The chance that water may soon be used as a weapon in key strategic areas (areas including the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa) is starting to seem more than just a possibility, according to a recent U.S. intelligence assessment released Thursday.
Fresh-water shortages, droughts, and floods will increase the likelihood of water being used in tussles between states or even terrorist groups. According to the assessment, although “water-related state conflict” is unlikely in the next 10 years, continued shortages after that may begin to affect U.S. national security interests.
The assessment, drawn from a classified National Intelligence Estimate distributed to policymakers in October, describes strategically important water basins tied to rivers in several regions: the Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates in Turkey, Syria and Iraq; the Jordan, and the Indus.
A senior U.S. intelligence official briefed reporters describing the possibility of states denying water to one another:
“As water problems become more acute, the likelihood . . . is that states will use them as leverage.”
The official also touched on the subject of its use by terrorists:
“Because terrorists are looking for high-visibility structures to attack, water infrastructure could become a target.”
The assessment is coinciding with the scheduled announcement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of a new public-private program to use U.S. knowledge and leverage to help find “solutions to global water accessibility challenges, especially in the developing world,” according to a State Department release.According to the official, the assessment anticipates more droughts, more extreme weather events and floods, along with concerns that states would not make the necessary infrastructure investments to deal with the shifting climate.
“The situation poses an opportunity for the United States to exert leadership but we also saw the risk that if the United States wasn’t engaged in exercising that leadership, other states would step up to exert it and the United States might find itself losing influence.”