Conflicts over water resources will escalate, European Commission warns

Konflikty o zasoby wodne

Europe’s first-ever climate risk assessment published on March 11. by the European Environment Agency (EEA) highlights the political and social risks associated with climate change. Conflicts over water resources in the world are already a sad reality, but their scope and severity could increase dramatically. Migrations, economic crises and even open armed clashes between regions or countries seem to be a matter of time.

Too much or too little water

Floods are a major financial burden on European governments. According to the World Bank, their economic consequences could reach more than 7 percent in some countries. GDP. The risk of flooding due to rapid and steep sea level rise threatens to collapse the real estate market and drastically reduce house prices. This bleak scenario will come to fruition due to inadequate flood risk management even before the disaster arrives.

But droughts will also generate losses, although their effect is less obvious. The EEA report underscores that southern and central-eastern Europe is drying up, and as of 2015. The soil moisture index remains below average. Conflicts over water resources have already marked Spain, where the drought-stricken Catalonia region is demanding that neighboring Aragon divert some water from the Ebro River. Political pressure on the Iberian Peninsula is rising.

Black scenarios

The European Climate Risk Assessment indicates that while northern Europe has more than 1,000 mm of precipitation per year, in the south it does not exceed 400 mm. If you add to this intensive evaporation as a consequence of steadily rising air temperatures, some regions already have 50 mm less effective precipitation per year. And models indicate that the north will become wetter and the south drier.

The high demand for water applies primarily to energy and agriculture, with the latter growing in importance as the climate warms. But there are more factors that increase the risk of water shortages. The population is growing, much of the water infrastructure is outdated and leaky, declining snow cover means that more water is used to produce artificial coverage for ski slopes, and so on. Conflicts over water resources are also rivalries between sectors in different countries.

In black scenarios, the EEA predicts severe disruption of aquatic ecosystems due to reduced river flows, reduced crop yields, weakened winter tourism, or energy production woes due to reduced cooling systems. Above all, water scarcity poses a serious threat to the safety and health of communities.

Disturbing figures

Up to 51.9 million people in the EU and the UK are at risk of water shortages, including 3.3 million facing severe shortages. Under a scenario of a 1.5°C rise in average temperature, these deficits will increase by a further 14 percent, the EEA report predicts. If warming reaches 4°C, conflicts over water resources will affect southern and Midwestern Europe, dramatically intensifying in summer and autumn.

Reduced inflows to urban reservoirs will result in deterioration of drinking water quality and increased risk of epidemics. Economic damage from drought could range from 9.7 billion to as much as 17.2 billion euros a year, depending on the increase in average temperature. With water scarcity, food and energy supplies will be at risk (power plants use river water for cooling), as well as the health care condition. It’s hard to find a better prescription for social unrest. And it is mainly the less affluent citizens, immigrants, national minorities, seniors and children and young people who will suffer.

Source: Water Conflict Chronology 2020-2024. Pacific Institute, Oakland, CA. Accessed: 19.03.2024.

Conflicts over water resources in the world

Water scarcity outside Europe has been making its presence known in a drastic way for quite some time. We have written about the violence and migration in Darfur and the dramatic social impact of the drought in Kenya. Conflicts over water resources are also escalating in the Middle East, with occupiers in Israel attacking wells and pumps that supply Palestinians with water.

In 2023 alone. there was a deadly clash on the border between Afghanistan and Iran over water rights from the Helmand River, riots among Bangladeshi villagers in response to water allocations, or violent protests in Bolivia over well construction. Public protests over water scarcity and inequitable water management have also erupted in the past year in Mexico, South Africa, Peru, Ethiopia and Azerbaijan. In the war inside Ukraine, the Russians do not hesitate to use water as a weapon against the population.

Unfortunately, experts agree – conflicts over water resources in the world will escalate.

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