, if no more reason that once the Chinese and Indians hold the balance of power, perhaps they might think racism at the expense of white people like Mr. Barnett is cool.

I dunno...selling respect for the rights of (political and power-based) minorities just isn't easy when your audience thinks it will be in the dominant role forever.

Amazing (case in point the recent US election) what actually experiencing a reversal of fortune will do to open such people's eyes.

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 05:31:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't remember where I read it, But at the time I knew people subscribing to both New scientist and National Geographic, so both would be ggod places to start. but some time in the early 1990's there was a multi page article, with maps discussing preciseley this. the gist of the article was how in the next milenium, the major source of conflict was not going to be oil, but rather the control of fresh water supplies.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 04:09:30 PM EST
Excellent, cskendrick!  You've hit on one of my favorite topics!  Of course, you run the risk of me ranting about privatization, IMF and World Bank (second only to my Reagan/Iran-contra ranting), but I'll try to behave.  

I agree with you about the UN statement being disingenuous -- water disputes underlie so many other disputes, even historic age-old grudges.  One wonders what compelled the UN guy to make this statement.  I'd hazard a guess that it's because they've come under fire for their support of so many of the IM/WB programs which frequently involve water -- from building dams to privatizing infrastructure, control of water resources is frequently a major issue in loan, debt restructuring and aid packages.

And you're right that people seldom say war is about water, just like we don't say current wars are about oil, but often a scarcity of water is at the heart of things.  More often, wars are described as being about land, but so often the disputed land lies where there's available water or irrigation for agriculture, or access to oceans and rivers for trade.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 04:19:24 PM EST
It places people in a circumstance of absolute dependency on the supplier, with no say other their ability to pay that week for their very lives.

Now, if a community wants to privative water supply for industrial purposes, fine. But for residential needs? Hell, no.

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 06:03:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On global warming and evaporation?

One assumes that the total amount of water on this planet is fairly stable, but in many different forms - ice, ocean, freshwater, atmospheric moisture etc.

Ocean evaporation is nature's way of changing sea water to freshwater. - which then gets dumped as rain. If it falls on land it becomes potable water.

So my question is: will there be increased evaporation under temperature rises?

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 04:27:07 PM EST

Higher water temperature means higher evaporation. Higher air temperature means a higher capacity to hold water (lower relative humidity for the same water vapour content). These two are two sides of the same coin. The relevant physical quantity is the vapour pressure of water. Its temperature dependence varies, by the Arrhenius/van't Hoff law, exponentially with absolute temperature (but, remember, the freezing point of water is a temperature of 273 degrees, not zero, so a single degree celsius of variation is about a 1/300 variation of the exponent and so also a 1/300 variation of vapour pressure).

This must be a basic equation in all weather simulation systems. The global average effect of global warming on evaporation must be model dependent, though.

Higher evaporation and vapour pressure is the single most important factor in producing stronger tropical cyclones, and generally stronger weather systems.

Remember also that flooding results in less, not more, potable water.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 04:49:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am just wondering what conditions must have been like in earlier cycles of higher temperatures. The Sahara was fertile at some point in pre-history, was it not? I remember reading that the base of the Sphinx is much older based on water erosion evidence.

And where did all that water come from that gouged out the Grand Canyon etc?

Nomad - get in here!

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 04:58:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have heard that what dried the Sahara is the rise of the himalayas when the Indian subcontinent rammed into the south of Asia.

The Earth was much hotter and humid during the Jurassic (around 200 million million years ago)

The giant continent Pangaea broke up into two landmasses known as Laurasia (in the north) and Gondwanaland (in the south). The budding Atlantic Ocean started to separate Eurasia and North America. The northern part of each continent moved towards each other. A shallow sea, later to become the Mediterranean, flooded central Europe and separated it from Asia.

Jurassic climate stayed warm and became more humid. The polar areas were ice-free during this Period.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 05:26:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...or even lush not more than a few tens of thousands of years ago, as the climate bands moved about in response to the ebb and flow of the Ice Ages.

I'd also heard that back in the Pangaea days, most of the supercontinent's interior was desert of an especially unpleasant variety.

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 05:33:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In configuration, Pangaea is believed to have been a C-shaped landmass that spread across the equator. The body of water that was believed to have been enclosed within the resulting crescent has been named the Tethys Sea. Owing to Pangaea's massive size, the inland regions appear to have been very dry, due to the lack of precipitation. The large supercontinent would potentially have allowed terrestrial animals to migrate freely all the way from the South Pole to the North Pole

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 05:36:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm impressed yet again!

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)
by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 05:58:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I just use google on wikipedia!

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 05:59:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wikipedia: Climate History of the Sahara
The climate of the Sahara has undergone enormous variation between wet and dry over the last few hundred thousand years. During the last ice age, the Sahara was bigger than it is today, extending south beyond its current boundaries. The end of the ice age brought wetter times to the Sahara, from about 8000 BCE to 6000 BCE, perhaps due to low pressure areas over the collapsing ice sheets to the north.

