Water Security

DCFR had the great privilege of hearing from Dr. Gerry Galloway from the University of Maryland on the topic of water security flashpoints and challenges ahead. Dr. Galloway has worked in water resource management throughout the globe with governments, supra-national bodies like the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, and NGOs on the ground. bigstock_International_Energy_1854715

The water resource challenges the U.S. faces are complex, with floods, droughts and erratic weather patterns imposing new requirements. Galloway notes that the very challenges the U.S. must meet however are similar in nature to those of other countries. A recent U.N. study suggests that the water challenges, which face the globe, are all about management. We can face our water challenges if we are willing to rise above politics. Galloway indicates that the various water issues have their own sensitivities and tradeoffs in terms of the uses of water and the resources available. In Texas, if one is concerned with growing crops, for example, then drought is an issue. In the East, floods and hurricanes are of concern.  These are the same dynamics across the globe—the nature side of the equation. Of course, demand and supply-side management falls to policymakers who must address societal changes and urbanization as well.

“We need to put science to use to solve the problems, and implement the best ideas, whether they come from India or Indiana,” says Galloway. He cites a metaphor: Engineers are incapable of solving water challenges because they are too scientific; and correspondingly, men are trying to deal with a problem in which women are needed. Gender is a pressing issue in developing countries in regards to water management. By putting these two ideas together, one could say you do not understand the context of the water issue. An engineer can dig a hole for a well but there is a context: How am I going to be able to replace that water? Who will oversee the maintenance of the well? The modern engineer has to deal with social structure and local practices to address managing water resources.

For Galloway, the global water flashpoint of concern to him covers the arc from China through Southeast Asia to India. There are so many millions of people’s lives at stake, with tensions increasing. He is particularly concerned about the Mekong River Basin because of the many parties involved —Burma, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and China, where the headwaters are located. Getting the parties to cooperate is a predominant challenge, he offers from decades of experience working on Mekong Basin issues.

Demand for water is growing across the globe, especially in developing countries. Galloway suggests that we need to reorder how we use water. The issue of virtual water is real, he says. The concept of how many gallons of water are used per product is a useful way to analyze water use and trade. The U.S. is a top exporter of water since we export our crops, many of which have a high water content.

China’s water challenges are a frequent source of water news. From his experience, Galloway believes that the Chinese are working very hard to achieve their goals. “They have massive problems, which far exceed our ability to fully appreciate them in this country,” he says. “The Chinese are doing outreach,” he notes from his last fours years of consulting with them on flood risk management.  “They have been working on water resource management for about 4000 years, and yet they are reaching out to other countries for assistance.”  Galloway notes that China’s hydropower generation development is less of a problem than them using fossil fuels; it is a tradeoff, he acknowledges.

Familiar with most debates surrounding water —whether based on science, economics, climate change or politics—Galloway does not believe in the water wars hype. His position leans towards humanity using its technology (and common sense) to resolve conflicts and resource management tradeoffs.

Dr. Gerry Galloway has served as a consultant to the Executive Office of the President, the U.S. Water Resources Council, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the U.N. World Water Assessment Programme. He is a member of the Louisiana Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation; a Department of State Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas Fellow; and a consultant to Natural Heritage Institute Team reviewing dams and climate change in the Mekong Basin. His slide presentation is here.

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