Global Leaders Agree: Overpopulation Will Lead to Acute Water Shortages

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

September 14, 2012

In 1993, then President Bill Clinton established the Council on Sustainable Development. The council’s goal was to stabilize the United States’ population through prudent immigration policies that would include eliminating illegal immigration as well as studying the relationship of increased immigration to environmental degradation.

The CSD remained active during Clinton’s two terms. Unfortunately, legal and illegal immigration sky-rocketed under the Clinton administration and has continued at record high levels under Presidents Bush and Obama. As for Clinton’s recommendation to take all measures to end illegal immigration, President Obama has instead through his prosecutorial discretion measures incentivized it.

In the two decades that have passed since Clinton founded the CSD, more than twenty million legal immigrants and nearly as many aliens have made the United States their permanent home. In hindsight, the CSD was nothing more than political window dressing to give the appearance of ecological concern.

Recently, a group of 40 world leaders including Clinton, former South African president Nelson Mandela and former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien issued a report that, like the CSD did years ago, sounded sustainability alarm bells. The report’s findings are also endorsed by the U.N. University's Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNWEH) and Canada's Gordon Foundation.

The Interaction Council, as the group is known, stressed looming water shortages. It said that about 3,800 cubic km (910 cubic miles) of fresh water is taken annually from rivers and lakes.

The Interaction Council found that:

"With about 1 billion more mouths to feed worldwide by 2025, global agriculture alone will require another 1,000 cubic km (240 cubic miles) of water per year… equal to the annual flow of 20 Niles or 100 Colorado Rivers." [Twenty More “Niles” Needed to Feed Growing Population---Leaders, by Alister Doyle, Reuters, September 10, 2012]

Prime Minister Chretien included the grim observation that today one billion people have no fresh water and 2 billion lack basic sanitation. Chretien added that about 4,500 children die of water-related diseases every day, the equivalent of 10 jumbo jets falling out of the sky with no survivors.

The world population now is just over 7 billion. With 2025 population estimates nearing 8 billion, the leaders fear that armed conflicts over access to potable water could arise. In China and India, the world’s most populous nations, demand for water will exceed supply.  Examples of water-related conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians over aquifers, between Egypt and other nations sharing the Nile, or between Iran and Afghanistan over the Hirmand River have already developed.

While the United States water situation is better than in the most arid parts of the world, shortages are a crisis in the making. Brad Udall, the University of Colorado’s Western Water Assessment said, “We’re on a collision course between supply and demand.” Read the WWA analysis of the 2012 “severe or worse” drought on Colorado, Utah and Wyoming here.

Blue ribbon panel reports serve the valuable purpose of raising awareness. But what’s needed is action: family planning, reduced consumption and vigorous immigration enforcement are the first three steps to achieving balance between humans and irreplaceable resources.

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