I often tell students that the one issue that can lead to the most numbers of conflicts worldwide is the looming shortage of clean drinking water, the one material humans cannot do without for basic survival. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has now publicly made this same statement and is calling for this to become the world's top priority for 2008.
Coming from an article on Yahoo! News,
"He said a recent report identified 46 countries with 2.7 billion people where climate change and water-related crises create "a high risk of violent conflict" and a further 56 countries, with 1.2 billion people "are at high risk of violent conflict." The report was by International Alert, an independent peacebuilding organization based in London.
Ban told the VIP audience that he spent 2007 "banging my drum on climate change," an issue the Forum also had as one of its main themes last year. He welcomed the focus on water this year saying the session should be named: "Water is running out."
"We need to adapt to this reality, just as we do to climate change," he said. "There is still enough water for all of us — but only so long as we can keep it clean, use it more wisely, and share it fairly."
This is one of those issues that science will need to help solve in the long-term, but short-term there are both financial and political problems that need to be addressed in portions of the world where chaos tends to reign supreme politically, and water is desperately limited. Climate change will be affecting rainfall worldwide, and instability looms for certain governments if its citizens begin to have health concerns because of a lack of water. It is also important to remember that unsanitary conditions will also help encourage and propagate illness and disease. The next President of the United States will likely have to deal with new regional conflicts and humanitarian crises because of water shortages around the world. New technologies, international cooperation between governments, NGOs, and the private sector, and strong political will to take action in a relatively short period of time will be required if we want to try and save literally countless millions of people from this crisis.