Two centuries ago, U.S. President John Adams advised us of the importance of observing our world with clear eyes, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes and passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Though there are some facts we all would rather not face, one of those unpleasant truths is that there are places in the world where the need for people to share limited fresh water supplies poses a real threat of conflict.
The south Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu are two of these places. As described by T.P. Sreenivasan, former ambassador of India, “If Kerala and Tamil Nadu were independent countries with their own armies; they might have been at war by now over the water held behind a dam in Kerala that supplies Tamil Nadu.” Writing in the Indian Ink Sreenivasan added, “Protests and demonstrations have lasted for more than five years and tensions have been so elevated recently that some citizens have resorted to violence as India’s federal government, for the most part, has watched helplessly.”
With increasing resource pressures from our exploding population of more than 7 billion, combined with the consequences of climate change, the threat to living sustainably and peacefully is rapidly growing. In 2011, over 185,000 Somalis fled to neighbouring nations in an attempt to escape water and food shortage hostilities brought on by droughts. The following year, Kenyan police records revealed a boost in water thefts as frequent droughts further degraded water supplies. Brazilians also suffered from a 19-month long drought that ignited conflict during fierce competition for dwindling water reserves.
Unfortunately, climate change is only going to aggravate these pressures. By altering rainfall patterns, river flows and increasing the frequency of floods and droughts, our ability to manage and ration fresh water supplies will become an increasingly serious challenge. So what will happen to diminishing fresh water supplies and resultant resource conflicts when our population reaches 9 billion by 2050?
A recent United Nations report partially answers this question in predicting changes to come in just the next dozen years, “Today, 800 million people live under a threshold of ‘water stress.’ As rivers dry up, lakes shrink and groundwater reserves get depleted, that figure will rise up to 3 billion in 2025, especially in parts of Asia and Africa”.
An even more sobering assessment based on a classified National Intelligence Estimate on water security, found that floods, scarce and poor quality water, combined with poverty and the effects of climate change will contribute to global instability and conflict in the coming decades. The report highlighted that the use of water as weapon of war or tool for terrorism post 2022 would become likely in areas of South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.
Meanwhile in 2011, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report included water as one of the top five global risks for the first time. The report stated that resources and demand for water, food and energy is expected to increase between 30 – 50% in the next two decades, warning that, “Shortages could cause social and political instability, geopolitical conflict and irreparable environmental damage”.
More recently, a UN report last month warned that stresses on water supplies heightened by climate change are likely to generate more conflicts, urging governments to consider water as vital to national security. With 145 nations sharing river basins with their neighbouring countries, resource co-operation between territories will be severely tested as heat waves and flooding continue to deplete water sources.
Prominent international security experts understand this basic fact. One such person is Rear Admiral David W. Titley, director of the Task Force Climate Change and appointed oceanographer and navigator of the U.S. Navy in 2009. Emphasising that climate change is affecting the world now, Titley explains how it poses a fundamental security issue, “National security is human security [which means] people having enough fresh water and food.” Titley adds that the scarcity of potable water and food “increases the potential for instability.”
Other prestigious organisations dedicated to security, such as the Truman National Security Project (TNSP), recognize that poverty (lack of basic sustenance) poses a substantial security threat. As TNSP describes in its statement of Goals and Values, “Protecting American National Security requires addressing state weakness, poverty, corruption, and social breakdown abroad.” Furthermore, in 2007 Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary general expressed a similar perspective for global security, “Our prevailing security paradigm has shifted. And the new paradigm can be summed up in just one word: engagement. We need to address the issues where they emerge, before they end up on your and my doorstep.
“NATO must be prepared to address security challenges at their source, whenever and wherever they arise.”
So these stubborn facts now implore us to answer this question:
With increased resource conflicts clearly on the horizon and climate change adding another dimension of uncertainty to our water and food security, do we address these impending threats now by solutions entailing considerate foresight and preparation? Or do we delay until the inevitable hostilities will hit our children with a much more devastating and unmanageable impact?
Fortunately, with many extraordinary companies and organisations already working to provide solutions to these perils, there is great cause for an optimistic future. The Ocean Thermal Energy group of companies (OTE) are among these organisations. Recognizing that the world’s oceans can secure a safe and sustainable future, OTE is globally commercialising a technology that taps into these sustainable sources. With 80% of the sun’s solar energy stored by ocean surface waters – 4,000 times the amount of energy the world uses on a daily basis – its capacity as a global game-changer is undeniable.
Investments of over $260m (£168m) into research and development funds (R&D) for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) have made harvesting this renewable energy entirely achievable. By utilising temperature differences between warm surface water and cold deep ocean water, OTEC is capable of simultaneously producing voluminous quantities of fresh drinking water and base load renewable energy – two key resources in safeguarding international security.
Proven to work in Hawaii, USA, where the pilot land-based OTEC plant was constructed in the 1990’s at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA), the OTEC deep, cold water pipes continue to provide a large supply of nutrient rich, pathogen free deep ocean water, giving rise to thriving businesses, including bottled water operations.
Globally, there are hundreds of prospective OTEC project locations in the tropics and sub-tropics where 3 billion people live. These prospects are reflected by data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the United States Department of Energy, indicating that at least 68 countries and 29 territories are potential candidates for OTEC plants. Just one OTEC plant designed for a 10MW capacity can co-produce up to 75 million litres of fresh drinking water every day.
Among its numerous global projects, OTE has a signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a major African utility company to develop multiple OTEC facilities with a focus on potable water production. In an area of the world that is particularly susceptible to drought and resource-based conflicts, OTEC’s African arrival is most encouraging. With OTE’s project pipeline including OTEC plants in various regions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, Africa is merely one area that can see fresh water relief now appearing.
“As parents, our first and foremost duty is to keep our children safe from harm. We should expect and accept no less from the world’s business leaders,” said Jeremy P. Feakins, OTE’s Group Executive Chairman.
“OTE is committed to relieving fresh-water shortages globally as a key to avoiding conflicts. And a world with fewer conflicts is a safer world for our children.”
Are you passionate about preventing resource-based global conflicts that would endanger the future of our children and grandchildren? If so, kindly help us to encourage others to become aware of the circumstances that are affecting our lives and the positive actions we can all take today to ensure a brighter tomorrow.
It is simple to become part of the solution– all you need to do is to spread the word of OTE’s core mission to manifest OTEC as a global game-changer. By sending a tweet or email to your friends, family and followers, you can act as catalyst for public awareness of OTEC and its promise of securing a sustainable and peaceful future for all of us.