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By David Klayton, Environment Issue Analyst

You’ve probably heard the phrase “resource wars,” and you probably usually think of wars over oil that dominated the 20th century. But have you ever stopped to take the time to think about what the phrase really means, and how it pertains to the future of the planet?

As much as we may like to think they are, resources on this planet are not infinite. In fact, we will start to run low on many elements and minerals like copper and aluminum within the next century. Expect a skyrocket in the cost of living by the turn of the 22nd century. But there is one resource being depleted that will affect humanity beyond an increase in the cost of living. People can live without copper, without aluminum, without oil even, but people cannot live without water.

Many say that wars of the 20th century were fought over oil. And many say that wars of the 21st century will be fought over water. It’s pretty simple: when people need something they don’t have, they fight for it. People need water, and more and more people are losing access to it. The evidence is not lacking. Consider this report on the problems that recent water shortages in China have caused. Or consider this article on the relationships between increasing urban zones in Africa and the limited water sources available there. Or considerthis report predicting problems with food insecurity due to decreasing water supplies in nations across the entire globe.

I don’t know how to say it any better than this: The world is running out of water. Large-scale conflict has not yet begun over the depletion of water. Yet. What can be done to prevent any such conflict? Awareness isn’t enough. National leaders need to be more proactive in their understanding of this issue, need to communicate with one another on possible solutions to such a global problem. Right now we live in a world divided. We need to live in a world unified in transnational understanding of such inevitable problems like water depletion.



By David Klayton
David is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about David below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

How many times have you heard someone say that 20th century wars were fought over oil, but 21st century wars will be fought over water? Once should be enough—you’d better believe it.

Sure, it may be ten years into the 21st century. You could say that we’re still fighting wars over oil. But picture yourself—picture the world—in just fifteen years, when it is estimated that the world population hits 8 billion. Now picture yourself just twenty or so years beyond then, when we hit 9 billion. Fuse these images with images of populations all over the world with already extremely limited water sources, with images of industries sucking up water like the universe is made of it, with images of how much water you, personally, waste on a daily basis.

We, not only the youth of the United States of America, but the youth of the world, are the next politicians. We are the next congressmen and congresswomen, the next presidents of the United States, the next foreign heads of state. We are the next policymakers, those with the ability to protect our planet’s water.

We are the next diplomats. We are the next generation of those who will represent our nations. We will be communicating with others like ourselves from various nations about the global issue of water. We are the next scientists. We are those who will find ways to desalinate ocean water efficiently, those who will discover new ways to recycle water, those who will introduce and implement entirely new ways of even thinking about water.

Pardon the cliché, but we are the future.

My Name is David Klayton. I grew up in Fairfax, Virginia and I am now a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis. I went to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology with a particular interest in chemistry, but now I am majoring in anthropology and international studies. I switched from studying the hard sciences to humanities because I thought I’d be able to make more of an impact on the world by doing so, and I hope that I’ll be able to do so by analyzing the global issue of water.

By Adwapa Donkoh
Adwapa is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find our more about Adwapa below, and about our Student Issue Analysts.

I know what you’re thinking? Water existed before any of us came into being, so technically, nobody should dictate who can or cannot have access to water. On the other hand, like all resources, water needs to be managed effectively in order to ensure equal access and use. While some think this should be the government responsibility, others believe private corporations will manage it more effectively.

Today’s water crisis isn’t an issue of scarcity, but of access. YES ACCESS! According to “more people in the world own cell phones than have access to a toilet!” Everyday, limited access to clean water and sanitation kills thousands leaving others with reduced quality of life.

So now that we know the facts, my question to you is “WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO HELP?” Little drops of water make a mighty ocean (no pun intended). Even if our government(s) aren’t putting the right policies in place, there are some simple things we can do. It sounds like such a simple thing. But without clean water, economies crumble, livestock dies, and it’s impossible to grow basic staples. The lack of safe water is the mother of famine, disease, poverty and warfare.

Today, I challenge you to step back and realize how you take water for granted. It’s as easy to forget water’s value when you have it, as it is to never forget your thirst when you don’t. Consider some of these options:
Install water-saving showerheads. Plant drought-resistant gardens. Find leaks in your home and repair them. Take shorter showers. Replace old washing machines and dishwashers with water saving appliances. Most importantly, support organizations that bring fresh water to people who don’t have any such as Water for People, the Blue Planet Run Foundation and H2OAfrica.

With everyone’s efforts, we can help turn this absurdity around.

Adwapa Donkoh received a Bachelors degree from Spelman College. She is currently a student at American University, where she is getting her master’s in Public Policy. Her interest includes economic development in areas such as food, water and health. She is originally from Ghana West Africa.

In a recent conversation with my sister about water usage in the US, I said ” We need to realize that taking an extra 5 minutes in the shower means that someone else may not have water.” She, quite rightly, attacked my simplification of science (it’s not as simple as that, it’s a complicated interaction of the water cycle, climate change, and water consumption, and a lot of time to get around the world), and I quickly amended my statement.

Until I saw this article. Reserachers in California have proposed building a pipeline from the Columbia River in Washington to supply people with water in Northern California.  The project was only presented as a feasibility study, not as an actual proposal (yet).

