How is water shaping geopolitics in the 21st century? Is it an underlying factor for state failure and social conflict, or can it drive peace and cooperation? How will climate change reshape global water resources?

Recently, on WAMU's "The Diane Rehm Show," ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko, author Steven Solomon, and the World Bank's Julia Bucknall came together to discuss the history, politics, economics, and future of water.

"Climate change exacerbates the water crisis in very severe ways because it manifests itself through water —through floods, droughts, and melting glaciers," said Solomon.

The World Bank's Julia Bucknell highlighted climate change projections that indicate average precipitation increases are likely, mostly in the global North. "It is the poorer countries that show up red on the maps with a reduction in precipitation," she said.

By compounding failing states' limited capacity to secure existing water supplies for agriculture, sanitation, and human consumption, decreasing precipitation will result in further intensification of global public health and food security crises.

"We need to improve the existing productivity of the water we've got," said Solomon. "We need to use it more efficiently and fairly in a way that protects the ecosystems."

Countries such as Australia, Israel, and China are leading the way: even under arid conditions, they use innovative methods to remain productive. In Australia, a new regime allows water rights to be traded, even over cellphones, while China established a credit-based system for individual farmers by using remote sensing technology based on NASA data.

Governments are under pressure to address climate change directly, while managing vexing local and regional challenges. "Our political institutions and our political leaders must not deal with the short term and pretend things will go back to a state of normalcy, but [should] progressively and proactively shape and reshape the institutions," said Dabelko.

Countries with traditionally contentious relationships have cooperated to solve common water problems. The Financial Times recently reported on an agreement between China and India to jointly assess trends in Himalayan glacier and snow melt.

"There are prospects for tensions," said Dabelko of the Himalayas, "but quite frankly, water is difficult to [obtain] through war. It's hard to pick it up and take it home."

To listen to the full audio recording, click here.

Photo: Just Add Water, Courtesy of Flickr Member M??K
Photo: Melting Glacier at Jokuldalur, Iceland 2, Courtesy of Flickr Member, ChrisGoldNY