ISMAIL SERAGELDIN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT FOR SPECIAL PROGRAMS OF THE WORLD BANK WARNED IN 1995: “IF THE WARS OF THIS CENTURY WERE FOUGHT OVER OIL, THE WARS OF THE NEXT CENTURY WILL BE FOUGHT OVER WATER.”
In truth, “the challenge of freshwater scarcity and ecosystem depletion is rapidly emerging as one of the defining fulcrums of world politics and hu- man civilization. A century of unprecedented freshwater abundance is being eclipsed by a new age characterized by acute disparities in water wealth, chronic insufficiencies, and deteriorating environmental sustainability across many of the most heavily populated parts of the planet.
Just as oil conflicts played a central role in defining the history of the 1900s, the struggle to command increasingly scarce, usable water resources will set to shape the destinies of societies and the world order of the twenty-first century. Water is overtaking oil as the world’s scarcest critical natural resource. But water is more than the new oil. Oil, in the end, is substitutable; but water’s uses are pervasive, irreplaceable by any other substance, and utterly indispensable” (Solomon, 2010, p. 367).
Proponents of the realist theory of political science would argue that Serageldin is correct and that in light of increasing water scarcity, conflict over water is inevitable. However, since Serageldin’s pronouncement more than twenty years ago, while there has been a conflict, not one water war has ensued and international cooperation over water issues has been the norm. According to neoliberal institutionalist thinking water scarcity provides a motive for cooperation since water interests transcend national boundaries and nation states stand to gain from cooperative efforts addressing water supply issues (Dinar, 2009).
Constructivists would argue cooperative efforts would be expected so long as states can gain from those efforts. Should the status quo become upset, constructivist thinking would indicate states would reevaluate their position(s) and pursue courses of action in reaction to the changing situation (Viotti and Kauppi, 2009). So which school of political science thinking is correct and which outcome is most likely? Water wars or water peace? As Allan (2009), Bierman and Boas (2010), Solomon (2010) and others illustrate, the state of world peace and the future of human civilization is balanced on the delicate fulcrum of each nation state’s supply and access to freshwater.
While the world’s leaders may choose differing courses of action in response to water scarcity according to the political school of thought they either subscribe to or the various national circumstances that force their hands, ultimately they will all share the same cause of action: global climatic change that affects the water cycle and global precipitation distribution combined with accelerating population growth. Humanity is at a critical nexus. As the water cycle, and climatic change affecting the water cycle, is the lynchpin that determines each nation’s water supply, business access to water for agriculture and manufacturing, and individual access to water for basic human needs; it is necessary to understand what the water cycle is and how it is affected to understand the growing magnitude of global water scarcity issues.
Simply put, the water cycle is the circulation of freshwater on the planet. The water cycle begins with evaporation from the world’s oceans. Each day, solar heating causes water to evaporate from the surface of the oceans and enter the atmosphere, where the water is cooled, condenses into clouds, and eventually falls as rain or snow. When water falls on mountain tops during cold weather, it builds snowpacks and increases glaciation. The snowpack stores water for release into rivers when temperatures warm, thus ensuring a steady supply of water in high latitudes and mountain- ous regions well into summer and fall as the snow and ice melt. When water falls in warmer climes, water infiltrates the soil to be captured and used by plant life and then released back into the atmosphere through plant transpiration, percolates into ground- water, or most commonly, runs off in rivers to the sea where the process of evaporation begins again. In this way, water is spread to every area of the planet and provides for the sustainability of all life, unless it is intercepted and held in lake basins or otherwise diverted from its natural flow by the activities of man.
About The MBA League
We are proud to announce that our first White Paper, Strategic Objective: Sustainability has been released and is now available.
The paper examines in detail the need to embed sustainability in corporate, government and personal strategic planning immediately.
This paper further provides moral and ethical justification for corporations and governments to embed sustainability into their strategic planning process and detailed suggestions for how to accomplish that process.
For more information regarding this paper and the information herein, for consulting services, speaking engagements and workshops, please contact either MBA League Founder Matthew Urdan or Elizabete De Lima.
Sources, Credits & Disclosures
The MBA League, where you can read more about “Strategic Objective: Sustainabililty (Our First White Paper)”
Download the original white paper as a PDF from The MBA League’s, “STRATEGIC OBJECTIVE: SUSTAINABILITY Embedding Sustainability in Strategic Planning.”
Featured image can be found at U.S. Geological Survey article “How much water is there on, in, and above the Earth?“. The full image can be found “Water Science Photo Gallery“. Credits to Howard Perlman, USGS; globe illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (©); Adam Nieman.
Aquifer Depletion Spigot image is fully licensed from Adobe Stock images.