AS the world’s population continues to grow, so does its thirst for water and energy. Unfortunately, not every nation is able to get an equitable share of the precious water and energy resources. If we look into the history of the prolonged Middle Eastern conflicts, we will see that many of them are related to access to water and energy. Patricia Wouters, professor of international water law at the University of Dundee in UK, considers that water scarcity is on the global agenda. She opined: “There is so much happening in the Middle East that a conflict over water could push everything over the edge.”
Demand for water in the emerging economies, including China and India, is expected to exceed supplies in less than 20 years. Although China, the most populous nation, possesses the fourth largest freshwater reserves in the world, it has the second lowest per capita water holdings. Experts feel that the rapidly developing China (the second largest economy of the world) is potentially facing the problem of water scarcity, which may challenge its economic growth. Water resource demand in India is expected to double and exceed 1.4 trillion cubic meters by 2050, while Pakistan faces the greatest water crunch with only around 1,000 cubic meters available per head per year.
Published statistics suggest that 40% of the global population and 145 states fall within 263 international river basins that account for 60% of global river flow. The World Bank says that global energy consumption will increase by 35% while water use for energy will go up 85% by 2035. For the first time last year, the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook included a section on water, and warned that water constraints “can challenge the reliability of existing operations and the viability of proposed projects.”
It is interesting to note that there are alternative forms of energy, but there is no substitute for water. And, as the indispensible ingredient for life, it naturally becomes a source of power. According to InterAction Council (IAC) approximately 3,800 cubic kilometers of fresh water are drawn from lakes, rivers and wells globally every year. In 2025, world population is expected to reach about one billion, and to feed it agriculture will require another 1,000 cubic kilometers of water per year, equivalent to the annual flow of 20 Nile Rivers.
World Bank sources suggest that 70% of the world’s fresh water is currently used for agriculture purposes. As populations and economies grow, more water will be required for energy, industries and for urban systems. Prominent world leaders, including former US President Bill Clinton and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela, warned that the looming water crisis threatens political stability and economic development in a number of developing nations, which has implications for global peace and stability. However, optimists tend to believe that conflicts over water right should stimulate cooperation among the countries.
South Asian countries are linked by trans-boundary rivers, many of which are bound by treaties. India and Pakistan share the Indus; India and Bangladesh share the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers; Nepal and India share Kosi, Mahakali and several others. Pakistan and Afghanistan share nine important rivers, including the Kabul River. Iran has more than 40 tributaries and rivers crossing into Iraq, while Turkey exerts tight control over the Tigris-Euphrates basin. Nine of the ten major rivers in South Asia emerge from Tibet. Almost all sources of energy, including many renewable ones, require large amounts of water to produce. India wants to expand its grid to the third of the rural population that has no access to power. The existing power production facilities in India are often criticised for their poor water management efficiency. A year ago, the state of Maharashtra had to shut down all six units of a 1,130 MW thermal power plant as the water in the dams fell to critically low levels.
And it is not only fossil fuel plants that need water for their cooling processes. Of the renewable sources, only wind power and photovoltaics use negligible amounts of water. Solar energy generation plants require large amount of water to keep the mirrors clean. The Guardian published a report on February 6 suggesting that lower water supply threatens electric energy generation in many countries in the world. The World Bank’s senior economist, Diego Rodriguez of the institute’s water unit, says: “In the US, several power plants have had to rein-in production due to low water flows or water temperatures too high to cool plant. France is periodically forced to cut back nuclear power production, and hydropower production in Sri Lanka, China and Brazil has been compromised by lower water levels caused by drought.”
Regional cooperation is essential if countries are to adapt to the growing need for resources, and to harness maximum benefits of the natural resources like energy and water for the people of the region. And for attaining the sustained cooperation and mutual sharing of benefits there is no other way but to understand each other’s concerns with water and energy resources, and share and work jointly to address them.
The writer is a mining engineer.
Published: 12:00 am Monday, February 24, 2014