Water Wars

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Image Source: Prize winning illustration by A. Z. Ringman
Wars have always been fought over resources. In 20th Century the wars were fought over Crude Oil while in 21st Century the world will be at war over water as water scarcity becomes a rapidly emerging trend. Oil and gas, metals and fertilizers and food are still going strong, while investors have only recently started to talk about water. And yet, water has much the same imbalance between supply and demand as traditional resources. Investment banker Goldman Sachs recently in a report in 2008 described water as the “the petroleum for the next century.” 
 
Water – The Crude of 21st Century
 
The Goldman Sachs Report of 2008 stated that Water is the petroleum for the next century. The demand for water – the life-sustaining natural resource that has no substitute – continues to escalate at an unsustainable rate, fuelled by population growth and industrial expansion. The world’s fresh water supply is also shrinking due to pollution, draining of underground aquifers, and climate change. As a result, we expect to see a sustained focus and investment in the global water sector for years to come. 
 
Lack of adequate water supplies in emerging markets could impair growth. Expanding industrialization in developing countries is stressing already-limited water resources. In many cases, access to adequate water supplies will be a limiting factor to the shift of manufacturing resources to low-cost countries. Developing markets today only use 11% of water for industrial use versus 42% for developed countries. 
 
Water will become the most sought-after natural resource most likely to cause wars in the 21st century, according to the World Bank. Chronic water shortages already affect 40 per cent of the world’s population in 80 countries. Whereas the main constraint on food production in the developing world has in the past been a shortage of land, it will be a scarcity of water in the future, according to a study by the World Bank. Global demand for water is increasing at a rate of 2.3 per cent a year, doubling every 21 years. ”Supply can no longer keep up with this rate of growth,” the World Bank warns. Major trends that are creating a global water emergency are: A population explosion, from 5.6bn to about 8bn by 2025 and  Increasing levels of pollution that contaminate clean water supplies, effectively decreasing the amount of water available. New sources of water can cost between two and three times that of sources already tapped. People living in the Middle East and North Africa will experience one of the most precarious water supplies in the world. The growing population in this region has already begun to overwhelm traditional water sources, the World Bank says. ”From 1960 to 2025, per capita renewable water supplies (in the Middle East and North Africa) will have fallen from 3,430 cubic metres to 667 cubic metres, or an 80 per cent drop within a single lifetime.”
Unlike Crude or Gas or Mines & Minerals, Water though covering 2/3rd of Earth’s Surface is not fit from Drinking or Domestic use. Water is one the scarcest resources we have on the Planet with only 2.6% of the Total Fresh Water reserves available while the rest 97.4 % are Oceans, Seas & Saline Lakes. Of the 2.6% Fresh water reserves 1.984% is in Icecaps & glaciers with 0.592% as Ground Water. The Scale of Crisis that stares down the planet is visible given 1.984% of Available Fresh Water is feeding the ever burgeoning world population which has now crossed 7 Billion. Countries like China & India with nearly 2.5 Billion People are likely to face a bigger crisis given that the most Fresh Water Supply to this part of the world i.e. China, India, Pak, Bangladesh, Nepal etc. all dependent upon Rivers emerging from Himalayan Glaciers & Tibetan Plateau. While Asian nations would be competing with each other about fresh water resources, the bigger battle in immediate future could arise in Middle East & North African Regions which are more susceptible to droughts, water scarcity resulting into Geo-Political conflicts also known as ‘Water Wars’.
 
Water Wars – Geo Political Conflicts
 
There are more than 240 water basins in the world that cross national borders, many of which could become flash points for conflict. For example, Egypt has longstanding threats to take military action against any countries making unauthorized withdrawals from the Nile like Ethiopia. Canada has specific laws against exporting any water to the US, and India and Bangladesh have had many tense on-going disputes over the Ganges. India & Pakistan have long had issues over share of water of 5 Himalayan Rivers and India has expressed serious apprehensions over Beijing’s recent constructions to divert the water of Brahmaputra River that flows into India from Tibet & is the life line for people in North Eastern India. 
 
1.  Indo-Pak Water Dispute
 
River water sharing dispute between India & Pakistan has been a long standing one since their Independence in 1947. The dispute over water sharing of the 6 Himalayan Rivers i.e. Indus, Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi, Beas & Sutlej has long been the bone of contention between 2 countries. The water sharing dispute was inextricably linked to long standing issues like Kashmir & Pakistan over the decades. Pakistan has time & again launched tirades against India that it is launching water war on it either by releasing Flood Waters inundating the Fertile plains of Pakistan Punjab or regulating the supply of water Rivers originating from Himalayan Region making the fertile land arid. 
 
With World Bank Mediation between India & Pakistan signed Indus Water Treaty in September 1960 whereby it was essentially agreed that 3 eastern Rivers Sutlej, Beas & Ravi would be available for India’s unrestricted usage. While the western rivers of Indus, Chenab & Jhelum would be largely available to Pakistan except for limited used by India like Domestic Use, Non Consumptive use, Agricultural Use, Hydel Power Projects, Storage & Other projects subjects to concurrence of Pakistan & within the prescribed conditions as laid out in the treaty. 
 
