Some thoughts on water and climate change

Two weeks ago a minor water crisis hit Pakistan. The flow in rivers fell below agricultural requirements. Then temperatures rose, glaciers melted, and river flows increased threefold, evading a disaster.

“Had the temperatures not increased for another 10-15 days, we wouldn’t have been able to give the required amount of water to the provinces,” said Mohammad Khalid Rana, the Indus Water Regulatory Authority spokesman.

That would have meant a delay in planting crops like cotton, sugarcane, and rice.

The fluctuation in river flows, blamed mostly on climate change, was not unprecedented. Nor was it unexpected. Yet its solution does not appear to be in the works, for the near future.

Those are the first four paragraphs of an article posted today at Voice of America’s website. Over the past few years, I have been hearing a lot about water and climate change and how this is going to be a big topic because of the potential for starvation, ethnic and geographic conflict, and massive migration flows. Water is a core resource that people will fight for. So if its supply becomes much more unpredictable, it means water is a topic that will mater. Therefore, I intend to start following this topic at Credit Writedowns

The VoA article says that Pakistan was water-rich at the time it became independent. But huge population growth has cut renewable water per capita by 80%. This is in a nuclear-armed country, often at odds with another nuclear-armed neighbour. So clearly, dealing with the water problem is of vital concern.

My sense is that because water is such an essential resource, the whole concept of buying up water rights and trying to profit from transporting water – potentially across national boundaries – is uneconomical and politically explosive. Where the rubber hits the road is in food production, because mechanized food production has become heavily water intensive and often uses natural aquifers that cannot be replenished to the same levels. Reducing water-intensity of food production and making food from areas with either lower water-intensity production or more renewable water sources available for transport elsewhere is where there is a discussion to be had.

However you look at it though, if water becomes a contentious issue, it will have geopolitical and military implications. And we would need to solve the water issue to prevent those implications from leading to nationalism and military confrontation.

More to come as I research.

About 

Edward Harrison is the founder of Credit Writedowns and a former career diplomat, investment banker and technology executive with over twenty five years of business experience. He has also been a regular economic and financial commentator on BBC World News, CNBC Television, Business News Network, CBC, Fox Television and RT Television. He speaks six languages and reads another five, skills he uses to provide a more global perspective. Edward holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College.