Challenges and Future Opportunities Connected to Water Scarcity

By: Cassandra Cronin

Map of projected water stress by country in 2040 provided by the World Resources Institute.

Jeff Langholz’s presentation on “opportunities and obstacles for reducing water conflicts through on-site water production” was thought-provoking. The negotiating activity before the formal presentation was great because it reminded me to stay grounded and always be aware of the needs of others. I was so focused on getting my partner to see things my way and come over to my side so I could “win” that I forgot the true objective. My partner even suggested the solution but, being hardheaded, I refused. She suggested we switch sides to ensure we could both reach our objective in bringing the other to stand on our respective sides. As soon as time ran out I realized that my approach and definition of winning was completely wrong. I forgot that peacebuilding doesn’t favor one winner, but instead solutions that benefit as many affected groups as possible.

New water-collecting technologies provide great opportunities for making the resource cheaper and more accessible in a world where water scarcity will only continue to drive conflicts. In fact, many water crisis already exist in many places including Palestine, South Africa, Syria, and Haiti. Thinking of ways to mitigate water scarcity should already be a global priority. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think of our sessions with Kevin Avruch about the dangers of entering communities, shaking up their structures and cultures, and leaving having created the potential for future conflict. Instituting these water technologies could have a similar impact. For example, building these technologies in a community would provide them access to inexpensive water, but it would also challenge multibillion dollar industries that make money by exploiting water scarcity. These industries, alongside the lobbyists and politicians who benefit from their money, might turn to violence and oppression to maintain their power and influence.

What ultimately happened to Berta Cáceres (2015 Goldman Prize Recipient) is an example of the dangers associated with challenging these multibillion dollar industries. Cáceres won the Goldman Prize due to her work with the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras who succeeded in stopping the world’s largest dam builder from building the Agua Zarca Dam on Río Gualcarque. She was assassinated in 2016 by special forces in the Honduran military. Her death is not an outlier. 164 environmental activists fighting against the mining, logging, and agribusiness industries were assassinated in 2018. Many governments and multinational corporations understand the benefits of resource control, and will want to maintain their power no matter how much local communities suffer.

The stakes are definitely high and activists need to continue challenging these industries in order to protect the well-being and livelihoods of others, and create a world where industries aren’t allowed to profit off of human suffering.

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