Scientists to resolve future water wars 


Future water wars could be resolved by scientific mediators, who will rule on who is entitled to what. The Mesopotamian marshes of Iraq could be among the first to benefit.

The mediation body will rule on disputes over dams, pollution or the sharing of underground water, said Andras Szollosi-Nagy of the UN science agency UNESCO. He announced the formation of the body at the World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan on Friday.

The Mesopotamian marshes, Iraq's ecological treasure, have largely dried up in the past decade. Iraqi drainage projects are to blames, along with Turkish dams in the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which feed the marshes.

The US and UK forces currently invading Iraq will travel through the desiccated marshes en route to Baghdad in the coming days. But the environmental group WWF called here for any post-war settlement to include a deal between the new government of Iraq, Turkey and Syria on sharing the two rivers and saving the marshes. "We want them to agree on a restoration plan for the marshes," said WWF's Jamie Pittock.


Nine nation rivers


Almost half the world's population lives in 263 international river basins. The Danube, Rhine, Congo, Nile, Niger and Zambezi rivers all pass through nine or more nations. But two-thirds of these basins have no treaties to share the water.

With world water use expected to triple in the next 50 years, "real wars" over water are increasingly likely, said former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, who is in Kyoto representing an international environmental group called Green Cross International.

Besides rivers, the mediators could rule on international underground water reserves. Many aquifers once thought of as isolated, turn out to be part of giant cross-border reservoirs, said World Bank hydrogeologist Stephen Foster.

The two largest of these mega-aquifers are both under threat from over-exploitation and could become the subject of disputes, he said. One is the Nubian aquifer beneath the Sahara. It is being drained by Libya, to the anger of Egypt, Sudan and Chad, which it also underlies.

The other is the Guarani aquifer beneath parts of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. These countries are all drawing from what is effectively the same well, said Foster.

But will nations submit themselves to water mediators? The early signs are not good. Szollosi-Nagy says a group of upstream nations, including Turkey, are trying to remove a call for more treaties on international rivers from the forum's closing ministerial statement. "Upstream countries are not willing to share. It's very disappointing after all the fine words at the start of the conference," he says.

Original source: NEW SCIENTIST
Submit by CEIN  News on 6/4/2003