Imagine it is the year 2030 and China has invaded Siberia while its allies India and Pakistan point nuclear missiles at the populous Western Russia. The Russians have positioned themselves to invade Canada while China has lined the U.S. West Coast with warships. Meanwhile, Mexico and Central America have invaded Brazil. And after years of civil war, African countries have disintegrated into political chaos and violence. What brought all this about? Fresh water.
Nations need fresh water resources to feed their people and crops as well as make the economic engines run, but our fresh water is threatened by pollution, diversion, unwise use, and climate change. Just like oil, water is a strategic resource – just look at how China is preparing to divert water from Tibet via a massive pipeline. The United Nations finds the threat to fresh water so immenent that they deemed yesterday World Water Day, to raise awareness around the globe that our fresh water resources are in danger.
So, how did we arrive at the brink of an imaginary World War III?
Let’s start with China- by 2030, more than 80 percent of the Himalayas will have melted away. These glaciers feed China’s main rivers. Most of the water is diverted from the increasingly less lush South to the North, where 45 percent of China’s 1.3 billion people live – it is also home to nearly 60 percent of her farms. Since 2006, China has been experiencing a worsening drought leaving her largest lakes at record low levels and 18 million Chinese thirsty while crops wilt in 15 provinces. Add to this the last 25 years of economic expansion that has left a wake of pollution in China’s dwindling waters. According to the Chinese government, 300 million rural Chinese lack clean drinking water and pollution has left 40 percent of the water in 1,300 rivers fit only for agriculture and industry. Poor stewardship and increasing resource consumption have birthed a sustained water crisis. So, why not just take the water from a neighboring nation?
In our scenario the populous India uses its nuclear weapon to broker a strategic alliance with China because five years before the outbreak of our war (2025) India fell victim to current projections and became the most populous nation with the least amount of fresh water. The World Bank projects India will be the worst affected by a fresh water scarcity – the main source of her fresh water is ground water which is expected to be depleted by half in 17 years while the population is anticipated to soar by the billions–an unsustainable equation.
But Russia is awash in fresh water – second only to Brazil in the resource making it a real water power. Russia’s Lake Baikal boasts 21 percent of the world’s fresh water. Siberia and the East are home to 80 percent of the nation’s fresh water. It didn’t take the former Cold War enemy long to figure out that water holdings would soon drive international power the way oil had in the 20th century. So, in our war game, the Russian giant invades Canada to secure a monopoly on all the world’s water by taking the Great Lakes along with Canada’s other bodies of fresh water. China, also eyeing our Great Lakes and wanting to deny Russia world domination has positioned her ships along our West Coast.
A parched Central America finds it easier to attack within its hemisphere and joins forces to invade Brazil and conquer the Amazon. This also buys them international political pull – something denied them in recent centuries. Meanwhile, Africa has descended into total chaos and political violence. What started decades previous in Darfur as a spar between nomadic herders and farmers when climate change precipitated a change in rainfall limiting water resources expanded from civil strife into conflict between countries, first over quickly drying shared rivers and then through a massive refugee crisis spinning things out-of-control.
Now, back to reality, conflict over water shortages already exist in many parts of the world, but the United Nations fears they will become more commonplace if we don’t prepare, use water more efficiently and share it well.
A week ago, the U.N. released a report finding that more than 100 million Europeans still lack access to safe drinking water. As a result nearly 40 European children die from diarrhea every day. In addition, more than half the world, 102 countries and 3.9 billion people are at risk of political instability and violent conflict because of water-related issues, according to advocacy organization International Alert. ((((Can we link to this?))))
The United States shares the Great Lakes with Canada. The Lakes provide 90 percent of our nation’s supply of fresh surface water. Thus, restoring and preserving the lakes is not a regional issue; it is clearly a national and international concern. Yet, leadership eludes us. President Bush’s budget makes it clear he has little interest in fixing aging waste water infrastructure which threatens the lakes on a daily basis. Legislation that will diminish the significant impact ballast water has on our fresh water’s ecology and industry is close to adoption but remains pending. The recent BP scandal illuminated the depth of the ineptitude of our EPA and illustrated that the agency can’t even determine how much pollution is entering the lakes. And most egregious to our nation’s future security, our request for the $26 billion that would finally restore the lakes and help our economy by jump starting a region responsible for 30 percent of the GDP sits idle.
With 90 percent of our nation’s fresh water at stake, the parching of the earth from climate change, an impending world water crisis in overpopulated Asia it is more than fair to argue that preserving and restoring the Great Lakes is an issue of national security. Let’s take this a step further, we currently spend $10 billion a month in Iraq and another $2 billion every 31 days in Afghanistan – so is it really unreasonable to consider a one-time investment of $26 billion to secure the future of this nation’s largest source of fresh water?