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Report: Increased water stress contributing to land grabs, unrest

Report: Increased water stress contributing to land grabs, unrest

A new report on global water stress out last week from the British risk assessment firm Maplecroft highlights countries at “extreme risk” for water shortage, declaring, “current and future water availability as one of the foremost global challenges.”

Nine of the top ten countries on the list are from the Middle East/North Africa region, with several having experienced unrest over the past five months during the “Arab Spring.”  Most notably, these countries include Saudi Arabia (4), Libya (5), Yemen (7) and Jordan (10).  Monitoring these events, the Earth Policy Institute’s Lester Brown observed,

“Long after the political uprisings in the Middle East have subsided, many underlying challenges that are not now in the news will remain. Prominent among these are rapid population growth, spreading water shortages, and growing food insecurity.”

In addition, the Maplecroft report notes a continued high rate of “land grabs” by larger, wealthier countries with emerging economies, that have taken to offsetting their own water shortages by buying up land in the water rich but economically poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa. China is one such buyer, and given the severe droughts that it has experienced (the worst in 50 years) through the first months of 2011, it seems likely that it will continue to seek more and more opportunities to purchase arable land. The Maplecroft report notes that while the practice of land grabs may have a positive short-term economic impact on the selling countries, it “may also mean that countries that are rated as ‘low risk’ for water stress now may not be so in the future. Therefore, contracts signed between countries now, will not seem so appealing should water resources deplete.”

Analysis by the United Nations and its agencies on the effects of land grabs, as well as increased publicity of cases in Sudan and Ethiopia may lead to more widespread local and international pressure for regulation of these deals, to ensure that they are sustainable and beneficial to the native populations.

Posted by Adam Read-Brown.

Image credit: Maplecroft