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Harbinger: Part 2

“Water is the driving force of all nature.” — Leonardo da Vinci

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” — W. H. Auden

“You don’t drown by falling into water. You only drown if you stay there.” Zig Ziglar

This week I will continue with a second edition on the implications of drought and water scarcity on societies and global security. Last week I wrote in an article entitled “Harbinger or  Aberration”  asking the question, “Are the recent and current droughts that many nations are enduring simply aberrations, or could they be a harbinger of what is yet to come?” I will continue this week with this analysis.

I am resisting the temptation to jump on the bandwagon of what is arguably the most significant global security matter confronting the entire world today. Last week I quoted John Avlon who stated “Terrorism is always one bad day away from being issue number One.” 

This week as in many weeks, terrorism is issue number one.  Each week I concern myself in “More than Meets the Eye” with what is not being written or broadcasted on mainstream media. I wrote an article on July 19th entitled, “If Past is Prologue…and it is!” I described what was going to happen when US and NATO troops leave Afghanistan. That scenario is unfolding frighteningly before our eyes and much is being written about it.

Today, I will continue on with our discussion from last week, except last week I entitled the article “Harbinger or Aberration,” and this week I will continue along the same lines, but with a significant exception. I am no longer asking if it is an aberration or not. It has definitely become a “harbinger” of what is just around the corner for many countries. And as always, there is so much more than meets the eye.

In last week’s edition, it was my intent to provide a framework for how many people understand water scarcity. I want to stick with the subject at hand. It is not people’s opinions as to why water scarcity exists that matters, but what results from water scarcity and drought as far as global security is concerned.

I have decided to extend this to a three-part discussion as I increasingly feel a need to understand the importance of water and the economics for global intercourse and just how deeply mankind depends on what is called the “water trade.” The virtual water trade is the flow of water that takes place indirectly when products are traded from one place to another.

That is the matter at hand in this edition of More than Meets the Eye. I want to demonstrate that this is not a modern phenomenon. We will see that over the past several thousand years since mankind was created water has been at not only the center of daily life for the average man but has been central to the existence of empires and to their demise. 

I then want to take a look at several places globally that are working through matters of drought and water scarcity and see how it is turning upside down the lives of millions. We will look at where the conflict over water resources is happening globally and how nations are struggling for their very existence because of the scarcity of water due to drought, overuse, and mismanagement.


The Reality of water (just a few facts that are important to know)

There is a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to water. Humans can live without a lot of things…water is not one of them. There are many things that I did not know before studying for this article. I think you will find it enlightening.  Water covers about 71% of the earth’s surface. 97% of the earth’s water is found in the oceans (too salty for drinking, growing crops, and most industrial uses except cooling).

  • There are 326 million cubic miles of water on the planet
  • 97% of the earth’s water is found in the oceans (too salty for drinking, growing crops, and most industrial uses except cooling).
  • 320 million cubic miles of water in the oceans
  • 3% of the earth’s water is fresh.
  • 2.5% of the earth’s fresh water is unavailable: locked up in glaciers, polar ice caps, atmosphere, and soil; highly polluted, or lies too far under the earth’s surface to be extracted at an affordable cost.
  • 0.5% of the earth’s water is available freshwater.
  • If the world’s water supply were only 100 liters (26 gallons), our usable water supply of freshwater would be only about 0.003 liters (one-half teaspoon).
  • In actuality, that amounts to an average of 8.4 million liters (2.2 million gallons) for each person on earth.
  • This supply is continually collected, purified, and distributed in the natural hydrologic (water) cycle. 
  • Most of the human body is water, with an average of roughly 60%.

The Human water dependency- Let me put water usage into perspective. 1.7 trillion tons of water are virtually traded every year. To compare, the most traded product in the world is crude oil (or petroleum). The world consumes about 100 million barrels of petroleum a day equivalent to 11.9 million tons daily or 4.3 billion tons a year. This means that measured in tons, the global virtual water trade is 400 times bigger than the most traded commodity in the world: petroleum.

I am going into depth with this because it has been really important for me to understand the economics of water in order to effectively grasp the impact of water scarcity and drought on the earth, and its impact on global security.

Global Water Stress Rankings– Top Most Water stressed nations in the world…

  1. Qatar
  2. Israel
  3. Lebanon
  4. Iran
  5. Jordan
  6. Libya
  7. Kuwait
  8. Saudi Arabia
  9. Eritrea
  10. United Arab Emirates
  11. San Marino
  12. Bahrain
  13. India
  14. Pakistan
  15. Turkmenistan
  16. Oman
  17. Botswana

The exploitation of water Stress for violent ideological and political purposes.

