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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?
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.
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.
No matter where in the planet you are,
we're playing virtual games over water,
over food, over energy, over emissions, over air.
Virtually, or actually.
So no matter where you are in the world, you're contributing to conflict or peace.
Now you've got and we've got to choose
if we want to play it competitively
or as Rwandan started to do it.
In the first case,
you perceive this game as a Wall Street game,
as a competitive game in which you do anything to win the game.
And in the other one, you realize
that to be happier, if you care about the rest of the planet,
you have to sacrifice a little.
You need to conserve.
We need to conserve.
We need to reduce our footprint.
We need to do less harm to the environment.
To make the globe happy and care about the future generations.
And I hope we'll all remember Saadi's advice:
Human beings are members of a whole, in creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain, others uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot retain.
Thank you.
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Water: Think Again | Kaveh Madani | TEDxKish

121 Folder Collection
Joseph Hsieh published on February 8, 2020
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