We are on the verge of a water crisis.

By 2025, more than half of the nations in the world will face freshwater stress or shortages and, by 2050, as much as 75 percent of the world’s population could face freshwater scarcity. International Alert has identified 46 countries, home to 2.7 billion people, where climate change and water-related crises create a high risk of violent conflict. A further 56 countries, representing another 1.2 billion people, are at high risk of political instability. That’s more than half the world.

And we are becoming a much thirstier world. Growing populations spur demand for more industries and farmland, draining water resources more quickly than ever. Climate change is expected to exacerbate the problem as it alters rainfall patterns. And, unlike carbon reduction, there is no alternative, no substitute to promote.

In its physical state, water remains a local & regional resource with significant geopolitical impact, traversing national & international borders and political jurisdictions through rivers, lakes, and aquifers. This dramatically increases the potential for cross-border tensions in water-stressed regions. Whether it is the Colorado, the Indus, the Murray Darling, the Mekong, the Nile or the North China Plains that is examined, water basins containing millions of people, farmland, forests, cities, industry and coastline straddle multiple political boundaries with high risk of becoming future geopolitical flashpoints.

Some people call water the oil of the 21st century. While this description may not be exact, one thing is clear: the availability of water will be a key driver in the development of the world’s economy and government policies in the next decade. In fact, global water shortages are already threatening economic growth as well as impacting geopolitical stability. It is inevitable that water is destined to become an even more prized commodity and likely source of conflict than at present.

“I believe water will be the defining crisis of our century, the main vehicle through which climate change will be felt from droughts, storms, and floods to degrading water quality. We’ll see major conflicts over water; water refugees. We inhabit a water planet, and unless we protect, manage, and restore that resource, the future will be a very different place from the one we imagine today.”

 – Alexandra Cousteau

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