Two hydrogen atoms. One oxygen atom. So intrinsically and chemically simple that it’s astounding. And yet, such a chemically simple creation is the basis for life. It is the essential thread intimately entwined with the rise and fall of civilizations, the cause for factions to war against one another, and the fabric of tension between people and their governments. Indeed, the world’s dependence upon water is not one that should be underestimated, or undervalued. And yet today, water is often an overlooked element of conflict that will emerge more valuable than gold overnight, and will ultimately cause us to war over it, one day.
Goldman Sachs has termed water as “the petroleum of the next century.” It is slowly trickling into the global market to become ever more valuable. And things that are valuable are often the root of conflict. After all, it is a little known fact that the civil war ongoing in Syria began over water. Youths in the Syrian town of Daraa, rightfully furious over the local governor's “corrupt allocation of scarce reservoir water,” began to spray anti-establishment graffiti. The government’s arrest and torture of the youths was the catalyst to a rise of civil anger over the actions of Bashar al-Assad. Similarly, the Yemeni revolution began in the most water-stressed city, Taiz.
This world war will creep up slowly on us. But it will only seem so because we actively ignore its signs. When we look at Syria or Yemen, the scarcity of freshwater is the least of our concerns. Our mind often drifts to the epidemic of religious extremism present in these countries, mainly because the media portrays this as the most pressing concern and the root of all problems. But troubles such as ISIS or government corruption are the most basic symptoms of social discord. And if we wish to soothe the social discord so evident in these countries, we need to focus on elements such as water, so seemingly inconsequential compared to the bombs and guns of death, but so essentially important to the restoration of societal order. Two ongoing, famous, and pressing conflicts illustrate how dire the conflicts over water have become in our world:
The Struggle Over Kashmir
India and Pakistan have seemingly always been at odds with one another when it comes to the looming stretch of the mountains that traipse along the Kashmir border. It is the longest-running conflict in the world, and unsurprisingly, it has its roots in the liquid gold of water. After all, neither side is ready to rescind the control of the headwaters of the River Indus, India, because it becomes a matter of control and dominance over Pakistan, whose agricultural economy is heavily dependent on the Indus.
This struggle over the Indus’ economic benefits conflicts even more heavily with the fact that “Dutch scientists think shrinking glaciers caused by climate change could reduce the Indus by 8% by 2050.” With a decreasing presence, it becomes even more apparent that both countries will want dominance over the Indus River in Kashmir.
The power struggle over water becomes even more heated when extremists get involved. The rhetoric is incendiary; “Hafiz Saeed, a militant linked to the Mumbai hotel atrocity of 2008, has spoken in the past of India's 'water terrorism,' and campaigned under slogans like 'Water flows, or blood.' ” It becomes increasingly more evident that the power struggle over water is pushing these two neighbors ever closer to hurtling into a nuclear war. And it is over the liquid gold of water that the violence is omnipresent at the border of Kashmir.
Israel v. Palestine
Perhaps the only conflict in the world that is famously known in all corners, the Israeli-Palestine dispute’s inception can be traced to water. Half a century ago, Israel diverted the Jordan River towards the Negev desert “via a canal called the National Water Carrier.” As a result of the river diversion, the Dead Sea “has lost a third of its surface area,” and the Jordan River (which has hints of biblical antiquity), now resembles a simple trickle.
Such consequences where water is a key player has come at the expense of the Palestinians. After all, control of water supply is an excellent way to fester oppression. Around “85% of all the water in the West Bank goes to Israel.” And the Palestinian Water Authority says that “Israelis consume seven times more water, per capita, than Palestinians.” This, combined with the arrival of Benjamin Netanyahu (who was recently indicted on charges of fraud) who “campaigned on the outright rejection of a two-state solution to the region's troubles” suggests that the two-state solution has been rejected by Israel, leading one to conclude that the struggle for power over water, and the fight for equity regarding water will be one to persist.
These two famous struggles have very similar narratives; their inception and refusal to cease are intimately linked to water. Water, the essential recipe for life, is bound to be at the root of a third world war. I can already hear the violence that will drench the earth over the precious scarcity of water. I can already feel the value of this liquid gold hurtling markets to collapse. I can already see the overnight spike in increase of its value. I can see all of this, and it is time we all begin to see it as well. Water is liquid gold, and its rushing streams will inevitably drown us into another world war.