(MintPress) – “Water scarcity threatens economic and social gains … And it is a potent fuel for wars and conflict,” United Nations (U.N.) Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, said in marking March 22 as World Water Day of 2013. In fact, the U.N. believes that water issues are so pressing that it’s declared 2013 as the International Year for Water Cooperation.
Part of the goal in setting aside a day to discuss the challenges stemming from water problems is not only to raise awareness on global water issues, but also to advocate for the sustainable management of water resources, activists have said.
Corporate manipulation of water sources on the part of companies such as PepsiCo and The Coca-Cola Company, environmental degradation and various other factors have led experts to project that half of the world’s population will encounter water scarcity by 2030, and continued strife is projected and likely to escalate.
“Unequal power relations within states and conflicts between ethnic groups and social classes will be the greatest source of social tensions rising from deprivation,” said Ignacio Saiz from the social justice group, The Center for Economic and Social Rights to Al Jazeera. “Water too often is treated as a commodity, as an instrument with which one population group can suppress another.”
Recent humanitarian catastrophes, such as the Rwandan genocide or the war in Sudanese Darfur, have been linked back to water conflicts, as has the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestine.
Blue Peace. That’s the term being used to describe not only the movement for water conservation, but the hope and the belief that fixing the world’s water problem can be a vehicle for ending wars and other global problems and creating peace on our earth.
“People have the right to expect access to a basic life resource like water by virtue of being human, regardless of the social situation they are born into,” Saiz said. “Alongside the worrying development of water scarcity, I am hopeful that we will see increasing struggles to see access to water as a right, and not a privilege.”
A case for Blue Peace
As the world’s population rises steadily, topping 7 billion people, the need for fresh water also grows. And the issue of water isn’t just an environmental issue, it has also been linked to women’s rights, global development, as well as preventable deaths across the world.
“Empirical evidence indicates that where countries cooperate over shared rivers, lakes and other water bodies, they enjoy peace and prosperity. Conversely, where countries do not enter into cooperation for collaborative development of shared water resources, they tend to experience tensions and conflicts,” Sundeep Waslekar of Gulf News reports.
Waslekar says the countries in Africa sharing the Senegal water basin have entered into cooperation and now enjoy peace due to this. However, other areas like Sudan, South Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia and various areas of the Middle East, experience constant conflict — in part due to water issues.
The U.N. has suggested that the Darfur conflict began in part because of a water crisis. Adel Darwish, a journalist and co-author of Water Wars: Coming Conflicts in the Middle East, says that current history has already seen at least two water wars.
“I have [former Israeli prime minister] Ariel Sharon speaking on record saying the reason for going to war [against Arab armies] in 1967 was for water,” Darwish told Al Jazeera.
This is where the idea of Blue Peace could be helpful if applied. Waslekar explains that Blue Peace encompasses the idea that water is converted from a cause of potential conflict to an instrument of cooperation. “The Blue Peace approach calls for engagement of the top political leaders in promoting water cooperation, establishing sustained mechanisms for regional cooperation and using regional cooperation mechanisms to agree on trade-offs, joint investment programmes and joint development and dissemination of modern technologies for renewing water resources,” Waslekar says.
By 2030, there will be a 40 percent gap between global water supply and demand, according to projections.
More than 260 river basins and 265 aquifers, home to more than 40 percent of the world’s population, are shared by two or more countries.
And if the world’s people don’t learn to share them equitably, food and energy production will decline, and waterborne disease will increase.
Today, conflicts over water are currently happening in the Middle East (disputes stemming from the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers among Turkey, Syria and Iraq; and the Jordan River conflict among Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestine territories), in Africa (Nile River-related conflicts among Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan), as well as in Central Asia (the Aral Sea conflict among Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan), according to the U.N.
Putting the problem in perspective
Every day, 2 million tons of human waste are disposed of in water courses, according to the World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP).
Moreover, in developing countries, 70 percent of industrial wastes are dumped untreated into waters where they pollute the usable water supply, the WWAP reports.
“If we do water and sanitation right, we can have a great improvement on other goals,” U.N. Deputy Chief Jan Eliasson said, adding that improving access to water also will ameliorate such problems as maternal health issues, child mortality and overall poverty, the AP reported.
A need for better sanitation in the developing world is articulated by a host of organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which reports that 40 percent of the world’s population — 2.5 billion people — practice open defecation or lack adequate sanitation facilities, and the consequences can be devastating for human health as well as the environment. Even in urban areas, where household and communal toilets are more prevalent, 2.1 billion people use toilets connected to septic tanks that are not safely emptied or use other systems that discharge raw sewage into open drains or surface waters.
Poor sanitation contributes to 1.5 million child deaths from diarrhea every year, and can also hinder child development by impeding the absorption of essential nutrients that are critical to the development of the mind, body and immune system. It can also impede the absorption of life-saving vaccines.
Aside from pollutions, climate change and political and social unrest also adversely impact fresh water supplies, and as the U.N. points out, 783 million people lack access to clean or safe water and 37 percent of the world’s population doesn’t have access to sanitation facilities.
“Access to sanitation facilities around the world, more than any other service, provides a window into the vast difference between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.” Catarina de Albuquerque, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, has said. And tensions between private companies such as PepsiCo and The Coca-Cola Company have been noted, as companies like this have been accused of stealing millions of litres of water and denying local communities and farmers their fundamental right to water in developing nations such as India.
Between 1991 and 2000, more than 665,000 people died in 2,557 natural disasters, of which 90 percent were water-related events, the U.N. reports.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commissioned a National Intelligence Council study last year which concluded that “During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems — shortages, poor water quality, or floods — that will risk instability and state failure and increase regional tensions.”
Now is the time to search for new ideas, solutions, and responses to the problem.
Now is the time to give Blue Peace a chance.
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