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“If the wars of this century were fought over oil,
the wars of the next century will be fought over water”
Ismail Seralgedin, former Vice President of the World Bank,
1995.

Clean Water

Rafał Hetman

The world’s population is getting bigger and bigger. Today 7.5 billion people are living on our planet. Population growth and related economic development mean increasing water demand. Moreover, water sources start to diminish in many parts of the world nowadays. These shortages appear not only in underdeveloped regions of the world, but they also concern modern metropolises: London, Barcelona or Miami.

Water deficits, occurring in various parts of our globe, cause social unrest, lead to international tensions and conflicts. In 1995, Ismail Serageldin, then the World Bank Vice President, said that “If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water.” Since 1948, the United Nations recorded 37 sharp conflicts over water. During the same period, around 295 international agreements regulating inter-state relations within various bodies of water were negotiated and signed. However, smaller, local conflicts, one of the reasons for which is water, are widespread today. From 2010 to 2017, the Pacific Institute, based in Oakland, California, reported 137 local and international conflicts over water. Their victims were mostly civilians.

 

Meanwhile, the demand for water increases every year. Over the past 100 years, it has increased six times. It continues to grow at a rate of 1 per cent each year. Conflicts related to access to water will, therefore, be an increasing challenge for the world.

The fight for water can take various forms – sometimes it happens in politicians’ offices, parliaments’ plenary chambers and local governments. Sometimes, in extreme cases, it takes the form of street performances, riots, tribal fights and even an all-out war.

A fight for water

Water aggravates the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. It is not only a territorial dispute but also a war for water. Indus is a crucial river for Pakistani agriculture and industry. Its sources are in China, and the upper flow is in India. The dams that the Indian government has built or plans to build on the river Indus are a kind of weapon in this war. Pakistani authorities are afraid that the Indian dams will limit the flow of water on the river, which will negatively affect the critical areas of the country’s economy.

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The problem is that there will be less and less water in the Indus River. Due to the shrinking surface of the glaciers, less water flows into the river every year. It can exacerbate the conflict in Kashmir. Especially that India also needs more and more water. The demographic explosion that we have been observing in this country for over 50 years has brought rapid and not always controlled the development of the industry. The rapidly growing population – 361 million people lived in India in 1951, and 1.3 billion people lived there in 2017 – as well as the growing number of industrial plants has required and still requires an increasing water supply.

The UN estimates that the global population of urban populations will grow from 3.9 billion people to 6.3 billion in 2050 today.

 

Fight against water

An example of sharp conflict over water is the one that has lasted for many years between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Although in this case the fight for water also means fighting against water. Israel strictly controls Palestinians’ access to water sources. As part of the control, the army destroys wells that Palestinians illegally build inside Palestinian National Authority. Such actions have been a permanent element of the Middle East conflict that has been going on for many years and often leads to riots and clashes between civilians and the Israeli army.

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According to statistics, only about 20 per cent of groundwater resources available in the PNA go to the Palestinians. It is the reason why they have been complaining about this unfair distribution for years.

In 2017, Israel and Palestine signed an agreement under which Israel committed to supplying 32.9 billion litres of water to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The project includes, among others, building kilometres of pipes, and is worth $ 900 million. According to plans, it will be completed in 2022.

Research in Africa and Asia show that the poorest 20 per cent of the population spend on water from 3 to 11 per cent of their households’ income. These calculations do not include the costs of time people in these regions spend on water intake.

Israel is also competing for water with its neighbours. The Jordan River is a source of water for three countries. According to international arrangements, Israel has 400 million m3 of water, Jordan – 720 million m3, and Syria – 130 million m3. Officially, these arrangements are respected by Israel, but no matter which country decides to make a water investment in the Jordan basin, it creates a tension in the region.

Sources of power

A conflict between neighbours continues in the valley of the two biggest rivers of Mesopotamia.

