Hunger does not instigate violence and instability, but fear of hunger certainly does. Curiously, the fear that the taps might all run dry does not seem to spark the same reaction, perhaps because the vision of completely dry reservoirs is too terrifying to contemplate. However, reservoirs and aquifers are now running bone dry in much of the world.
The immediate concern for Canada lies in the United States, where two centuries of farming have dried out much of the Midwest’s aquifers, and California’s insatiable thirst has caused massive ecological damage. Even back in the 1970s, some proposed American solutions to the then-remote crisis was to re-route some Canadian rivers southwards… don’t think the idea won’t take on a new urgency soon.
Water shortages are verging on the apocalyptic in parts of the Middle East. Only one nation there – guess which one – has made intensive study of water conservation and desalinization, and none of the neighbours will take advantage of their knowledge. The acme of the Arab world’s dysfunctionalism is shown by Hamas, firing rockets at the Israeli desalinization plant that supplies their water.
However, population growth, aging (or absent) infrastructure, and deforestation and over-grazing are causing severe shortages. Parts of Yemen now come perilously close to complete depletion of their reservoirs and cisterns every summer. If their “normal” level of political violence is bad enough, wait until Sana’a runs out completely — which might even happen this summer.
The same deadly mix of population growth, increased demand, and decayed infrastructure are at work in Pakistan, India, Iran and much of Africa. This is often abetted by incompetent administration but at least the incipient warfare Yemenis experience is absent for now.
If we have problems with refugees, people smuggling and mass migration now, wait until they get truly thirsty and desperate.
Mexico City stays supplied by dint of heroic effort on the part of its civil engineers, but their colleagues in much of Latin America are chewing their fingernails these days. Building wells in rural Africa and India is noble work, but it is band-aid and aspirin level support when surgery is required.
There is work here for Canada to undertake. It is in our direct national self-interest, not mere ‘feel-good’ altruism, to help with solutions to the World’s water problems. We have talented engineers, a strong spirit of innovation, and tend to be at least tolerated if not welcomed almost everywhere on the planet.
Our most vital strategic interests must now include producing and disseminating cheap effective desalinization/purification solutions, as well as pumping systems. We should guide and increase our aid budgets accordingly.