Why World Leaders Are Terrified of Water Shortages

BIT HAIDARI, May 15, 2012 Villagers ride donkeys to get water at Bit al-Haidari district, 200 km south of Yemeni capital Sanaa May 15, 2012. Villagers in Bit al-Haidari district have to go dozens of kilometers to fetch water eveyday. Yemen is one of the most arid countries in the world and relies almost exclusively on groundwater and rainfall for its water supply. (Xinhua/Mohammed Mohammed) (Credit Image: © Mohammed Mohammed/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS.com)

Secret conversations between American diplomats show how a growing water crisis in the Middle East destabilized the region, helping spark civil wars in Syria and Yemen, and how those water shortages are spreading to the United States.

Classified US cables reviewed by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting show a mounting concern by global political and business leaders that water shortages could spark unrest across the world, with dire consequences.

Many of the cables read like diary entries from an apocalyptic sci-fi novel.

“Water shortages have led desperate people to take desperate measures with equally desperate consequences,” according to a 2009 cable sent by US Ambassador Stephen Seche in Yemen as water riots erupted across the country.

On September 22 of that year, Seche sent a stark message to the US State Department in Washington relaying the details of a conversation with Yemen’s minister of water, who “described Yemen’s water shortage as the ‘biggest threat to social stability in the near future.’ He noted that 70 percent of unofficial roadblocks stood up by angry citizens are due to water shortages, which are increasingly a cause of violent conflict.”

Seche soon cabled again, stating that 14 of the country’s 16 aquifers had run dry. At the time, Yemen wasn’t getting much news coverage, and there was little public mention that the country’s groundwater was running out.

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