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Water Today Title November 25, 2017

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Water: a strategic foresight and warning issue for national security? - 12/7/2011
by Hélène Lavoix

The emergence of a global water crisis seems to be a fact that is reaffirmed across media almost everyday. The National Geographic, for example, has a whole section devoted to the water crisis or more precisely freshwater crisis, the National Geographic's Freshwater Initiative.

This global water crisis would spare no country, from the most powerful (USA) and richer ones such as Singapore, to the Middle East - through emerging countries such as India where water problems range from pollution to water depletion, to the well known poorest countries where desertification is a growing issue in some areas.

Water Depletion Map - Click for details
World Water depletion (2005 data) – Map Licensed under CC © Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan).

This wide and unremitting geographic scope also further questions the fading developed-rich/developing-poor countries cognitive model inherited from both the self determination period and the three-worlds Cold War world view, asking us to revisit our perceptions if we are to understand contemporary challenges and crises and ever hope to solve or more modestly mitigate them.

Meanwhile, various related research programs in universities and think tanks throughout the world have been developed. As indication Academia.edu references 100 programs, 53 universities and 39 academic journals focused on water. Among others, since 1991 a World Water Week has been organised, initially by the Stockholm Vatten AB, the municipal water and wastewater provider, on behalf of the City of Stockholm (SIWI, history). It led to the creation of the
Furthermore, water related risks have been identified by the Global Risks Reports of the
World Economic Forum (WEF – Davos) under one label or another since 2007. A more encompassing 'water security' is singled out in the 2011 Global Risk Report as "the top 10th risk by likelihood and impact combined." The risk is deemed to be not only very likely but also with a perceived impact approaching 500 billion USD. Compared with the 2010 perceived impact (then for water scarcity – risk 22 - and not water security) the perceived impact skyrocketed from an estimate of less than 40 billion USD.

The water-food-energy risk nexus is amply detailed in the 2011 report and benefits of a specific initiative. Water is also on the Agenda of the Global Councils of the WEF since 2008. Meanwhile, and as expected from the interconnections shown by the Global risks report 2011, water is widely seen as a cause of strife and conflict, as recalled in a recent New York Times blog by Rachel Nuwer, The power politics of water struggles, focusing notably on the idea of hydro-hegemony, a framework for analysis of trans-boundary water conflicts, conceptualized by the Canadian Dr. Mark Zeitoun of the University of East Anglia. As explained in an article by Zeitoun and Warner, "Hydro-hegemony is hegemony at the river basin level, achieved through water resource control strategies such as resource capture, integration and containment. The strategies are executed through an array of tactics (e.g. coercion-pressure, treaties, knowledge construction, etc.) that are enabled by the exploitation of existing power asymmetries within a weak international institutional context" (2006).

Indeed, the Water and Sustainability Program of the Pacific Institute, in its World Water Conflict Chronology Map presents an exhaustive chronology of 225 water conflicts displayed on an interactive map, showing both their global historical and geographical scope. Conflicts identified in the project start with the c. 3000 BC deluge also told by Sumerian myth, which underlines a potentially crucial dimension of the water issue, its relation to myth, symbolism and the sacred, within a larger cultural dimension. The last updated conflict relates to 2010 violent water protests in India thus showing the influence of water on domestic issues, while more conventional disputes with potential for escalation and war are not forgotten, with the example the India-Pakistan Indus dispute (1947-1960s).

We thus have present as elements of this global water crisis: wars and perception of foreign enemies, breakdown of order and protests, threat to food security, and more generally life, as well as symbolic and customary meaning. These are nothing else than potential and emergent symptoms that could lead to failure to ensure security, which is the mission of the ruler. Indeed, Moore (1978, 22) "defines the mission of security of authorities as comprising three elements: protection from foreign enemies, foreign being defined by what does not belong to the sphere of the 'we', maintenance of peace and order, and contribution to 'material security,' or 'security against supernatural, natural and human threats to the food supply and other material supports of customary daily life"(Lavoix, 2010). As we still live, for the great majority, in nation-states, this security is nothing else than national security, conventional security tending to refer to strictly military matters, while unconventional security being used for any other relevant issue.

