May 31, 2006

Address water scarcity, water quality issues around the world now, Sandia/CSIS report says

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Now is the time to address the devastating effects of increasing water scarcity and declining water quality around the world, according to a recently released white paper written jointly by Sandia National Laboratories and the Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The white paper, “Addressing Our Global Water Future,” is the result of two conferences last year in Washington at which representatives of major multinational companies, government officials, and technical experts discussed U.S. policy and the role of emerging water technologies in regions of the world where the United States has strategic interests. Discussions centered on countries with dwindling fresh water supplies and the range of technology innovation needed to help resolve water problems. Sandia provided information on emerging water technologies with potential to impact water scarcity and quality issues.

The primary authors are Laura Keating of CSIS and Howard Passell of Sandia, although numerous others from both organizations contributed to the document.

Sandia is a National Nuclear Security Administration laboratory.

Why does Sandia care if there is adequate potable drinking water in places other than the U.S.?

The reason, says Ray Finley, manager of Sandia’s Geohydrology Department, is that Sandia, as a national security laboratory, has the responsibility to help provide for the security of the U.S. That includes regions of the world that are of strategic importance to the U.S. and can impact this country’s national security.

“The lack of clean water can create conditions that lead to destabilization in regions of the world that are already poor and having problems,” he says. “Lack of potable water can result in famine, conflict over resources, and poor governance. Failed and failing states threaten U.S. security because of their potential to harbor terrorist groups.”

Examples are instability in the Middle East and Africa — both places where fresh water for both consumption and sanitation is in short supply.

The report expands this theme, saying that “global trends of increasing population, increasing resource consumption, and decreasing natural resource availability — including fresh water — have pushed many human social, economic, and political systems to an important tipping point. We face large-scale future dislocations and crises unless significant action is taken now by leaders in both developed and developing countries.”

The white paper included several other findings. They include:

• Water is a foundation for human prosperity. Adequate, high-quality water supplies provide a basis for the growth and development of human social, economic, cultural, and political systems. Conversely, economic stagnation and political instability will persist or worsen in those regions where the quality and reliability of water supplies remain uncertain.

• Water problems are geopolitically destabilizing. Water scarcity and poor water have the potential to destabilize isolated regions within countries or regions sharing limited sources of water. There is an increasing likelihood of social strife and armed conflict resulting from pressures of water scarcity and mismanagement.

• Poor governance and poor economies in regions around the world where water is scarce impair the application of innovative technology and innovative policies.

• Solutions must be innovative, revolutionary, and self-sustaining. Traditional technologies for improvement of fresh water availability and quality are inadequate to meet global needs in a timely way.

• Effective water planning and management at local and regional levels require collaboration from a variety of people, including farmers, urban developers, environmentalists, industrialists, policy makers, citizens, and others.

• No single government agency, nongovernmental organization, corporation, international organization, or academic institution can provide all the expertise required to meet the challenges of solving the water challenges. Partnerships are required.

• New ways of funding water projects internationally need to be developed.

• Solutions must be tailored to the socio-economic, political, and geographic conditions of a region.

Additional information on the Global Water Futures project, including an electronic version of the white paper, can be found at the CSIS web site (

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Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Sandia news media contact: Chris Burroughs,, (505) 844-0948