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"Water Wars" Look Like Distant Fantasy as Kenya Finds Huge Underground Aquifer

“If the wars of this century were fought over oil,” a vice president of the World Bank famously warned in 1995, “the wars of the next century will be fought over water—unless we change our approach to managing this precious and vital resource.” Water scarcity and its ability to create domestic unrest and international conflict has been a favorite prediction over the past few decades. Water wars were bound to erupt “imminently” between Pakistan and India over the Indus, or between Turkey and Syria over the Orontes and the Euphrates, or between Egypt and all of its neighbors over the Nile. A University of California academic even argued as recently as last weekend that water scarcity, which causes people to get “grumpy,” was prolonging the Syrian civil war.

In East Africa, water scarcity has often been blamed for conflict. “In Ethiopia and Kenya,” a study by the Pulitzer Center warned in 2008, “dry seasons grow longer and tribal conflict over access to water is on the rise.” Kenyans will no doubt be pleased to learn that water scarcity may no longer play as big of a role in tribal conflict in the future: at least 66 trillion gallons of water (and possibly much more) lie in aquifers deep beneath Kenyan soil. The find “clearly demonstrates how science and technology can contribute to industrialization and economic growth, and to resolving real societal issues like access to water,” a UNESCO representative said in a statement, reports the New York Times.

Quite right. Water wars that will bring the nations of the world to the edge of catastrophic conflict and nuclear war seem to exist mostly in the over-enthusiastic imaginations of academics and researchers of a neo-Malthusian bent. That’s not to say that water scarcity isn’t a serious issue in many places in the world, capable of generating conflict. It’s certainly true that in some areas water is a precious and especially scarce resource, that it is unevenly distributed around the world, and that wasteful practices are depleting once-plentiful aquifers, but with ingenuity and technology we are finding new sources of water all the time (under the Sahara desert no less!) and new ways of bringing it to parched lands, making the likelihood of catastrophic water wars seem like a distant fantasy.

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  • DirtyJobsGuy

    As the father of a young geologist, I keep tabs on mineral issues. One thing to be aware of is that our knowledge of sub-surface resources is still limited. In the USA this is true even though the USGS and state geological surveys have been diligent. Unfortunately they have been diverted more and more to green tasks from their original purpose of finding and distributing information about US mineral wealth. This is one area where government spending pays off with increased revenue from resource development. Better knowledge also helps pollution control efforts as well.

    • f1b0nacc1

      The first part of your comments re: UGS and state geological surveys is belied by the second part re: how they have been diverted to green tasks.
      When resources (whatever the source) are diverted to cataloging and evaluating mineral wealth, the net benefit is a positive one, i.e. profit. When those same resources are instead diverted into unicorn hunts to satisfy the religious predilictions of the greenies, the net benefit is strongly negative, i.e. waste. Since the government has no real disincentive to waste, and no real incentive to profit, once you get capture of the government by the greenies, you get waste.
      So government spending isn’t what pays off, it is WISE spending that pays off. Since we cannot ensure that spending will be wise (we cannot know ahead of time), it seems best to support institutions with built-in disincentives to waste and built-in incentives to spend wisely. This is NOT government…

      • Thirdsyphon

        That’s all true, insofar as it goes, but private actors’ ideas of “wise” spending tend to be carefully calibrated to benefit only themselves. Left untroubled and to its own devices, a trucking company would “wisely” evaluate 100% of America’s rail and oil pipeline networks as a vast and inexplicably untapped source of cheap steel… which should be immediately torn up and used to build trucks.

        Every activity has its costs and benefits. Environmental initiatives, wise or not, intentionally externalize their benefits; and business, wise or not, do their best to externalize their costs. Externalities should always be part of any serious discussion of economic

        • f1b0nacc1

          Come now, such strawmen are beneath you. That is the sort of silliness that our resident troll would engage in…
          Nobody is suggesting lawlessness (the example you used, for instance, would suggest a disregard for property rights, something that all but the most extreme libertarian would defend), but instead pointing out that government is rarely (if ever) a particularly good venue for determining appropriate investment in goods public or private.
          As for externalities, all too often that is a cover for simply rationalizing government interference in any activity as long as they can identify SOME external impact. If you dont’ mind me borrowing one of your strawmen, simply because a campfire produces CO2, do you support regulating all campfires?

    • Corlyss

      “Unfortunately they have been diverted more and more to green tasks”

      They might as well be counting unicorns for all the good that green stuff does us, other than in terms of keeping money flowing to the organization. Remember when c. 2010 Obama took one of 4 DoD satellites monitoring our enemies and diverted it to documenting the effects of climate change?

  • rheddles

    Water can be extracted from air with more than 15% relative humidity using only solar power.

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