Water scarcity is becoming a critical issue globally. As the world gets more and more water stressed, those who control water supplies in rivers, lakes, and dams, will exercise more power and restrict access to water to those downstream. This could lead to conflict – legal and physical – that is both internal and crosses national boundaries. Some countries may even use the need for water as a reason to invade a neighbour.

Whether as an individual a business, a region or country, we need to have a plan for water security that is equitable, agreed on by everyone, and future proof. We cannot live without water.

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Welcome to the water wars. Come with me to 2036, where four different wars have broken out at the same time over water.

This is Ethiopia and Egypt arguing about the right to use the Nile River water. This is India and Pakistan, with India building yet another dam in India that stops water flowing into Pakistan. This is the Panama Canal, which for a decade or two has been battling with drought and not being able to fill the various reservoirs needed to keep the Panama Canal operational, and now needing to grab water from other nations and going on an offensive water war against its neighbouring countries.

And this is an internal civil war in the United States of America between Colorado, California and other states that are now desperate. They’ve reached a point. Imagine Los Angeles and San Diego having no water at all.

This is a really big potential danger in our world at the moment. That in different parts of the world, major cities and major population areas are going to run out of water, and that those who control the water supply will begin to be more selfish about it and not share that resource as they might be doing now.

Water wars are coming in our future and we need to be thinking about what we do in terms of our international regulations and treaties, in terms of our local situations. And it comes down to each of us, in our own businesses and our own homes, making sure that we understand the level of water stress that we might be living in given climate change, a heating planet and the control over water sources.

We’re in the middle of a series of reasonably scary scenarios for the future. And I don’t mean to be alarmist, that’s not my style. I am more of an optimistic, upbeat futurist about the future. I do believe that we might be able to overcome these water wars by looking at new ways of generating water and new ways of using some of the water that is unusable at the moment.

But just because it’s possible to create solutions doesn’t mean we can ignore the problems and the very significant political and social issues that will come with them, especially when we run out of water. It’s one of the things that human beings can’t live without for more than a few days.

As always, thank you for joining me in the ThrowForward Thursday studio. I’ll see you next week where we jump into the future, see what’s going on there and work out what it means for us today.



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Graeme Codrington, is an internationally recognised futurist, specialising in the future of work. He helps organisations understand the forces that will shape our lives in the next ten years, and how we can respond in order to confidently stay ahead of change. Chat to us about booking Graeme to help you Re-Imagine and upgrade your thinking to identify the emerging opportunities in your industry.

For the past two decades, Graeme has worked with some of the world’s most recognised brands, travelling to over 80 countries in total, and speaking to around 100,000 people every year. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, and on faculty at 5 top global business schools.

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