© RIA Novosti, Petr Petrovich Malinovsky | Go to Photobank Lake Baikal
In the world media and UN publications, more and more information appears, indicating disturbing trends in the state of the planet and its natural resources. One of the main problems is the lack of fresh water in the world, which can lead to wars and mass migration of the population, up to the migration of peoples – where there is water. In the long term, the consequences of the “water crisis” may affect Russia, which is one of the world’s leaders in freshwater supplies. In particular, the lack of water can cause mass migration to Russia from the countries of Central Asia, and in the future, the Middle East.
Water resources of the planet are reduced for two main reasons. On the one hand, water intake for agriculture (70% of consumption) is increasing to meet the needs of the growing population of the Earth. On the other hand, as a result of global warming glaciers are melting, desertification of previously fertile lands is under way. UN experts state that on the ground a critical situation has developed in the area of the most important natural resources, primarily water, which is already called “blue gold”. This is fraught with military conflicts in many regions of the world, primarily in the Middle East and South Asia. According to the UN forecasts, by 2040 the population of the earth will reach nine billion people, while fresh water will be able to cover only 70% of the needs of mankind.
One of the largest water conflicts is brewing in Mesopotamia – in the region where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow. The Turkish government plans to build 22 high-rise dams, nine of which have already been built. This caused an extremely harsh response from Syria and Iraq, which are in full water dependence on Turkey. Nevertheless, using the weakening of the central authority in Damascus and Baghdad, Ankara strengthens its control over the waters of the Tigris and the Euphrates.
The last water is gone
Another knot of contradictions has developed in the basin of the Jordan River, for whose water resources Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories are fighting. Extremely intensive agriculture in Israel consumes more and more hydro resources, while in Jordan and in the occupied Palestinian territories water volumes per capita are sharply reduced. Former Israeli President Shimon Peres called for a radical change in the policies of the countries of the region in water use issues, otherwise the basins of Jordan and Yarmuk could again become hotbeds of dangerous confrontation.
The tension in the Nile basin is growing in connection with the plans of Ethiopia to build a giant dam and hydroelectric power stations in the upper reaches of the Blue Nile. In Cairo, it is rightly feared that this will reduce the volume of water entering Egypt and cause drought. President Al-Sisi said that water is “a matter of life and death” for his country, analysts do not exclude the military escalation of the conflict. Earlier, Egypt even threatened to bomb the dams built in Ethiopia.
Smoldering foci of water conflicts are also found in other regions of the world. Thus, India’s plans to build a dam and hydroelectric power stations in the headwaters of the Indus River caused a sharp reaction from the official Islamabad, since this could limit Pakistan’s access to the main source of fresh water. Pakistani Islamists are already threatening to “flood India with blood” if it blocks the waters of the Indus.
Conflict situation is developing in South-East Asia. China’s neighbors are anxiously following the plans of the PRC to build a cascade of power stations and dams to the upper reaches of the Mekong River (flowing into Vietnam), the Brahmaputra (flowing into India) and Salween (to Burma and Thailand). China argues its plans by the fact that a country that has 20% of the world’s population has only eight percent of the world’s water resources. Of particular concern is Beijing’s plans in India and Vietnam, which fear for providing fresh water to their growing population. According to representatives of the Indian government, China’s water projects “drive a wedge” into bilateral relations. In India, it is believed that China intends to change the channel of the Brahmaputra (one of the largest rivers in Asia) and redirect it to the Chinese rice fields.
The situation in Central Asia is of special importance for Russia. Lack of water resources has been felt in the region for a long time. The main sources of water here were the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya rivers, which irrigated fertile valleys and flowed into the Aral Sea. In view of the intensive development of cotton growing, water resources began to be exploited in predatory ways during the Soviet era, the Aral Sea was practically dry. Then the project of transfer of the Siberian rivers to the Central Asia has arisen, however in view of geopolitical disagreements in the late USSR this project has not been realized. Nevertheless, in Soviet times there was a centralized distribution of the region’s water resources, and the mountainous republics of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan shared water with deserted Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. After the collapse of the USSR, the problem sharply worsened, it came to the conflict, especially in view of the plans for the construction of the Rogun hydroelectric power station in Tajikistan and the Verkhne-Naryn cascade of the hydroelectric power station in Kyrgyzstan.
Since Russia has the second freshwater reserves in the world after Brazil (only 20% of the world’s reserves belong to Lake Baikal), experts consider Russia in the future as one of the largest exporters of a new strategic product on the world market. Among the potential consumers are the countries of Central Asia, as well as China, which plans to purchase fresh water in Siberia. For this purpose, the laying of a water pipeline with a length of more than a thousand kilometers is considered for the transfer of Baikal water to North China. So far, these plans are hindered by the low cost of water, which does not allow paying back transportation and construction costs. There are also environmental and geopolitical constraints. However, as water prices in the world rise, the situation may change and water exports will become profitable. So far, even in Russia, the distribution of water resources is extremely uneven. If there is abundant water in Siberia and the Far East, then in the European part there is a lack of water. According to Russian experts, only 40% of Russians drink water that meets sanitary standards, while 25% of the population does not have access to centralized water supply. Therefore, the problem of rational use of water resources is also relevant for Russia.