The post 9/11 world is one of paranoia, chemical weapons, drone attacks, Islamaphobia, rising political extremism, and declining inter-faith understanding. But the sad state of global diplomacy may not necessarily be the biggest threat to peace. Humans are most threatened when they do not have access to a very basic substance – water.
“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water,” the poet W. H. Auden sagely wrote. But many municipal governments are neglecting the importance of clean water and are failing to deliver ample non-polluted water to their citizens.
Access to clean water is a chronic issue that is grinding urban centres like Los Angeles and São Paulo to a halt, or large-scale protests like in Karachi last week. Water shortages are responsible for more deaths in Nigeria than Boko Haram! California’s current and ongoing drought has already lasted four years because of the reservoir hogs in Los Angeles’ sprawling suburbs. South America’s biggest metropolis, and home to 22 million people, São Paulo could soon run out of clean water. The country is bracing for riots. There is a real risk of social convulsion. Indeed the origin of the word “rival” comes from the Latin “rivalis,” or one who uses the same stream.
Rapid climate change, population growth, and a growing demand for meat are propelling new thirst wars. The myriad physical calamities that confront humanity are hard to separate, but growing hunger and the struggle to find clean water for billions of people are clearly connected. This New Yorker article frames the threats of water wars and climate migrants well. Urban planners, municipal governments, and heavy industries need to put THIRST things first in their long-term strategising.
Feeding a planet with nine billion residents will require at least fifty per cent more water in 2050 than we use today. It is hard to see where that water will come from. Half of the planet already lives in urban areas, and that number will increase along with the pressure to supply clean water. If you look at agricultural products, if you look at animal protein, the demand for which is growing—that’s highly water intensive. Floods will become more common, and so will droughts, according to most assessments of the warming earth. The twenty-first-century projections make the [previous] mega-droughts seem like quaint walks through the garden of Eden,”