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Water wars: how access to fresh water is fueling tensions

Andy Day

23rd March 2019

Two recent articles serve to highlight how securing access to fresh water is causing tensions, both within countries between various communities, and across borders with neighbouring countries. If the twentieth century was known for its 'Oil Wars', for the 21st century will it be 'Water Wars'?

The Himalayas are the source of many major rivers flowing from glaciers, snow-melt and precipitation falling on the world's highest mountain range. These rivers support hundreds of millions of people, from Afghanistan and Pakistan, through to Vietnam and China. One controversial scheme is being proposed by India, to divert the course of rivers that cross the border with Pakistan. Long-simmering tensions over the territory of Kashmir, that both countries claim, resulted in combat between the two countries' air forces at the end of February 2019. As a political weapon, India has threatened to build a series of dams to divert river water that currently flows across its border with Pakistan, and use it to irrigate its own lands in northern India. Read more about the issue in this Guardian article.

Another region of water conflict lies in Israel, where the 'Sea of Galilee' is seeing its water level drop to unsustainable levels, with an associated rise in salinity, as water is increasingly diverted from its input rivers to irrigate farmland before reaching the inland lake. The Israeli government is now proposing an ambitious scheme to pump desalinated sea water, from the coast, to the Sea of Galilee, to maintain the level of fresh water in the lake. An example of human-induced 'reverse drainage' which sees water flowing from sea to inland lake; the opposite of what normally occurs. Read more about this issue in this Guardian article.

Andy Day

Andy recently finished being a classroom geographer after 35 years at two schools in East Yorkshire as head of geography, head of the humanities faculty and director of the humanities specialism. He has written extensively about teaching and geography - with articles in the TES, Geography GCSE Wideworld and Teaching Geography.

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