A First-hand Look at Water Insecurity

Like most people in the developed world, the need to find clean water has never been a daily concern for me. I could go to one of the three rooms in my house with a faucet, turn it on, and be instantly presented with a seemingly limitless flow of either hot or cold water. On the rare occasion I was in a place where tap water was not suitable for drinking, a bottle of water from the corner store was never far away. And while I was mentally aware of the problems people around the world had in procuring this vital resource, I only gained a full appreciation of the challenges and conflict associated with water resources when I started working in Tajikistan. I lived in a small compound with another American woman and our Tajik landlords. The infrastructure was rough, to put it simply. The houses were made of a local variety of concrete, consisting of mud and straw, which was then hastily white-washed to give it a more aesthetically pleasing look. Our electricity, although far better than many of our neighbours, disappeared for a few hours several times a week. And we shared a large, outdoor, stone basin sink with a rough metal pipe that spouted one temperature of water – ice cold. This water flowed down from the hills surrounding my village through a complicated system of hoses and pipes maintained by the residents themselves. There was little regulation of water supply – in the spring when the snow was melting we had to leave the spout running constantly to relieve pressure on the hoses because the volume of water was so high, while in the winter we frequently had only a small trickle. During the planting season, local disputes often erupted when someone accused a neighbour of interfering with the shared hoses and pipes to redirect water supplies for their own use, thereby depriving their neighbour. And the haphazard structure of these pipes meant used water could make its way downstream and into another house’s supply, with serious consequences for health and sanitation.These water challenges I witnessed in Tajikistan are representative of the broader water challenges faced throughout the world.

Water insecurity exists on every inhabited continent and in both developed and developing countries. From California to sub-Saharan Africa, communities are struggling to cope with a lack of access to water for drinking, bathing and growing food. In poor and developing regions, this can have serious negative implications for development at both the local and national scale. High population growth in developing regions already characterised by water scarcity, including the Middle East and South Asia, is placing an even greater strain on existing water resources. These problems are likely to worsen unless substantial changes are implemented worldwide. To maintain domestic stability, some national leaders (including those in Tajikistan) have adopted more aggressive positions and rhetoric to protect water supply. But this has only led to more frequent inter and intra-state disputes – 174 of them since 2000, according to the Pacific Institute.¹ The current status quo regarding water is unsustainable and must be addressed by policy makers and practitioners as an immediate need for both international development and conflict prevention.

The panel ‘Blue Gold: Impending threats to water security and development’ brings together experts from a variety of fields and practices, all focusing on the current and future challenges concerning our water supplies. Mikå Mered from POLARISK Group will bring extensive experience in the risk management field, focusing particularly on the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Drs. Marwa Daoudy and Mark Zeitoun will provide a crucial academic perspective to this issue, drawing on their extensive research in two regions where both water insecurity and conflict are prevalent – Africa and the Middle East. Lastly, Dr. Daanish Mustafa will bring both vast knowledge on critical water resources, with a special focus on Pakistan, to the discussion. We hope you will enjoy this panel and the stimulating discussion that is sure to follow. For more information about our conference, speakers, and panels, please visit our website at www.csd2015.wordpress.com.

Rachel Hoffman

1. http://worldwater.org/water-conflict/

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