Watering down our future?


When a small town mayor meets another for dinner at his home there should be nothing to report. Unless, of course, they happen to be two mayors in the Middle East: one, an Israeli and the other, a Palestinian. Actually, this type of event should be practically impossible. Hassan Garmi, mayor of the Palestinian town of Zbeidat and Jossi Vardi, mayor of Kasr-Al-Jahud in Israel, have proved otherwise. They’ve understood that the only way to safeguard water availability for their respective countries is to cooperate. They can remember two colors from their childhood: blue and green. Blue for the river Jordan running through their towns in the 1960s, much like the Colorado river in the U.S. Green for the lushness the river Jordan brought to the region annually with its one billion cubic meters of water.

The scene changed in a dramatic way when water consumption increased drastically on both sides of the river, in Israel and in Jordan. As a result, the river has become a pale memory of its powerful origin. Now, the towns are joined in efforts to restore the river’s ability to bring life to these regions.

Water can be a major source of future conflicts. There are many prior examples. The Palestinian/Israeli dispute is but one. An important source of the Syrian conflict is also water. Tensions between ethnic groups in Syria started to escalate after a prolonged drought as farmers rushed to urban centres to escape extreme conditions.

Then, Instead of addressing the problem, the ruling Alawite minority, led by President Assad, exacerbated it by protecting their own access to water. These injustices fed the discontent that contributed to the popular uprising, which has now escalated into a full-blown war. The price for poor policies under extreme conditions can be equally extreme.

In fact, most of the major conflicts on Earth are about access to natural resources, the most precious and scarce of them being water. Even though we seldom acknowledge this now, we can count on this being even more true in the future. For instance, the core of the tension between China and India lies in scarcity of natural resources. The transboundary river Brahmaputra is a large river utilized by both countries. However, because of the old territorial and contradictory claims, the countries have not managed to agree how to manage the precious water. In the long run, this lack of institutional management of the precious common resource will result in independent, large-scale utilization projects by China, India and Bangladesh with their own separate interests, without any joint consultation process. The countries have, however, continued negotiations, because they recognize the potential devastation that could result. The negotiations have thus far been unfruitful.

In Europe, we also lag behind in proper water resource management. Right2water has been the first ever successful citizen initiative in Europe. Almost 2 million citizen signatures were collected by the end of 2014 in support of legislation in the European Commission for fresh water as a citizen right. Yet, after a lot of promise from the EC, nothing much has been made to secure this basic human right as a public service.

At the present time, some 1 billion people on Earth lack secure access to fresh water and 2 billion do not enjoy proper sanitation. But there are some positive developments to be observed. Even some former villains are starting to understand the severity of the problem. Nestlé’s CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe has committed himself and his company to find a solution to water scarcity on our planet. The annual Water Leaders Summit , an exclusive high-level gathering of global water industry leaders, government regulators and policy think-tanks, offers a forum for discussing solutions to pressing water issues.

Dealing with water is a test for humanity: can we manage our own most precious resource in an intelligent and human way? In the answer lies the destiny of human race on Earth.

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