The sources of the Tigris and the Euphrates are located in Turkey. Therefore, Turkey has a particular attitude towards these rivers – it considers them as its own, although both flow through Syria and Iraq. Since 1990, the system of dams, including the Atatürk Dam, have allowed managing water resources from both rivers. Turkey is also on the verge of finishing constructing the Ilisu dam on the Tigris river, which will allow creating a water reservoir with a capacity of 10 billion m3. It is located only 45 kilometres from the border with Syria. Thanks to all these investments, the Turks will be able to preserve over half of the Euphrates and Tigris water resources. It is especially worrying for Iraq, whose oil industry needs 1.8 billion m3 of water annually, and it is mainly taken from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. A significant restriction of flow on both rivers may be deadly for this branch of the Iraqi economy

The management of water flows can also be used as a weapon. The Turks reduced the inflow of water flowing from their territories to the territories occupied by ISIS and hampered the development of the Caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

To control the Nile River

The ancient river also became the source of international conflict.

For centuries, the periodic floodings of the Nile River have decided about the life rhythm of the Egyptians. The river fed, watered, provided wealth and economic security. The ancients called Egypt the “gift of the Nile”. Today, the river is still the most critical water source for this country. The Aswan High Dam, completed in 1970, forms the Lake Nasser, which is a reservoir of water for the whole country. – According to official information, the water gathered there would be enough for the Egyptians for the next 10 years. The dam is also a hydroelectric plant, covering about 10 to 15 per cent of Egypt’s demand for electricity. The ability to control the water flow makes it possible to regulate the water level, which prevents floods and reduces the effect of drought.

It takes about 3-5 thousand litres of water to produce 1 kg of rice, 2 thousand litres of water for 1 kg of soy, 900 litres for 1 kg of wheat and 500 litres for 1 kg of potatoes.

However, the construction of the dam adversely affected the quality of arable lands in the lower river’s course, which forced farmers to use fertilisers more intensively. As a result, the soil was contaminated. The construction of the dam also forced the resettlement of 100,000 people from areas that were later flooded. It was necessary to transfer some monuments above the inundation areas, including the Abu Simbel temple complex, built in the 13th century BC, which today stands 65 m higher than its original location.

Despite such efforts, the Egyptians still have troubles. – It’s all about Ethiopia. The authorities of this country have decided to build a massive dam on the Blue Nile River, which is the most water-supplying tributary of the the Nile. That is how the Ethiopians want to secure the access to clean water and energy, because the completed structure, called The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, is to be the largest hydroelectric plant in Africa. The Egyptians are afraid that the Ethiopian investment will reduce the level of water in the lower Nile’s course which will have a negative impact on the economy of Egypt and Sudan.

90 per cent of global energy production requires the use of a significant amount of water.

After a dangerous declaration of the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi from November 2017, that “the matter of water is a life and death for Egypt”, the countries in the region have softened their rhetoric and are trying to reach an agreement. “Bearing in mind the context of the Ethiopian dame, we will not let the differences ruin our relations with Addis Ababa,” said the President of Egypt in January 2018.

According to the rhythm of the rainfalls

Further to the south of Egypt, there is another conflict over water going on. South Sudan is the youngest country in the world. It was established in 2011 after the separation of southern parts of its territories from Sudan. From the very beginning, the new country struggled with economic problems, including famines and difficulties with access to water. According to Global WASH Cluster (GWC) data from November 2017, about 50 per cent Sudanese from the south did not have access to drinking water.

– During the rainy season in South Sudan, the rainfall is gigantic. However, the water is not retained at all for later use – says Mikołaj Radlicki, who coordinated activities of a French organisation ACTED in South Sudan. – Through intense rainfall, the land becomes clay, and roads turn into streams, which makes it impossible to move efficiently. Rivers flood. However, in the dry season everything dries out, one cannot get drinking water or water to irrigate fields. There are wells in larger villages, built by the international community, but there is nothing more.