Overuse, population growth, and water mismanagement are contributing to desperate conditions and violent extremist organizations (VEOs) are turning scarce water into a weapon. Nowhere is this trend more visible than in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), a region of critical importance to U.S. national security interests. The MENA region has long been prone to both cyclical and discrete periods of droughts. There is mounting evidence suggesting that climate change, by driving significant winter precipitation decline, is increasing the frequency and severity of these events.

Water conflicts can occur between two or more neighboring countries that share a water source that is transboundary, such as a river, sea, or groundwater basin. For example, the Middle East has only 1% of the world’s freshwater shared among 5% of the world’s population.

In 2017 alone, water was a major factor in the

conflict in at least 45 countries, including Syria. Its importance as a resource means that water-related insecurity can easily exacerbate tensions and friction within and between countries. It can be weaponized; nefarious actors can gain control of, destroy, or redirect access to water to meet their objectives by targeting infrastructure and supplies.

This is not new on the face of the earth. History has been marked by drought and water scarcity. Throughout history, entire empires have met their demise under the weight of drought and water stress. Jeff Masters has compiled a list of great civilizations whose demise stemmed from water stress and drought:

  • Akkadian Empire. One of the earliest examples took place in what is now Syria some 4,200 years ago. Archeological evidence and regional paleoclimate data implicate an abrupt onset of arid conditions – lasting a few centuries – for the demise of this sophisticated culture.
  • Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt.  Meanwhile, in neighboring Egypt, the same long-term drought that afflicted the Akkadians shrank normal flooding along the Nile River and led to the collapse of the Old Kingdom.
  • Mayan Empire. A series of multi-year droughts also helped doom the Mayan empire, located in what is now southern Mexico and Guatemala. At this civilization’s peak, around 750, the population may have exceeded 13 million. “Then, between about 750 and 950 A.D., their society imploded.”
  • Tang Dynasty. At the same time, in Asia, the Tang Dynasty in China began to weaken and then collapse due to prolonged drought and crop failure.
  • The Anasazi. In the U.S. Southwest, tree-ring evidence shows a prolonged drying that led to the collapse of the Anasazi cliff-dwelling civilization around 1,275-1,300.
  • Khmer Empire. The Khmer Empire based in Angkor, Cambodia, saw its demise during the 14th and 15th centuries, the product of a decades-long drought punctuated by intense flooding.
  • Ming Dynasty. China again faced drought and widespread famine under the Ming Dynasty, which led to its collapse in the 17th century.


There are many things that divide humans as nations. The scarcity of water can be a frightening thing for society. I addressed this recently in an issue of More than Meets the Eye entitled “Who Owns the Water?”  Who does own the water? What if a river runs through 6 countries? Does the country at the headwater have the right to build a dam and shut off the other 5 countries’ water sources? According to the President of Ethiopia, “‘What is in our country is ours and whatever we allow to go downstream, be happy for it.’ Will a nation allow itself to fall into demise because another country will not allow water to come to them?

This is why there are currently 17 conflicts brewing globally. Water. To prove my point President of Egypt al-Sisi responded to the President of Ethiopia, “All options are open, cooperation is better than fighting.” It is clear that national leaders will lead their people into war should water be withheld from them.

Next week we will look at this matter of conflict over water at a deeper level.


3 Ways to Reduce Water Stress

In any geography, water stress can be reduced by measures ranging from common sense to cutting-edge. There are countless solutions, but here are three of the most straightforward:

  1. Increase agricultural efficiency: The world needs to make every drop of water go further in its food systems. Farmers can use seeds that require less water and improve their irrigation techniques by using precision watering rather than flooding their fields. Financiers can provide capital for water productivity investments, while engineers can develop technologies that improve efficiency in agriculture. And consumers can reduce food loss and waste, which uses one-quarter of all agricultural water.
  2. Invest in grey and green infrastructure: Aqueduct’s new data shows that water stress can vary tremendously over the year. WRI and the World Bank’s research shows that built infrastructure (like pipes and treatment plants) and green infrastructure (like wetlands and healthy watersheds) can work in tandem to tackle issues of both water supply and water quality.
  3. Treat, reuse and recycle: We need to stop thinking of wastewater as waste. Treating and reusing it creates a “new” water source. There are also useful resources in wastewater that can be harvested to help lower water treatment costs. For example, plants in Xiangyang, China, and Washington, D.C. reuse or sell the energy- and nutrient-rich byproducts captured during wastewater treatment.

The data is clear: There are undeniably worrying trends in water. But by taking action now and investing in better management, societies can solve water issues for the good of people, their economies, and the planet.

The follow-up.

How the Good War Went Bad: America’s Slow-Motion Failure in Afghanistan…

Panic at Kabul Airport Imperils Evacuation Flights; At Least Two Afghans Dead…

The feed-back.

For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at:


© 2019 • More Than Meets