Where the water wars of the future will be fought

A new report warns about the increasing likelihood of international conflicts over water.

  • A study finds that serious conflicts over water are going to arise around the globe.
  • The 5 hotspots identified by the paper include areas of the Nile, Ganges-Brahmaputra, Indus, Tigris-Euphrates, and Colorado rivers.
  • It's still possible to change course if we are prepared to address the effects of climate change.

A new paper paints a disturbing picture of a nearby future where people are fighting over access to water. These post-apocalyptic-sounding "water wars" could rise as a result of climate change and population growth and could become real soon enough if we don't take steps to prevent them.

The study, which comes from the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC), says that the effects of climate change will be combined with an ever-increasing number of people to trigger intense competition for increasingly scarce resources. This can lead to regional instability and social unrest.

The paper pointed to several hotspots in the world where "hydro-political issues" are more likely to flare up. Not surprisingly, these are areas having problems with accessing fresh water and where a "transboundary" to water exists. That means the people in that area share some body of water, like a lake or a river. So in times of scarcity due to environmental factors and growing population, the water resources become thin and tensions result.

In particular, the five most vulnerable hotspots highlighted by the paper include the Nile, Ganges-Brahmaputra, Indus, Tigris-Euphrates, and Colorado rivers.



Fig. 2. Likelihood of hydro-political issues among the main transboundary basins (transboundary basin borders in black, non-transboundary areas shaded).

Credit: JRC.

The study was led JRC scientist Fabio Farinosi, who used machine learning to model the factors that could cause fights over water. The team's algorithm relied on information about previous occasions of water-linked conflicts.

If you're wondering, water wars are nothing new for humans. As Gizmodo's George Dvorsky reports, this eye-opening water conflict database lists 551 such historical flare-ups.

How likely are the water wars to arise? The researchers put such chances at 75 to 95% in the next 50 to 100 years. How bad they will be, of course, remains to be seen.


Change in the likelihood of hydro-political issues considering the four future climate change and population scenarios

Credit: JRC

Farinosi is hopeful the situation can be improved if we are ready, stating "It depends on how well prepared and equipped the countries are to cooperate."

To help that cooperation, the team developed an index as well as a model for pinpointing the areas most at risk. The group is also putting together an in-depth analysis of the African river basins.

Check out their new paper here, published in Global Environmental Change.

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

Elizabeth Warren's plan to forgive student loan debt could lead to an economic boom

A plan to forgive almost a trillion dollars in debt would solve the student loan debt crisis, but can it work?

Photo credit: Drew Angerer / Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just proposed a bold education reform plan that would forgive billions in student debt.
  • The plan would forgive the debt held by more than 30 million Americans.
  • The debt forgiveness program is one part of a larger program to make higher education more accessible.
Keep reading Show less

Banned books: 10 of the most-challenged books in America

America isn't immune to attempts to remove books from libraries and schools, here are ten frequent targets and why you ought to go check them out.

Nazis burn books on a huge bonfire of 'anti-German' literature in the Opernplatz, Berlin. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Culture & Religion
  • Even in America, books are frequently challenged and removed from schools and public libraries.
  • Every year, the American Library Association puts on Banned Books Week to draw attention to this fact.
  • Some of the books they include on their list of most frequently challenged are some of the greatest, most beloved, and entertaining books there are.
Keep reading Show less

Supreme Court to hear 3 cases on LGBT workplace discrimination

In most states, LGBTQ Americans have no legal protections against discrimination in the workplace.

(Photo by Andres Pantoja/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The Supreme Court will decide whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also applies to gay and transgender people.
  • The court, which currently has a probable conservative majority, will likely decide on the cases in 2020.
  • Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws effectively extending the Civil Rights of 1964 to gay and transgender people.
Keep reading Show less