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  • Translator: Irena Jelercic Reviewer: Michele Gianella

  • When was the first time we thought about the importance of water?

  • During the ongoing Californian and Middle Eastern droughts?

  • The famous Australian drought?

  • 1850s?

  • Before Christ? When?

  • Indeed, we were very smart.

  • We got it from the very beginning

  • as we developed our major civilizations around big rivers.

  • Rivers like the Tigris and the Euphrates,

  • the Nile, the Indus, and the Yellow [River].

  • Water is the most essential element of life.

  • We need it for drinking and sanitation.

  • We need it to produce food.

  • We need it to produce power and cool our power plants.

  • And we need it for maintaining our ecosystems' services.

  • What's going to happen with the growing population?

  • We already have problems with water.

  • Not everyone has enough access to water.

  • 15% of the world's population lacks access to clean water.

  • That number is 50% in Sub-Saharan Africa.

  • The modern people, the developed ones,

  • are also changing their diet.

  • Ironically, they prefer meat to vegetables, the unhealthy diet.

  • That means 15,000 liters of water

  • instead of 2,000 liters of water per kilogram of food.

  • So to feed the 2 billion extra people joining us on this planet,

  • we need to raise 60% more water.

  • We're already bankrupt. We don't have that much water.

  • We have to increase the water withdrawal

  • by 50% in the developing world, and 18% in the rest of the world.

  • The planet is getting dry.

  • Water is becoming more scarce.

  • 2 billion people are expected to live in dry areas of the planet

  • with extreme water scarcity.

  • Add to this the pressure of climate change,

  • which is going to reduce the rainfall and increase evaporation.

  • We've already exhausted our surface water resources.

  • Lakes are going dry, rivers are going dry.

  • And now we are tapping the groundwater,

  • the faster resources which are not going to get replenished.

  • And things like recycling and re-drinking our urine would not help much.

  • Do you think that's the end of the story?

  • Actually, it isn't.

  • The situation is more complex.

  • Because water has no respect for our political boundaries.

  • We set the political boundaries

  • without paying attention to the water boundaries.

  • Water basin boundaries, watershed, river basin.

  • Water drops want to move freely within the basin

  • from one location to another, along the river,

  • towards the drainage area.

  • They're not like us.

  • They don't have passports so we can't ask them for visas.

  • They want to pass the border.

  • So what happens is that we have 148 countries

  • sharing 276 international river basins.

  • What does that mean?

  • 45% of the Earth's land area.

  • 40% of the population lives in these areas.

  • And 60% of the water flows at a global level

  • are provided in these areas.

  • Imagine what happens when you have more than one country managing water.

  • It doesn't matter if you're upstream or downstream, how powerful you are,

  • it's probably in your best interest to maximize your use,

  • minimize the outflow or beg for more water,

  • because even if you don't need it today, tomorrow you will need it.

  • So what happens is a lot of competition.

  • Even if you need to do it superficially, you're going to maximize your use:

  • build a lot of dams,

  • transfer water from one location to another, and waste it.

  • At least you can establish some right to that water.

  • That creates chaos, competition.

  • And as water becomes more scarce, there's more chance of water conflicts.

  • And that's a scary situation.

  • Some people think it is beyond conflicts:

  • we might have wars over water.

  • Kofi Annan thinks that the fierce competition over water

  • might end up in a war.

  • Boutrous-Ghali, another UN Secretary General,

  • thinks that water can become more important and more significant than oil.

  • And that the Middle East might experience a war over water.

  • The former Vice President of the World Bank

  • thought that the 21st century wars would be fought over water.

  • Water war.

  • That's interesting.

  • It was interesting when I heard it.

  • And I really wanted to know if there will be any water war.

  • Have you ever had any war over water?

  • Why was I interested in water war?

  • Because I was always dreaming about playing it since childhood.

  • (Applause) Of course not. (Laughter)

  • Of course, not.

  • Water and war are two important things for me.

  • I'll tell you more, the real story. Why water?

  • I was passionate about water.

  • I think I had no choice but being passionate about water,

  • because I was the only child

  • of the parents who were working for the water sector.

  • In fact they dated and got married when working for the water sector.

  • I'm thankful to water for giving me great parents.

  • So studying water was the least I could do to thank it.

  • Beside that, I was interested in war.

  • Why should I be interested in war?

  • I grew up in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war.

  • I have a crystal clear picture of the first missile attack to Teheran.

  • 29th February 1988,

  • when I was only six.

  • A big explosion, a few meters away.

  • Nothing happened to me,

  • but I remember my mum injured and [covered] in blood.

  • I was confused.

  • To date I still panic about it

  • and have nightmares of planes attacking our neighborhood.

  • That confusion, that explosion!

  • I didn't know what was going on.

  • So war should be the last thing I would be interested in.

  • On the contrary, I like peace, like many of you.

  • I want to find ways to prevent conflicts,

  • and make the world a more peaceful place.

  • So I had to find a way to study things, to study water conflicts.

