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Water Towers: Security Risks in a Changing Climate

WaterTowersLogoEpicentersThis is a blog series highlighting each article in the Center for Climate and Security’s recent report, “Epicenters of Climate and Security: The New Geostrategic Landscape of the Anthropocene.”

Water Towers: Security Risks in a Changing Climate
By Troy Sternberg

Since the Boutros Boutros Ghali, then Secretary General of the United Nations stated that the next war in the Middle East will be over water, not politics, the global community has focused on water flashpoints, particularly in the Middle East. But examining micro- to meso-scale dynamics has confined thinking to rivers, aquifers and watersheds at national levels. While important, discussion has often ignored the megascale threat of human and climate changes to the world’s mountain ‘water towers’ and the resultant implications to security and human well-being. For example: two billion people depend on water originating on the Tibetan Plateau. Hundreds of millions more drink from global water towers, including the massive Andes, Rockies, Tien Shan, Caucasus and Alps to the more modest Ethiopian and Guinean Highlands. In each, climate change affects glaciers, water resources and runoff. If it were only a matter of harnessing water from a nation’s territorial mountain, the issue would be structural; the complication comes when water flows through several states. Riparian nations stress natural, human and economic rights to water that crosses their realm, yet without physical control, states remain vulnerable to upstream users. This gives a hegemonic dynamic to control of water towers with significant implications for national and regional security…

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