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Groundwater Crisis is Driving Global Conflict

Nov 08, 2014 01:02 PM EST
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With rising drought conditions and spiking populations, the world is becoming a very thirsty place. Now, one NASA researcher is highlighting the concerns of a great many experts, claiming that not only is the world facing a water crisis, but this crisis is a main but little-considered driver to violence in our world.

Violent protests, uprisings, militias, civil war - all have very obvious and very understandable political drivers in the world's most unstable countries. However, did it ever strike you as odd that this unrest always happens to be in the thirstiest parts of the world? There are other countries that remain under-developed and face political hardship, but regions like Africa, the Middle East, and even South Asia boast the majority of the world's persistent conflict.

Now James Famiglietti, an expert from the University of California and a researcher for NASA, is claiming that as the world continues to find itself missing water, more violence will erupt.

Where's the Water? "Insufficient Funds"

But what does he mean by "missing" anyways? Imagine that a country's groundwater table - a reserve of water that is naturally filled each year by rains, ice melt, and other runoff - is actually like a single bank account. During annual droughts, a country has to draw on this account to sate thirsty cities and farmland. However, with drought conditions worsening, populations rising, and demand for food (and thus farmland) increasing, more is being taken from the account than can be naturally replaced. Eventually, countries will find that their 'savings' are gone, and that's when the real chaos will begin.

"Can we end the global water crisis?... No, we can't end it. I'm sorry. It's too big for humanity to beat down and conquer," Famiglietti said in recent TEDx Talk presentation. "We've passed too many tipping points - with climate change and with population growth and with human behavior - to be able to turn an extremely critical situation around."

In a paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change just last month, Famiglietti concluded that, India and the Middle East are the worst off. Surprisingly, he follows up by saying that the United States and China are not far behind, despite the fact that their citizens will likely not feel the impact of water shortages as quickly because of their wealth. (Scroll to read on...)

But we certainly can still see it. The Colorado basin alone is stunningly low, having lost nearly 53 million acre-feet of water since 2004. And a whopping 75 percent of what was lost came straight out of the groundwater table, NASA satellite imagery reports.

China is likewise scrambling to find new ways to balance water scarcity inequality between its north and south regions.

When Water Leaves, Conflict Moves In

Famiglietti told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that groundwater depletion is "a major cause for concern because most of the places where it is happening are major food producing regions."

He argues that farmers with failing crops and empty plates will move to the city to find work. There, they learn that things are not much better off. As unemployment reaches all-time highs, everyone grows hungry, thirsty, and poor, and they begin to blame the government or one another.

"In 90 percent of the world where there are violent conflicts, there are water scarcity issues," he said. "And global security experts are already bracing for more." (Scroll to read on...)

However, despite the fact that water scarcity is unavoidable, Famiglietti says that conflict and death can be prevented.

He said in an insight piece for National Geographic that the world is currently in a stage where it knows how to properly manage water, but chooses to do things foolishly anyways "because it's easy and cheap."

Nature World News has previously reported how Iran is right now facing one of the most severe water scarcity crises in the world, but not because their groundwater table is naturally low, but because they manage it so poorly.

"I truly believe that with a shared vision, with leadership and commitment of governments... around the world, and with public and private partnerships, we can manage our way through to ensure a sustainable water future," Famiglietti said in his talk, calling for national water policies and international water law.

"But we have to confront the realities [of this crisis] head on, and deal with them now."

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