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Climate Change and Water Security

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released alarming data on the consequences of global warming in some of the world’s poorest regions. By 2100, one billion to three billion people worldwide are expected to suffer from water scarcity. Global warming will increase evaporation and severely reduce rainfalls – by up to 20% in the Middle East and North Africa – with the amount of water available per person possibly halved by mid-century in these regions.

This sudden scarcity of an element whose symbolic and spiritual importance matches its centrality to human life will cause stress and exacerbate conflicts worldwide. Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia will be the first to be exposed. The repercussions, however, will be global.

Yet this bleak picture is neither an excuse for apathy nor grounds for pessimism. Conflicts may be inevitable; wars are not. Our ability to prevent “water wars” will depend on our collective capacity to anticipate tensions, and to find the technical and institutional solutions to manage emerging conflicts. The good news is that such solutions exist, and are proving their efficacy everyday.

Dams – provided they are adequately sized and designed – can contribute to human development by fighting climate change and regulating water supply. Yet in a new context of scarcity, upstream infrastructure projects on international rivers may impact water quality or availability for neighboring states, thus causing tensions.