– That is why the fight for water intensifies during the dry season. The tribes that graze cattle move in search for water, and sometimes they enter the territory of another, unfriendly tribe. It is constantly happening – says Radlicki. – The conflict begins, when it comes to assassinations. It is like a virus, difficult to prevent. Because of the tradition of so-called revenge killing – murders committed in retaliation for another murder, a simple clash may be the beginning of an endless conflict.

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Approximately 700 million people in 43 countries suffer from water shortages today.

The rainy season in South Sudan is the time of peacefulness. Impassable roads, floods and swamps forming make conflicts weaken. The higher level of water in rivers allows people to travel by boats to larger localities where there is more food to buy. Ethiopia is often the destination.

A bottomless pit

Lack of water is also a huge problem in Somalia, where the long-time war and unstable political situation led to the actual decomposition of the state. The government in Mogadishu has no real power outside the capital. The land is divided between local landlords, extreme Islamists groups and separatists whose aim is to create their states.

In Somalia, access to water is related to the fight for health and life.

– The massive problem of Somalia is the so-called open defecation that poses a serious health threat and is a source of disease. There are no latrines in many places because there is no access to water. Taking care of access to it, building wells and water kiosks, as well as building restrooms and sanitary buildings, are our ways to look after the health of residents – explains Jakub Belina-Brzozowski who works for the Polish Humanitarian Action (PAH). He was observing the process of implementing the organisation’s projects in Somalia.

Due to conflicts and drought in Somalia, migration of people continues. About 2 million Somalis are a so-called internally displaced persons (IDP) – someone who is forced to flee his or her home but who remains within his or her country’s borders.

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Due to climate change by 2030, a shortage of water in some dry and semi desert places will force to migrate between 24 to 700 million people.

– New camps are built all the time. We try to get to them and supply them with water. It looks like this: when we want to build a well or a water kiosk, we talk about it with the local authorities, the community, and sometimes with the owners of the land on which the camp stands. We ask for permission. When we reach the agreement, it is time to start working. We consult the decisions with the local community, analyse the needs, our engineer prepares a technical plan and does an estimate. We work with companies specialising in the construction of water installations. Depending on the conditions: location, type of the area, type of water intake – the process of construction can last from several weeks to several months. Our employees monitor the progress of work on an ongoing basis and ensure that the activity responds to the needs of the community – explains Jakub Belina-Brzozowski from PAH.

Investment cost

A completely different way of the fight for water can be noticed in developed and developing countries. The game is more about effective use of water.

The developing Chinese economy increases its demand for water and energy generated from water. Thanks to the Three Gorges Dam, the largest of its kind in the world, the Chinese produce clean energy and… dirty water.

The dam replaced about 31 coal power plants, which is associated with a decrease in pollution caused by the coal burning. At the same time, it slowed down the Yangtze River course, which led to the river turning into an effluent. It weakened its current. Moreover, a rare species of Baiji – a freshwater dolphin, has disappeared.

The construction of the dam also forced the resettlement of 1.26 million people from the areas that were to be flooded. It was the largest resettlement in history related to a human investment. 17 cities, 140 towns, 3 thousand villages, 1600 factories and mines, as well as 1,300 archaeological sites were swamped. Interestingly, 40 billion tons of water that entered the reservoir caused changes in the rotation of the Earth – the axis of rotation tilted slightly, shifting the pole position by 2 centimetres, and increasing the length of the day by 0.06 microseconds.

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Cooling of the power plants absorbs 43 per cent of consumption of fresh water in Europe, almost 50 per cent in the United States and over 10 per cent of domestic water consumption in China.

The environmental impact of the Chinese investment is unquestionable. A well as human activity and its effect on the climate change. The UN estimates that due to the ongoing climate change and the growing demand for water (directly connected with the increasing population), the restrictions on water access in 2050 will affect over 5 billion people around the world. It also concerns places where there is no lack of water at present. We can observe the symptoms of the upcoming wave of problems today. They appear in London, Barcelona, Beijing, Sao Paulo or Miami, where they have not been expected so far.

