Water needs may lead to conflicts, US warns

WASHINGTON - Drought, floods, and a lack of fresh water may cause significant global instability and conflict in the coming decades, as developing countries scramble to meet demand from exploding populations while dealing with the effects of climate change, US intelligence agencies said in a report released Thursday.

An assessment reflecting the joint judgment of federal intelligence agencies says the risk of water issues causing wars in the next 10 years is minimal even as they create tensions within and between states and threaten to disrupt national and global food markets. But beyond 2022, it says, the use of water as a weapon of war or a tool of terrorism will become more likely, particularly in South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.

The report is based on a classified National Intelligence Estimate on water security, which was requested by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and completed last fall. It says floods, scarce and poor quality water, combined with poverty, poor leadership, and weak governments will contribute to instability that could lead to the failure of numerous states.


Those elements “will likely increase the risk of instability and state failure, exacerbate regional tensions, and distract countries from working with the United States on important policy objectives,’’ said the report, released at a State Department event commemorating World Water Day.

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Clinton, who unveiled a new US Water Partnership that aims to share American water management expertise with the rest of the world, called the findings sobering. “These threats are real and they do raise serious security concerns,’’ she said.

The report noted that countries have tried to resolve water issues through negotiation but said that could change as shortages become more severe.

“We judge that as water shortages become more acute beyond the next 10 years, water in shared basins will increasingly be used as leverage; the use of water as a weapon or to further terrorist objectives also will become more likely beyond 10 years,’’ it said.