Regions likely to become drier because of climate change include Central Asia and northern Africa. Up to 250 million people in Africa could suffer extra stress on water supplies by 2020, according to the U.N. panel of climate experts.
“The main manifestations of rising temperatures…are about water,” said Zafar Adeel, chair of UN-Water which coordinates work on water among 26 U.N. agencies.
“Therein lies the potential for conflicts,” he said. Shortage of water, such as in Darfur in Sudan, has been a contributing factor to conflict.
But Adeel said that water had often proven a route for cooperation. India and Pakistan have worked to manage the Indus River despite border conflicts and Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia have cooperated in the Mekong River Commission.
“Water is a very good medium (for cooperation). It’s typically an apolitical issue that can be dealt with,” said Adeel, who is also director of the U.N. University’s Canada-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health.