Peter Gleick on 'The World's Freshwater: From Conflict to Peace'

Peter Gleick, Patrick Regan and Kate Brauman
Renowned water expert and MacArthur award recipient Peter Gleick, left, explores the global water crisis with Notre Dame political science professor Patrick Regan and Kate Brauman, lead scientist for Global Water Initiative at the University of Minnesota.
Courtesy of Augsburg University

Five things to know about water-related conflicts and ways to alleviate them.

What would it be like if you turned on your kitchen faucet and nothing came out? Hundreds of organizations around the country are asking Americans to envision that kind of possibility as part of the 4th annual "Imagine a Day Without Water," October 10, 2018.

To mark the day, we're bringing you a discussion looking at threats to — and conflicts over — the world's fresh water supplies.

The program was part of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Forum, hosted and presented by Augsburg University in September.

Peter Gleick, MacArthur award recipient and co-founder of the Pacific Institute, and Kate Brauman, lead scientist for the Institute on the Environment's Global Water Initiative at the University of Minnesota, spoke on a panel called "The World's Freshwater: From Conflict to Peace."

Here are five key takeaways from their remarks.

1) Saltwater from the oceans makes up 97 percent of the water on the planet and is too salty to drink or too grow food.

2) Only the remaining 3 percent of the earth's water is freshwater — potentially usable by humans. "And the reality of course is that 3 percent isn't really available to us, mostly, as well. The vast majority of the world's fresh water is locked up in the ice caps of Antarctica and Greenland, in glaciers on land, and in deep groundwater that's not accessible to us. And the water that humans use in our rivers and our lakes — and a little bit in soil moisture and what falls as rain that we capture immediately — is a tiny, tiny fraction of the world's water. And that's what we depend upon," said Peter Gleick.

3) There is a growing epidemic of armed conflict around the world associated with water.

4) According to Gleick, the increase is correlated with water scarce-areas of the world where we have rising populations and growing demands on water due to their growing economies. "The vast majority of the cases [of conflicts] are not nation-to-nation conflicts," he said. "It's subnational conflicts. It's individuals disputing over access to water. It's non-governmental militias. It's civil conflicts."

5) Reducing conflict could be achieved by a number of measures, including turning wastewater into potable water. The U of M's Kate Brauman argued that even a water-rich place like Minnesota should look at such options. "What if instead of looking at that as a challenge, we looked at it as an opportunity — as a way to reimagine our water system so that we used water differently?" Brauman asked. "Recycling wastewater is kind of hard to do in the system we have now. But we could build a system where that was part of every house and every business."

The Nobel Peace Prize Forum was held in September 2018 at Augsburg University in Minneapolis.

To listen to the program, click the audio player above.