Water. It’s essential to life, and according to a U.S. intelligence report, it may soon be a cause for war.
Last year, the U.S. State Department called for a global assessment of water and its role in national security. The findings are in, and according to the Global Water Security report, within the next decade water problems will likely contribute to instability in states important to U.S. interests.
“If water problems are not managed successfully, food supplies will decline, energy available for economic growth will be reduced, and the risk of certain diseases will increase,” states the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA).
Evidence shows the threat will only grow worse with time. According to a major international study, by 2030 annual global water requirements will climb 40 percent above current sustainable water supplies. Experts say without a more effective management of resources, the availability of fresh water simply cannot satisfy global demand.
“I think it’s fair to say the intelligence community’s findings are sobering,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In a recent speech commemorating World Water Day, Clinton called the ICA “a landmark document that puts water security in its rightful place as part of national security.” She said the report was important because it highlights the potential threat of water resources being manipulated as a political tool.
Officials are concerned that when new water problems mix with a nation’s longstanding issues, it could lead to state catastrophes. The report says that pressure put on existing water resources may even exacerbate local and regional tensions to the point of conflict.
Based on ICA findings, the use of water as a weapon of leverage and control will become more common as resources become increasingly scarce. The report warns that the next decade will likely see more upstream nations blocking or limiting flow to downstream neighbors, and may also see officials restricting access to water within states to suppress separatist elements.
Experts believe that the world’s water supply is also vulnerable to terrorists who are likely to target infrastructure. According to the ICA, dams, pipelines, and desalinization facilities are at the mercy of extremists and rogue nations aiming for destabilization.
Problems are projected to arise in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, but efforts to maintain peace and stability in the face dwindling resources may fall more on U.S. shoulders. Both Secretary Clinton and the ICA stressed the need for assistance to nations facing water-related crises, and the importance of U.S. technical expertise and domestic experience in guiding major development projects.
Efforts to engage the United States in international water crises are already in the works. Release of the ICA coincided with an announcement for the U.S. Water Partnership—a new public-private partnership that Secretary Clinton says will empower nations looking to address looming shortages, and help build international support for American approaches.
“The U.S. Water Partnership exemplifies the unity of effort and expertise we will need to address these challenges over the coming years,” said Clinton, who described the project as one that would “map out our route to a more water-secure world.”
While experts believe water shortages aren’t something that will directly or immediately affect the United States, they say that other nations’ water crises will still affect climate, flare regional tensions, and create other problems that will require U.S. attention.
According to Clinton, while the United States might appear to be safe from water issues, it is much more connected to the problem than many realize.
“We think it actually is our duty and responsibility to make sure that this water issue stays at the very top of America’s foreign policy and national security agenda,” she said.