If the wars of the past tended to be about territory and oil, the wars of the future could be about water. Much of the world already suffers from water stress, and the shortages are only likely to grow. A 2012 report by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence forecast that demand for water could exceed supply by as much as 40% by 2030, and that parts of South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East are all set for intense water competition.
A world map from the June issue of Popular Science shows where disputes could break out. It’s based on research from Oregon State University, which tracked about 2,000 “incidents” involving water between 1990 and 2008. The bigger circles show the river basins with the most hostile events, with the Middle East and South Asia figuring strongly.
Actually, the message isn’t all negative. As well as conflicts, the maps also show where countries and groups have built alliances to share water, putting disagreements behind them. The darker colors indicate higher numbers of both collaboration and disagreement. In fact, when the university graded water events for their collaboration/conflict characteristics, more showed signs of people working together than not. From 2,200 total incidents–including some 200 non-river events–only nine led to troop movements.
Which perhaps should give us hope that scarcity doesn’t lead inexorably to conflict, at least not when people want to work things out. There are still likely to be shortages in the future, but cooperation can help reduce leakages and the cost of new infrastructure, analysts say.