With climate change pushing half (half!) of the world’s population into water scarcity (the lack of sufficient, clean drinking water) last year, it is no surprise to see more and more fighting and war over a resource that should be a basic human right. This conflict can manifest indirectly, as shown by a full blown war in Syria, or directly, as is the case in India currently.
Listen to this piece carefully. It might sound far off now, but this is a precursor to a water crisis that will be at the doorstep in your lifetime.
Climate change is a cause
The 500 million people – 70 times the population of the UK, facing drought in India alone, is due to many factors. The sheer number of people needing access makes the shortage more intense, and terrible governmental planning doesn’t help – unchecked privatisation and governmental negligence has led to water being traded as a commodity, given only to those who can afford it. Meanwhile, almost no regulation results in the 800 million farmers squeezing the last drops of water into their intensely wasteful irrigation system (and who can blame them?).
However, an increasingly acute monsoon style climate is what is causing water shortages to get worse at a faster rate than India can adapt to. Simply put, climate change is causing longer and more intense dry periods which lowers the water table. When rain does come, it is more ferocious over a shorter period of time, meaning you cannot capture it all. More than that, most of India’s rivers are horrifically contaminated – flooding pours this contaminated water into the precious few fresh water wells there are.
The impacts of water shortage goes well beyond the environment, and even thirst. It is intensely social.
As I bang on about repeatedly, the impacts of climate change are not just limited to thin polar bears, and habitat loss around the world – impacts that, whilst very important, don’t cause an emotional connection with people in the same way social conflict does. There are countless ways in which a shortage of water can cause social conflict. I will brush over a few lightly, with the hope that you leave with a general painting of the desperation these people must feel and the anger they face from all directions.
Firstly, and most easy to understand, is that when you (you, one, anyone) is thirsty, tensions run high, everyone has experienced that. Now think of that feeling constantly for weeks on end and there’s nothing you can do about it.
When you don’t have water, you try to find it. This leads to many on the outskirts of cities, who are being ignored by the government, to dig their own wells to get water. People upstream try to redirect rivers to capture more whilst others literally steal some from neighboring towns. When it is so precious, water becomes something that you own, like a TV or a phone. It’s yours now and that means something. Little wonder then, that this grabbing of water at the expense of others (to reiterate, who can blame them?) causes a real sense of injustice and anger.
Not just at each other, but different political, social and religious groups. Groups, whose relationships in India are already stretched due to their heightened hierarchical structure (India has a caste system, which places ethnicities into different levels of importance).
Lastly, when people are frightened of their situation, they move. Even in the UK we can see the conflict migration causes – the larger the scale the more conflict. Look to Syria to see what this migration can do.
These aren’t predictions, they are all happening and the results are there to see. Last year 40 Indian soldiers were killed by a suicide bombing in the hotly contested region of Kashmir. You can see the incredible political power water has when India’s ‘jaw breaking response’ was to construct a dam, cutting off water to the drought stricken region.
Bore holes are privately owned, so the distribution is inherently unfair, driven by wealth, not equality. Those who don’t have money have to deal with infrequent and unreliable tanker deliveries, deliveries which frequently bring fighting – at least 3 died last year during the ditribution of water.
I’m lucky enough to have been to India and even in the short space of time I was there there was a huge strike – all trains were blocked, busses were burned and there were several instances of police brutality. Most devastatingly, a canal was blocked, resulting in an acute water crisis in the nearby cities, including Delhi.
Why should you care?
The number one thing I want you to take away from this is an emotional connection for those whose lives are affected by water shortages. Then, you must make the link between the emotional connection and climate change, and in doing so I hope you feel more alarmed about climate change, realsie it’s real life consequences and make you feel more like acting on it.
No you cannot vote out the Indian government, you cannot influence Indian policy directly or tell farmers how to irrigate lands more sustainably, but you can help with the most important cause – climate change. Do anything you can to reduce your climate footprint to keep India’s climate more stable. In fact, forget India, this is for you and your children, who will be seeing first hand the effects of water conflict soon enough.
If you liked this article, then please follow my blog, or my twitter and instagram pages for more. If this article didn’t float your boat, check out my other two pages, which are more geared towards those that are less alarmed by climate change, or even doubt it’s legitamicy. Finally, the most important thing is that you use your voice, so comment on this article, speak to your friends or contact me to write an article.