Bonn International Center for Conversion – Commentary – 29 March 2018 – Larry Swatuk, Associate Researcher at BICC, comments on ongoing popular debates like #WaterWars, #DayZero. He argues for avoiding alarmism and hyperbole as tools of motivation for human action. Instead, Swatuk reflects on the challenge to ensure adequate amounts and qualities of water for the world’s poor.
Recently, we have seen the re-emergence of the #WaterWars discourse in state houses and think tanks around the world (see https://flows.hypotheses.org/1126). One presumes that the motive behind such alarmism is to challenge world leaders to take action in order to avoid such hypothesized wars. In 1995, then-World Bank vicepresident Ismael Serageldin famously stated that if the wars of the 20th century were over oil, those of the 21st would be over water if appropriate measures to avoid suchoutcomes were not taken.
Being Egyptian, one can infer a primary target of his remarks to be the riparian states that share the Nile River Basin, but make no mistake: They were intended to be heard around the world. There have been two principal outcomes of this pronouncement in the intervening 23 years: One, there has been a great deal done in the service of water for peace by states, civil societies and private sector actors. Some of this was new, but much had been on-going, predating Serageldin’s statement. Two, there have been a great many commentators who have ignored the latter part of his statement (the call to action), the outcomes relating to that call to action, and who have instead spilled a great deal of ink forecasting water’s existing and coming central role in (interstate) violent conflict. One would be right to suspect that the latest iteration of the water wars narrative is designed to push influential state and private sector actors toward recognition of water’s key place in shaping the world’s climate, as well as its central role in economic production especially energy and food production. Hence, the World Economic Forum consistently announces water to be one of the top five risk factors to global peace and security, while pressing for policies and practices concerning the socalled WEF-nexus (water–energy–food and climate–security nexus). (excerpt)