The Global Water Crisis


Richard Moore

The Global Water Crisis And
The Coming Battle For
The Right To Water
By Maude Barlow
28 February, 2008

The following is an excerpt of Chapter 5 in Maude Barlow's latest book, Blue 

The Future of Water

The three water crises ­ dwindling freshwater supplies, inequitable access to 
water and the corporate control of water ­ pose the greatest threat of our time 
to the planet and to our survival. Together with impending climate change from 
fossil fuel emissions, the water crises impose some life-or-death decisions on 
us all. Unless we collectively change our behavior, we are heading toward a 
world of deepening conflict and potential wars over the dwindling supplies of 
freshwater ­ between nations, between rich and poor, between the public and the 
private interest, between rural and urban populations, and between the competing
needs of the natural world and industrialized humans.

Water Is Becoming a Growing Source of Conflict Between Countries

Around the world, more that 215 major rivers and 300 groundwater basins and 
aquifers are shared by two or more countries, creating tensions over ownership 
and use of the precious waters they contain. Growing shortages and unequal 
distribution of water are causing disagreements, sometimes violent, and becoming
a security risk in many regions. Britain¹s former defense secretary, John Reid, 
warns of coming ³water wars.² In a public statement on the eve of a 2006 summit 
on climate change, Reid predicted that violence and political conflict would 
become more likely as watersheds turn to deserts, glaciers melt and water 
supplies are poisoned. He went so far as to say that the global water crisis was
becoming a global security issue and that Britain¹s armed forces should be 
prepared to tackle conflicts, including warfare, over dwindling water sources. 
³Such changes make the emergence of violent conflict more, rather than less, 
likely,² former British prime minister Tony Blair told The Independent. ³The 
blunt truth is that the lack of water and agricultural land is a significant 
contributory factor to the tragic conflict we see unfolding in Darfur. We should
see this as a warning sign.²

The Independent gave several other examples of regions of potential conflict. 
These include Israel, Jordan and Palestine, who all rely on the Jordan River, 
which is controlled by Israel; Turkey and Syria, where Turkish plans to build 
dams on the Euphrates River brought the country to the brink of war with Syria 
in 1998, and where Syria now accuses Turkey of deliberately meddling with its 
water supply; China and India, where the Brahmaputra River has caused tension 
between the two countries in the past, and where China¹s proposal to divert the 
river is re-igniting the divisions; Angola, Botswana and Namibia, where disputes
over the Okavango water basin that have flared in the past are now threatening 
to re-ignite as Namibia is proposing to build a threehundred- kilometer pipeline
that will drain the delta; Ethiopia and Egypt, where population growth is 
threatening conflict along the Nile; and Bangladesh and India, where flooding in
the Ganges caused by melting glaciers in the Himalayas is wreaking havoc in 
Bangladesh, leading to a rise in illegal, and unpopular, migration to India.

While not likely to lead to armed conflict, stresses are growing along the 
U.S.-Canadian border over shared boundary waters. In particular, concerns are 
growing over the future of the Great Lakes, whose waters are becoming 
increasingly polluted and whose water tables are being steadily drawn down by 
the huge buildup of population and industry around the basin. A joint commission
set up to oversee these waters was recently bypassed by the governors of the 
American states bordering the Great Lakes, who passed an amendment to the treaty
governing the lakes that allows for water diversions to new communities off the 
basin on the American side. Canadian protests fell on deaf ears in Washington. 
In 2006, the U.S. government announced plans to have the U.S. coast guard patrol
the Great Lakes using machine guns mounted on their vessels and revealed that it
had created thirty-four permanent live-fire training zones along the Great Lakes
from where it had already conducted a number of automatic weapons drills due to 
fierce opposition, firing three thousand lead bullets each time into the lakes. 
The Bush administration has temporarily called off these drills but is clearly 
asserting U.S. authority over what has in the past been considered joint waters.

Similar trouble is brewing on the U.S.-Mexican border, where a private group of 
U.S.­based water rights holders is using the North American Free Trade Agreement
to challenge the long-term practice by Mexican farmers to divert water from the 
Rio Grande before it reaches the United States.

Water Is Becoming a Global Security Issue:
The United States

Water has recently (and suddenly) become a key strategic security and foreign 
policy priority for the United States. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 
9-11, protection of U.S. waterways and drinking water supplies from terrorist 
attack became vitally important to the White House. When Congress created the 
Department of Homeland Security in 2002, it gave the department responsibility 
for securing the nation¹s water infrastructure and allocated us$548 million in 
appropriations for security of water infrastructure facilities, funding that was
increased in subsequent years. The Environmental Protection Agency created a 
National Homeland Security Research Center to develop the scientific foundations
and tools to be used in the event of an attack on the nation¹s water systems, 
and a Water Security Division was established to train water utility personnel 
on security issues. It also created a Water Information Sharing and Analysis 
Center for dissemination of alerts about potential threats to drinking water 
and, with the American Water Works Association, a rapid e-mail notification 
system for professionals called the Water Security Channel. Ever true to market 
economy ideology, the Department of Homeland Security¹s mandate includes 
promoting publicprivate partnerships in protecting the nation¹s water security.

