Water scarcity will create global security concerns

October 6, 2009

Water scarcity as a result of climate change will create far-reaching global security concerns, says Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, chair of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Pachauri spoke this morning at the 2009 Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN.

"At one level the world's water is like the world's wealth. Globally, there is more than enough to go round. The problem is that some countries get a lot more than others," he says. "With 31 percent of global freshwater resources, Latin America has 12 times more water per person than South Asia. Some places, such as Brazil and Canada, get far more water than they can use; others, such as countries in the Middle East, get much less than they need."

And the effects of a warmer world will likely include changes in water availability.

"Up to 1.2 billion people in Asia, 250 million Africans and 81 million Latin Americans will be exposed to increased water stress by 2020," Pachauri says. Water shortages have an enormous impact of human health, including malnutrition, pathogen or chemical loading, infectious disease from water contamination, and uncontrolled water reuse.

"Due to the very large number of people that may be affected, food and may be the most important health consequences of ," Pachauri says.

When communities fight over water resources, there's a great danger for a disruption of peace and security. "That water scarcity plays a role in creating the preconditions of desperation and discontent is undeniable," he says. Competition for water from the river Jordan was a major cause of the 1967 war. India has been in dispute with Pakistan over the Indus and with Bangladesh over the Ganges.

"Over 260 river basins are shared by two or more countries," he says. "As the resource is becoming scarce, tensions among different users may intensify, both at the national and international level. In the absence of strong institutions and agreements, changes within a basin can lead to trans-boundary tensions."

"We live on a small planet where communication and influences go from one corner of the Earth to another," he says. "If there's a major disruption to peace in one part of the globe, no other part is insulated from it. We need to look at what happens to the rest of the world with some degree of alarm; these influences have very dangerous implications for the rest of the world."

Societies so far have been able to adapt to changes in weather and climate - via crop diversification, irrigation, disaster risk management, and insurance - but climate change might go beyond what our traditional coping mechanisms can handle, Pachauri suggests.

Even societies with "high adaptive capacity" are vulnerable to climate change, variability and extremes, he says, citing examples of the 2003 heat wave that took the lives of many elderly in European cities and 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

"A technological society has two choices," Pachauri says. "It can wait until catastrophic failures expose systemic deficiencies, distortion and self-deceptions, or the culture can provide social checks and balances to correct for systemic distortion prior to catastrophic failures."

"Global emissions of greenhouse gases will have to decline by 2015. If we can achieve that, we may be able to avoid the worst effects of climate change," he says. "The costs of this are not high. A major mitigation would only postpone growth domestic product growth by one year at most over the medium term. That's not a high price to pay for the world."

"There is no more crucial issue to human society than the future of on this planet," he says. "We must work diligently to see that the worst effects don't come to pass. We have very little time. Unless we act with a sense of urgency, there will certainly be conflict and a disruption of peace."

Source: Dick Jones Communications

Explore further: Glaciers feeding Ganges may melt down

Related Stories

Glaciers feeding Ganges may melt down

July 1, 2005

Indian scientists say carbon dioxide and other emissions will cause the melt down of glaciers feeding the Ganges River before the century's end.

Probing Question: Are water wars in our future?

June 5, 2008

Schoolkids know that over 70 percent of Earth's surface is washed in water. Yet very little of that abundance — less than two percent — is available for drinking and agriculture. Over the last 50 years, moreover, freshwater ...

Better water use could reduce future food crises

May 5, 2009

If the overall water resources in river basins were acknowledged and managed better, future food crises could be significantly reduced, say researchers from Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, Stockholm Environment ...

How California Water Supply Could Survive Warming, Growth

June 15, 2006

In a new report, the UC Davis authors of the most sophisticated analysis of California's water management system say the system should be able to adapt to a warmer climate and a larger population, albeit at a significant ...

Water: The forgotten crisis

July 10, 2008

This year, the world and, in particular, developing countries and the poor have been hit by both food and energy crises. As a consequence, prices for many staple foods have risen by up to 100%. When we examine the causes ...

World's water ecosystems under threat

September 11, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Human activities such as fishing and water use are over-riding the effects of global warming on the ecosystems that support the world’s water and fish supplies, experts have revealed.

Recommended for you

Rainfall's natural variation hides climate change signal

February 22, 2018

New research from The Australian National University (ANU) and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science suggests natural rainfall variation is so great that it could take a human lifetime for significant climate ...

Seasonal patterns in the Amazon explained

February 22, 2018

Environmental scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have led an international collaboration to improve satellite observations of tropical forests.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 06, 2009
Temperature rises, more water evaporates. Majority of water in oceans. Therefore, more rain on land = increase in water supply.
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 06, 2009
Dooooooom! Gloooooom! Act fast before you have time to think.
Did anybody bother to tell these people that the quantity of water on the Earth is, relative to humankind, a constant? The only issues are purifying it and transporting it (and population pressures.)
4 / 5 (4) Oct 07, 2009
Natural processes are only a small part of the human water use profile. The majority of the developed world relies on a stable social system and infrastructure to get their water.

It would seem that lack of social stability and civil engineering are the primary factors in both drought and famine wherever in the world you find them.

Bad weather and climate change can certainly alter a region, but humans can adapt to these changes when their social systems are functional and they have adequate infrastructure.

There simply is no reason to expect extreme changes in the climate that will render entire regions uninhabitable. Even if the seas raise, the business of life will go on unhindered. Simply put, there is no danger in climate change, only change.
not rated yet Oct 13, 2009
a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize

Hardly qualifications to make scientific (or pseudo-scientific) pronouncements.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.