Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Water is an instrument of power

The Times, January 30th 2018

The drought in Cape Town is the latest illustration of how climate change, geographical misfortune and mismanagement or outright cynicism have left up to 40% of the world’s population vulnerable to shortages.

Water is an instrument of power as much as an unreliable gift from nature and a tool of foreign policy. Control the flow and you can gain so much influence over the governments downstream that they will thank you when you allow the river to run its natural course.

Nowhere is this game played as sharply as in the Middle East. Turkey is building a chain of 22 dams on the upper Euphrates and Tigris rivers, which function as a chokehold over the water supply to Iraq and Syria.

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan met yesterday to discuss a hydroelectric dam the Ethiopians are building on their part of the Nile, a project that has prompted military threats.

 Beijing has built six hydroelectric dams on the Mekong river, which flows through five smaller southeast Asian nations.

As the world warms the pressure will only grow. States are resorting to increasingly fantastical measures to look after their citizens. China has spent more than UK£50 billion (70 billion US$) moving a volume of water greater than the river Thames from the south of China, where a million people were evacuated from their homes because of floods last year, to the north, where crops rot in the fields through want of irrigation.

In Saudi Arabia 27 plants take up 5 million cubic metres of seawater each day and turn it into enough fresh water to supply half the country’s requirements. 

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