Fresh water on this planet is a looming crisis that is slowly sneaking up on an apathetic world. Less than 1% of water on this planet is for us humans, and about 2% of that is locked up in ice that is slowly melting, uselessly, into the oceans. Salt water abounds in our seas, but only the rich can afford to desalinate it. All across the world, deep fossilized water is being mined from giant aquifers and turning desert into lush farms. However, in places like Spain, this dramatic exhausting of finite resources is not only causing wells to go dry but, as the Earth settles into the now-empty aquifers, it is also causing earthquakes.
Some of these problems can be solved but, as humanity breeds like rabbits, this shrinking resource will be fought over more and more. If nothing changes in the near future, it will not be oil that causes wars, but water.
10. Mexico City Water War
New York City may be the Concrete Jungle, but Mexico City is the Concrete Ocean. Millions of Mexicans make their livings in a region built on ancient Aztec lakes, that the Spanish drained and built their millions of homes on. Water is being drained from the aquifer faster than it can be replenished, and so the city is slowly sinking. This means that heavy rains ironically flood parts of the city even though, most of the time, residents have barely any water.
The city is a perfect storm of low-water levels, no recycling system to take advantage of occasional floods, and an antiquated system of pipes that leak 40% before the water even gets to the end of the tap. Mexico has been very vigilant in acquiring water for its population as they know, as well as any Roman Emperor, that rulers are deposed by angry, thirsty citizens. Therefore, the city’s distant drinking water reservoirs, which are drained lower and lower each year, are fenced off to prevent local people from getting water. In Mexico’s drug-war-induced anarchy, it’s only a matter of time before criminalized gangs migrate into controlling the water, or parched peasants of areas surrounding Mexico City attack the city’s aquifer fortifications.
9. Mauritania–Senegal Border War
Starting in 1981, Mauritania and Senegal, two countries in Western Africa, started a war that saw thousands of people killed and hundred of thousands displaced. While there were a number of ethnic and border issues underlying the war, the base cause was water and increased desertification. Increased human activity destroyed the fragile scrub lands, which in turn reduced the rainfall, which started a vicious cycle of more desertification.
As grass turned to sand, traditional African-Arab herders moved their stock south, coming into contact with African farmers who used the river water of the Senegal River, the river that also demarks the border between Mauritania and Senegal. Tensions escalated until a two-year long war broke out. Nothing has changed in the region with ongoing desertification and increasing population. The next drought or water project will likely lead to another war.
8. Lake Chad War
Also in West Africa, Lake Chad is a shallow lake surrounded by four countries (Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria). Over the last few decades, the lake has shrunk by over 95%, as drought conditions increase, along with abuse by the surrounding 30 million people who depend on its water. As the lake shrinks, the people who depend on it become more and more concentrated, leading to more instances of violence between different ethnic groups and national interests. Like the Senegal River conflict, it’s a time bomb just waiting to happen.
7. Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Israel is already at war with its surrounding countries, and its Palestinian people, over water. The BBC has talked about how the 1967 war had its base in water resources. While Israelis have a western standard of living out of a parched region abandoned by the Ottomans, it comes at a price. Israeli people consume 300 liters of water a day, compared to the 70 liters allowed to the Palestinian people. Water use in the West Bank and Gaza has been strangled by occupation policies and the Intifada uprisings, which have frozen any development of Palestinian infrastructure.
Already the Jordan River is 99% raw sewage, and the Dead Sea is getting lower and lower every year. Either there will be another Palestinian uprising over water, or other countries like New Syria will try to wrest back its Golan Heights in order to control its water.
6. Afghanistan vs. Iran
In a small corner of the Far East, three countries come together: Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The land is so flat, and devoid of vegetation, that local fighters were able to trounce first the Soviets, and then the Taliban. In this arid region, the only commerce is people smuggling poor Afghans into Iran. Recently though, the Afghan government started a project to dam the Helmand River. Any diversion of water will mean death to the fragile Iranian eco-system downstream of the dam, yet the Afghans push ahead. Already the Iranians have started a low-level insurgency, in an effort to dissuade the Afghans to stop their project, but the fight is still ongoing. If the project is completed, the resulting devastation will force the Iranians to destroy the dam, and maybe occupy the Eastern portion of Afghanistan to prevent them from rebuilding it.