Once the ice sheets were gone, the northern part of the Sahara dried out. However, not long after the end of the ice sheets, the monsoon which currently brings rain to the Sahel came further north and counteracted the drying trend in the southern Sahara. The monsoon in Africa (and elsewhere) is due to heating during the summer. Air over land becomes warmer and rises, pulling cool wet air in from the ocean. This causes rain. So, paradoxically, the Sahara was wetter when it received more insolation in the summer. In turn, changes in solar insolation are caused by changes in the Earth's orbital parameters.

By around 2500 BCE, the monsoon retreated south to approximately where it is today, leading to the desertification of the Sahara. The Sahara is currently as dry as it was about 13,000 years ago.

See also the effect of the Himalayas on the monsoons and the Gobi desert.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 06:06:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wikipedia: Impact of the Himalayas on climate
The Himalayas have a profound effect on the climate of the Indian subcontinent and the Tibetan plateau. It prevents frigid, dry Arctic winds from blowing south into the subcontinent, which keeps South Asia much warmer than corresponding temperate regions in the other continents. It also forms a barrier for the monsoon winds, keeping them from traveling northwards, and causing heavy rainfall in the Terai region. The Himalayas are also believed to play an important part in the formation of Central Asian deserts such as the Taklamakan and Gobi deserts.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 06:03:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
a 1/300 variation of the exponent and so also a 1/300 variation of vapour pressure

Whoops, I knew something was wrong in what I wrote...

The exponent is the ratio of the "Latent heat of evaporation" of water to the temperature. So depending the more energy it costs to evaporate a liquid the less sensitive the vapour pressure will be to temperature changes.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 05:19:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In this week's Economist, this interesting graph:

If the poor cannot pay, someone else must. Taxpayers already bear some of the costs of water, shovelling money into loss-making public utilities. Ms Foster and Mr Yepes reckon that almost 90% of water utilities in low-income countries do not charge their retail customers enough to cover the costs of operating and maintaining their pipes, let alone investing in them.
Utilities, then, are thirsty for taxpayer handouts. But as with blocked plumbing, these subsidies flow largely in the wrong direction. It is mostly the better-off who enjoy connections to the water grid, and so it is they who mostly benefit from its underpriced water (see chart).

In Chile subsidies are better aimed. Poor households must prove their straitened means to the government, which then picks up between 25% and 85% of the monthly tab for up to 15 cubic metres (3,960 American gallons) of water. The UN report praises Chile's model--but it cautions that such an approach requires a government that can identify the poor, and a firm that can meter their consumption.

The upshot is that asking utilities to cover more of their costs is not as callous as the left-wing "water-warriors" claim. It may benefit the poor if the money the exchequer saves can then be handed to them through cash transfers, or spent on connecting them to the mains, rather than on filling the baths and basins of the rich.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 07:10:59 PM EST

Subsidies interrupt flow of 'virtual water'

A trade in so-called "virtual water" arose as dry countries began importing commodities such as wheat and other basic grains that require a lot of water. As Arjen Hoekstra, an academic expert in water management, points out, this is a classic application of the theory of comparative advantage. Economies do what they are relatively good at. Wetter and more temperate regions, where the soil holds much more water and agriculture can rely on cheaper rainfall rather than expensive irrigation, export water to hotter, drier countries.

The World Bank estimates that 1340bn cu m in "virtual water", a quarter of all the water used on the planet to grow food, was traded in 2000. This can mean overturning millennia-old patterns of production, even importing traditional staple foods.


But like any trade, the international commerce in virtual-water crops has distortions and inefficiencies. The most familiar reason - government subsidies to farmers - is sometimes given a national food security rationale. Egypt, for instance, still grows about half its own wheat.

In truth the provision and pricing of water for irrigation sometimes owes more to the clout of rich farmers than it does to comparative advantage.

Tony Allan, an academic at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London who developed the concept of virtual water, points at the rich Jordanian farmers who export water-intensive vegetables into damp Europe.

Some of the more blatant inefficiencies are clear to see, such as the alfalfa and wheat farms incongruously planted in the Saudi desert. The farms represent a woeful waste - using revenues from the extraction of oil to subsidise the extraction of water from a non-renewable aquifer deep underground. In the process, Saudi Arabia has become a big net exporter of wheat, though it uses about 3000 cu m of water - three times the global average - to produce a tonne of wheat, with production costs between four and six times the world price.


Just like other farm support, these payments have ambiguous effects. They lower world prices for food, benefiting consumers in food importing countries such as in Africa. But they also undercut small farmers in those countries who are trying to compete but do not receive the same subsidised water. It may be sensible for richer countries to import as much virtual water as they can, since they can more easily switch workers and investment from water-intensive to non-water intensive farming, or from farming to manufacturing and services.


