According to the 2006 Human Development Report (UNDP), “It is already clear that competition for water will intensify in the decades ahead. As national competition for water intensifies, people with the weakest rights will see their entitlements to water eroded by more powerful constituencies. Water is the ultimate fugitive resource, traversing borders through rivers, lakes and aquifers—a fact that points to the potential for cross-border tensions in water-stressed regions.”
One example of an existing water conflict zone is the Tibetan Plateau, an “oxygen-scarce landscape of enormous glaciers, huge alpine lakes, and mighty waterfalls – a storehouse of freshwater so bountiful that the region serves as the headwaters for many of Asia’s largest rivers, including the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Brahmaputra, Salween, and Sutlej, among others.” Between India, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, almost half of the world’s population lives in the watersheds of the rivers whose sources lie on the Tibetan Plateau. China’s occupation of Tibet is very strategic, in light of the disappearing glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau and the subsequent decrease in water flow to most of Asia’s rivers that will only worsen in the next few years.
Similarly, millions of people in four Central African countries are also in danger of losing their primary water supply as Lake Chad continues to dry up. Once the third-largest source of freshwater in Africa, the lake is now one-twentieth the size it was only 40 years ago. In East Africa, Lake Victoria (the second-largest freshwater lake in the world) is quickly losing water. In the past four years it has sunk 6 feet, and will likely continue to drop even more quickly. Currently about 30 million people in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda depend on the lake for their daily water supply.
In Latin America more than 75 million people lack access to safe water. Despite an abundance of fresh water sources, access to water in Latin America is badly skewed due to pollution and social inequality. Most of Latin America’s wastewater still flows untreated back into its rivers, lakes and canals. In Haiti, nearly 70% of the population lacks regular and direct access to potable water, a situation which contributes to the highest infant mortality rates in the Americas. Mexico City now depends on aquifers for 70% of its water and is mining these underground sources up to 80 times faster than they are replenished. São Paulo is threatening residents with water rationing and increasing the cost of delivery so high that many residents can no longer afford to pay for it. Brazil is also the region’s heaviest polluter (including massive chemical and industrial pollution), and the country with the most freshwater in Latin America. Only parts of Eastern Europe and China exceed Brazil’s levels of waterway.
The stories of impending water shortages repeat themselves around the world over and over again. In North America, despite being blessed with an abundance of freshwater sources, the situation is no different. Industrial pollution and population growth are putting heavy strains on the water supply, and severe droughts which further compound the situation are being declared throughout the United States.
Up Next: Water in the United States
Featured Image Source: NBC News