But the interest in water did not stop there. Water is becoming as important a 
strategic issue as energy in Washington. In an August 2004 briefing note for the
Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a think tank that focuses on the 
link between energy and security, Dr. Allan R. Hoffman, a senior analyst for the
U.S. Department of Energy, declared that the energy security of the United 
States actually depends on the state of its water resources and warns of a 
growing water-security crisis worldwide. ³Just as energy security became a 
national priority in the period following the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973­74, water
security is destined to become a national and global priority in the decades 
ahead,² says Hoffman. He notes that central to addressing water security issues 
is finding the energy to extract water from underground aquifers, transport 
water through pipelines and canals, manage and treat water for reuse and 
desalinate brackish and sea water ­ all technologies now being promoted by U.S. 
government partnerships with American companies. He also points out that the 
U.S. energy interests in the Middle East could be threatened by water conflicts 
in the region: ³Water conflicts add to the instability of a region on which the 
U.S. depends heavily for oil.

Continuation or inflammation of these conflicts could subject U.S. energy 
supplies to blackmail again, as occurred in the 1970s.² Water shortages and 
global warning pose a ³serious threat² to America¹s national security, top 
retired military leaders told the president in an April 2007 report published by
the national security think tank cna Corporation. Six retired admirals and five 
retired generals warned of a future of rampant water wars into which the United 
States will be dragged. Erik Peterson, director of the Global Strategy Institute
of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research organization 
in Washington that calls itself a ³strategic planning partner for the 
government,² says that the United States must make water a top priority in 
foreign policy. ³There is a very, very critical dimension to all these global 
water problems here at home,² he told Voice of America News. ³The first is that 
it¹s in our national interest to see stability and security and economic 
development in key areas of the world, and water is a big factor with that whole
set of challenges.² His center has joined forces with itt Industries, the giant 
water technology company; Proctor & Gamble, which has created a home water 
purifier called pur and is working with the un in a joint publicprivate venture 
in developing countries; Coca-Cola; and Sandia National Laboratories to launch a
joint-research institute called Global Water Futures (gwf). Sandia, whose motto 
is ³securing a peaceful and free world through technology² and that works to 
³maintain U.S. military and nuclear superiority,² is contracted out to weapons 
manufacturer Lockheed Martin by the U.S. government, to operate, thus linking 
water security to military security in a direct way.

The mandate of Global Water Futures is twofold: to affect U.S. strategy and 
policy regarding the global water crisis and to develop the technology necessary
to advance the solution. In a September 2005 report, Global Water Futures warned
that the global water crisis is driving the world toward ³a tipping point in 
human history,² and elaborated on the need for the United States to start taking
water security more seriously: ³In light of the global trends in water, it is 
clear that water quality and water management will affect almost every major 
U.S. strategic priority in every key region of the world. Addressing the world¹s
water needs will go well beyond humanitarian and economic development interests.
. . . Policies focused on water in regions across the planet must be regarded as
a critical element in U.S. national security strategy. Such policies should be 
part of a broader, comprehensive, and integrated U.S. strategy toward the global
water challenges.²

Innovations in policy and technology must be tightly linked, says the report, no
doubt music to the ears of the corporations that sponsored it. gwf calls for 
closer innovation and cooperation between governments and the private sector and
³redoubled² efforts to mobilize public-private partnerships in the development 
of technological solutions. And, in language that will be familiar to critics of
the Bush administration who argue that the United States is not in Iraq to 
promote democracy, but rather to secure oil resources and make huge profits for 
American companies in the ³rebuilding² effort, the report links upholding 
American values of democracy with the profit to be gained in the process: ³Water
issues are critical to U.S. national security and integral to upholding American
values of humanitarianism and democratic development. Moreover, engagement with 
international water issues guarantees business opportunity for the U.S. private 
sector, which is well positioned to contribute to development and reap economic 
reward.² Listed among the U.S. government agencies engaged in water issues in 
the report is the Department of Commerce, which ³facilitates U.S. water 
businesses and market research, and improves U.S. competitiveness in the 
international water market.²

Blue Covenant: The Alternative Water Future

Humanity still has a chance to head off these scenarios of conflict and war. We 
could start with a global covenant on water. The Blue Covenant should have three
components: a water conservation covenant from people and their governments that
recognizes the right of the Earth and of other species to clean water, and 
pledges to protect and conserve the world¹s water supplies; a water justice 
covenant between those in the global North who have water and resources and 
those in the global South who do not, to work in solidarity for water justice, 
water for all and local control of water; and a water democracy covenant among 
all governments acknowledging that water is a fundamental human right for all. 
Therefore, governments are required not only to provide clean water to their 
citizens as a public service, but they must also recognize that citizens of 
other countries have the right to water as well and to find peaceful solutions 
to water disputes between states.

A good example of this is the Good Water Makes Good Neighbors project of Friends
of the Earth Middle East, which seeks to use shared water and the notion of 
water justice to negotiate a wider peace accord in the region. Another example 
is the successful restoration of the beautiful Lake Constance by Germany, 
Austria, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, the four countries that share it.

The Blue Covenant should also form the heart of a new covenant on the right to 
water to be adopted both in nation-state constitutions and in international law 
at the United Nations. To create the conditions for this covenant will require a
concerted and collective international collaboration and will have to tackle all
three water crises together with the alternatives: Water Conservation, Water 
Justice, and Water Democracy.

(For more on these concepts, order Barlow's latest book, Blue Covenant.)

Maude Barlow is the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, 
chairperson of Food and Water Watch in the U.S., and co-founder of the Blue 
Planet Project, which is instrumental in the international community in working 
for the right to water for all people.

newslog archives:

How We the People can change the world

Escaping the Matrix:

The Phoenix Project

The Post-Bush Regime: A Prognosis

Community Democracy Framework:


Moderator: •••@••.•••  (comments welcome)