To avoid such security failures that would not only have direct dire consequences but also impact in terms of legitimacy, rulers have at their disposal a process and analytical tool that help them anticipate uncertain changes and thus prevent them, mitigating them at best or taking advantage of them when they are opportunities. This process is called Strategic foresight and warning (SF&W). It "is an organized and systematic process to reduce uncertainty regarding the future (Fingar, 2009). It aims to allow policy-makers and decision-makers to take decisions with sufficient lead-time to see those decisions implemented at best (Davis; Grabo 2004; Knight, 2009). It must thus helps us in identifying the frontiers of plausibility within which changes in our surroundings are most likely to take place within a specific period of time, so that we can best coordinate our activities for our society’s security, in the light of those coming alterations" (Lavoix, 2011).

Helene Lavoix licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Academia.edu, http://www.academia.edu/

Davis, Jack, “Strategic Warning: If Surprise is Inevitable, What Role for Analysis?” Sherman Kent Center for Intelligence Analysis, Occasional Papers, Vol.2, Number 1, accessed June 28, 2010, https://www.cia.gov/library/kent-center-occasional-papers/vol2no1.htm.

DeBuys, William, Tomgram: William deBuys, The Parching of the West, Tomdispatch.com, December 4, 2011.

Fingar, Thomas, “Anticipating Opportunities: Using Intelligence to Shape the Future,” and ''Myths, Fears, and Expectations,” Payne Distinguished Lecture Series 2009 Reducing Uncertainty: Intelligence and National Security, Lecture 3 & 1, FSI Stanford, CISAC Lecture Series, October 21, 2009 & March 11, 2009, accessed June 28, 2010, http://iis- db.stanford.edu/evnts/5859/lecture_text.pdf.

Government of Singapore, PUB Singapore’s National water Agency. Grabo, Cynthia M., Anticipating Surprise: Analysis for Strategic Warning, edited by Jan Goldman, (Lanham MD: University Press of America, May 2004).

Knight, Kenneth, “Focused on foresight: An interview with the U.S.’s national intelligence officer for warning,” McKinsey Quarterly, September 2009, accessed June 28, 2010, http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Public_Sector/Management/Focused_on_foresight_An_interview_ with_the_U.S._national_intelligence_officer_for_warning_2415.

Lavoix, Helene, “Enabling Security for the 21st Century: Intelligence & Strategic Foresight and Warning,” RSIS Working Paper No. 207, August 2010.

Lavoix, Helene, Ed. Strategic Foresight and Warning: Navigating the Unknown. Singapore: RSIS-CENS, 2011.

Maplecroft, “Maplecroft index identifies Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as world’s most water stressed countries: Key emerging economies and oil rich nations export water issues to ensure food security through African ‘land grab’,” 25/05/2011.

Melville, Roberto and Cirelli, Claudia, “LA CRISIS DEL AGUA. Sus dimensiones ecológica, cultural y política.” (LA CRISE DE L’EAU. Ses dimensions écologiques, culturelles et politiques), Memoria # 134 en abril del año 2000; further translations http://archivohistoricodelagua.info/mx/content/category/11/21/42/.

Moore, Barrington, Injustice: The Social Bases of Obedience and Revolt, (London: Macmillan, 1978). National Geographic, National Geographic's Freshwater Initiative.

Nuwer, Rachel, “The power politics of water struggles” New York Times blog, 28/11/2011.

Pacific Institute, World Water Conflict Chronology Map Stockholm International Water Institute, “History”

The World Economic Forum,
World Economic Forum Global Risk Report 2006.
World Economic Forum Global Risk Report 2007.
World Economic Forum Global Risk Report 2008.
World Economic Forum Global Risk Report 2009.
World Economic Forum Global Risk Report 2010.
World Economic Forum Global Risk Report 2011.
Wikipedia, “List of countries by GDP (PPP) per capita.”

World Mapper, “Water Depletion Map,” Water series, Map 323,

Zeitoun, Mark, and Warner, Jeroen, « Hydro-hegemony – a framework for analysis of trans-boundary water conflicts,» Water Policy Vol 8 No 5 pp 435–460 © IWA Publishing 2006 doi:10.2166/wp.2006.054.

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