8 January 1999

War Over Water

A future war over water is a distinct possibility, according to Klaus Toepfer, director-general of the United Nations Environment Programme. Toepfer made his prediction during an interview that appears in the Jan. 1 issue of the scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology. The journal is published by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

Echoing a view he says is shared by former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali, Toepfer is "completely convinced" there will be a conflict over natural resources, particularly water. "Everybody knows that we have an increase in population, but we do not have a corresponding increase in drinking water, so the result in the regional dimension is conflict," he says.

In the interview, Toepfer advocates monitoring worldwide reserves of drinking water and establishing cooperative agreements for the use of bodies of water, including groundwater.

He also calls for "economic instruments to stimulate use of new technologies" to promote water conservation. Predicting dramatic global population growth in the future, Toepfer cites the need for an "efficiency revolution." Any solution for addressing this growth must be linked with "new technologies that concentrate more on efficient use of limited natural resources," he says. These technologies must be available, he insists, "on preferential terms, to developing countries."

Calling the export of hazardous waste to developing countries "neocolonial," Toepfer says in addition to banning this practice, cooperation is needed from the chemical industry to adopt production methods that will avoid waste generation.