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The drought in Sri Lanka is so severe and so prolonged that International Red Cross had to intervene and launch an appeal for emergency funds. The Mekong River, which flows from China to Vietnam, is being obstructed by 7 Chinese dams under construction. Once completed, its flow will be reduced by half.
Close to 200 million people in seven countries will be affected. In a retaliatory move, Laos is planning to hold back c. 70 percent of its contribution to Mekong by constructing 23 dams. Thailand follows with 20 percent of its contribution and a mere 4 dams. Vietnam is likely to pay price of this "dam war". Thailand is sufficiently rich to simply buy water it needs from its truculent neighbors.
Australia is in no better shape. The diversion of Snowy River inland led to massive salinization of lands it irrigates - Australia's bread basket. Many of tributaries are now unfit for either irrigation or drinking. In India, holy river, Ganges, is depleted and impregnated with poisonous arsenic.
A long running dispute is simmering between India and Bangladesh regarding this dwindling lifeline, recent progress in negotiations notwithstanding. This is reminiscent of a low intensity conflict that has been brewing along banks of Nile between an assertive Egypt and encroaching Sudan and Ethiopia since Nile Basin Initiative has been signed in 1993.
A July 2000 conference of riparian states, backed by likes of World Bank and United Nations, eased tension somewhat by promulgating a workable plan to redistribute African river's throughput. The emphasis in February 2001 meeting of International Consortium Cooperation on Nile, though, was on hydro-power over contentious minefield of water usage rights.
Turkey is constructing more than two dozen dams on Tigris and Euphrates within Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP). Once completed, Turkey will have option to deprive both Syria and Iraq of their main sources of water, though it vowed not to do so. In a cynical twist, it offers to sell them water from its Manavgat river. Iraq's own rivers have shriveled by half. Still, this is less virulent and violent of water conflicts in Middle East.
Israel controls Kinneret Sea of Galilee. It is source of one third of its water consumption. The rest it pumps from rivers in region, to vocal dismay of Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Despite decades of indoctrination, Israelis are water-guzzlers. They quaff 4-6 times water consumption of their Palestinian and Arab neighbors.
"The Economist" claims that:
"The argument over Syria's water rights to Sea of Galilee is now only real stumbling-block to a peace treaty between Syria and Israel. Negotiations broke down last January, after two sides appeared to agree on everything save future of a sliver of territory on north-east coast of sea. Israel had insisted on keeping control of that, since Sea of Galilee supplies more than 40% of its drinking water."
Only two decades ago, Aral Sea featured in encyclopedias as world's fourth largest inland brine. In a typical hare-brained subterfuge, communists diverted its two sources - Amu Darya and Syr Darya - to grow cotton in desert. The "sea" is now a series of disconnected, toxic, patches overlaid on a vast wasteland of salt.
But excess water can be as damaging to multilateral relationships - and to economy - as scarcity. Floods brought on by Zambezi River have devastated countries on its path, despite their efforts to harness it. Often, these calamities are man-made. Zimbabwe wrought a deluge upon its region by opening gates of Kariba dam on March 2000. The countries of West Africa, from Ghana to Mali are "one river states". Their fortunes rise and fall with flow and ebb of waterways.
Sometimes watercourses are conduits of destruction and death. A single - though massive - chemical spill in Romania on January 31, 2000 devastated entire Tisa River which runs through Yugoslavia and Hungary. Only when waste reached Danube did West wake up to danger.
Nor are these phenomena confined to poor precincts of our planet. The people of Catalonia in Spain are thirsty. They contemplate diverting water from river Rhone in France to Barcelona. A two years old government plan to redistribute water from rain-drenched regions to arid 60 percent of Spain met with stiff domestic resistance. The Ogallala aquifer in USA, its largest, has been depleted to near oblivion. The BBC estimates that it lost equivalent of 18 Colorado rivers by 2000.
Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He is the the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.