Global Water Crisis: Addressing an Urgent Security Issue

21-23 March 2011

Toronto, Canada

The papers of this meeting were published in 2012 in a book of the same name.

Download the book as a PDF

March 21-23, 2011, Munk School of Global Affairs


We live on a planet covered by water, but more than 97 percent is salty, and two percent is locked up in ice and snow.  This leaves less than one percent to grow our crops, cool our power plants and supply drinking and bathing water for households.  One of the great issues of the 21st century is how we will share this one percent. Water, therefore, is:

  •  a development issue as 900 million people in the world have no access to clean water and 2.5 billion people have no safe way to dispose of human waste.  In Ethiopia, for example, women get up at 4:00 a.m., spending up to 5 hours a day walking long distances carrying 50lbs. of water on their backs.
  • a conflict issue, as disputes over water in the Middle East are one of the underlying tensions of Israel’s relations with her neighbors.  There are examples, however, of successful sharing that might prove to be models for other regions.  Canada and the United States, for example, have created the International Joint Commission to adjudicate disputes and share water between neighbors. Conflict-resolution institutions over water are needed in most parts of the world.
  • an energy issue, as municipalities in North America use up to 30 percent of their energy to transport water to their citizens.  Water is also central to sources of energy like the Canadian Tar Sands where many barrels of water are needed to produce one barrel of oil.
  • an international law issue as the United Nations is examining whether access to clean drinkable water is a human right that should be recognized in international law.  As early as 1976 the United Nations sponsored an international conference on the right to clean potable water.
  • a technology issue as drip irrigation, desalination plants and other advances may produce a “blue” technology comparable to the “green” technology which is so heralded today.
  • a public health issue as diseases like typhoid or e-coli are water borne and affect citizens in both developed and third world nations alike.
  • a conservation and environmental issue as hard path solutions focus on how to develop new supplies with pipelines and aqueducts to deliver water over long distances and soft path environmental solutions include conservation, efficiency, infrastructure, protection of eco-systems and management of watersheds.  How this debate will be resolved will be one of the great questions of the future.

Meeting Outline

1)   CONFLICT: Will the next wars be fought over water?

a.     In 2001, UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, said the next wars will be fought over water, stimulating an active debate over whether water is a source of conflict or cooperation.

2)   SECURITY: Why is water fundamental to global security?

a.     Water and food security

b.    Water and energy security

c.     Water and environmental security

3)   DEVELOPMENT: Is clean water a precondition for development?

a.     Water and the Millennium Goals

b.    Implications of non-potable water for development

c.     Making a difference on the ground

4)   RIGHTS AND LAWS: Can international law make a difference?

a.     Water as a human right

b.    Indigenous water rights

c.     Transboundary disputes and conflict resolution

5)   OPPORTUNITY: Opportunities in solving the global water crisis

a.     The emerging ‘blue’ economy for water technology and innovation

b.    Rethinking our relationship with water and imagining our water future

c.     What needs to change to get from here to there?

6) RECOMMENDATIONS: Priority actions for the plenary

List of Participants

InterAction Council Members

1.     Rt. Hon. Mr. Jean Chrétien, Co-Chairman (former Prime Minister of Canada)

2.     H. E. Dr. Franz Vranitzky, Co-Chairman (former Chancellor of Austria)

3.     H. E. Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo (former President of Nigeria)

Associate Members

4.     Dr. Thomas Axworthy, President and CEO, Walter & Duncan Gordon Foundation (Canada)

High-Level Experts

5.     Dr. Zafar Adeel, Director, United Nations University, Institute for Water, Environment and Health (Canada)

6.     Dr. David Boyd, Adjunct Professor, Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University (Canada)

7.     Clarissa Brocklehurst, Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, UNICEF (USA)

8.     David Henderson, Managing Director, XPV Capital Corporation (Canada)

9.     Mike Hightower, Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff, Sandia National Laboratories (USA)

10.  Adèle Hurley, Director, Program on Water Issues, Munk School of Global Affairs (Canada)

11.  Tony Maas, Director, Freshwater Program, WWF-Canada (Canada)

12.  Hon. Michael Miltenberger, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Legislative Assembly of Northwest Territories (Canada)

13.  Ganesh Pangare, Regional Water and Wetlands Programme Coordinator, IUCN Asia Regional Office (Thailand)

14.  Dr. Fabrice Renaud, Head of Section, Institute for Environment and Human Security (Germany)

15.  Bob Sandford, EPCOR Chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative in support of United Nations “Water for Life” Decade (Canada)

16.  Samyuktha Varma, Executive Officer to the DG, International Water Management Institute (Sri Lanka)

17.  Dr. Patricia Wouters, Director, UNESCO IHP-HELP Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science, University of Dundee (United Kingdom)

18.  Moneef R. Zou’bi, Director General, Islamic Academy of Science (Jordan)