Water as a National Security Issue

Water as a National Security Issue

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By Sofía Jarrín

If no action is taken in the next decade, global warming could be irreversible, and one of the main consequences will be water scarcity. The vulnerability of water in our countries must become part of our national security.

In almost every area there has been talk about the oil war, but little is said about the water war, which began several decades ago.

It is worth mentioning some obvious cases such as the recent conflict in Libya that gave NATO control of the largest water reservoir in the world, the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System. [1] In the Americas, one could mention the 2000 Water War in Bolivia, but even more recently, the case of the control of the Guaraní Aquifer that extends through the border area of ​​Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. This one in particular has led to a militarization of the region under the auspices of the US Southern Command, first based on rumors of the presence of Al Qaeda (under the George W. Bush administration) and now on the alleged guerrilla activity of the Paraguayan People's Army, which according to the government of that country does not amount to 100 people. [2] It is evident that there are serious imperial interests in the control of water worldwide, why?

The truth is that the crises around water will worsen due to its excessive use and the effect of climate change worldwide. For all human, agricultural and industrial consumption, we have only 2.5% of fresh water available (including rivers, lagoons, groundwater and glaciers). The remaining 97.5% corresponds to the water of the seas and the atmosphere. Access to fresh water by country, as shown in Figure 3.1, varies greatly between neighboring countries, and depends largely on climate impact and local water management.

"Water stress" will be felt by 2030 in Africa and Asia and by 2050 in the rest of the continents, according to UNESCO, which predicts a 19% increase in water use only in agricultural production. [3 ] Hence, the recommendation of its report this year, "Water Management in [Uncertain and Risk] Times", is to protect water for human consumption and food safety, mainly.

Among some of the most important aspects of the UNESCO report for the Andean countries, it is worth highlighting the vulnerability of the glaciers and particularly, the groundwater resources, which provide "almost half of the water for the population's consumption" . Groundwater is non-renewable and increasingly vulnerable to contamination. The Center for Hydrological Models at the University of California, corroborates this information by detecting in a satellite study together with NASA, that the water in aquifers worldwide is decreasing in alarming amounts. "People are using groundwater faster than it can fill up naturally," said Matthew Rodell, one of the scientists on the study. [4]

At the same time, in a report published by the Inter-American Association for the Defense of the Environment (AIDA) in December 2011, it is said that 14% of the population in Latin America (71 million people) do not have access to safe water resources. And it is estimated that by 2025 some 77 million more people will experience "water stress", with scarcity being one of the main social problems on the continent. The report concludes, "All of these impacts will result in serious consequences not only for human rights, such as access to water, but also for food, health and life rights, which governments should take into account when planning for the future. "[5]

On the other hand, the degradation of glaciers due to global warming is estimated to affect 30 million people in Latin America, highlighting that 60% of the water for human consumption in Quito and 30% in La Paz, comes from glaciers. To this must be added the general decline of the Andean páramos, which are important sources of water storage.

In the case of Ecuador, we have as a palpable example the disappearance of the Cotacachi glacier, which according to an investigation directly affected some 25 thousand people and generated internal conflicts between indigenous communities, landowners and the government. [6] The Climate Change Adaptation Project of the Ministry of the Environment (PACC) points out that between 1997 and 2006, Ecuadorian glaciers were reduced by 27.8%, and admits that unfortunately Ecuador does not have enough research to indicate the social and economic impacts and environmental conditions of climatic variations, thus making it difficult to carry out a forceful prevention planning. [7]

National security?

When it comes to national security, several countries have already begun to take precautions in what they see as an inevitable global water crisis. These include the United States, Canada and China, with a strategy mainly focused on the private administration (through large corporations) of water, with a growing and dangerous commodification of this vital resource.

Canada, for example, has a privileged situation in terms of access to water resources (estimated at 20% of fresh water worldwide), which has generated an intense debate at the national level about its exploitation and export to countries so far away like those in the Middle East and Asia. Under NAFTA, water was classified as a mode of investment, and more than once, civil society has had to mobilize to stop the export of large amounts of water from Canada. [8]

In the case of the United States (the country with the highest consumption of fresh water in the world), the State Department released a report "Global Water Security" where it admits that in the next 10 years the crisis of the water will create global instability, particularly in "failed states in key regions" for US national security [9] The report foresees that water in the future will be used not only as a political lever between countries, but also as a "weapon of war" where a country could cut off the supply of rivers and natural water resources to a neighboring country.

Water as a "weapon of war" is actually evident in Israel's current control of water towards the Palestinian territories, but not to go too far, it can be seen in laws of 1922 and 1944 of the United States, to take control of the rivers Colorado and Bravo, generating very serious consequences to this day. Due to their overuse by the northern agribusiness, both rivers rarely reach their mouths (two of the eight mega-rivers worldwide, which are drying up), and this has caused extreme droughts and poverty in the northern states of Mexico. [10]

In the State Department report, the "solution" for the crisis focuses on the effective commodification of water ("virtual water", as they say, or that water that can be capitalized as an export product), as well as boosting the agribusiness and control of territories with water resources. At the local level, the development of policies and technologies for a better management of water for agriculture is recommended, but does not mention prevention programs for the preservation of this non-renewable resource.

