The recent issue of the Bonn Power Shift Monitor deals with the upcoming challenges of water security and the privatization of water.
Water, declared a universal human right by the UN in 2010, has been rising on the world agenda. Experts estimate that by 2045, we will need 40% more water than we can sustainably supply. The World Economic Forum ranks water crises, including the danger of water wars, as a top global security risk in the next decade which will further intensify as a result of climate change. Particularly in water-stressed parts of the world as diverse as Mexico, Yemen or Singapore, water scarcity threatens food security and energy supply as well as economic structures and political stability. A PNAS study found that severe droughts, crop failure and the following mass migration to urban centers as a result of climate change decisively contributed to the conflict in Syria. As a consequence of failed adaption to climate change, water crises are increasingly resulting in large-scale involuntary migration – and also play a significant role in the immigration crisis which is currently hitting Europe.
As a reaction to inefficient water management, water privatization has been gaining momentum worldwide. Companies and multilateral banks like the World Bank argue that (partial) privatization and subjecting water management to market-based principles will lead to better distribution, more efficient systems and long-term resource conservation. More and more US municipalities are considering turning over the ownership or operations of their public water systems to private companies. In other countries like Bolivia, Lagos and Mexico, water privatization is increasingly causing social turmoil and massive resistance as corporate profit maximization leads to more environmental pressure and structurally discriminates against the most vulnerable. Parallel to this, there are also growing disputes about the bottled water industry drying up local underground springs in favor of private profits around the globe with the blessing of local authorities. Nestlé currently again faces massive backlash for its plans of opening a water bottling facility in an already dry desert area in Arizona. While officials claim that the spring site won’t impact the public water supply, the Arizona environmental community strongly rejects the removal of water from local ecosystems.
Though water security is turning into a fundamental national security issue for the international community, global water policies aren’t making a particularly good impression at present. A long-term reliable water management that places supply reliability and sustainability above corporate profits requires the international community’s collective pragmatism and efficient solutions. The path nations are going to take and how successful climate change adaption is eventually going to be will have a significant impact on nations’ competitiveness and their geopolitical profile.
Prof. Dr. Xuewu Gu
Center for Global Studies, University of Bonn