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Esquire (Malaysia) - - LAST RE­SORT -

wa­ter have taken place in In­dia. Some of the oc­ca­sions in­volved protests over dams or canals, and some were farmer-ver­sus-herder dis­putes. In 2014, in north­ern In­dia, dur­ing a drought, a group of ban­dits an­nounced that they would kill peo­ple who lived in vil­lages near their hide­out un­less the peo­ple brought them wa­ter ev­ery day. Twenty-eight vil­lages said they would take turns pay­ing what they called a “wa­ter tax.”

In­di­rectly, wa­ter af­fects civil mi­gra­tion, which in turn af­fects pol­i­tics in the form of re­sponses to mi­gra­tion, such as the rise in Europe of right-wing na­tion­al­ism and the elec­tion in Italy in March of pop­ulist fac­tions op­posed to im­mi­grants. Last year, speak­ing at the Vat­i­can’s Pon­tif­i­cal Academy of Sciences, Pope Fran­cis won­dered “if we are not on the path to­wards a great world war over wa­ter.” Peo­ple who think a wa­ter-con­quest war is un­likely tend to point out how dif­fi­cult it is to move wa­ter, but it isn’t any more dif­fi­cult to move wa­ter than it is to move oil.

Gle­ick thinks that wa­ter is less likely to cause a war than to be used as a weapon. In 2014, in the jour­nal Weather, Cli­mate, and So­ci­ety, he pub­lished a pa­per called “Wa­ter, Drought, Cli­mate Change, and Con­flict in Syria.” He de­scribed the area’s wa­ter con­flicts, which are an­cient— the first, ac­cord­ing to the Wa­ter Con­flict Chronol­ogy, ap­pears to have oc­curred forty-five hun­dred years ago when a king named Ur­lama di­verted wa­ter through canals to de­prive an en­emy of it. More re­cently, cli­mate change and the scarcity of fresh­wa­ter re­sult­ing from a drought be­tween 2006 and 2011 led to what one ex­pert de­scribed as the “most se­vere set of crop fail­ures since agri­cul­tural civ­i­liza­tions be­gan in the Fer­tile Cres­cent many mil­len­nia ago.” Gle­ick’s pa­per dis­cussed how all this en­cour­aged the discontent that led to Syria’s civil war. “No one ar­gues that cli­mate change or drought caused the civil war,” he told me. “But they had an in­flu­ence. And af­ter the civil war started, there were mas­sive and un­re­lent­ing at­tacks by pretty much all the par­ties on civil­ians and in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing, ex­plic­itly, wa­ter re­sources. At­tacks on the wa­ter-treat­ment plants in Aleppo, at­tacks in Iraq on lo­cal wa­ter sys­tems—use of wa­ter as a weapon. ISIS took over dams on the Ti­gris and Euphrates and re­leased wa­ter on down­stream vil­lages to pre­vent at­tacks on their bases.”

“Wa­ter Wars” makes a fine head­line, Gle­ick said, but he thinks any such con­flict be­tween na­tions would be more com­pli­cated. “In­dia and Pak­istan have been fight­ing for­ever over wa­ter in the re­gion of Kash­mir,” he said, “but if it breaks into war, wa­ter would only be a part of the cause. Egypt has threat­ened Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Re­nais­sance Dam Ethiopia is build­ing over the Nile at the bor­der of Ethiopia and Su­dan. Egypt is com­pletely de­pen­dent on the Nile, but would they ac­tu­ally at­tack the dam? I don’t think so, but it’s pos­si­ble.”

The fu­ture is rarely a con­tin­u­a­tion of the present, and doesn’t usu­ally play out as we ex­pect. Maybe we don’t run out of wa­ter. Maybe science finds a bet­ter means of pro­vid­ing drink­able wa­ter from castoff wa­ter and sewage. We tend to think of so­ci­etal calami­ties as hap­pen­ing in places where the peo­ple are dif­fer­ent from us, yet mat­ters of race and cul­ture seem ir­rel­e­vant when we all re­quire a half gal­lon of wa­ter each day to sur­vive. When a re­gion runs out of wa­ter, the peo­ple left there don’t re­ally die of thirst. They die mainly from the dis­eases that come from drink­ing bad wa­ter. In these places, the equa­tion is suc­cinct: De­mand, sim­ple hu­man need, the as­ser­tion, even, of a right, over­whelms sup­ply.

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