The technology used in the fight for water

California, the wealthiest and the most populous state in the US, the centre of the entertainment and technology industry, has been struggling with water shortage for years. The last water crisis, connected with the drought lasting in 2011-2017, was the most significant in the history of the state. The drought lasted seven years in almost entire territory of California. At critical moments, its highest level (D4) occurred at 58.4 per cent of the area of the state, and at the remaining 41.6 per cent there was a third level drought (D2).

California has been struggling with drought for years. For years, as befits a home for new technologies, it also develops new methods of acquiring water – including water taken from the ocean. In 2015, in the middle of the last great drought, the largest and the most modern water desalination plant in the USA was opened in Carlsbad, California. In 2018, the state authorities planned to spend 34.4 million dollars on eight projects related to desalination and development of desalination technologies considering not only ocean waters, but also water from rivers or bays.

California has to search for new ways of acquiring water because an excessive use of groundwater in recent years has led to uncontrollable changes in the environment – the subsidence of land in San Joaquin Valley. Disproportionate changes in the region’s geology could threaten, among others, the infrastructure that would supply water to big cities, which would deepen the problem of access to water in California.

The US National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) monitors the hydrological situation in the United States and keeps informing about the regions affected by drought. According to NIDIS information, in the last week of April 2018, the drought did not occur only on 34.1 per cent of California’s territory. However, the highest (fifth) degree of dryness was not recorded in the same period anywhere in the state.

Today almost half of the global population lives in the areas potentially exposed to water shortages lasting at least a month a year. In 2050, 4.8-5.7 billion people can share the same problems.

Reporter: Rafał Hetman

Design: Arkadiusz Sołdon

Coding: Piotr Kliks

 

Big thank you to Andrzej Klancyk for the help with this story.

 

 

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In August 2017, dogs coloured in blue appeared on the streets of Bombay. Local Animal care workers counted 11 dogs, whose fur was covered in this unusual colour. Photos of dogs quickly found their way to the Internet, and they went viral. What made animals change their colour?

Several rivers flow through Mumbai. One of them is Kasardi. As the animal care workers suppose, the blue dogs had to bathe in the river before they changed their fur colour into blue. Several rivers flow through Mumbai. One of them is Kasardi. As the Welfare Workers suppose, the blue dogs had to bathe in the river before turning blue. Today, Kasardi is an effluent. Local factories drain the waste into it. The dogs were stained with a blue substance that one of the washing powder factories had poured into the water. The plant was quickly closed.

Animal care workers managed to catch one of the dogs and wash the blue dye out of it.

The pollution of the Kasardi River is a local problem in Mumbai, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to access clean water throughout India today.

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It’s better for T. not to reveal his name. Entering Israel, he could not say everything about what he would do in this country. If he had said, he would not have been allowed to come there. At his request, we do not disclose the name of T.’s company.

– It is like is a cat and mouse game – says T. – Before the arrival, our organisation gave us a set of answers to the most frequently asked questions on the border. When we were asked what we were going to do in Israel, we tried not to lie, but we talked as little as possible about our flagship project – the legit purpose of stay – the reconstruction of the destroyed water infrastructure.

T. works for one of the numerous international organisations operating in the Middle East. Together with some colleagues, they implement projects related to water, taking care about ensuring or maintaining the access to water for Palestinians living in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.

– The Gaza Strip is completely sealed off from the world – he says. – Meanwhile, water is not suitable for consumption on 95 per cent of its territory. Moreover, it is not the only problem, the other and significant ones are the sewage system and overfull cesspools. There is no way to make them empty. There is a danger of a cholera epidemic, especially in the cities of Gaza and Rafah. In the Gaza Strip, a large part of the sewage is drained straight into the Mediterranean Sea. The water is very polluted near the seashore. So, it is another problem because many residents fish to earn their living. Israeli people want the situation to get worse in the Gaza Strip.

