Monday, January 22, 2018

Political Unrests and the Upcoming Water Crisis

by Salman Hameed

The recent Iranian protests have several components. Some of it is definitely political. However, another component has to do with the water crisis. And Iran is not the only country that has faced political unrest with water shortage. More recently, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria have all had water shortages leading to unrests and uprisings. Here is from a recent NYT article on this particular matter:
A water shortage can spark street protests: Access to water has been a common source of unrest in India. It can be exploited by terrorist groups: The Shabab has sought to take advantage of the most vulnerable drought-stricken communities in Somalia. Water shortages can prompt an exodus from the countryside to crowded cities: Across the arid Sahel, young men unable to live off the land are on the move. And it can feed into insurgencies: Boko Haram stepped into this breach in Nigeria, Chad and Niger. 
Iran is the latest example of a country where a water crisis, long in the making, has fed popular discontent. That is particularly true in small towns and cities in what is already one of the most parched regions of the world. Farms turned barren, lakes became dust bowls. Millions moved to provincial towns and cities, and joblessness led to mounting discontent among the young. Then came a crippling drought, lasting roughly 14 years. 
A water shortage can spark street protests: Access to water has been a common source of unrest in India. It can be exploited by terrorist groups: The Shabab has sought to take advantage of the most vulnerable drought-stricken communities in Somalia. Water shortages can prompt an exodus from the countryside to crowded cities: Across the arid Sahel, young men unable to live off the land are on the move. And it can feed into insurgencies: Boko Haram stepped into this breach in Nigeria, Chad and Niger. 
Iran is the latest example of a country where a water crisis, long in the making, has fed popular discontent. That is particularly true in small towns and cities in what is already one of the most parched regions of the world. Farms turned barren, lakes became dust bowls. Millions moved to provincial towns and cities, and joblessness led to mounting discontent among the young. Then came a crippling drought, lasting roughly 14 years.
But this is just the beginning. According to World Resources Institute, at least 33 countries are in the category of high stress regarding water. Here is a map of water crisis around the world and you can find your own favorite country:


The map also overlaps with much of the Muslim world population:

And this population is young - with half of the population under the age of 25! The reasons for water crisis are complex, but climate change is one of the most important variables. I know that there have been serious concerns about melting glaciers in the Indian subcontinent as water management issues between India and Pakistan are delicate and can easily lead to a catastrophic war. 

But apart from climate change, the NYT article points to efforts by governments to be self-sufficient regarding food supplies: 
Like many countries, from India to Syria, Iran after the 1979 revolution set out to be self-sufficient in food. It wasn’t a bad goal, in and of itself. But as the Iranian water expert Kaveh Madani points out, it meant that the government encouraged farmers to plant thirsty crops like wheat throughout the country. The government went further by offering farmers cheap electricity and favorable prices for their wheat — effectively a generous two-part subsidy that served as an incentive to plant more and more wheat and extract more and more groundwater. 
The result: “25 percent of the total water that is withdrawn from aquifers, rivers and lakes exceeds the amount that can be replenished” by nature, according to Claudia Sadoff, a water specialist who prepared a report for the World Bank on Iran’s water crisis. 
Iran’s groundwater depletion rate is today among the fastest in the world, so much so that by Mr. Michel’s calculations, 12 of the country’s 31 provinces “will entirely exhaust their aquifers within the next 50 years.” In parts of the country, the groundwater loss is causing the land to sink. 
Water is a handy political tool, and to curry favor with their rural base, Iran’s leaders — and particularly the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — dammed rivers across the country to divert water to key areas. As a result, many of Iran’s lakes have shrunk. That includes Lake Urmia, once the region’s largest saltwater lake, which has diminished in size by nearly 90 percent since the early 1970s.

Read the full article here

No comments: