U.S. Intelligence Says Water Shortages Threaten Stability

Competition for increasingly scarce water in the next decade will fuel instability in regions such as South Asia and the Middle East that are important to U.S. national security, according to a U.S. intelligence report.

An all-out water war is unlikely in the next 10 years, as nations will be more likely to use water as a bargaining chip with each other, according to the report from the Director of National Intelligence released today. As shortages become more acute, water in shared basins will increasingly be used as leverage, and the adoption of water as a weapon by states or terrorists will become more likely after 10 years, it found.

“These threats are real, and they do raise serious security concerns,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a speech today at the State Department, which requested the report. The study was drawn from a classified national intelligence estimate.

The report, drafted principally by the Defense Intelligence Agency, reflects a growing emphasis in the U.S. intelligence community on how environmental issues such as water shortages, natural disasters and climate change may affect U.S. security interests. It assumes no major changes in water-management practices.

Population and economic growth are the biggest near-term drivers of water shortages, while climate change rises as a threat, Clinton said.

Terrorist Targets

Increased tensions over water will require the U.S. to take a leading role in water development, she said. As nations increase water-related projects to gain influence, vulnerable dams, irrigation projects and reservoirs could become more attractive targets for terrorists or military strikes, according to the report.

Depleted groundwater for agriculture, which uses 70 percent of water, could destabilize markets and contribute to price swings such as those last year that sent food costs to a record and created unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, the report’s authors said.

“Many countries important to the United States will experience water problems -- shortages, poor water quality, or floods -- that will risk instability,” the study found. “North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia will face major challenges coping with water problems.”

Annual global water requirements will be 40 percent more than current sustainable water supplies by 2030, according to a 2009 report by the 2030 Water Resources Group, a World Bank- sponsored collaboration that included Coca-Coca Co. (KO) and Nestle SA (NESN) among its members.

Vulnerable Basins

The report also examines seven river basins that may present risks to U.S. security interests, ranking as “inadequate” the management capacity of the Amu Darya in Central Asia and Afghanistan, and the Brahmaputra, which flows from Tibet through India to Bangladesh. The study defines management capacity as the ability of nations, treaties and organizations in an area to manage political grievances over water.

In northern India, overuse of groundwater may limit access to food and water for millions of people, and wells in Yemen may run dry in a decade, Clinton said. China will also face strains because of its rapid economic development, population growth and reliance on the Himalaya mountains for fresh water, Maria Otero, the State Department’s undersecretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights, told reporters.

The intelligence report described the political stability of the Mekong River watershed in Southeast Asia; the Tigris and Euphrates in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran; and the Nile Basin in northern Africa as “limited.” The report rates the Indus in South Asia and the Jordan in the Middle East as “moderate.”

The United Nations designates each March 22 as World Water Day. Clinton today unveiled a new public-private U.S. Water Partnership that includes Procter & Gamble Co. (PG) and Ford Motor Co. (F)

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Bjerga in Washington at abjerga@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.