Guerre & Eau
Henri de Grossouvre versus Franck Galland
Moderator : Dinah Louda
Water has always played a key role in human communities. Throughout the ages, Man has always settled near water, whether for societal, agricultural or industrial reasons. Today, the issue of water is a vast subject that can be divided into two main axes. The first is the geopolitical and geostrategic dimension, in which water is considered as a resource necessary for life and for modern society. The second is the geographic dimension on which the various security strategies of the world’s nations are operated. The debate was articulated along these two axes: water, an unequally exploited resource and water as a source of conflict and diplomacy.
An unequally distributed and exploited resource
Water is a resource that is unequally distributed across different regions of the world. France, for example, has around 177 billion cubic meters of renewable water annually and consumes 35 billion of those cubic meters. With 3200 cubic meters of water per inhabitant per year, the French are far from the limit of 1700 cubic meters of water synonymous with water stress. On the other side of the Mediterranean, the southern and eastern Mediterranean countries are facing significant water stress situations. This “diagonal of thirst” starts from Tangier, crosses North Africa, and extends into the Indo-Pakistani zone. Further south, the countries constituting the G5 Sahel, with a population of 150 million inhabitants, which should double in the next twenty years, have observed a 40% drop in their water resources between 2000 and 2021. However, some countries in these particularly fragile areas are not affected by this water stress problem.Morocco, a country which, following the policy of dam construction led by Hassan II from 1967 onwards, has seen this type of construction multiply in the kingdom, going from 16 to 100 dams in 1997. This has made it possible to meet the challenges of agricultural production and economic growth in Morocco. On the contrary, Algeria is left with water shortages. The reasons are multiple: climate change, government neglect and failure to materialize previously taken political decisions. A little further east, the countries which suffered the consequences of the Arab Spring (from Tunisia to Syria), suffer from poor water infrastructure as well. Syria in particular, given the major conflicts on its territory, has seen the destruction of a large part of its hydraulic infrastructure, worsening the water problems already present in the country. Likewise, Yemen known as Happy Arabia suffers from a water deficit. This is due both to the production of khat which requires massive water consumption, representing 50% of the country’s water expenditure, and because of the destruction of the hydraulic infrastructures targeted in the context of the conflict in which Saudi Arabia is against the United Arab Emirates and Iran. Systematic targeting of water infrastructure means that around 20 million Yemenis do not have access to safe drinking water. More recently, Lebanon, which did not have a problem in terms of water resources, now finds itself in a delicate situation due to the anarchic pumping of water caused by a lack of governance which damaged the water tables.
The situation in this diagonal of thirst is worrying because it causes large migratory movements and leads to many deaths, to such an extent that the lack of agricultural production caused by this water deficit causes more deaths than the armed conflicts which are nevertheless present in these regions. In order for solutions to be found, stability is needed in the countries that are part of the diagonal of thirst. This stability would allow the establishment of the necessary infrastructure to ensure the exploitation and distribution of water, whether they are sanitation stations or power stations. It takes a lot of water to make energy and a lot of energy to get water. Indeed, 20% of the world’s electricity is consumed for the purpose of extracting and transporting groundwater.
Water, the driving force behind diplomacy and conflict
The importance and scarcity of this resource called blue gold inevitably leads to interstate and intra-state tensions, with different actors seeking to acquire full autonomy in the matter. China is the most remarkable example of the quest for water self-sufficiency. The northern and northeastern region of China holds only 15% of the country’s water resources while it accounts for 45% of the Chinese population, leading to water-stressed situations in the capital. China’s strategy of supplying the country’s decision-making and industrial lungs has led to the establishment of major works to divert water from south to north. This dynamic suggests a possible diversion of the rivers that originate in Tibet, which has for some time worried the countries of the south, in particular India. This potential danger has led to an evolution of Indian military doctrine, which adopts a posture allowing it to wage a high-intensity conflict on both a Chinese and Pakistani front. Likewise, Vietnam, nourishing an ancestral rivalry with China, is worried about Chinese hydro politics, consisting of the installation of dams on the Mekong; not only in Chinese territory but also in Burma, Cambodia and Laos. These events encourage a rapprochement between China’s adversaries such as the United States, India, Japan, and Vietnam, leading to rising tensions in the region. Similar situations arise around the globe, notably with the installation of Turkish dams on the Tigris and Euphrates at the expense of Iraq and Syria and the Ethiopian dams on the Nile. The acquisition of water resources also leads to intra-state tensions. The water resources of some countries like Iraq and Syria have previously been captured by individuals such as Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad in order to consolidate their power and enslave the masses. We can speak in this case of hydraulic despotism. Despite a record of worrying interstate tensions over water and its use, diplomatic solutions do exist, with some notable examples being in place for decades. The Senegal River Basin Development Authority (OMVS), which brings together Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal, demonstrates that diplomatic solutions are indeed possible. This successful approach has enabled Senegal to take a greater stand on hydro politics and has enabled a dialogue to be started within the UN on the subject of water. Some states have other means of achieving water self-sufficiency. Israel was a nation with few water resources, but with the heavy reuse of what is known as gray water (lightly polluted domestic water), finds itself completely independent. 87% of wastewater is therefore recycled in Israel, making this nation a distant first behind Spain, appearing second with only 20% recycling of this type of water. Another solution is desalination of sea water, the price of which is constantly decreasing both ecologically and financially and can be consumed or artificially reinserted into the phreatic zone. Saudi Arabia desalinates 7.5 million m3 of seawater per day. Water is not only a resource in the eyes of states, but also a territory to be acquired and protected. A country such as France has the largest exclusive economic zone in the world and must establish a strategy in accordance with its size and resources.
Water is a vast subject that has long occupied an important place in our societies. Today, the growth of the human population, accompanied by the scarcity of natural and renewable water resources is leading to the appropriation of natural water resources by states, leading to increased tensions on the international scene. These inequalities lead to situations of water stress with 3.5 billion people experiencing water scarcity, including 2.1 billion who do not have access to drinking water. Solutions, which were mentioned before do exist, but require a combination of factors which is sometimes difficult to achieve: time, stability, and money. On the international scene, France and Europe have a great lead in the field of environmental diplomacy through its legal standards and its Brussels model, which is now the benchmark to follow. An increasingly relevant lead that would allow these nations to compensate for their gaps in other strategic sectors by leading the charge on this one.
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