5. Iraq vs. Turkey, Syria, Iran
In Iraq, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates created the cradle of civilization: Mesopotamia, “the land between two rivers.” Now upstream, Iraq’s neighbors are threatening the very survival of the country already racked by an ongoing insurgency. To function normally, Iraq needs 400 cubic meters of water to flow over its northern border per second, yet water projects in Syria and Turkey have halved that amount. Turkey is even pressing away at another dam, the llisu dam, which will further restrict the water flowing south in Iraq. While ongoing projects in Syria have been halted by the revolution, it is only a matter of time before they too take even more water from Iraq.
More water from Iran could compensate, but Iran has been able to exert pressure on the Iraqi-ruling Shiite party, to squash any talk of turning on the Persian tap. A resurgent Iraq could take its water back by force from a weakened Syria or, if it succumbs to fragmentation along ethnic lines, the Iraqi groups could be fighting among themselves for their oil and water resources.
4. Sana’a, Yemen
Yemen is already a country in a water crisis; drought conditions have plagued the region for centuries. This chronic water shortage is made even worse by Yemen’s greatest crop: the water-guzzling Khat plant. The whole country is addicted to this narcotic, and the people spend their whole day chewing its leaves. Sanna, Yemen is already the first capital city in the world to have its water system totally collapse. Water has to be trucked in from far away for its thirsty citizens. The Arab spring, which ousted Yemen’s dictatorship, brought the country to the brink of civil war, and further devastated the city’s water infrastructure. If things don’t get better, the whole city will collapse, and its citizens will become water refugees, moving to the coast and into Saudi Arabia, further disrupting the fragile region.
3. Southeast Asia
The countries that make up Southeast Asia all depend on the same rivers, and developments upstream upset everyone downstream. Power-hungry China has urged the upstream nations of Laos and Burma to dam their rivers, and sell the power to it. Burma finally came out of its hermit-like status, and away from China’s influence, by canceling several dam projects on its rivers. Laos, however, is doing as requested; already Vietnam and Cambodia are threatening action if Laos moves to dam the river in several locations. These communist militaristic states of Laos and Vietnam could easily slip into war if they feel their national security is threatened. Vietnam already invaded Cambodia to oust the Khmer Rouge, and it could do the same with Laos.
2. Nile Water War
The greatest river in the world, the Nile, flows through much of Africa and multiple countries, yet a colonial legacy gives 90% of its water to Egypt. Ethiopia, the country where 85% of the water originates, is going through with projects to keep as much of that water as possible at the expense of Egypt. Already, Egypt has threatened to bomb any dams that Ethiopia creates, but the other countries along the Nile also want a piece of the pie. They could all unite against Egypt, or perhaps a Sudan-Egypt alliance could fight against South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the other southern Nile countries.
1. India vs. Pakistan
Pakistan and India have already fought multiple wars in the past, and are now armed with nuclear weapons. Already on edge over Pakistan and India’s Kashmir conflict, one reason nuclear weapons might be used in warfare (for the first time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki,) is over their shared water resources, like the Jhelum River. India plans to dam the Jhelum, and Pakistan leaders are worried that, in event of conflict, India could stop the flow of the rivers, and cut off Pakistan’s water supply. India needs energy to feed its growing economy. However, Pakistan’s dilapidated water infrastructure, ongoing collapse into civil insurgency, and strife with its war against the Taliban means it needs all the water it can get.
Yet global warming means glacial fields are shrinking, and water entering the rivers are reduced each year. During the Siachen War, these two countries fought over a barren glacier for almost three decades. If they would fight each other over a glacier, imagine what these nuclear-armed foes would do during a full-blown water crisis.