US Intelligence Report: Expect Water Wars Soon

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Common Dreams

US Intelligence Report: Expect Water Wars Soon

Report sees biotechnology, agricultural exports and virtual water trade as the way forward

by
Common Dreams staff

A report released today on global water security from the Defense Intelligence Agency assesses that in next 10 years, water instability will be likely in "nations important to the United States", and says that in the next decades, the use of water as a weapon will be more become more likely.

The report, which focused on the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Mekong, Jordan, Indus, Brahmaputra, and Amu Darya water basins, states that the availability of potable water will not keep up with demand without better water management.

Project sites in rural India

While environmentalists have pointed to agroecology, food sovereignty and viewing water as part of the commons as a path towards responsible water management, the intelligence report sees biotechnology, agricultural exports and virtual water trade as the way forward.

Today, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who requested the report, commented on the report in a speech at the State Department, saying, "As the world's population continues to grow, demand for water will go up but our fresh water supplies will not keep pace." "These difficulties will all increase the risk of instability within and between states," she said.

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The report: Global Water Security

  • We assess that during the next 10 years, water problems will contribute to instability in states important to US national security interests. Water shortages, poor water quality, and floods by themselves are unlikely to result in state failure. However, water problems— when combined with poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions— contribute to social disruptions that can result in state failure.
     
  • We assess that a water-related state-on-state conflict is unlikely during the next 10 years. Historically, water tensions have led to more water-sharing agreements than violent conflicts. However, we judge that as water shortages become more acute beyond the next 10 years, water in shared basins will increasingly be used as leverage; the use of water as a weapon or to further terrorist objectives also will become more likely beyond 10 years.

* * *

The report notes that agriculture is responsible for approximately 70 percent of the global fresh water supply, and implies the need for geneticically modifed crops to deal with the decreasing water supply.  From the report:

• Research to develop drought resistance in crops has been conducted for several decades, but no commercialization exists to date. During the next three decades, selected crops could be developed that require half the water used by current crops, but widespread cultivation of such crops is problematic.

• Limited experiments are being conducted to develop food plants that can tolerate salt or waste water. The advances in biotechnology may result in new plants or genetically altered strains that can grow in salt water from the ocean or large saltwater aquifers.

* * *

It also touts virtual water trade as one of "the best solutions for water problems" and says that the U.S. will lead in the export of virtual water:

The United States is also one of the highest exporters of “virtual water” (water consumed in the manufacturing or growing of an export product), providing numerous opportunities for engagement with the rest of the world.

The reports sees other countries' water scarcity as a boon for U.S. exports:

The United States can benefit from an increased demand for agricultural exports as water scarcity increases in various parts of the world. This would be especially true if states expecting increased water scarcity rely upon open markets instead of seeking bilateral land-lease arrangements in other countries to achieve their food security.

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Today, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who requested the report, commented on the report in a speech at the State Department.

"I think it's fair to say the intelligence community's findings are sobering."

"As the world's population continues to grow, demand for water will go up but our fresh water supplies will not keep pace."

"These difficulties will all increase the risk of instability within and between states," she said.

"Within states they could cause some states to fail outright. And between and among states, you could see regional conflicts among states that share water basins be exacerbated and even lead to violence."

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