The United States already imports some of its water from Canada, as well as all the water in bottled water that is imported into this country.  California already imports much of its water from the Colorado River — diverted to provide the growing city of Los Angeles with enough water for green lawns. Because of this, and other diversions of the sources of the Colorado River, the river is depleted and runs the risk of running dry in the coming years.  California is one of the biggest consumers of water (because they are the biggest producer of energy — power plants need water to run) in the US and the majority of that water goes toward irrigation.

These are legitimate reasons for needing water (except the green lawns. It’s near a desert. Your lawn doesn’t need to be green!).  The solution proposed to deal with the higher consumption is not legitimate.  As the article points out, there are others ways to manage the problem of over-consumption — like reducing consumption.  Switching to a water-wise irrigation system like drip-irrigation could reduce the amount of water necessary for irrigation.  Requiring that power plants change their cooling systems to systems which require much less water would also help the problem.

According to Freshwater Society, 43 countries are already under water stress, with that number on the rise.   While the US is not one of them, we are a nation that is contributing to water stress, especially if we continue to turn to importing water as the solution to balancing our consumption of water with the speed of natural replenishment.  Instead of trying to invent our way out of this one, we need to take a closer look at our personal environmental habits.  If we keep turning to importing, that extra five minutes in the shower really will mean that someone else in the world doesn’t get enough water for the day.

Hello fellow AIDemocracy followers! I’m AIDemocracy’s new Global Development Intern, Noor Khalidi. I’m very excited to be on board this summer, to be learning more about social justice advocacy, and to be delivering you interesting news and reflections within the field of global development.

A little about myself—I am a junior at Virginia Tech studying Economics and International Studies. I began my college career very devoted to environmental issues, primarily due to a class I took my freshman year which exposed the frightening impact of modern human civilization on our Earth and its resources.

While my passion for environmental issues still burns, I have slowly begun to gravitate towards issues of global development and poverty alleviation. Earlier this summer, I traveled to Nicaragua as part of a Virginia Tech field study to learn more about approaches to sustainable development in poor rural communities–communities without running water and electricity, for example.

During my time in Nicaragua, I lived in two villages with very generous host families in modest adobe mud homes, filled with many chickens and a pig or two if lucky.  Through the international organization Green Empowerment and their local partner AsoFenix, I learned about low-impact sustainable development projects such as greywater filters and solar water pumps.

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It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love water.  My master’s thesis is centering around women and water, and I could talk about the benefits of keeping water public for days.  For these reason, I am truly excited about the fact that the right to water and sanitation is being considered by the UN as an addition to the Declaration of Human Rights.

Water is necessary for life — not only for the physical necessity of keeping hydrated, but also for the the daily tasks like cooking, cleaning, and sanitation.   Access to clean water and sanitation can prevent fatal diseases that have plagued the developing world for years and survive only in memory in the developed world.

In the recent decades, water has been increasingly privatized, making it difficult for those not in power to have access to clean water.  In South Africa, the private companies charge way about the income level of the poor; in other countries the water systems are not maintained, leaving broken pipes and pumps that don’t work.  These situations force the people to go back to drinking the dirty water that causes diseases like dysentery or cholera.  Even in the US, our water systems are in danger of being privatized by corporations looking to make a profit (or take the bottled water industry…selling our water back to us in little plastic bottles).

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From hydroelectric projects in Mexico and a dam in Brazil, to Afro-Colombian displacement, to developing tourism instead of community in Honduras, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has not been following through on its promises.

AID blogger Michael Collins recently co-authored this informative and infuriating article on just how much damage the IDB has been doing in these areas as a result of its “development projects.” Collins and his co-author, through the Center for International Policy in Mexico, uncovered that the IDB’s projects have been directly responsible for everything from uprooting entire communities to polluting drinking water and ignoring calls for decontamination. Not to mention, when the authors were doing their research, not only were documents difficult to find or information buried in vague language, often times their inquiries simply went unanswered.

Not exactly what IDB’s commitments to transparency and international development should look like.

Read the full text of the article here.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference in Syracuse, NY on the Right to Water.  While I was there to present my work on women and water, I learned a lot about water issues, in particular the idea of the  right to water being a human right.  Most people would agree that water is essential to life (I’m not sure there is anyone who would dispute that specific fact) and that access to clean, safe, water is important for the quality of life.  Where this conversation gets interesting is in the discussion about the right to water as a human right.  Human rights are heavily debated and contested throughout the world, from country to country, and can include any kind of bias like racism, classism, sexism, etc.

Quick example: Rocio Magana presented her work on the criminalization of water at the conference. This is a summary of her work.  Along the border between Mexico and the United States, many migrants have to pass through the Sonora Desert.  Humanitarian groups have been placing gallon water jugs at various points in the desert (part of which is a national park) and have been charged with littering.  This is the final attempt to find a charge that would stick so that the groups would no longer place water in the desert.  Without the water, the migrants die of dehydration, heat stroke and other heat related illnesses.

Is the right to water a human right? And if so, who deserves that human right and who decides who deserves that right? These are just some of the many questions that really struck me while I was at the conference, and I’m sure there will be many more questions now that I am home!


February 2019
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