The instrument's aim is to raise awareness among all sectors of the society, including politicians and policymakers, in water-stressed regions.
As violence related to water is increasing globally, researchers from six different organizations have created a warning system to help foresee potential water conflicts.
Water, Peace, and Security (WPS) warning tool was funded by the Dutch government and presented to the United Nations security council before its official launching last month.
“The machine learning model is ‘trained’ to identify patterns using historical data on violent conflict and political, social, economic, demographic, and water risk,” said Charles Iceland, a senior water expert at the World Resources Institute, part of the WPS project.
“It looks at over 80 indicators in all, going back up to 20 years. It is then able to use what it has ‘learned’ about the correlations among these variables to predict conflict or no conflict over the next 12 months, given current conditions,” he added.
The tool is available online for the use of the public but its first aim is to raise awareness among all sectors of the society, including politicians and policymakers, in water-stressed regions.
The developers claim the success rate is at 86 percent in identifying conflict zones where at least 10 fatalities could take place. The WPS tool currently focuses on Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia and has already predicted that conflicts are likely to occur in Iraq, Iran, Mali, Nigeria, India, and Pakistan, in 2020.
Water shortages are becoming a reality for an increasing number of people as the U.N. estimates that some five billion people could experience a lack of freshwater by 2050. The continuously growing global demand for water is already creating violent tensions among communities.
Recent statistics from the Pacific Institute think tank in California reveal that violence related to the vital resource has surged substantially over the past decade in comparison to the previous ones.
Climate change expert with International Alert and WPS partner Jessica Hartog cited Iraq and Mali as two countries at major risk.
As the Niger River’s water levels have declined, Malian farmers, cow herders, and fishermen have been caught up in fights. Meanwhile, protesters in Iraq already angered over the country’s economic situation, took to the streets last year after more than 120,000 people were hospitalized because of polluted water.
“Water scarcity has affected both Iraq and Mali, largely due to economic development projects that reduce the water levels and flow in rivers – a situation made worse by climate change and increased demand due to population growth,” Hartog said.
Senior lecturer in water law and diplomacy and partner of the WPS project Susanne Schmeier said water problems alone do not create conflict or war, “but they can become ‘threat multipliers’ when combined with other grievances, such as poverty and inequality”.
“Once conflicts escalate, they are hard to resolve and can have a negative impact on water security, creating vicious cycles of conflict. This is why timely action is critical,” she said.
The WPS tool was developed in a collaboration between the Dutch foreign ministry and Deltares, IHE Delft, International Alert, The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, Wetlands International and World Resources Institute.