The situation of the aid organisations is not better either. – We are not allowed to bring equipment to Gaza, which is usually necessary to repair or construct water infrastructure. It is forbidden. We must use what we find on the spot. These are generally old and damaged tools. So, we try anything we can, we’re creative. We use things commonly available in stores – says T.

In comparison with the Gaza Strip, the situation in the West Bank is much better. This area is divided into three zones. Zone A is entirely controlled by the Palestinians, zone B – partly by Israel, partly by Palestine, and zone C is entirely under control of the Israeli authorities. This is the place where the real battle for water takes place.

– It is said that Israel has a long-term plan: it wants to ultimately take over the area of ​​zone C in the future so that Jews could live there. Therefore, it regularly destroys everything that makes life easier for the Palestinians, including residential and water structures. At the same time, Israel is building Jewish settlements in zone C, which is illegal under international law. The colonies usually arise in areas best provided with water resources – says T. – I take part in programs in which, for example, the wells are rebuilt. We also donate money to restore the water infrastructure in some places where we cannot operate. Our activities are directed in large part to Bedouins, inhabiting the desert areas of zone C. The restricted water access is a big problem for them. The lack of toilets causes so-called open defecation, which increases the contamination of these areas – he explains.

The activities of organisations such as those for whom T. works face many problems in Israel. Transport and communication are difficult. Numerous checkpoints and pat downs slow down the movement. Employees of aid organisations usually undergo thorough verification, and some of them are not allowed to enter the territory of Israel.

Water can also be a weapon.

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Shepherds have rifles, sometimes so big that two people have to carry them. Cattle, after all, are precious. The number of cows shows the status of the family. Moreover, a man needs cattle to get married. Hence, such security measures. Weapons are also useful while fighting for water.

Shepherds leave their homes for many months. They lead cattle to grazing areas and areas rich in water so that animals can eat and drink. In such places sometimes clashes occur, between different groups of shepherds, who compete for a spot near water reservoirs.

– Fortunately, no one was killed. However, some people were wounded – says one of the employees of a non-governmental organisation operating in South Sudan (due to the complicated political situation in the region, we cannot reveal his name – editor’s note). – It was an incident that I remember the most from my entire stay in South Sudan. Shepherds from the Nuer tribe brought their herd to the river so that the animals could drink some water. Due to the terrain, it was the only place around that allowed to water animals. After a while, came other shepherds from this tribe. They also wanted to water their cows. The fight started. Shots were fired. Several people were taken to the hospital.

Not all meetings of two different shepherd groups end in clashes. Employees of international organisations claim that in the state of Jonglei, located in the eastern part of South Sudan, there were several similar clashes per month in 2017. People died in some of them.

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Her name was Fatuma, and she said that water means everything to her. Water is indeed everything in the refugee camp near Mogadishu.

– I would be hungry without water because there would not be a possibility to cook dinner. My children and I would be thirsty. We could not wash up, and I could not wash our clothes. Water means everything to me – says Fatuma to the employees of the Polish Humanitarian Organisation that builds a water kiosk in a camp inhabited by several thousand people, including Fatuma.

A water kiosk is a small, concrete block with several taps. Such a facility is more efficient than a well because several people can use it at the same time.

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– When we came here, we could not get used to the new place of living. Everything here was unpalatable: vegetables, meat – says Xing Kunju, an old woman who had to leave her village with her family. In 2002, the authorities announced a plan to resettle residents in connection with an enormous hydroelectric project – the Three Gorges Dam.

Xing Kunju continues: “We raised chickens in our old house, but here they didn’t have proper conditions. The weather is no good. We tried to raise them, but they all died. I still miss my old home. I can’t get used to living here! – Xing laughs grimly- We regret it all – she says.

