Groundwater scarcity and conflict : managing hotspots

Robins, Nicholas S.; Fergusson, James. 2014 Groundwater scarcity and conflict : managing hotspots. Earth Perspectives, 1 (6). 1-9.

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The link between water scarcity and public unrest is a close one. Groundwater is the only viable resource in most arid and semi-arid environments that can sustain rural and urban populations. Periodic drought forces people off the land who take refuge in the cities, taxing already stressed resources. Mining of groundwater places cities at risk; aquifers supplying both Yemen’s capital city Sana’a and its major regional centre of Taiz are expected to run dry in the foreseeable future. In Somalia, al-Shabaab canvassed disfavour by mishandling the 2011 drought, which was partly self-inflicted through excessive tree-felling and their failure to repair broken infrastructure. Water scarcity was also a catalyst of the unrest in Syria, and has long been a critical factor in the tension between Israel and the Palestinians. Small island states and communities that live over transboundary aquifers are also vulnerable unless early technical investigation and collaborative interstate management are provided, while NGOs continue to drill boreholes in countries such as Malawi where the groundwater resource cannot keep up with demand. It is critical that the West helps these countries, particularly countries such as Yemen, Somalia and Syria, where the current instability partly stems from water scarcity issues, and where supply failure pushes people back towards competing tribal factions with implications for the security of the world. It is imperative that we switch our focus from fighting the symptoms of instability, such as insurgent terrorist groups, and start concentrating instead on the underlying causes such as poor governance and water resource scarcity. Given the continuing unrest in those countries affected by the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, the link between water scarcity and anarchy has become inarguable. The way to mitigate the ongoing threat to security must include technical advice on groundwater management and, where necessary, on preparing for the impacts of projected resource failure. The consequences of not taking this course of action are unthinkable.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Additional Keywords: Groundwater; Aquifer; Water scarcity; Drought; Governance, Groundwater management; ‘Arab spring’, GroundwaterBGS, International development
NORA Subject Terms: Earth Sciences
Date made live: 12 Mar 2014 16:04 +0 (UTC)

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