Protecting water could mean advancing peace & prosperity

River Ganga, Rishikesh, India

Many people may not know that access to fresh water around the globe can have big impacts here in the US. Access to fresh water means biodiversity, economies and communities can thrive. Lack of water, on the other hand, can lead to social disruptions and conflict – and this often has trickle-down effects on the US. This week, WWF released a new book entitled Water, Security and U.S. Foreign Policy, exploring how access to water affects US national security and prosperity and how the US can respond effectively. We sat down with two WWF experts, David Reed, senior policy advisor and editor of the book, and Karin Krchnak, director of WWF’s freshwater program, to provide some background on this link between fresh water and national security.

Q: First and foremost, many people may not know that fresh water is a finite resource. Can you give us some information on that?

A (Karin): We do not have an endless supply of fresh water, and I would argue that it is perhaps our most precious resource. Less than one percent of the water on Earth is fresh and accessible, and water is life – for both people and wildlife. We need it to survive, and we also need it for every aspect of life – from the food we eat to the cotton we wear to the energy we depend on. On top of that, about 10 percent of the world’s species live in lakes, rivers, wetlands and aquifers, and they are declining at a faster rate than terrestrial and ocean species. That’s why WWF is focusing on freshwater ecosystems – to help create a sustainable future for all.

Chandless River, Acre, Amazon

Q: Why is fresh water becoming more of a problem now?  

A (David): Population growth, changing consumption patterns and climate change have put increased pressure on our fresh water resources. On top of that, many laws and regulations are weak when it comes to managing water resources. The public’s certainty that water will always be available is changing, particularly as drought and extreme storms lead to migration and conflicts in countries around the world. It would be wise for us to address these problems and put sustainable solutions in place now, before they get worse.

Q: How does water affect US security and prosperity?

A (David): America’s security and prosperity depend on the prosperity and stability of other countries around the world. Without access to water, people can’t survive, economies can’t thrive and conflicts emerge. This harsh reality does affect us here at home. And because the US has a myriad of resources to help other countries manage their water resources sustainably, it’s in our interests to do so.

Q: What is WWF doing to help protect fresh water?

A (Karin): WWF is taking both a long-term and short-term approach to respond to these challenges. In the long-term, we’re working with governments to help establish transboundary, multinational water management regimes. WWF aims to drive innovative, climate-smart solutions to freshwater challenges through basin-wide engagement and comprehensive policy and institutional strengthening. Through deep and committed multi-sectoral engagement, we contribute high-impact results in river basins across the globe through collective action with business partners.

In the short term, we’re trying to influence our government and the way we use US dollars to drive sustainable water resource management rather than to band-aid solutions that waste resources and fail to address the underlying problems. We are also working in partnership with companies like Hilton and Coca-Cola to be better water stewards and to take active roles in watersheds to drive for collective action.

In addition, we’re working with communities and stakeholders on the ground to create River Basin Report Cards to foster shared ownership of the basin’s health.

Q: Where can people learn more about how water affects national security?

Water, Security and US Foreign Policy is available June 27 in bookstores with proceeds supporting WWF’s global conservation work.