Lack of Water May Lead to Terrorism, Violence, Failed States, Says Secretary Clinton

Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a message for policy makers on World Water Day: Lack of access to clean water isn't just an issue of health and sanitation, but national security. Mrs. Clinton unveiled a new U.S Intelligence report assessing the threat global water challenges pose to America and the world's stability. She called the results "sobering."

The unclassified "Global Water Security: Intelligence Community Assessment," commissioned by the State Department, found that some of the world's most unstable regions - North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia - will experience water problems over the next 10 years "that will risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States on important U.S. policy objectives."

Secretary Clinton cited the example of Yemen, an important U.S. ally on the war or terror, as a country where access to water could lead to more instability.

"Hydrologists predict that many wells in Yemen will run dry in as little as 10 years," said the Secretary. "These threats are real and they do raise security concerns."

Terrorism related to water insecurity is also a concern. The report says physical infrastructure, including dams, have been used as "convenient and high-publicity targets by extremists, terrorists and rogue states," all factors in the most affected regions.

A senior intelligence official said that although actual wars breaking out over water resources are unlikely in the next 10 years, the chances of violent conflict breaking out within states and across borders will increase greatly over the next 20 years if steps aren't taken now to help these regions manage what little water they have now.  Without action, important states may fail.

"Water problems when combined with poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions - contribute to social disruptions that can result in state failure," stated the report.

At today's event Secretary Clinton announced a new program, the U.S. Water Partnership, focused on helping vulnerable nations find ways to better use the water they have, and manage diplomacy surrounding shared water sources. So far, the program has 28 partners coming from business, government, humanitarian organizations and universities who all will offer advice and solutions at global meetings, and also on a new Web portal.

"It's exciting that it's not only about water," said Secretary Clinton. "It is about security, peace, and prosperity as well."