What is Water Security?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Water security is an area of resource security concerned specifically with the safety and security of the water supply. Worldwide, water security is a growing issue which is complicated by a number of different factors. Many governments have identified it as a priority, with government agencies which handle topics like the environment and national security being tasked with protecting the water supply.

Water security involves protecting the safety of the world's water supply.
Water security involves protecting the safety of the world's water supply.

Although water may flow abundantly from the taps in some regions of the world, it is an extremely vulnerable resource from a safety and security standpoint. Everyone needs water to survive, so contamination of a water supply can present a very serious public safety risk, whether the contamination is natural or deliberate. One major area of water security involves protecting water resources from contamination, with the use of things like secured holding tanks, filtration systems to eliminate contaminants, random sampling to identify contamination early, and enclosure of water supplies to make them harder to access.

Another area of concern is water availability. Water is actually a finite resource. As the human population grows, immense pressure is put on the world's water supplies, because there are many human demands for water. Humans use water for drinking, bathing, cooking, agriculture, cleaning, and industrial processes. In the process, they may contaminate the water so that it cannot be reused, generating wastewater which needs to be isolated from clean water and treated. Availability is a threat to water security because it puts pressure on water supplies around the world.

Environmental factors are also a concern with water security. Overutilization of water can harm natural resources, from fisheries to waterways used for transport, and this makes this area of security a topic of interest among environmental organizations. The need to balance various uses of water is pressing, and only becomes more complex as the population grows.

A terrorist attack on a water supply could be devastating, especially if it was well planned. A population could become sick or experience mass casualties and deaths as a result of deliberately introduced contaminants. Likewise, attacks which cut populations off from water supplies or which threaten supply lines could be very serious. Establishment of secure water containment facilities, backup supplies of water which can be used in emergencies, and other safety measures to protect the water supply are an important aspect of water security.

Estimates of the number of people living without access to clean water vary, but are pegged at over half the world's population in most studies. This presents a serious security risk as nations struggle to meet the needs of their citizens. Appropriation of water resources, disputes over water rights, and other water-related political problems can potentially destabilize governments or regions. This can also create a chain reaction which balloons into a global security threat, making security of water supplies important to all nations.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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