The treaty further elaborates a dispute resolution mechanism between the 2 countries where a dispute will be first examined by PIC (Permanent Indus Committee) and if PIC fails to solve the dispute then it is referred to a Neutral Expert appointed by consensus between the governments in consultation or by the World Bank in absence of any consensus. The decision of Neutral Expert is binding & the finally it will be court of Arbitration whose decision would be final in case all other mechanisms fail to solve the dispute.
 
Pakistan recently invoked this Dispute Resolution Mechanism on 17 May, 2010, when it moved for arbitration against India under the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty 1960, claiming that India’s 330 MW Kishenganga project would rob it of 15 percent of its share of river waters. Pakistan accused India of trying to divert the river to harm Pakistan’s Neelum-Jhelum hydro-electric project (NJHEP) and had objected to the construction of the Kishanganga hydroelectric project arguing that the Indian project would affect its 969 MW Neelum-Jhelum hydroelectric project. The ICA’s final award specifies that an amount of 9 cumecs of natural flow of water must be maintained in the Kishanganga River at all times, to maintain the environment downstream. This is much lower than the 100 cumecs of natural flow that Pakistan wanted to maintain. The Kishanganga victory is an icing on the cake for India’s diplomatic wins over Pakistan on the international stage with regard to disputes over India’s strategy of exploiting its water resources for power generation in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan had raised similar objection to the Baglihar dam, a run-of-the-river project in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir and had gone to the World Bank (a broker and signatory of Indus Water Treaty) for arbitration after several rounds of talks between the two sides from 1999 to 2004 fell on deaf ears. India pocketed a major victory over the Baglihar dam on 12 February 2007 when the World Bank adjudicator Raymond Lafitte, a Swiss civil engineer, gave his final verdict, rejecting Pakistan’s objections on height and gated control of the dam’s spillways. While this dispute was settled by legal means but the danger remains that fight over water resources could lead to breakout of hostilities in future. Even Terrorist groups like LeT, Hafiz Sayed have many times exhorted for Jihad against India on water wars.
 
2.  Indo-China Water Dispute
 
China’s plans to tap the waters of Brahmaputra River has created anxiety in India & Bangladesh who share the vast riches & plentiful water of this mighty river that originates from Tibetan Plateau and flows all the way through Arunachal Pradesh, Assam in North East India before flowing into Bangladesh where it joins Padma River. China’s aims to construct dams & restrict the flows of water downstream into North East India have raised the stakes of being a contentious issue in already muddled Sino-Indian Relations. 
 
Beijing’s plans for the Brahmaputra include two kinds of projects. The first involves the construction of hydro-electric power projects on the river and the other, more ambitious project, envisages the diversion of its waters to the arid north. In November last year, China’s plans for the Brahmaputra took a leap forward when the first unit of the $1.5 billion Zangmu Hydropower Station project, which is located in the middle reaches of the river, became operational. Once completed – five other generating units of this project are due for completion this year – the project is designed to generate 2.5 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually.
 
According to media reports, China has already built a barrage on the Sutlej River. Since November 2010, it has started construction work for damming/diversion of the Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) in Tibet. The detailed planning for the Tsangpo project was approved by the State Council in 2006 and has the support of both Chen Chuanyu, its main architect, and Hu Jintao. Apart from the diversion project on the Brahmaputra River, China also plans to construct 15 dams along the Lancang (Mekong) river. In addition, China plans to tap the waters of most of the big rivers flowing from the Tibetan plateau. All these activities raise a serious concern in India about the impact of Dams, Barrages, and Diversions in the River Flow of Brahmaputra that is a life line for India’s North East especially in absence of a dispute resolution mechanism like Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan.
 
3.  Water Wars in Africa
 
Egypt and Ethiopia are going at each other’s throats over River Nile. Ethiopia is busy constructing a controversial dam, which Egypt complains will disrupt the river’s flow, with detrimental impact on its population that is almost entirely dependent on the Nile. Addis Ababa embarked on construction of the $4.2 billion Grand Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam (GERD) with 6,000MW electric power generation capacity in April 2011. This move angered Egypt so much that at one point Cairo threatened military action against Ethiopia, though the parties later agreed to a dialogue over River Nile’s governance. 
 
Ethiopia adopted the Harmon Doctrine – an international resources law that holds that a country has absolute sovereignty over the water that flows through its territory, regardless of its impact on other riparian states. Cairo now views Ethiopia’s move as bullish and reads political sabotage. Egypt, however, adopted a hard line by holding onto the 1959 historical usage rights to exploit the waters and earlier treaties that the majority of Nile Basin nations never signed. Egypt gets 94 per cent of its total water resources from the river. The Nile Basin supplies water to about 300 million people across Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Congo, Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia
 
There have been calls on various countries to utilize three main river basins – the Nile, the Zambezi and the Senegal. The three constitute the economic backbone of the countries they flow through. In 1990, armed clashes erupted between Nigeria and Cameroon over the use of Lake Chad water. This was fuelled by water and land scarcity. Lake Chad has shrunk by 90 per cent, though it remains the only large source of fresh water in the Sahel zone. In Southern Africa, the Lake Malawi issue is the hot topic now with both Malawi and Tanzania claiming ownership. The Zambezi River, flowing within SADC countries with a catchment area of 1,300,000 square kilometers, occupying the territories of Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, has also been predicted as a potential source of conflict if water resources are not properly managed.
 
