Category Archives: Conflicts

NASA’s Global Freshwater ‘Selfie’ Catches Us in the Act of Over-Depletion


Image: NASA, based on study by Matthew Rodell, et al, 2018

U.S. space agency NASA’s new analysis of 14 years of satellite data shows rapid change in the world’s freshwater supply in startling detail never captured before. The 34 “trends” in the data picture not only the effects of climate change, like worsening droughts, but of human over-use, such as pumping out underground aquifers to irrigate crops. To a lesser extent, they show natural change over time. They also  indicate where water scarcity is most likely to reach crisis mode and lead to armed conflict over resources and/or forced human migration.

“There are implications in that map for food security, for water security and for human security in terms of things like conflict and climate refugees,” said Dr. Jay Famiglietti, a water-resources expert affiliated with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and co-author of a paper on the findings in the journal Nature. He and other experts said the mapping should serve as a wake-up call for policymakers.

Read more:

NASA Satellites Reveal Major Shifts in Global Freshwater — NASA

Emerging Trends in Global Freshwater Availability — Nature

This Is an Eye-Opener’: Changes in Global Water Supply Hint at Future Conflicts and Crises — The Globe and Mail

Water Shortages to Be Key Environmental Challenge of the Century, NASA Warns — The Guardian

NASA Finds ‘Human Fingerprint’ in Many Areas of Water-Supply Change Worldwide — USA Today

First Map of Global Freshwater Trends Show Human Fingerprint — Axios

Related posts:

California Drought: Overcoming History to Reduce SoCal Water Waste

Study Finds We Vastly Underestimate Water Management’ s Depletion of Groundwater

It’s Long Past Time to Police Big Agriculture’s Water Waste

World Water Day: UN World Water Development Report Warns of Global Crisis by 2030

At the Point of ‘Peak Water,’ Our Foreseeable Future Grows Shorter

Mapping the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries

Serious Water Conservation Demands Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

Study: Freshwater Shortage Will Double Climate Change’s Impact on Agriculture

Unchecked Emissions Will Drain Water Resources, Warns Leaked U.N. Report

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Filed under Climate Change, Conflicts, Drought, Environment, Global, Groundwater, Rivers and Watersheds, Science, Sustainability, Water Resources, Water Shortage

The Strange Question of ‘Legal’ or ‘Illegal’ Nuclear Strikes

nuke-005-680x365_cOver the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, in the absence of other stimulation, media in the U.S. has obsessed over whether President Donald Trump will lob a nuclear warhead eastward. Constantly mentioned but not defined is the idea of whether such a strike would be “legal.” How odd.

I guess there’s a reason the media’s question of a nuclear strike’s legality is left vague. What does that mean? In many broadcast interviews the question was not even asked. Why? It’s too tough a question to answer in 15 seconds. And there is no answer, perhaps. How can widespread annihilation be legal? One answer: Because “war” can be made legal.

In a cruel world where our attempts to maintain rule of law and therefore peace are constantly thwarted, the definition of an “illegal” nuke strike appears to have only to do with whether the decision to use it impinges upon the human rights of potential victims. As if war itself does not destroy human rights. It always does. The weapons are beside the point, though their magnitude is hard to ignore.

There is a question in law about whether weapons are necessary because war is at hand because it has been legally declared. Just to make the obvious point, it should never be at hand because it destroys all. War should be illegal. But the collective decision to make it so does not reflect our current reality.

Clearly — as if clarity is even possible given the sad state of human communication in which assumptions rule unfairly — international law has not advanced as far as it thinks it has toward properly defining what “human rights” are and what “war” is. U.S. media’s ridiculously vague discussions of illegal use of nukes show it in comic relief, or at least display the horrific gap between such mouthpieces’ version of reality and the tremendous efforts of people around the world to make a difference.

As someone who has worked for a UN-affiliated agency in Geneva, Switzerland, dedicated to better-establishing human rights in the context of law and policy, I remain frustrated that we’re not getting any closer to a “Star Trek” ideal of a unified humanity that can get over our differences and save each other and our planet from our abuse — as well as get off this pretty rock if necessary.

We’re not going to get there if we’re not together, able to agree on terms. That means communicating effectively and, frankly, loving each other. Our capacity for that is supposed to be our best quality, after all. I wish to think positively, but we’re going the wrong way. And so there is work to be done and hope to be nurtured. So keep working and keep hoping.

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Filed under Conflicts, Extinction, Politics, United Nations

War Is Hell, Part 941: The Environment

burning oil fields

In case you missed it, the United Nations’ (UN) International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict was Thursday, Nov. 6. Its point is to educate people about the damaging effects of armed conflict on the environment. Natural resources are often military targets — poisoned wells, torched crops and oil reserves, tainted soil —  and often remain ruined long after the battle is over, compromising ecosystems. The UN General Assembly first declared the day on Nov. 5, 2001, and it has remained not-exactly-famous ever since.

“We must use all of the tools at our disposal, from dialogue and mediation to preventive diplomacy, to keep the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources from fueling and financing armed conflict and destabilizing the fragile foundations of peace,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. So true.

