Water wars?

The story below is yet another "resources running out' story and as silly as most.  There are two obvious replies to the scare:  One in Australia and one in Israel.

Australia is an unusually dry country on the whole, though there are some areas where it is very wet indeed.  The Southeast of the continent relies heavily on our great Southern rivers, with irrigation from them producing excellent crops.  But if everybody were allowed to take all they want from them, people in the Southern reaches of the rivers would be left high and dry.

So the right to take water from the rivers has simply been made tradeable.  You buy water from them so only those who can make good money from the water will want to buy.  So the people who can use the water best are the one who do get to use it and there is as a result plenty of water available for productive uses.

Israel also has strategies that have solved their water problems.  Israel is in an area that has been very dry in recent years but in fact has plenty of water.  How come?  There are two main factors: A high rate of recycling "grey" water for irrigation purposes and desalination.  Israel is a world leader in desalination technology and now produces large flows of desalinated water at a very moderate cost.

A combination of the Australian and Israeli approaches should relieve any country of water problems as long as they decide to spend their money intelligently instead of blowing one-another up over religious disagreements

WE ALL think we know why wars are fought. Whether it’s the devastation in Syria, armed skirmishes in Africa or Russia’s expansionist leanings, armed conflicts are usually seen as falling into one of very few categories; capturing territory, a political ideology attempting to dominate another or, simply, for a country to get its hands on oilfields.

But, according to one theory, whatever the stated reason for most wars, they actually come down to one reason. Or rather, one resource, which is all around us.

And with stores of this resource dwindling in some parts of the world, things could be about to get a lot worse with a potential future flashpoint being between two of the world’s nuclear armed superpowers — India and China.

Alok Jha, a British journalist with a background in physics, will speak at this weekend’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House about the role water has played in a multitude of conflicts including both the Arab Spring and the civil war that has engulfed Syria.

“The Roman empire and the Persian empire would go to war for access to water and would live or die by that,” Mr Jha tells news.com.au. “That doesn’t happen as blatantly anymore, it’s much more subtle.”

Part of the problem, he argues in his new book The Water Book, is we’ve managed to hide water from view and have forgotten its importance.


“What we’ve done in modern society is make water invisible. Apart from when it’s falling from the sky or we’re having showers you don’t really think about it.”

Yet, every major city — from Sydney on the harbour to Brisbane on the river — exists either on or close to a river or a coastline. A map of the world’s population centres, says Mr Jha, is actually a map of freshwater sources.

“Any civilisation marks its domination and power through control of water.

Ninety seven per cent of the earth’s water is in the oceans and salty and so unusable unless treated through energy sucking desalination plants.

“Of the remaining three per cent, two per cent is in the ice caps and one per cent is freshwater, most of which most sits underground in ice or permafrost and a vanishingly small percentage is the stuff all of life uses,” explains Mr Jha.

So successful have we been at harnessing the power of water that cities and even entire nations have sprung from the desert soil, be that Las Vegas in the US or Dubai and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. Each one far outstripping the water supply naturally occurring in the area.

But climate change, the inefficient use of water, and access to the oceans could stretch our ability to squeeze more H20 out of the supplies we have and could spark violence across borders.
Alik Jha argues the world is taking the risk of conflicts over water for granted.

Alik Jha argues the world is taking the risk of conflicts over water for granted.Source:Supplied


Conflicts concerning strategic bodies of water are nothing new. Indeed, a series of skirmishes in the 1960s between Israel, Syria and Lebanon about freshwater allocations from the Jordan Valley was called the ‘water war’.

But Mr Jha argues that far more conflicts have water at their core.

“There are conflicts and skirmishes all the time and they are often not described as a water war, sometimes people might fight over a bit of land or it may manifest as a trade dispute but underlying all of that is access to water.

“In the Middle East there are constant battles over (water) but it’s at a very low level and sometimes internal (to the country),” he says.

“The Arab Spring was exacerbated by failed crops. Syria, right now, is largely political and it’s about dictatorships and war but it’s exacerbated because of water shortages.”

The spark for the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region, which saw two million deaths and the country divided in two, is credited as the populated and parched north of the country looking to get its hands on water from the lush but culturally distinct south.
Rebel Sudanese Justice and Equality Movement fighters in the Darfur region of Sudan. The were needed in the 2000s when the country split in two. Picture: Scott Nelson/Getty Images

Rebel Sudanese Justice and Equality Movement fighters in the Darfur region of Sudan. The were needed in the 2000s when the country split in two. Picture: Scott Nelson/Getty ImagesSource:Supplied


“If you do not have access to water, it’s not just hard to have a shower in the morning, you can’t do anything, you can’t grow crops, you have no clothes, nothing works,” he says.

If climate change continues, as scientists predict, there will be even less water in the Middle East, sub Saharan Africa, the southern US, the Mediterranean and, he says, Australia. And as the water moves, so will the people.

“If everything in a country dries up the people will look across international boundaries for jobs, food, for home. Richer countries will have to work out how to absorb these people.

Reasons for migration might seem diverse now, from looking for a better life to escaping conflict, “but in 20 years, if you look back you’ll see it was a water-led migration,” says Mr Jha.

Conversely, massive global disruption could also occur because of too much water. Rising sea levels could swamp major world centres, like New York, London and Tokyo.


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