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U.S. National Intelligence Council: Global Water Insecurity to Increase Over the Next 30 Years

By Dr. Marc Kodack

Responding to a Congressional request, the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC) recently released an unclassified memo from July (here) examining global water security over the next 30 years. The NIC examined multiple variables including economic, agricultural, and environmental. Countries that are unable to provide sufficient water for their populations will experience lowered public health, reduced gross domestic production, decreases in economic well-being, and break-downs in political relationships. Transboundary water issues may become more common potentially leading to increased tensions between countries. All these consequences will be further amplified by the effects of climate change pressing against water security. As the memo notes: “multiple climate change models indicate increasing variability, intensity, and occurrence of droughts and floods.” These models forecast reductions in rainfall and increased temperatures leading to greater evaporation rates. Extreme weather will become more common leading greater chances of damage and destruction.

Currently, billions of people around the world, many in China and India, have insufficient water for at least 30 days annually. Over the next 30 years, demand will increase by up to 50% over its current use, whereas water supply and quality will decrease, exacerbating living conditions and quality-of-life for billions of people. Agriculture will continue to be the predominant water use further stressing water supplies. Overexploitation of surface and groundwater, increased pollution of these sources, e.g. agriculture run-off of nitrogen and phosphorus, infrastructure losses, e.g., leaks, and surface water diversions, e.g., dams for hydropower, will increase.

Countries where corruption is common, trust in a government is low, agency coordination is poor, and, policies and their implementation are also poor, likely extend these bad practices to their water sector, if the water sector is even considered. The result is increased costs, lack of sufficient, functioning infrastructure, lack of maintenance of any infrastructure that may be present, and illegal diversions of funding intended to address water issues. These practices are likely to continue over the next 30 years in both areas that are currently water poor, but also in areas where water is not scarce–central Africa, East/Southeast Asia, and Latin America.

Through both climate change effects and negative, man-made distortions of the water supply, multiple populations will suffer from inadequate water quantity and quality over the next 30 years. Given that billions of people already are water insecure, the NIC water security assessment creates significant doubt that these current populations and their descendants will ever experience increased levels of water security. The consequences of water insecurity are severe. The poorest members of a population will continue to be vulnerable to reductions in their personal security, exposure to diseases, and declines in health. Many people will have lowered economic security, both personally and for their businesses. Internal and external political tensions may rise, increasing hostility between groups and potentially across state boundaries, adding to the risks that will weigh down many countries and their populations.

Dr. Marc Kodack is Senior Fellow at the Center for Climate and Security and former Sustainability and Water Program Manager in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Sustainability.

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