In China, the severe water crisis has led its government to opt for the most ambitious solution: the acquisition of land abroad to exploit water. In this country, the overuse of industrial and agricultural water has contaminated seven of the largest rivers in China, as well as 25 of the 27 main lakes. Thirteen percent (or 15.3 million hectares) of farmland suffer from drought. Four hundred of the 600 cities in China suffer from water cuts. [11]

Since water conservation systems have obviously failed in China, the government is opting for extreme measures, including the South-North Water Transfer Project, to move 3.9 trillion gallons of water through a massive system. from tunnels and canals, from the Yangtze River to the thirsty northern regions. The second option has been an aggressive purchase of land on the African continent, mainly that contains water resources. A report by the Stockholm International Water Institute states that although it is not explicitly stated in the contracts, it is presumed that the control of water is included in these acquisitions. [12] Other countries, India, the Middle East, and private companies, are also making this type of "investment."

The Institute's recommendation is to include in every contract (including oil or mining concessions, an important consideration for Ecuador) specific stipulations on public control of water and access to water by the local population.

Organizations such as the World Water Council (promoter of the World Water Forum) that promote economic solutions rooted in neoliberal policies in the face of the water crisis should also be taken with caution. The CMA maintains that water is a market good and seeks to monopolize international policies in the administration of water resources. This can be easily seen in one of his latest publications, "Water for Africa's Growth and Development" [13] where the president of the council, Loïc Fauchon, assures that in order to have energy and water security, "economic security of industrial and agricultural production ". The document itself provides a strategic map for foreign investors.

Preservation instead of restoration

If no action is taken in the next decade, global warming could be irreversible, and one of the main consequences will be water scarcity. The vulnerability of water in our countries must become part of our national security.

In Ecuador, the current practice of renewable use of water is minimal, and specific studies are needed at the national level on existing water resources and their vulnerabilities. The most extensive evaluation was made in 1998, carried out by the US Southern Command Army Corps of Engineers. In May 2011, the National Water Secretariat (SENAGUA) began a nationwide inventory of water resources (to be delivered to the Assembly in October 2012), but there is a lot of mistrust of community systems and organizations that say they have not been consulted and fear that this inventory will facilitate a greater number of concessions in private hands.

In any case, these State approaches are focused on the administration of water resources and not on their conservation. As Juan Fernando Terán, professor at the Andean University, verifies in a study on the ecology of water in Ecuador, "Until now, in Ecuador, market mechanisms act in a direction contrary to the sustainability of the water functions of the natural ecosystems… "[14]

Regarding climate change, according to the PACC there are different types of adaptation: preventive (before the damage occurs) and reactive (after the damage has occurred), private and public, autonomous and planned. The adaptation strategies at the local level (conservation of water basins, ecological flow of key rivers, degree of risk of contamination, stress of the use of flows for agricultural, community and industrial irrigation, water quality, rain catchment, preservation of ecosystems such as mangroves and paramos, etc.), must be considered based on exhaustive research on our vulnerability as a nation and as a region. In the specifications of the signing of any agreement, for example, whether with a border country or with a transnational company, the administration of water basins must be included.

Finally, since we are not a militarized country like the United States, nor can we finance mega-projects to raise water like those in China, our approach should be preventive instead of thinking that water is an unlimited or easily remedied resource. As a country it would be a fallacy to concentrate all our efforts on extractive developmentalism, instead of generating studies and policies to safeguard basic needs such as water.

Sofia Jarrín is an investigative journalist who has worked for various North American independent media, such as Free Speech News Radio, Z Magazine, Upside Down World, and Democracy Now! In Ecuador he worked for ALER Satelital and the Public Radio of Ecuador.


1. "Libya and Water as a Weapon". International Water Law Project.

2. "Paraguay - 2010 Country Updates Meeting". SOAW Watch.….

3. "Increasing demand and climate change threatening world water resources says new UN World Water Development Report". UN World Water Development.….

4. "Groundwater dropping globally". Science News.….

5. "Principal Human Rights Impacts of Climate Change in Latin America". AIDA.….

6. R. Rhoades. "Disappearance of the Mama Cotacachi glacier: ethnoecological research and climate change in the Andes of Ecuador". Pyrenees, vol.163.

7. "Climate change and its implications in the Andean countries". PACC.

8. "Selling Canada's Water". CBC News. August 25, 2004.

9. "Global Water Security." Department of State. February 2012.

10. "8 Mighty Rivers Run Dry From Overuse." National Geographic.….

11. "China Faces a Water Crisis". BusinessWeek.….

12. "Land Acquisitions: How Will They Impact Transboundary Waters?"….

13. "Water for Growth and Development in Africa: A framework for an effective mosaic of investments". World Water Council.…

14. Teran, JF. "The Ecology of Water: An Introduction to Its Issues and Problems in Ecuador." Integrated water management: concepts and policies. Concorsio Camaren. 2009.

Video: Water and. National Security (May 2022).