The Times, January
The drought in Cape
Town is the latest illustration of how climate change, geographical
misfortune and mismanagement or outright cynicism have left up to 40% of the
world’s population vulnerable to shortages.
Water is an
instrument of power as much as an unreliable gift from nature and a tool of
foreign policy. Control the flow and you can gain so much influence over the
governments downstream that they will thank you when you allow the river to run
its natural course.
Nowhere is this game
played as sharply as in the Middle East. Turkey is building a chain of 22
dams on the upper Euphrates and Tigris rivers, which function as a chokehold
over the water supply to Iraq and Syria.
Egypt, Ethiopia and
Sudan met yesterday to discuss a hydroelectric dam the Ethiopians are building
on their part of the Nile, a project that has prompted military threats.
Beijing has built six hydroelectric dams on the Mekong river, which flows
through five smaller southeast Asian nations.
As the world warms
the pressure will only grow. States are resorting to increasingly fantastical
measures to look after their citizens. China has spent more than UK£50 billion
(70 billion US$) moving a volume of water greater than the river Thames from
the south of China, where a million people were evacuated from their homes
because of floods last year, to the north, where crops rot in the fields
through want of irrigation.
In Saudi Arabia 27
plants take up 5 million cubic metres of seawater each day and turn it into
enough fresh water to supply half the country’s requirements.