Read more:

International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict –

Event Page – United Nations

What’s the Environmental Impact of Modern War? – The Guardian


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Filed under Conflicts, Environment, Europe, Events, Human rights, Industry, United Nations, Water Resources

Mapping the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries



Playing with maps can be fun — except when it’s totally depressing.

In adding China Water Risk, an interesting information source, to this blog’s Water Resources page, I was reminded of another one I had already added: World Resources Institute (WRI), which provides a home for Aqueduct’s mapping surveys of water-stressed places. China Water Risk provides a version of WRI’s helpful breakdown of the data and list of 36 most water-stressed countries. So, rather than jumping straight into the mapping tool’s various menus to generate visualizations of data, you can get a bit of an overview of how the tool works and some of its findings.

Aqueduct’s mapping tool, the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, uses 12 indicators to value amounts of water stress, and assigns each country a score of up to 5 points, the high end of the scale for potential water stress. Sixteen countries representing a handful of world regions, such as the Caribbean, the Middle East, and parts of Africa and Asia, achieve a perfect(ly dire) score of 5.0. All 36 countries on the list of the most at risk of water stress rank 4.01 or higher, suffering “extremely high risk.” See the list.

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Conflicts, Middle East, Research, Sustainability, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Water Shortages and the Threats of War and Terror



The prediction that water will outstrip oil — and every other scarce natural resource — as a factor in global conflict has been around for a long time. After all, without water, everybody and everything dies.  There is no substitute for it. Among water-stressed regions, where is conflict likely to strike, and when? In many places, it’s already happening.

Conflict is widespread and ongoing because it can take many forms besides all-out war. In some areas, competition over water may be at the root of tensions between warring factions, though not the only cause. In certain conflicts, water resources may be military or terrorist targets, either to capture or to destroy as a way of hurting the enemy. Elsewhere, protests over water shortages resulting from perceived mismanagement can erupt in violence. The Pacific Institute studies these issues; the conflict chronology at the link below is especially interesting because it shows the whole gamut of water-related struggles.

A useful backgrounder on water-related conflict can be found in Suzanne Goldenberg’s recent piece for The Guardian, also linked below. It identifies six “regions at risk,” due to extreme drought and/or tension over shared resources: California, Brazil, Middle East (Iran, United Arab Emirates, Jordan), North Africa (Egypt and Ethiopia), South Asia (eastern Pakistan, northern India), and China. Stephen Leahy’s IPS article and Giulio Boccaletti’s op-ed for The Nature Conservancy further fill in the picture and scope of global water (in)security.

Read more:

Why global water shortages pose threat of terror and war – The Guardian

In an increasingly unpredictable world, we must secure nature to secure our water – The Nature Conservancy

Water crisis hitting food, energy — and everything else – IPS

Pacific Institute: water and conflict

Pacific Institute: water conflict chronology

Related posts:

Past, Present and Future: California’s Epic Struggle With Water

Water War? Dam Talks Between Egypt and Ethiopia Falter

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Conflicts, Drought, Middle East, North America, Research, South America, Water Shortage

Past, Present and Future: California’s Epic Struggle With Water

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Alexis C. Madrigal’s new piece in The Atlantic, which he tweeted is his most ambitious yet, is a good read. It has great descriptions of California’s ongoing, larger-than-life efforts to stay hydrated in a place where nature simply won’t cooperate. The article centers on Gov. Jerry Brown’s $25 billion Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which proposes to dig two tunnels under the entire Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. If built, they’ll be longer than the Chunnel connecting England and France under the English Channel.

Read more:

American Aqueduct: The Great California Water Saga
A $25 billion plan, a small town, and a half-century of wrangling over the most important resource in the biggest state
Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic

Recent related posts:

Serious Water Conservation Requires Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

California’s State-of-the-State Address: Brown’s Drought Plan in Broad Strokes

Civilization Lost? California’s 500-Year Drought Potential

To the Rescue in California? Solar-Powered Desalination

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Filed under Agriculture, Conflicts, Conservation, Dams and Hydropower, Drought, Environment, Groundwater, Industry, North America, Rivers and Watersheds, Technology, Water Shortage

Water War? Dam Talks Between Egypt and Ethiopia Falter


Image: NASA

In 1979, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat said if the country ever again went to war, it would be over water. Egypt’s near-total reliance on the Nile River for water has made for tense relations with other Nile Basin countries at times, and Ethiopia’s current construction of the massive Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile tributary, upriver from Egypt, has led to speculation that war could erupt. Some experts say it probably won’t, because Ethiopia has a strong military and Egypt is no longer under the hawkish sway of Hosni Mubarak, but sabres have been rattled.

Read more:

Update: Egyptian PM says dam negotiations are ‘not over’ (Ahram Online)

Bloomberg reports on Ethiopia’s rejection of Egypt’s latest proposal asserting its right to most of the water.

Aljazeera provides background on this dispute, as well as previous clashes over the Nile.

Ahram Online quotes Egyptian official calling Ethiopian claims of dam progress a “media show.”

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Filed under Africa, Conflicts, Rivers and Watersheds, Water Shortage