A January 2020 report from think-tank Strategic Foresight Group (SFG) assesses the theory that “depleting water resources in the context of climate change, economic development and population growth” may be a reasonable rationale for prediction of future water wars.
The paper examines the complex relationship among water, wars, and peace and suggests "that during the next 20 to 30 years, there could be risk of wars over water but not simply because of declining water availability", and urges "nuanced understanding" of the complex relationships between water, war and peace to assess whether water will propel wars or foster peace between 2020 and 2050".
Read SFG's Blue Peace Bulletin "Water and Violence: Future Shock" here.
Drawing on a variety of sources, the report speculatively describes a scenario of how current trends in Africa could lead to favourable outcomes in the continent by the year 2040. In this vision, deployment of new technologies in ground water management and urban planning, especially, would have resolved conflicts between herders and grazers. Perhaps the biggest contribution to these resolutions may be the African Union’s determination to “wipe out” small arms by 2050.
The futurecasting is less optimistic in the Americas citing political instability in Central America and the continuation of frequent and intense cyber attacks on infrastructure in the United States, who blame Chinese actors. In this vision, the US considers "the use of ICBMs to attack some Chinese cities and activate lethal autonomous weapons to target the Three Gorges Dam. If this happens, the Third World War may break out, involving nuclear and post nuclear weapons, perhaps ending the human story on the earth".
The report draws on indications gathered mostly since 2015 and hypothesises how suggested outcomes have their roots in prior events. The development of the "Water Cooperation Quotient" by SFG in 2015 led “African leaders …to form communities of blue peace, based on shared rivers and lakes. Senegal River Basin Organisation had been created in the 20th century, but the leaders were not aware of how the asset they had created could lay foundations for world peace", the authors say.
Conversely, the growth and power of non-state actors such as ISIS has given other non-state actors the confidence to seize water assets (such as dams) and may lead to non-positive outcomes in Central America by 2040, SFG suggests.
The report further examines two crucial questions “Does water propel wars or foster peace?” and “Is water the oil of the 21st century?” and two schools of thought that prevail in response.
“One school believes that depleting water resources can increase competing demand, leading to tensions, and eventually military confrontation. Therefore, low per capita water availability can cause conflicts between riparian countries. The other school of scholars argues that water is a magic that fosters peace and cooperation. Both schools are partly right and substantially wrong", according to the think-tank.
The report also highlights the drivers that would contribute to either war or peace and identifies regions where low water availability is not a source of conflict (i.e. Singapore) or where water treaties have not stopped conflict (the Indus Waters Treaty).
Strategic Foresight Group finally posits and examines the overall context of water, war and peace: “Whether water will propel wars or foster peace in the next three decades in different parts of the world, would depend less on relative scarcity or abundance of water and more on the commitment of bureaucrats, strategies of terrorists and wisdom of politicians.”