4.  Water Wars in Middle East
 
ISIS is headquartered at Raqqah, a mere 40km down the Euphrates from the largest reservoir in Syria, Lake Assad. Raqqah’s economy has long depended on the cultivation of cotton irrigated by the reservoir, which was formed by the Russian-assisted construction of the Tabqa dam in 1973, and designed to irrigate some 2,500 square miles of farmland. Last August, Isis fought fiercely for control of the largest dam in Iraq, across the Tigris at Mosul. Its fighters also took over two other dams across the Euphrates, one at Fallujah, the other at Haditha. In all cases, it took American air strikes to drive them off, and the high value the terrorist group places on Mesopotamia’s dams suggests that further offensives against such targets are likely. Even if ISIS leaders in Raqqah succeed in holding one of these key pieces of hydro-infrastructure, however, they do not control the headwaters of either the Tigris or the Euphrates, which rise in Turkey. It is the Turks, who have squabbled for 40 years with their downstream neighbours over use of the rivers, who therefore hold the keys to the long-term future of Isis – and the Islamists know it. 
 
Finally, there is Israel and Palestine, arguably the mother of all water conflicts. Israel, a state founded on Ben-Gurion’s dream of “making the desert bloom”, diverted the River Jordan half a century ago, east and southwards towards the Negev desert, via a canal called the National Water Carrier.
 
Colonization of Water Resources
 
A disturbing trend in the water sector is accelerating worldwide. The new “water barons” – the Wall Street banks and elitist multibillionaires – are buying up water all over the world at unprecedented pace. Familiar mega-banks and investing powerhouses such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, Macquarie Bank, Barclays Bank, the Blackstone Group, Allianz, and HSBC Bank, among others, are consolidating their control over water. Wealthy tycoons such as T. Boone Pickens, former President George H.W. Bush and his family, Hong Kong’s Li Ka-shing, Philippines’ Manuel V. Pangilinan and other Filipino billionaires, and others are also buying thousands of acres of land with aquifers, lakes, water rights, water utilities, and shares in water engineering and technology companies all over the world. 
 
In September 2003, Goldman Sachs partnered with one of the world’s largest private-equity firm Blackstone Group and Apollo Management to acquire Ondeo Nalco (a leading company in providing water-treatment and process chemicals and services, with more than 10,000 employees and operations in 130 countries) from French water corporation Suez S.A. for U.S.$4.2 billion. In 2006, UBS Investment Research, a division of Switzerland-based UBS AG, Europe’s largest bank by assets, entitled its 40-page research report, “Q-Series®: Water”—“Water scarcity: The defining crisis of the 21st century?” (October 10, 2006) In 2007, UBS, along with JP Morgan and Australia’s Challenger Fund, bought UK’s Southern Water for £4.2biillion.
 
JPMorgan created a U.S. $2 billion infrastructure fund to go after India’s infrastructure projects in October 2007. The targeted projects are transportation (roads, bridges, railroads) and utilities (gas, electricity, water). India’s finance minister has been estimated that India requires about U.S. $500 billion in infrastructure investments by 2012. In this regard, JPMorgan is joined by Citigroup, the Blackstone Group, 3i Group (Europe’s second-largest private-equity firm), and ICICI Bank (India’s second-largest bank) (International Herald Tribune, October 31, 2007). Its JPMorgan Asset Management has also established an Asian Infrastructure & Related Resources Opportunity Fund which held a first close on U.S.$500 million (€333 million) and will focus on China, India, and other Southern Asian countries, with the first two investments in China and India (Private Equity Online, August 11, 2008). The fund’s target is U.S. $1.5 billion.
Water Wars & Geo Strategic Implications
 
Water indeed will be the Crude of 21st Century with Scarce availability (only 2.6%) & global warming effects on availability of fresh water resources to large parts of the world population will be the next big crisis that the world will face. The world is already facing severe water crisis not only in the usual places like Asia or Middle East or Africa but even places like California in US where as per NASA it has 1 year of water left after 4 years of Consecutive Droughts. Similarly, even places like Rio in Brazil are facing water shortages owing to droughts. This alarming trend could lead to mass migration of people – a potential for future conflicts. The fight for water a basic necessity for human existence could lead to potential flash points in various regions like South Asia, Africa & MENA Region. The building of Dams, Barrages, Diversions of water flow can lead to water being used a weapon in case of war; something what terror groups like ISIS have already displayed in Syria & Iraq. Amid all the mayhem around the fight for most essential resources like Water, there is quiet Corporate Monopolization going on of Water Resources & technologies just like in the Oil & Finance Sector pushing the world towards a Global Corporate State where Corporate Interest will over ride the Human values.

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