  • I was an engineer interested in politics and social sciences,

  • so my colleagues and peers thought that's lack of competence

  • because you're getting it out of mathematics and computer modeling.

  • So I had to find a way, and I think I did.

  • I used game theory.

  • Game theory is a mathematical study of cooperation and conflicts.

  • I used game theory to understand why people might behave

  • in different ways and in different situations.

  • I want to understand their incentives, why they do certain things

  • when they're in conflict with other people.

  • They have a range of options to pick from.

  • They have preferences over the possible outcomes

  • and they have to think about all moves and countermoves

  • of all players in the game,

  • if they want to make a good decision.

  • It's like playing chess or poker with others.

  • This field is a very growing field.

  • It's becoming more and more popular and lots of people are using it.

  • We have been using it for water resources modeling

  • and understanding conflicts.

  • You probably remember this face:

  • John Nash and the "A Beautiful Mind" movie.

  • That's the guy who has made a lot of contributions to this field.

  • We ended up modeling a lot of conflicts around the world:

  • conflicts in the Jordan river basin,

  • Nile river basin, conflicts in Iran,

  • conflicts in California, all over water.

  • The other thing I do is a lot of gaming.

  • Remember, I told you I was an only child so I didn't have much gaming experience.

  • So I do it with my students in class.

  • We play a lot of games.

  • It's probably more fun.

  • We play water games and I try to collect information from them,

  • behavioral information.

  • Information which is really hard for me to get

  • if I go to the field and do experience in the field.

  • I collect information, they have fun.

  • But to ensure that they show their real behavior,

  • what I do is that I tell them

  • that their grade in the assignment will be their performance in the game.

  • They play a lot of games during the course and I collect a lot of information.

  • And use that information to develop water management institutions,

  • which are less vulnerable to conflicts.

  • Let me tell you the experience I've gained,

  • out of 10 years of modeling and gaming.

  • Water conflicts - yes, they exist,

  • and as water becomes more scarce we will see more water conflicts,

  • more water tensions, specially at lower levels

  • between farmers, between provinces and states.

  • But one thing is important.

  • Water conflicts are never only about water.

  • Because water is tied to so many other things:

  • your food, energy,

  • the independence of your nation, the economy,

  • politics, identity, dignity and so many other things.

  • So even if countries claim that they're only bargaining over water,

  • it's much more than that,

  • it's beyond that.

  • So water will be used as a weapon to threaten the neighbors.

  • This will go on forever.

  • But once you realize there are so many connections

  • between water and other resources,

  • you realize there are a lot of opportunities for trade.

  • You can trade water for food, trade water for energy,

  • trade water for a better reputation at an international level.

  • So there are so many opportunities,

  • and fortunately, history shows

  • that the cases of cooperation have been much more than conflicts.

  • That's promising because human beings

  • might become more efficient when things get scarce.

  • Of course, that's an optimistic hope.

  • But it might happen, if we want to discover these opportunities.

  • History shows that war has never been the only cause of water conflicts.

  • And to be specific, a water war.

  • We never enter a war only for water.

  • But water can catalyze war, can catalyze conflicts,

  • and it can catalyze cooperation.

  • But the other experience,

  • which was about making the world a better place at the beginning.

  • I was modeling and I was excited about these things.

  • And as part of a project they had, named "Hydrosolidarity",

  • I've got the chance of visiting Africa.

  • We wanted to bring peace to the Nile

  • with a bunch of theologists, engineers, lawyers and health experts.

  • We went there and I was so excited.

  • I had a lot of questions to get responses for,

  • and I wanted to collect field data.

  • When we got there, I realized all these people

  • were spending so much time getting the water,

  • drinking water, filling up their buckets.

  • For hours, school hours, work hours spent in line for water.

  • So I thought, based on the theory, that they would be fighting.

  • I was expecting them to be fighting.

  • Because if you spend so much time, at some point you get exhausted.

  • And if you see someone crossing the line, you might have a fight.

  • It was obvious to me that they will fight a lot.

  • So I asked this guy, our host, the tall guy in the middle,

  • who had lost all his family in the genocide of the 90s in Rwanda.

  • I asked him to ask the villagers how often they fight over water.

  • Guess what the responses were.

  • Translation took a bit longer than usual.

  • I was realizing, you know, I have asked a short question.

  • This is taking so long, they are going back and forth.

  • I knew something was going on.

  • He turned back to me with a smile

  • and an answer which really embarrassed me and my knowledge.

  • They never fight.

  • They didn't understand my question.

  • These guys never fight over water.

  • And that made me think: why not?

  • Indeed, they do that to be stronger as a community.

  • They're cooperative.

  • They cooperate to be stronger,

  • to be able to stand up in tough situations

  • and back up each other.

  • Going through food shortage, water shortage, loss of families...

  • ...and even genocide.

  • (Applause)

  • What is the other option?

  • A western option maybe.

  • To be competitive, to kill not to be killed over water.

  • So it is just a matter of perception.

  • It depends on how we want to see these games.

  • We're playing these games,

  • every day in our life.