Sandia LabNews

Report: Address global water scarcity, water quality issues around the world now


The time is now to address the devastating effects of increasing water scarcity and declining water quality around the world. This is according to a recently released white paper written jointly by Sandia and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington, D.C., think tank.

The paper, “Addressing Our Global Water Future,” came about following two conferences last year in Washington. There, representatives of high-profile influential companies, government officials, and technical experts discussed US policies in regions of the world where the US has strategic interests. Discussions centered on countries with dwindling fresh water supplies and the technologies needed to help resolve the water problems.

The primary white paper authors are Howard Passell (6115) of Sandia and Laura Keating of CSIS. Numerous others from both Sandia and CSIS contributed to the document.

Why does Sandia care if there is adequate potable drinking water in places other than the US?

The reason, says Ray Finley, manager of Geohydrology Dept. 6115, is that Sandia, as a national security laboratory, has the responsibility to help provide for the security of the US. That includes regions of the world that are of strategic importance to the US and can impact this country’s national security.

“The lack of clean water can create conditions that lead to destabilization in regions of the world that are already poor and having problems,” he says. “Lack of potable water can result in famine, conflict over resources, and poor governance. This threatens the security of those countries and ultimately the security of the US.”

Examples can be seen in the instability in the Middle East and Africa — both places where fresh water is in short supply for both consumption and sanitation.

The report expands this theme, saying that “global trends of increasing population, increasing resource consumption, and decreasing natural resource availability — including fresh water — have pushed many human social, economic, and political systems to an important tipping point. . . . We face large-scale future dislocations and crises unless significant action is taken now by leaders in both developed and developing countries.”

The white paper made several other findings. They include:

• Water is a foundation for human prosperity. Adequate, high-quality water supplies provide a basis for the growth and development of human social, economic, cultural, and political systems. Conversely, economic stagnation and political instability will persist or worsen in those regions where the quality and reliability of water supplies remain uncertain.

• Water problems are geopolitically destabilizing. Water scarcity and poor water have the potential to destabilize isolated regions within countries or regions sharing limited sources of water. There is an increasing likelihood of social strife and armed conflict resulting from pressures of water scarcity and mismanagement.

• Poor governance and poor economies in regions around the world where water is scarce impair the application of innovative technology and innovative policies.

• Solutions must be innovative, revolutionary, and self-sustaining. Traditional technologies for improvement of freshwater availability and quality are inadequate to meet global needs in a timely way.

• Effective water planning and management at local and regional levels require collaboration from a variety of people, including farmers, urban developers, environmentalists, industrialists, policy makers, citizens, and others.

• No single government agency, nongovernmental organization, corporation, international organization, or academic institution can provide all the expertise required to meet the challenges of solving the water challenges. Partnerships are required.

• New ways of funding water projects internationally need to be developed.

• Solutions must be tailored to the socioeconomic, political, and geographic conditions of a region.

• Water can be a powerful and effective foreign policy tool. Finding solutions to water problems can significantly support many US strategic objectives.

To help resolve many of the world’s water issues, the white paper recommends the US government develop a long-range strategy for how it engages internationally in water resources.

The paper also says the US should carry out an inventory of existing international water-related policies and projects, identify a lead agency to coordinate the development of an integrated strategy, undertake a region-by-region review of resources, and engage regional experts, third-party groups, and the community to come up with solutions.

“Ultimately what the report says is that we must acknowledge that US international water policy has implications that transcend traditional humanitarian and foreign assistance interests,” Finley says.