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What happens when water starts running low? The first consequence is the collapse of the production of foodstuffs, such as corn or rice. Climate change, water grabbing, poor infrastructures, price increases due to privatization, competition with other sectors (eg electricity generation from fossil sources): the causes are many. But the consequence is always one: conflict. Academics define them "Water wars", wars and conflicts fought over water or due to the lack of this, linked in particular to agriculture.
In the Hollywood imagination, the most famous and pop example is that of Mad Max: Fury Road, where power is no longer in the hands of those who control oil, but of those who own the oil.water. A desert world, post-climatic disaster, where crowds adore the super-villain who keeps them tied to it by pouring waterfalls on them.
But the dystopian world of Mad Max may not be too far from the reality of some areas of the planet. If in the twentieth century many wars have seen oil at the center, from Iraq to Afghanistan, from the fall of the Shah in Iran, to the attempt by the Germans to block British oil supplies from Central Asia, today, slowly, new conflicts are increasingly developing around the theme of land (land grabbing) and water (water grabbing).
In the so-called south in the world, but also in some industrialized countries, as a freely accessible common good, thewater has become a private property or controlled by those in power. Under the pressure of the growing demand for water due to the increase in population and industrial growth and under the grip of climate change, increasingly visible in our daily lives, water becomes a source of conflict, a scarce commodity for which it is essential to grab it to expenses of the neighbor, also at the expense of women and girls who take care of the daily collection, taking time away from education and work.
The world war for water
The list of conflicts over water It is growing. From the drought in Syria, which helped exacerbate one of the worst conflicts in fifty years, to the global drought of 2016 which added 50 million people to the list of the population affected by "extreme hunger", the tragedy in South Sudan of early 2017, where people literally killed each other for the little water left in the wells, at the protests in Bolivia and Chile against the privatizations of water resources.
In the following graph you can see the growth of conflicts related to water control over the last 40 years. By clicking on the graph you will also be able to see “full screen” data starting from 1950.
In this second map by Riccardo Pravettoni, based on data from FAO, WRI Aqueduct, WHO UNICEF and Pacific Institute, you can instead see where conflicts have developed due to water in the years 2011-2015, the percentage of the population without drinking water ( highlighted in different colors) and the percentage of the population under fed. The correlations will be immediately apparent to you.
To see the full-page map in a new window, click on the preview image below:
In some cases these conflicts can take on an international scale. One of the "hot spots" is the Indus River which fuels the agricultural and energy sector of two long-standing enemies, India and Pakistan. The very strong agricultural levy has often triggered harsh political invectives on both sides, without - for now - giving rise to a real escalation.
International tensions are also growing in Africa. Particularly in Ethiopia, where major hydrogeological works, such as the Grand Renassaince Dam, built on the Blue Nile, have prompted the Egyptian government to threaten retaliation in the event that there was a sharp decrease in the water regime along the famous river and a reduction in rich sediments. of essential nutrients for agriculture. Similar tensions are also ongoing with neighboring Kenya, which recently protested for the Gibe III dam, which would cause a drastic drop in the water level of Lake Turkana, a source of livelihood for dozens of ethnic groups in the region, which, according to researchers such as the expert Sean Avery, could start a series of tribal wars for food and water.
Another area watched over by international geopolitics experts is the Mekong reservoir, a river disputed between its riparian states.
The Mekong (whose name means "the mother of the waters") is considered the giant of Indochina, twelfth in the world in terms of range (475 km³ per year). Its estimated length is 4,880 km and the basin has a width of 810,000 km². From the Tibetan plateau, the river crosses the Chinese province of Yunnan, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, supporting over 200 million people. From its waters it is drawn support for rice crops throughout its journey and is a resource for fishing for over 60 million people.
The abundance of the river has allowed prosperous kingdoms, such as the Khmer one, to flourish for thousands of years, and supported hundreds of indigenous communities that have always lived in balance with the Mekong. In recent years, however, a number of factors have been altering its balance. The most important are the construction of over 39 mega-dams along its course, the modification of the water regime due to climate change and the increased water withdrawal.
One of the gigantic dams on the Mekong in Chinese territory
"Future water crises threaten to slow down the key sector to alleviate poverty in Southeast Asia - agriculture," says Brahma Chellaney, author of the book Water, Asia new Battleground. “The risk is that they can political tensions related to the Mekong explode if the states do not cooperate to face the new challenges ». Dams in particular are considered a destructive element. China has built seven large hydroelectric plants in the Upper Mekong, while another twenty-one are planned. Eleven of them are planned in the southern part of the basin, most of them in Laos, one of the poorest countries in Asia, which aspires to become the hydroelectric pile of Asia, with a production potential of 26 gigawatts. An energy boom, but at what cost? The International Rivers association states that "the dams could significantly reduce fishing, limit the flow of sediments and elements for agriculture, impacting food security and putting the Mekong Delta at risk, as well as force the relocation of tens of thousands of inhabitants ”.
by Emanuele Bompan
Photo credits: opening photo by Gianluca Cecere
Interactive map: Water, food security and conflicts ”by Riccardo Pravettoni based on FAO, WRI Aqueduct, WHO UNICEF and Pacific Institute data. Infographic by Federica Fragapane.
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