The old lady remembers how the process of resettlement looked like. – Over 9,000 people had to leave their homes on that day. What was the government’s explanation? They said: “You have to go, the migrants of the Three Gorges Dam have to leave together.” They said that everyone would get several hundred thousand yuan. Bullshit. They gave us ten thousand or a little more, and ten thousand after the arrival, and a few thousand later. That was all, and yet they were saying: “Many hundreds of thousands, many hundreds of thousands. Just move to the new house, and you will become emperors.” Bullshit. You have to look for work on your own – adds Xing.

People in the village were not very close to each other. They lived too far away. No one protested, they just gave up.

– We were travelling by train. The government took care of it. My family had never travelled by train before. God, it was shaking so much on the way to our new home. I did not dare to get up! When I got up, I felt so dizzy! I could not stand nor sit. It was terrible”, says Xing Kunju.
She admits that she still feels a bit like a victim although many years have passed since the resettlement.

It’s been 14 years since Xing Huaqing and his family had to leave their village:
– Several years passed between the information about moving away and the actual displacement. During the meetings, the government was deciding about the destination of each county and village. First, the county was drawing lots, then the village. If you picked Shanghai, you had to go to Shanghai. If Canton, your destination was Canton. After the first draw, there was the second one – particular groups were selecting the villages they had to go. There was no option to go anywhere else except the place from the result of the draw. In the beginning, some even wanted to leave. However, when it came to moving, many people changed their minds.

The project of the Three Gorges Dam is so big… You have no choice, and you move out. They have resettled a million people from Chongqing. A million migrants, that’s quite a number. When we were leaving, we were accompanied by bells and drums, just like during a wedding. We were all heartbroken. Everyone was crying. We had a dog, and we left him behind. First, we went by boat to Xintian, then by bus to the train station. The train journey lasted 36 hours. One and a half days. They just built this connection. Now, the same trip would take only over 20 hours, and even few hours if you took a fast train.

We arrived at Canton and we were greeted with the sound of drums. We were picked up by the party secretaries of particular towns. Then, every family gave them a sack of rice and a bottle of oil. However, we didn’t get any compensation. They also did not provide us with money for a flat and land. They did not give back anything. Two or three years ago, we decided to go back to get the cash for our land. We did not get the money, and they locked us in for a few days, god damn it. We had to pay for the finishing of our houses. When we arrived, there were one-storey buildings, we built the second floor ourselves. Before we left our homeland, the authorities told us that we would get dividends from the dam’s functioning. Now everyone gets 50 yuan. That’s almost nothing.

After the arrival, we could not get along with the locals. We did not understand anything. Young people likewise. Only children were a little better. People speak Cantonese here, and many do not speak Mandarin. Now young people speak Mandarin, but old people certainly do not.

After all these years I got used to it, I do not think about the old house. Nevertheless, chickens taste bad here, and there are too many mosquitoes – from March to October – it never ends! We can earn some money on trade because nowadays people can speak Mandarin more or less. Everyone speaks Mandarin where we sell. The government gave us the opportunity to work, but it was not a good job. If you wanted to earn more, you had to take care of yourself.

It’s been 14 years. During this time, I almost got used to it. I got used to the weather, especially to winter. Summer is long here.

Feng is 48 years old. He works in a shoe factory and as a moto-taxi driver. As a result of the construction of the dam, his family home was flooded. However, the neighbourhood, thanks to the investment, has developed. “I was 33 years old then,” says Feng. – I came to Canton along with everybody in August 2004. We were volunteers, we came here voluntarily. There was no compulsion. Everybody agreed, we did a small favour to our state, didn’t we?

As Feng admits, in the beginning, he was even satisfied with the new place of living. The government got him a job. However, when he looks at how his family region has developed thanks to the construction of the dam, he seems to be jealous.

– Now, as we look at the development of our hometown, we feel rather poorly. The living conditions there are better. My hometown has developed. A marina and a hydroelectric power plant were built. But my house was flooded – he complains, though he adds – The goal of all of us was to do the state a favour. In the case of the Three Gorges Dam if you hadn’t moved, if everyone had stayed, that place would not have developed, right?

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