The American intelligence community warned in a report released Thursday that problems with water could destabilize countries in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia over the next decade.
Increasing demand and competition caused by the world’s rising population and scarcities created by climate change and poor management threaten to disrupt economies and increase regional tensions, the report concludes.
Prepared at the request of the State Department, the report is based on a classified National Intelligence Estimate completed last October that reflected an increasing focus on environmental and other factors that threaten security. An estimate reflects the consensus judgment of all intelligence agencies.
While the report concluded that wars over water are unlikely in the coming decade, it said that countries could use water for political and economic leverage over neighbors and that major facilities like dams and desalination plants could become targets of terrorist attacks. Coupled with poverty and other social factors, problems with water could even contribute to the political failure of weaker nations.
Global Water Security
This report—requested by the Department of State—is designed to answer the question: How will water problems (shortages, poor water quality, or floods) impact US national security interests over the next 30 years? We selected 2040 as the endpoint of our research to consider longer-term impacts from growing populations, climate change, and continued economic development. However, we sometimes cite specific time frames (e.g., 2030, 2025) when reporting is based on these dates. For the Key Judgments, we emphasize impacts that will occur within the next 10 years.
This effort relied on previously published Intelligence Community (IC) products, peer-reviewed research, and consultations with outside experts. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was the principal drafter with contributions from NGA, CIA, State/INR, and DOE.