Water scarcity is one of the biggest problems of the twenty-first century, caused by climate change, global population rises and people relocating to cities en masse.

Historically, civilisations with access to fresh water survived; those without perished. Water is physiologically essential. Our sewage, hospital and agricultural systems entirely depend on water. Withal, we depend on water as much as we depend on air.

How Water Scarcity Works

The biggest cause of our water scarcity is climate change. More than two billion people, globally, live in countries experiencing high water stress, according to a 2018 report by the UN.

UN Water summarised: “Water is the primary medium through which we will feel the effects of climate change. Water availability is becoming less predictable in many places,”

They added that, “in some regions, droughts are exacerbating water scarcity and thereby negatively impacting people’s health and productivity. Ensuring that everyone has access to sustainable water and sanitation services is a critical climate change mitigation strategy for the years ahead.”

For the first time since World War II, refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people reached more than 50 million globally this decade, according to former US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Tara Sonenshine. In 2014, according to the UNHCR, there were 60 million refugees worldwide.

EcoMENA, a sustainability advocate in the Middle East, reported that: “refugee camps often do not have enough water to supply all refugees residing within them.

“In addition, many countries holding refugees are water-scarce. Jordan, for example, is one of the top 10 water-scarce countries in the world and holds more than 1.4 million refugees, mainly from Syria. This has caused tremendous strain on the country’s very low water resources, making it extremely difficult to supply sufficient water for refugees.”

Alongside refugees, military tactic can sometimes involve denying populations access to fresh water. In Syria and Iraq, Isis frequently uses the control of rivers and dams as “an instrument of war,” Matthew Machowski, a Middle East security researcher at the UK Houses of Parliament and Queen Mary University of London, said.

By 2030, the UN reports, between 24 million and 700 million more people will be displaced in arid and semi-arid places, because of water scarcity.

Furthermore, the unsustainably of our global water management has led to global water scarcity. The agricultural industry uses 70% of the world’s fresh water., most of it from groundwater supplies. Water company, Fluence, cites that water use will increase as the global population grows.

In 2015, Columbia University reported that Indian farmers were overusing water when watering their crops, especially in the cultivation of rice. Following a major summer heatwave this year, India is running out of water.

Rapidly increasing water demands from depleting water sources is creating water and income inequalities. “Some groups win at the expense of others,” UN Water said.

“Perversely, while people in poverty are responsible for just a fraction of global emissions, they will bear the brunt of climate change, and have the least capacity to protect themselves,” said UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Aston, in June.

“We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer,” he continued.

Who Owns Earth’s Water?

The “climate apartheid” is made an even bigger threat, by “water barons”: Wall Street mega-banks buying up Earth’s water. Governments worldwide are granting water rights (the right to tap groundwater and other sources of fresh water) to billionaires and banks. As cities worldwide face water scarcity, mega-banks and investing powerhouses now own lakes, water utilities, aquifers and shares in water engineering and technology companies all over the world.

Banks such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Barclays Bank, Allianz and HSBC are not only buying up water but also privatising what is freely given by nature.

This practice-led Andrew Liveris, the 2008 CEO of DOW Chemical Company to describe water as “the oil of the 21st century”. Or, as Goldman Sachs termed it, “the petroleum for the next century”.

Four years later, JP Morgan would release an equity research document elucidating that: “Wall Street appears well aware of the investment opportunities in water supply infrastructure, wastewater treatment, and demand management technologies.”

For the super-wealthy elite, water’s economic value is absolute, barring any other purpose to human existence.

Willem Buiter, Citigroup’s top economist said in 2011: “Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals.”

Water is more than a commodity, despite efforts by multi-billionaires to rebrand this basic human necessity. French royalty, governed by the physiocrats school of thought, would attempt, in the late eighteenth-century, to classify food as solely an agricultural commodity, bounded by the laws of deregulated free trade. This would lead to the French Revolution.

Water as the 21st century’s oil is only the beginning of the decline of economic oligarchy, and the beginning of democracy’s resurrection.