Friday, October 01, 2004

Make water, not war

“Politics is the most concentrated expression of economics and war is the most concentrated form of politics.”
I remember reading an article, a couple of years ago, which spoke about how water and the struggle to control this fast-dwindling natural resource could trigger World War III. The article was written in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact a Google search turned up a pretty detailed site ( ) on water being the spark for conflict in the region.
A story moved by Reuters today further underlines how ecological degradation is becoming the flashpoint for similar conflicts globally.
By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Many conflicts in war-torn Africa are rooted in increasingly parched and degraded land exacerbated by global warming, the first of a series of U.N. regional checkups of the planet's health found.
"From food security to health we see climate change as a very big threat right across Africa," said Crispian Olver, director general of South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.
A new study, entitled the Southern African Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (SAMA), reveals a striking connection between ecological stress and social conflict. The problems include water shortages, grain crop scarcity, livestock overgrazing, woodfuel shortages and deforestation.
Areas that have three or more ecological stresses include parts of South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province, where "faction fighting" over scarce land for cattle grazing has killed many. Such stresses are also seen in heavily populated central Nigeria where nomadic cattle rearers and peasant farmers have been locked in conflict over scarce land for decades as the Sahara Desert encroaches further south.
Analysts say there are often vicious cycles.
Population growth strains the earth's capacity to provide as forests are hacked away and land is overgrazed by livestock, leading to turf wars over scarce resources. Global warming can heat things up by parching an already strained soil. Throw existing ethnic tensions into the mix and armies of bored young men and the results can be explosive.
The SAMA study shades big parts of Burundi, Rwanda and eastern Congo in yellow -- to signify areas with two major ecological problems -- or red, meaning three or more are located there. All have been wracked by genocide, civil war and extreme ethnic stress over the past decade. Large swathes of crisis-ridden Zimbabwe are also shaded in yellow and red. Move northwest to the steamy oil-rich Niger Delta and environmental stress also seems to be fueling violence.
Ten years after Robert Kaplan wrote a seminal article arguing that the environment would emerge as the security threat of the 21st century, the "Coming Anarchy" he spoke of could be creeping across the map of Africa.

Moral of the story: The next time you flush, remember, you may just be pushing the button on some future conflict. Which is why, I don’t.
Here’s a peace haiku: ‘Be a peacenik man/ don’t pull the plunger/ after you use the can/ take my advice, after you spray/ use a bucket to wash it away.’

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