“Many of the wars this century were about oil, but those of the next century will be over water.”
– “The only problem with this scenario is a lack of evidence.”
Back in 2018, two A\J journalists wrote a story on Cape Town, South Africa. Following a lengthy drought, the city was facing an expected date for their municipal water supply to run dry- dubbed “day zero”. While I was aware of dwindling fresh water resources on a global scale, the idea of a dam supporting millions of people going completely dry seemed like something out of a Hollywood movie. Luckily, through the residents of Cape Town’s strenuous water conservation efforts, the city was able to avoid day zero from ever becoming a reality.
Freshwater availability on a regional scale is complex and depends on a variety of factors including population size, climatic norms, reservoir fluxes, and socio-political instability. While some regions of the world are rich in water resources, like Lagos, they lack government leadership and aging water infrastructure means that the water that does come out of the taps often isn’t safe to drink. Meanwhile other regions, like Cape Town or East Australia, are susceptible to drought and water shortages as the reservoirs in which they source their water cannot replenish themselves fast enough to keep up with increasing demand.
Variable rainfall as a result of climate change makes Australia particularly prone to droughts// SOURCE: CBC
We do not have a lot of freshwater available to us here on earth. In fact, we have extraordinarily little. Only 2.5% of all water on earth is freshwater, and 99% of that freshwater trapped in glacial reserves so it is not easily accessible to humans. This means, only 0.007% of all freshwater on earth is currently available for human use. Most of this is used towards agricultural purposes, accounting for over 70% of freshwater withdrawal.
But many of the aquifers and rivers from which we source our freshwater are starting to dry up. At the time of writing this article, researchers predict the world will run completely out of fresh water in about 19 years. But, like Cape Town’s day zero, those estimates aren’t set in stone and will ultimately depend on how we use our water resources.
Cape Town rose to a certain level of fame being the first major city to almost run out of water on such a massive scale, but they are not alone. The effects of climate change and our disregard towards over-straining and polluting our water reservoirs means multiple cities across the globe are currently at risk for their own day zeros, including Beijing, Istanbul and London.
To add to the problem, researchers predict future political rifts surrounding water will likely occur where two nations share a transboundary water resource. A 2018 study examined different factors that affect a nation’s water availability like population growth, climate stress, or socio-economic power imbalances to determine which areas will be most at risk for future hydro-political tension (which is a nice way of saying water wars). They found areas which share rivers like the Nile, the Ganges, the Indus, the Tigris/Euphrates, and the Colorado, will be likely hot spots.