Ismail Serageldin, former Vice President for Special Programs of the World Bank warned in 1995: “If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water.” In truth, “the challenge of freshwater scarcity and ecosystem depletion is rapidly emerging as one of the defining fulcrums of world politics and human civilization. A century of unprecedented freshwater abundance is being eclipsed by a new age characterized by acute disparities in water wealth, chronic insufficiencies, and deteriorating environmental sustainability across many of the most heavily populated parts of the planet. Just as oil conflicts played a central role in defining the history of the 1900s, the struggle to command increasingly scarce, usable water resources is set to shape the destinies of societies and the world order of the twenty first century. Water is overtaking oil as the world’s scarcest critical natural resource. But water is more than the new oil. Oil, in the end, is substitutable; but water’s uses are pervasive, irreplaceable by any other substance, and utterly indispensable.” (Solomon, 2010, p. 367). Proponents of realist theory would argue that Serageldin is correct, and that in light of increasing water scarcity, conflict over water is inevitable. However, since Serageldin’s pronouncement more than fifteen years ago, while there has been conflict, not one water war has ensued and international cooperation over water issues have been the norm. According to neoliberal institutionalist thinking water scarcity provides a motive for cooperation since water interests transcend national boundaries and states stand to gain from cooperative efforts addressing water supply issues. (Dinar, 2009). Constructivists would argue that cooperative efforts would be expected so long as states can gain from those efforts. Should the status quo become upset, constructivist thinking would indicate states would reevaluate their position(s) and pursue courses of action in reaction to the changing situation. (Viotti and Kauppi, 2009). So which school of thinking is correct and which outcome is most likely? Water wars or water peace? As Allan (2009), Bierman and Boas (2010), Solomon (2010) and others illustrate, the state of world peace and the future of human civilization is balanced on the delicate fulcrum of each nation state’s supply and access to freshwater. While the world’s leaders may choose differing courses of action in response to water scarcity according to the school of thought they subscribe to, ultimately they will all share the same cause of action: the forcing of their hands by climatic change affecting the water cycle and precipitation distribution combined with accelerating population growth. Humanity is at a crossroads. This article will argue that increasing global water scarcity and water quality deterioration will hasten either a global degeneration into a Hobbesian state of war or spark a transformation of nation states into a peaceful global civil society.

Click to continue reading “Water Wars or Water Peace? Part I”

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In the past, United States promulgation of human rights has been seen by other nations as sovereign intrusion. (Viotti and Kauppi, 2009). And the “lack of intellectual agreement among social-contract theorists, utilitarians, Kantians, and others who think about values in universal terms is part of the global confusion on such matters. This lack of consensus on human rights—how we are to understand rights and values and what we are to do about them—underlies the global debate on what commitments and obligations we have to fellow human beings throughout the world. Disagreement on what and whose human rights ought to be recognized hinders the construction of a just world society.” (Viotti and Kauppi, 2009, p. 441). The emergent right to water in conjunction with other international declarations on the rights of women and children, the emergence of new networks of activists and NGOs dedicated to the establishment of these rights, such as the water justice movement’s demand for change in international law to eliminate the commodification of water and instead universally assign governments to hold water in the public trust (Barlow, 2007) and Kaldor’s assessment that humanitarian concerns are taking precedence over sovereign issues may indicate those barriers to the construction of a just world society are evaporating.

One final key in determining which path the world will follow in dealing with water scarcity is the role played by multinational corporations (MNCs). While scapegoated in India, the role of MNCs in the commodification of water is a serious issue with many advantages and disadvantages. In addition to the aforementioned groundwater depletion issue which exacerbates global water scarcity impacts, one of the major advantages of MNCs in the water business has been in the increase of water productivity and conservation.

“While cities are learning to use their existing water more efficiently, industry has been the largest single contributor to the unprecedented surge in water productivity. Across the industrial spectrum, water is a major input in production. Alone, five giant global food and beverage corporations—Nestle, Danone, Unilever, Anheuser-Busch, and Coca-Cola—consume enough water to meet the daily domestic needs of every person on the planet…. American companies began to treat water as an economic good with both a market price for acquisition and a cost of cleanup before discharge in response to federal pollution control legislation in the 1970s. With characteristic business responsiveness wherever operating rules were clear and predictable, they sought ways to do more with the water they had and to innovate in their industrial processes so that they needed to use less overall. The results were startlingly instructive of the enormous, untapped productive potential in conservation.” (Solomon, 2010, p. 469).

Click to continue reading “Water Wars or Water Peace? Part II”

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