Saturday, February 15, 2014
Water Wars a Decade Off
America's hydrologists were rattled when their country's Grace satellites updated data on the world's water resources last month.
On the satellite images the biggest losses were denoted by red hotspots, he said. And those red spots largely matched the locations of groundwater reserves.
"Almost all of those red hotspots correspond to major aquifers of the world. What Grace shows us is that groundwater depletion is happening at a very rapid rate in almost all of the major aquifers in the arid and semi-arid parts of the world."
The Middle East, north Africa and south Asia are all projected to experience water shortages over the coming years because of decades of bad management and overuse.
There are dozens of potential flashpoints, spanning the globe. In the Middle East, Iranian officials are making contingency plans for water rationing in the greater Tehran area, home to 22 million people.
Egypt has demanded Ethiopia stop construction of a mega-dam on the Nile, vowing to protect its historical rights to the river at "any cost". The Egyptian authorities have called for a study into whether the project would reduce the river's flow.
Jordan, which has the third lowest reserves in the region, is struggling with an influx of Syrian refugees. The country is undergoing power cuts because of water shortages. Last week, Prince Hassan, the uncle of King Abdullah, warned that a war over water and energy could be even bloodier than the Arab spring.
The United Arab Emirates, faced with a growing population, has invested in desalination projects and is harvesting rainwater. At an international water conference in Abu Dhabi last year, Crown Prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan said: "For us, water is [now] more important than oil."
The chances of countries going to war over water were slim – at least over the next decade, the national intelligence report said. But it warned ominously: "As water shortages become more acute beyond the next 10 years, water in shared basins will increasingly be used as leverage; the use of water as a weapon or to further terrorist objectives will become more likely beyond 10 years."
The water losses detected by NASA's Grace satellites revealed heavy reliance on groundwater in countries that can least afford to deplete their resources.
James Famiglietti, a hydrologist at the University of California, notes that on the satellite images the biggest water losses appeared as red hotspots. "Almost all of those correspond to major aquifers of the world," he said in the report. "What Grace shows us is that groundwater depletion is happening at a very rapid rate in almost all of the major aquifers in the arid and semi-arid parts of the world."
Along major rivers such as the Tigris, Euphrates and Nile, upstream countries are moving to channel or dam water flows, imperilling the water supply of countries downstream such as Iraq or Egypt. The Egyptian government has been blunt in asserting that no nation upstream can be allowed to impede Egypt's entitlement to the lion's share of the Nile waters and, if need be, Egypt will destroy dams and other impediments.