International issues: water and Darfur

Water, water everywhere – but not where it’s needed. Speaking for the Liberal Democrats in the Water and Sanitation in Developing Countries debate in Parliament yesterday, I went on two main themes: firstly that at some point in the future there will be a major war (or wars) over water. Water wars will dominate the next decades as scarce supply send millions into migratory patterns in the developing world.

There are 263 rivers that cross borders – and as the supply shortens the temptation for countries to divert a river their way and cut off the river from another country will become greater and greater.

Back in 1997 the UK sponsored a UN Convention on the Non-Navigational Waterways – which basically put rules around this tinderbox issue to prevent the looming disasters that would arise as countries fought for access to scarce supply. Ten years on – the UK has not ratified the Convention. I asked Hilary Benn when it would be done. He failed to answer – albeit he said that I raised a truly important point. One has to wonder if it was that important – why has Labour failed to see this through?

Second issue I pursued was on the funding we give to the PPIAF (a public private group that is supposed to deliver infrastructure projects in the developing world). I had previously question Benn in Parliament as to why we were funding this organisation as Norway had withdrawn because its projects kept failing. Benn had answered that some projects fail and some succeed – and he would take a look at it. Clearly – no progress had been made by the debate today as he once again simply re-iterated that some projects succeed some fail.

Personally, given the level of funding with tax from our hard-earned wages you would think he would be a little more careful and caring about the effectiveness of that spend. Italy too has now withdrawn.

Later same day – we had a debate on Darfur. For the most part all speakers wrung our hands and demanded instant deployment of the AU / UN troops, a no-fly zone, targeted sanctions, travel bans, asset freezes and some suggestions that China is being pretty damn brave – propping up and supporting the Sudanese Government (thereby perpetuating and paying for the killing fields) when the Beijing Olympics are coming down the track!

We will see what action is taken at the G8 as we are all fed up with fine words as genocide continues unabated.

0 thoughts on “International issues: water and Darfur

  1. In 1935 the Governor of Arizona sent the Arizona National Guard to prevent California building a dam on the Colorado River which he said would “steal Arizona’s water”. In effect he threatened to go to war with another US State. The Parker Dam was eventually built and the resultant reservoir is Lake Hasavu of London Bridge fame.The politics of water here are most instructive… One thing to note is that the USA has two entirely different traditions of Water Law, one in the eastern States simiar to European traditions of riparian management, one in the western States which give absolute extraction rights to the first claimants of a water resource, the ownership of any associated land being what it may. When dealing with US participants in international discussions it is as well to enquire as to which tradition they lean towards.

  2. Drinking water is a manufactured product – and is ultimately only limited by how much you can afford to make. The most expensive method of production is desalination of seawater, which I think can currently be done at about $0.50-$1 per thousand litres. Basic requirements are about 50 litres per person per day for household use, and about six times that if you include all the agricultural and industrial uses needed to support civilisation. That would mean a dollar would support a person for three days, and each person needs about $110 a year, about £50, at most (plus transport to where it is needed). It is impossible that water scarcity could make it any more expensive than that in the long run, although you could get short term shortages, and of course government subsidies frequently distort the market causing local water shortages. Since there are many cheaper water resources around, the price will generally be far below that. It’s not nearly valuable enough to fight a war over.The fundamental problem is poverty – many people cannot afford even a third of a dollar a day – and politics – just because they can supply water to the people doesn’t mean they will. The only solution is to promote economic development and industry, which will create the resources needed for people to live sustainably.