Product has been added to the basket

Water wars

Ted Nield as MCresized.jpgWe have, sadly, grown used to the idea of nations warring over sources of energy.  But as this week’s main feature points out, the oil and gas business (now more than ever, with the advent of fracking technologies) spends a huge amount of time and money pumping - water.  No surprise, then, that most of the (overtly expressed) opposition to fracking concerns itself with water-related issues.

However, water – especially fresh water - is itself scarce in many parts of the world, and many of those ‘water-stressed’ nations are also where other natural resources are increasingly being extracted.  The demand for water in producing raw materials and energy cannot but exacerbate an already pressing problem. Ten of the world’s most ‘water-stressed’ nations are located in the Middle East.

Violence and tension over water is nothing new, and it is on the rise.  Peter Gleick is President of the Pacific Institute, an independent US research centre that publishes a chronology of water-related conflicts.  “We see thousands of years of examples where water has been a source of tension in one form or another …  violence related to water is growing, not shrinking”, he says.  Climate change, growing population, increasing living standards and industrial demand cannot help but drive the trend inexorably in one direction. 

Business cannot ignore this – it is hardly in its interest to do so.  The public cares about water in a way that it should do (but sadly doesn’t) about energy.  As usual with natural resources, the solution lies in providing businesses with a level playing field through sound regulation. Governments need to establish clear and transparent regulatory frameworks, so that all businesses can budget for water resource management.  This also implies effective enforcement, which must be transnational if it is to be effective – as transnational as businesses themselves. 

However, this need for internationalism does not absolve national governments.  Unrest is most likely where there are corrupt, inadequate or ineffective regimes.  As Gleick has argued: “The greatest risks of conflicts over water are not really at the intersection of the corporate sector and the water world. They are in regions where water is scarce and governments are not addressing how to allocate water fairly and effectively.” 

It is a familiar sentiment, but effective governance, informed by sound Earth science advice, once again offers our only hope of a solution.


[email protected] , @TedNield @geoscientistmag