US now calls water scarcity a national security issue: An expert explains how serious it can be

In many cases, disasters could be prevented with proper water management

By Zumbish
Published: Wednesday 03 August 2022

The United States (US) recently announced that it would treat water scarcity as a national security issue, according to media reports.

A severe and prolonged drought has reportedly affected the country’s western side since 2020.

More than 200 water-related violent incidents have occurred globally in the past three years, according to data from the Pacific Institute, which tracks water-related violence worldwide.

On this occasion, Global Water Partnership (GWP) — an international network created to foster an integrated approach to water resources management, urged other leading nations to follow suit. 

Down To Earth spoke with Dario Soto Abril, GWP’s executive secretary, to understand more about the situation. Here are some edited excerpts

Zumbish: Elaborate on the link between water scarcity and national security?


Dario Soto Abril: It’s important to understand the magnitude of the challenge. Over two billion people in the world lack access to water. Nearly half of this population cannot properly access sanitation services.

Climate change has made it worse. Half of the population of the US will suffer due to water scarcity in the next seven-eight years.

Access to water and sanitation is directly related to people’s lives and livelihoods, including access to food, agriculture, employment, etc. So, a lack of water resources can lead to widespread unrests, conflicts and migration.

Water is vital to national security because it greatly impacts the economy.

Z: What other nations should also follow the US in declaring water security as a national issue? 

DSA: The call is for countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, Russia, China and India — these big economies are capable of safeguarding water resources.

Z: What are the steps to mitigate water scarcity?

DSA: Right now, we should emphasise nature-based solutions. Diplomacy and  alignment of differences in development goals is also important. As I have already said, nearly six per cent of the world’s population does not have access to sanitation.

So, we have to look into the aspect of access to sanitation. Another factor is water management. We should promote investment in water resource management.

Z: What are the biggest challenges for water resource management?

DSA: A lack of political will persists as governments are reluctant to commit enough resources to more efficient and sustainable water resources management. If we go through the new policy announced by the US, it emphasises three main guidelines, which are quite comprehensive.

They are — increasing access to affordable and sustainable wash water and sanitation services, focusing on solutions in bringing equality in terms of water security and providing access to safer water and sanitation. 

So policymakers nationally should concentrate on these guidelines. Another critical point is the sustainable management of water resources to ensure agricultural production and food security.

Countries like the US, Germany and the Netherlands have developed programmes on water management, security and access to safe water and sanitation. 

There is also a need for devising means for increasing investment in this area. One final or defining step will be the formation of a collective to improve water management at all levels.

Dario also emphasised three pillars of action — multilateral action, sustainable steps for water management and sustainable sanitation facilities. Dialogues or conversations on water are not enough. If we don’t take action, water-related issues will impact the world.

We want to call the countries to strengthen their cooperation on water resource management. This is likely to ensure more dialogues on water security.

We call for action on global water partnership and we celebrate this call — we already had an announcement from the US in this direction. It has set an example.

Z: What would you ask from various stakeholders?                                               

DSA: I call upon countries, the private sectors and civil societies to devise more integrated water resource management programmes. We are late, but we are not that late that we can’t act. We can ease water crises only if water is treated as a matter of top priority in international arenas.

The step taken by the US elevates the discussion on water. GWP also urges politicians worldwide to set water as a priority in their agenda, not only on paper but by genuinely investing in improved water management.

Recent floods in Germany, Belgium and other countries caused immense damage to lives and livestock. This is another face of water-related disasters. 

Droughts in Chile, Brussels, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina were also disastrous. We should implement more mitigation measures to prevent these kinds of disasters. In many cases, disasters could be prevented with proper water management.

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