It's been called the 'next oil'. In the coming decades, the supply of water has the potential to influence geopolitics, diplomacy and even conflict.
The 2008 James Bond film Quantum of Solace pits 007 against an evil criminal syndicate bent on global domination. Sounds par for the course… but this particular network of baddies isn’t using lasers or missiles to cause havoc.
No, the Quantum organisation has a uniquely dastardly plan: seizing control of Bolivia’s water supply.
While the evil syndicate’s role in the film might not be entirely realistic, this piece of fiction does raise a scenario that is worth considering seriously: what would happen if a country’s water supply was cut off? What would be the global fallout?
Think about it: sure, we need water to survive. But it also fuels a country’s commerce, trade, innovation and economic success. This has been the case for time immemorial, from the Nile in Ancient Egypt to the Amazon in the Brazilian rainforest. While bodies of water typically help form natural borders of countries, several nations tend to share access to rivers or lakes – the Nile runs through nearly a dozen countries alone, for example. Given how conflict-prone humankind is, it’s surprising there haven't been more dust-ups of a “hydro-political” nature.
Experts agree: if there was no access to water, there would be no world peace. That’s why one of the grand challenges of the next few decades could be maintaining this ultra-sensitive stasis of water management. In the 21st Century, freshwater supplies are drying up, climate change is raising sea levels and altering borders, explosive population growth is straining world resources, and global hyper-nationalism is testing diplomatic relations. Meanwhile, water demand is expected to go up 55% between 2000 and 2050. In the coming century, in terms of its value as a global resource, it’s been described as “the next oil".