Water problems don’t stop at borders

Published: 1 May 2018

Water insecurity is becoming a worldwide problem, as 36% of the world population already lives in water-scarce regions. Over the last few years, leading institutions from the World Economic Forum to the U.S. intelligence community and the Dutch army have raised a red flag regarding the potential social, economic and peace and security impacts arising from increasing threats to water security in the world.

The High Level Panel on Water on 22 March recognized the nexus on water, peace and security and forced displacement. With expected growing populations, rapid urbanisation and increased economic demands for water, further exacerbated by ecosystem losses and climate change impacts, this problem may increase to unprecedented levels. It is becoming an urgent risk for livelihoods, economies and even global stability. The Water, Peace and Security Initiative (WPSI) works on practical approaches to facilitate evidence-based actions that can reduce water related security risks.

‘If we will go to war over something as trivial as oil, we definitely go to war over water,’ Mr. Schuwer. the ambassador of the Netherlands, stated.

Two discussions on the Water – Security Nexus

On 24th April two discussions on the water – security nexus took place, involving participants from the diplomatic, development and defence sectors: one in Washington DC and one in The Hague. The session in The Hague, facilitated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water, was aimed at informing visitors from the National Defence University in Washington DC, about Dutch policy, expertise and actions, with respect to climate and water related -security risks. The WPSI was presented to illustrate possible action in the area of water induced human insecurities. Questions from the diverse audience, with backgrounds from civil servants to airforce pilots, were mainly directed towards how different interests can be integrating into one approach. And how to stimulate the necessary political will in order to translate information into effective action.

The Washington D.C. meeting of The Hague Roundtable on Climate & Security, a forum based in the Netherlands, highlighted the U.S. and global engagement on Dutch water and climate initiatives.  Representatives from government agencies, embassies, NGOs, universities & research institutions, the private sector, military and media met and discussed issues on water shortages and flooding. The session was hosted by the Elliott school for International Affairs of George Washington University by Dr. Marcus King and The Centre of Climate & Security. The ambassador of the Netherlands, Mr. Henne Schuwer, opened the discussion with framing the yet invisible importance of the water and security nexus; ‘Water is not a problem that stops at the border. If you live in a delta like the Dutch with water coming from all directions, you know you need to work together to successfully manage climate change & water management issues.’

Map: Preliminary results of water shortage areas for the 2050 RCP 4.5 SSP 2 scenario. Source data: UU / PBL. PCRGLOBWB simulation results for Global Land Outlook.

Five key findings of the discussions

  1. There was general agreement that climate change and water security threats are an important security issue.
  2. New technology is providing tools to get a good understanding and advance insight in what is going on and what the implications are. In The Hague, all presentations provided maps and scenarios, each with slightly different focus. In other words, the basic information we need exists, but requires processing and combining to get information that can support action.
  3. Although there is technical knowledge to adapt to and to mitigate climate change and water shocks, different countries have different policies and customs regarding whether to invest in prevention or rather in response and rebuilding.
  4. Trade-offs are likely needed between different interests, for instance between certain sources of renewable energy (hydro-power, bio-fuels) or expansion of irrigated agriculture on the one hand and ecosystems and livelihoods of people depending on ecosystems on the other hand.
  5. WPSI can assist in making trade-offs and scenarios more clear for decision makers and use this information to create political – and stakeholder support for conflict-sensitive adaptation. This may include alternative options, compensation or benefit-sharing to mitigate negative impacts of trade-offs.

Further development of the WPSI

WPSI is assessing the needs of different types of stakeholders to develop assessment – and intervention tools for global early warning and intervention assessments for specific cases. The WPSI will be piloting how to use evidence and information tools to support early action and dialogue. The tools will combine geophysical aspects with demographic, social and economic information. During the International World Water Week in Stockholm (26-31 August 2018) the WPSI will share the first outcomes of these tools.

Extra information: The WPS Initiative

The Water, Peace and Security Initiative (WPSI) was established in 2017 by IHE Delft, World Resources Institute (WRI), the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS)  and Deltares  with support from the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The initiative is a response to the urgent threat to water security globally, which may impact human security and social stability. The initiative embarks on a pilot project for two years.