The refugee crisis is becoming impossible to ignore.
There are currently 68.5 million people in the world who have been displaced because of war or racial/religious persecution. This is the highest this number has been since World War II, and as natural resources and access to clean water begin to dwindle, this number is projected to grow significantly. In response to this issue, the West has begun closing its borders in fear of mass migration. This fear however, is misguided. According to the U.N., most refugees don't go further than the countries neighboring their homelands. Still, the refugee crisis continues to grow unabated, so much so, that it threatens to be the defining marker of the 21st century. It's a multifaceted problem that's very difficult to solve, impossible if the following factors aren't properly addressed. Here's a look at the five major contributors to the world refugee crisis.
For the past century, the Middle East has been a warzone. Following the events of 9/11 the United States entered the region, getting embroiled in conflicts in both Afghanistan and Iraq. For the Afghans, war was nothing new. The country has been in a perpetual state of violence since the Saur revolution in 1978. After the civil war, the USSR invaded Afghanistan to help keep the the communist PDPA in power. The PDPA's ideologies didn't align particularly well with the more religious and rurally-based Afghan population. In true Cold War fashion, the U.S. armed the fundamentalist Mujahideen in their fight against the Soviets. The country has been at war ever since and the fighting has resulted in millions of deaths. As a direct result, Afghanistan has the largest refugee population in all of Asia at 2.6 million people.
Things aren't much better on the other side of Iran. Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the levant became increasingly destabilized, allowing militant groups like ISIS to proliferate throughout the region. This destabilization also poured into Syria, a country already in the midst of civil war that has left over 13 million in need of humanitarian assistance. Other countries currently in the midst of civil wars include Somalia and Yemen, both of which are dealing with an influx of Al Qaeda insurgents.
Despite the fact that genocide and crimes against humanity are forbidden by international law, ethnic and religious persecution persists all over the world. For years, the Sudanese government persecuted the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups, systematically killing hundreds of thousands and leaving over one million refugees. Myanmar is dealing with a similar issue, in which the Buddhist majority is attempting to push the Muslim majority out of the country by force. Thousands have been killed, and hundreds of thousands of people have poured over the border into Bangladesh and been forced to stay in overcrowded camps.
As of right now, the two greatest contributors to the refugee crisis are state sanctioned violence in the form of ethnic persecution and war. 55% of all refugees come from Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Syria. That said, over 1.1 billion people lack access water. Improper sanitation is a problem for 2.4 billion people, exposing them to all kinds of waterborne illnesses. Water scarcity may not play a huge role in today's refugee crisis, but it will almost certainly play a part in the near future. Scarcity, particularly scarcity of essential resources, breeds conflict and civil strife. While the eventual cause of this future refugee crisis will be either war or some sort of persecution, water will have been the catalyst.
As climate change intensifies, many are predicting that it will increase the size and scope of the refugee crisis significantly. The mediterranean region is currently in the midst of its worst drought in over 900 years. On top of this, if global warming continues at the same rate, more than 1 billion people will be living in places where the average temperature is 102˚F. Combine this with the future natural disasters global warming is nearly guaranteed to cause, and a perfect storm is created, leaving millions with no other option but to leave their homes in search of greener pastures. Hurricane Irma and Harvey were just the beginning. As massive ecological disasters become the norm, large swathes of the planet will become uninhabitable.
Throughout history, famines have caused mass migration and the levels of famine in South Sudan are currently at an unprecedented level. This past January, nearly half the population didn't have enough to eat. Nearby, in Somalia, they are suffering from a similar problem. The thing these two countries have in common is that they're both suffering from droughts, illustrating the ways in which a dwindling water supply can devastate a society's ability to feed itself. Huge amounts of people in the Horn of Africa, Nigeria, and Yemen are currently starving, and they'll probably be clamoring to leave their countries before long.
There are many who would argue that humanity has gotten less violent throughout history, but one look at the headlines and it's easy to prove that this isn't the case. The difference now is that violence doesn't typically occur between powerful nation states–that it's the poorer countries and factions who are left to fight over their limited resources. The death tolls from fighting alone are lower, but regimes are becoming more creative, weaponizing famine and hoarding resources as a means of oppression. These methods have created nearly 70 million refugees so far and when issues like climate change and water shortage come to a head in the next few decades, the refugee crisis is only going to get worse.
Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. His editorial work can be found in Inked Magazine, Pop Dust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. -- Find Matt at his website and on Twitter: @mattclibanoff
According to experts, Cape Town may only be the beginning.
In preparations for what officials have called Day Zero, the city of Cape Town has issued restrictions on its citizens water use; Day Zero representing the day when the city is completely out of clean water. While Day Zero was originally pegged for April of this year, it has since been pushed back to 2019, leaving many wondering whether or not it was just a ploy by the Cape Town government to curb its citizens' water use. Either way, one thing is certain, Cape Town is facing a severe water shortage, and is one of the world's first major cities to fear losing its access to water outright. If Day Zero does occur, the South African government will be forced to turn off every tap in the city and distribute water at various checkpoints.
While there are certain companies and government agencies trying to figure out a solution– ranging from desalination to harvesting icebergs in Antarctica–the idea that a city with a population of almost four million could run out of water is terrifying. To compound things further, NASA recently conducted scans of the Earth and determined that there are dozens of areas at risk of becoming the next Cape Town.
Cape Town's water shortage is nothing short of catastrophe in the making, but some of the places that NASA is pointing out have much higher population densities. The study, which uses gravitational satellite data, pinpointed northern India, northeastern China, and most of the Middle East as having the potential for a water crisis in the near future. Gravitational satellites are different in that they don't take pictures, but rather measure the gravitational pull of the Earth, which can be affected by the presence of water. Using these satellites, NASA calculated the rate of water depletion from 2002-2016 and based their predictions off that data. Currently, more than 1.2 billion people lack access to clean water, but with these findings, it's possible that 500 million more may be at risk. Many experts are calling for cities around the world to start preparing for the eventuality of severe water shortages.
The Gamka Dam in Beufort WestThe Sunday Times
Outside of California and the southwestern United States, Americans have it pretty easy regarding water shortages. The global water crisis will hit us in a far different way than it will hit the third world. Of course, the economic implications will be far reaching, and anywhere facing economic tensions will naturally see an increase in violence, but the real issue facing the Western world won't be war. It'll be the mass migration necessitated by the violence and financial strife the water shortage will cause. People will be fleeing their homes and lining up along borders all over the world. Countries like Greece, Turkey, and Azerbaijan will have to deal with fleeing refugees at an unprecedented level, and barring a major shift in the way Europeans view immigration, these massive migrations could put an extreme amount of stress on governments to heavily secure their borders.
If the xenophobic rhetoric currently coming from both American and European leadership has a chance to manifest itself into policy, future migrants could face some of the worst human rights violations in modern history. When sterile terms like "instability" and "civil unrest" start appearing in the news, it's important to understand what they actually mean. The standoff between the Israeli military and the Palestinians in Gaza, while completely unrelated to the water shortage, paints a pretty good picture of what border clashes could look like in the near future.
Israelis open fire on Palestinians at the Gaza border
The question is quickly devolving from what we can do to prevent the water crisis to how we're going to survive it. We can't afford to ignore water scarcity in the same way in which we largely ignored climate change (which in turn exacerbated this crisis). Desalination is extremely expensive and while it has the potential to provide us with more drinkable water, it may not be the most reliable method. One interesting fact about the way we use our water is that 70% of the freshwater we use isn't for drinking, but rather for agriculture. Some scholars posit that by optimizing the way we irrigate our farms, more water could be conserved. Others point to population control as the solution, citing that worldwide demand for water will soon outstrip the supply.
A desalination plant in Perth, Australia
Both options seem untenable. The most realistic solution is to find a way to perform desalination in a less energy-intensive way. Perhaps Saudi Arabia's solar-powered plants will provide a the world with a sustainable model for creating clean water. Whatever the fix, we're at the point now where a single country's contributions are unlikely to shift the balance. It'll take a concerted worldwide effort to effectively combat the coming water crisis. Assuming this happens, and countries all over the world start implementing new and innovative desalination processes, the question will then become whether or not it's too little too late.