It is, however, a logic that the market in virtual water will follow, at least until the price of water around the world is brought into line with its real cost.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 07:12:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you don't have enough of it, you die.

That's a pretty steep price.

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 07:41:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
great diary...

did i hear somewhere the romans were responsible for overfarming the sahara into desert?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 08:41:46 PM EST
Nah, seems it desertified before they could get their paws on it... maybe Sicily?

"Ignoring moralities is always undesirable, but doing so systematically is really worrisome." Mohammed Khatami
by eternalcityblues (parvati_roma aaaat libero.it) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 08:51:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is interesting.  


Particularly if you start examining how the sale of future energy and water production could fund the project by producing an "Energy Pool" and a "Water Pool" of future production in which would be sold "Equity Shares"/ Units at today's price - or a discount - to Investors.

Beats gold.

The result would essentially be water-based and energy-based currencies in an area that could do with currency not backed by fresh air.

Engineering-wise there's nothing special about the project, when you consider what those moles in Switzerland and Norway get up to these days withy their roads and railways.....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Mon Nov 13th, 2006 at 11:58:59 AM EST
and Israel, with its engineering talent, could mend a lot of fences with a lot of neighbors and improve its security situation in the Middle East by making it so lucrative to be friendly with Israel that far fewer will contemplate the opposite.

Of course, it helps to get some sort of pact in writing ahead of time, as hydro projects are vulnerable to disruption...something the Americans have learned the hard way in Iraq.

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Mon Nov 13th, 2006 at 12:13:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Inland seas might be an interesting thing to consider besides the Dead Sea one mentioned above.

Parts of Africa that are now desert could be converted to inland seas by means of canals. This would create an economic benefit for the region as aquaculture and fishing could be promoted. It is possible that evaporation from these new bodies of water might also have a beneficial effect on the surrounding country side through enhanced evaporation and possible rainfall.

In sunny places potable water could be obtained by standard evaporative techniques. This would help support the communities that could exist along the shore which got their income from fishing and allied activities.

There is also a possibility for tourism spawned by sailing and other water activities.

Lake Powell in Arizona is an artificial lake (fresh water) created by a dam. There are many ecological problems with its creation, but it certainly true that it has led to a thriving community along its shore.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Mon Nov 13th, 2006 at 01:51:15 PM EST
iirc Lake Baikal is fairly seriously polluted/contaminated by neighbouring chloralkali industry and coal burning power plant.  Baikal Watch monitors the situation.

my 2nd thought for the thread is that water is the paradigmatic example that refutes the insane Cornucopian Doctrine of Substitutability.  there is no substitute for water.

recent estimates suggest 5000 children per diem die from drinking contaminated water.

firstworlders flush their toilets and wash their cars, pressure-wash their driveways and water their golf courses with potable water.

Frank Herbert envisioned an extremely water-poor society in the classic Dune -- it is also an extended metaphor about oil wars.  insightful people saw all this coming 40+ years ago.

timeline of events in fiasco of water privatisation in Bolivia -- there is a book about this.  the government attempted to enforce a permit process for the collection of rain water, i.e. it became illegal to collect rain water without a permit.  

Oscar Olivera, one of the leaders of the Cochabamba social movement that overthrew the San Francisco-based multinational Bechtel's attempted privatization of the city's water, was among the most sought after speakers. Within a few months of taking over the water system, Bechtel raised rates by several hundred percent and--as if echoing British colonial control over India where it was forbidden to collect salt from the ocean--went so far as to make it illegal to collect rain water. The largely indigenous population of Cochabamba organized and took to the streets, meeting police repression and even snipers who were captured on film firing into the crowds, killing one protester.
imho the privatisation push is clearly Enclosure -- prohibiting access to a traditional commons in order to create artificial scarcity, destroy autarky, and drive prices up.  it coincides with episodes of scarcity and uses them as cover, pretending to be "wiser management."  I suspect the international speculative combines make fortunes on these shady deals even if they are repealed (at great cost in human life and suffering) after a year or years.  they take over the physical plant at pennies on  the dollar, refuse to do upgrades, and double or triple the use fees.  when they get kicked out, they don't pay any reparations and the taxpayers have to rehab the neglected plant (cf UK railway privatisation, Potters Bar, etc).  even if the shell game lasts only a few years it's still "free money," or so it seems from where I sit.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Nov 13th, 2006 at 09:06:52 PM EST
One of the possible global climate change outcomes is drought in the Colorado Rocky mountains, where much of the water for the American Southwest originates.

Just for fun, I looked up the average flow of the Arkansas river (Colorado Springs is in its drainage basin) and found that it's about 34,000,000,000 cubic meters per year. (If I did the math right.)

The world's largest desalination plant handles 100 million cubic meters of water per year. So it would take 340 such plants to replace the Arkansas river flow.

by asdf on Tue Nov 14th, 2006 at 01:35:08 AM EST

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