May 28 2012

Water (In)Security: An Uncertain Future

By Martha Molfetas, a recent graduate of the LSE, and a freelance Researcher and Correspondent.

Our world is rapidly changing amid exponential population increases. Water, our source of life, hydropower, and agriculture is at risk.  The US Intelligence Community Assessment of Global Water Security predicts that by 2030, annual worldwide water needs will exceed current sustainable water supplies. This can cause major regional and global political instability if this prediction holds true.

Already, areas like the Ferghana Valley in Central Asia have long suffered from what regional water instability can cause. Downstream populations are at risk of losing agricultural yields and basic water consumption due to upstream politics and demands for hydropower. In West Africa, regional instabilities coupled with water loss have created increased pressures in the Sahel. Ongoing conflict and displacement in Mali has pushed an approximated 160,000 refugees onto neighboring countries like Burkina Faso and Niger. The United Nations Human Rights Council and World Food Programme are trying to fill the capacity gaps in the Sahel, however due to the drought season coming sooner, their efforts may not reach all those in need.

Intelligence reports do a swell job of pointing to the problem, however no tangible policy solutions have been created to catch up to reality.  Areas of the world least capable to cope with water insecurities are projected to be the hardest hit: North Africa, Middle East, Central South and South East Asia, and large parts of Africa. While the Millennium Development Goal of bringing safe drinking water to millions was proclaimed a success by the United Nations, the harsh reality is that a number of wells are contaminated with arsenic, fluoride, and feces. Improving water quality is essential to preventing water born diseases like cholera and diarrhea. With water supplies shrinking and 2.5 billion people still without access to improved sanitation, water insecurity is already here. In order to move forward, global policy solutions are needed to combat a future lacking overwhelming supplies of potable water.

Even in the developed world, water supplies are changing. In America many wells and deposits of ground water have been contaminated by hydraulic fracking and other activities. In the United Kingdom and Spain, drought has limited usage of water supplies. With less than 3% of the world’s water being fresh water, we need to be more careful with this precious resource. More than 70% of potable water is used in agriculture.  One potential solution could be altering agricultural usage of water to reflect the need to conserve and replenish wells. Another solution could be recycling water for toilets and other waste management facilities. Politicians like Hillary Clinton have pointed to water insecurity as the pivotal global security challenge of our era. The only way to turn the tides is to have sustainable development embraced by governments in the developing and developed world. A window of opportunity may be the UN Summit at Rio this year. Perhaps Rio could add a drop in the policy and regulatory bucket. In the meantime, we can do a rain dance.

This article also appears here

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One Response to Water (In)Security: An Uncertain Future

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