The severity and frequency of conflicts over water are set to increase, as climate change alters rainfall patterns, leading to more frequent, intense, and prolonged droughts and floods.
The dangers of environmental pollution receive a lot of attention nowadays, particularly in the developing world, and with good reason. Air quality indices are dismal and worsening in many places, with India, in particular, facing an acute public-health emergency. But as serious as the pollution problem is, it must not be allowed to obscure another incipient environmental catastrophe, and a potential source of future conflict: lack of access to clean water.
We may live on a “blue planet,” but less than 3% of all of our water is fresh, and much of it is inaccessible (for example, because it is locked in glaciers). Since 1960, the amount of available fresh water per capita has declined by more than half, leaving over 40% of the world’s population facing water stress. By 2030, demand for fresh water will exceed supply by an estimated 40%.
With nearly two-thirds of fresh water coming from rivers and lakes that cross national borders, intensifying water stress fuels a vicious circle, in which countries compete for supplies, leading to…