Nearly 45 years ago, Time magazine reported on the growing global demand for the planet’s fixed quantity of freshwater in an article entitled “A Question of Birthright.” At the time, chronic droughts in traditionally arid environments like the Sahara and parts of the Middle East had begun to appear in unsuspecting countries like the Koreas and Bechuanaland (now Botswana).
Reporting from October 1965, the article projected that world demand for water would double in two decades, creating “an expanding challenge to scientific ingenuity.” Solutions had to be found. Tongue in cheek, the author claimed that “dowsers, who used to roam the land with their unreliable witch-hazel divining rods, are no longer adequate” as guarantors of water supply. No disagreement there.
One of the article’s central observations remains true today: simply, that throughout the vast span of geologic time, including all of human history, the amount of water on the planet has remained fixed. The sixties, though, saw a broadening realization that a burgeoning world population and rising living standards placed increased demand on this finite resource than in decades and centuries past. Since then, population levels and relative consumption have risen even higher and will continue to do so, making the issue of water security that existed in 1965 even more pressing for countries today.
For Pakistan and India, according to recent analysis, this life-sustaining liquid may have the potential to exacerbate already tenous relations and add to instability. In the past, the priority of water security has incentivized collaboration between the two states, including the Indus Waters Treaty, but climate change threatens to tip that delicate balance, as rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers deplenishes the region’s freshwater reserves. In the years to come, will water still serve as an area of cooperation between India and Pakistan, or will increased clamoring for a diminishing resource escalate tensions?
Photo: A sign, written in Urdu, advertizes for a jury-rigged drinking water fountain. Courtesy of flickr user kash_if.
Day five in Colorado with my family brought us to what is surely one of the most beautiful places on Earth - Rocky Mountain National Park. But there's trouble in paradise.
I took this photo in the park - this is actually the Colorado River. Hard to believe that this gorgeous mountain stream will go on to be the primary water source for 27 million people in 7 U.S. states and 2 countries, irrigating 3 million acres of cropland along the way. Or will it?
A recent National Academies of Science study noted that given even conservative climate change projections, "currently scheduled future water deliveries from the Colorado River are not sustainable." The good news, however, is that it might not have to be that way if the consumers of the water manage the resources better, according to the study.
But there's a potentially even more devastating story in this bucolic photo. If you look carefully, you might notice that the forest in the backdrop is changing color. If you're scratching your head about how the Rockies could be experiencing Fall in July, consider that those are "evergreens."
BBC reports that G8 leaders have agreed to set the goal of limiting global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels by 2050; they are now set to try and reach a more comprehensive deal to limit global warming during meetings with a select group of leaders from emerging nations. Reuters highlights a new study warning that climate change could create conditions allowing dengue fever to spread across the continental United States as mosquitoes survive warmer winters. Meanwhile, issues with water scarcity continue to trouble the Iraqi Government, as an official from the Ministry of Agriculture has warned that the country faces “severe losses of arable land.” In Afghanistan, land use and the implementation of advanced farming techniques continue to play a significant role in U.S. strategy.
“When it comes to the stability of one of the world's most volatile regions, it's the fate of the Himalayan glaciers that should be keeping us awake at night,” warns Stephan Faris in Foreign Policy, on the specter of Pakistan unraveling as natural resource consumption and climate change take their toll on this withering nuclear club member.
The Himalayan glaciers are the primary source of the Indus River and its six tributaries that flow through Kashmir to form freshwater supplies for millions of Indians and Pakistanis. To date, Pakistan and India have amicably governed the shared Indus waters under the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, which established a governing body – the Permanent Indus Basin Commission – to adjudicate grievances associated with water management between the two rival states. For many, governing the Indus waters has been a hallmark example of how resource issues can act as an opportunity for peace and engagement rather than as the basis for conflict. But, as Faris writes, “the treaty's success depends on the maintenance of a status quo that will be disrupted as the world warms.”
In the wake of recent volatility in the commodities market, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is considering significant reforms to reduce harmful speculation. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Energy Secretary Steven Chu are heading to China next week to work towards increasing U.S. exports of clean energy technology. In other China-related news, CNN profiles an alternative energy project underway in Yunnan province, and Xinhua reports that China will start building the first 10 million-kw-level wind power station later this month – a project dubbed the “Three Gorges on Land.” An emerging El Nino weather pattern is threatening to pose a variety of challenges, including triggering forest fires that will cause a spike in greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, Turkey has lost financing from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland for the Ilisu hydroelectric dam due to concerns over the project’s environmental ramifications.
BBC News reports that G8 leaders are set to issue a statement agreeing to try to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050, including an 80% cut by rich nations. In Afghanistan, land use continues to play an important role in U.S. strategy, with units from the Nebraska National Guard Task Force Warrior agribusiness development team and the Kentucky National Guard agribusiness development team deploying to the country to assist Afghan farmers. Meanwhile, Oxfam has released a new report detailing the dangers climate change poses to less developed nations. Finally, the Los Angeles Times reports that water scarcity is beginning to seriously threaten California’s agricultural industry.
The Natural Security bloggers thank all those who have served and are serving our nation this Independence Day. We wish everyone a safe and happy 4th of July, and we’ll return with more Natural Security news and commentary next week. Here’s to you, America!
Photo: U.S. Navy Master-at-Arms 1st Class Alex Roelofs raises the American flag to half mast in recognition of Memorial Day in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Courtesy of MC2 Patrick W. Mullen III and the U.S. Department of Defense.
The director of the UN’s Food an Agriculture Organization has warned that climate change will likely create an increasing number of food crises across the world over the next 20 years. The Guardian reports on a new paper in Nature Geoscience which says that climate change will also adversely affect the U.S. Gulf Coast, warning that up to 13,500 square kilometers of coastal lands surrounding New Orleans will be underwater by the turn of the century. In other news, the United States has joined the International Renewable Energy Agency, a new organization founded in January. Meanwhile, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is pushing hard for the development of renewable sources, announcing measures that aim to hasten the development of solar energy projects on federal lands. Finally, a consortium led by BP has accepted a contract to develop the Rumaila oil field in Iraq – the country’s largest – after the contract was rejected by the Exxon Mobil-led consortium which originally won the bidding process.