At the European Policy Centre (EPC) in Brussels on November 30th, an expert panel discussed the challenges and possible solutions to the increasing crisis the planet is facing with regards to our most precious resource: water. Or, as the experts coined it, “blue gold”.
“Future wars in the Middle East are more likely to be fought over water than over oil," said environmental analyst Lester R. Brown at a previous Stockholm Water Conference. According to the panel, this prediction has been proved true by the Syrian refugee crisis, which was “partly caused by years of drought resulting in internal pressures, intensifying the political and security crisis in the country.”
“The Middle East has 1% of the world’s supply of freshwater, for 5% of the world’s population.
Although it is the Middle East region and sub-Saharan Africa that are faced with the most pressing water scarcity, the publication of the European Policy Centre paper “Reaching for Blue Gold” has made it clear that the water crisis is now reaching Europe: and this is not only from migrants fleeing the effects of water scarcity, but also on European territory itself.
The cost of droughts in Europe has been €100 billion in the last 30 years. Over 11% of the population and 17% of the territory in Europe has been affected by water scarcity.
Global water supplies are increasingly under stress. Agricultural production, unsustainable land use, industrial activities, energy production, urban development, and unsustainable consumption are all contributing to an increasingly alarming state of play. There has been a worldwide increase of “interstate disputes over the control of trans-boundary water supplies”, and the outlook for the future is sobering. By 2030, water needs will be 40% higher.
So why isn’t water present anywhere on the COP21 agenda in Paris?
As Alexandros Yannis (Strategy Advisor, European External Action Service) explained, “There are simply too many priorities at COP21. Water is still considered a regional and local challenge, instead of a global one”, Yannis explained. “As such, it is not considered to be a top priority for the global climate change summit in Paris.”
The belief that water is a regional and not a global issue is false. There are more than 148 states in the world that share waters with other countries. As such, water “can be a source of inter- or intra-state conflict, but also an opportunity for international and regional cooperation or even integration.”
Suez Environnment (a French-based utility company which operates in the water treatment sectors) spokesman, Denis Bonvillain, stated that “currently 1.8 billion people regularly use unsafe water. However, through processes of reuse, improved desalination technology, smart water networks, and tariff engineering, the global water crisis that is approaching has the potential to be managed, and turned into “a positive source of innovation and growth”.
Photo Credits: Getty Images