[C]HRIS MANN: Cambridge researchers say water shortages and not oil are at the root of many of the Middle Eastern crises, including Syria. As global leaders gather at the G20 summit in St Petersburg to discuss the alleged atrocities of the Syrian government, Anglia Ruskin University is exploring the underlying drivers of the Syrian crisis. Here’s Dr Aled Jones, Head of the Global Sustainability Institute. (TAPE)
ALED JONES: So water is critical for a range of different things, infrastructure, food, the way we live. And as it’s becoming more scarce in particularly unstable regions, then we are more likely to see conflict over it.
CHRIS MANN: And do you think specifically the conflicts in, for instance, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan and so on, they all have their root causes in water?
ALED JONES: Probably not Afghanistan, but certainly the other ones. Drought and therefore food prices going up, and being exposed to international markets on food, for the rural populations, was a factor in encouraging people to go out and protest at this particular point. So it was certainly one of the triggers that made it happen now.
CHRIS MANN: And tell us about the research that you’re going to start.
ALED JONES: So what we’re trying to do is to pull together data on water availability, on oil availability, on how countries make their money, and link that over to social indicators like what sort of regime there is, how will governments respond to protest and things like that, to see whether you can actually map political instability, to see if you can try and predict some of the future civil unrests that we’re likely to see.
CHRIS MANN: A sort of living history. I suppose these kinds of theories are valuable to many people.
ALED JONES: Yes we hope so. If you’re a business managing supply chains, if you’re a government looking at security around the world, if you’re a pension fund investing around the world, it should be very valuable information to a whole range of different people, as well as obviously the people on the ground in those countries.
CHRIS MANN: Yes. How do we fix the problem?
ALED JONES: So there’s sort of two possible solutions. One is to look at the social tensions and try and defuse those before a trigger sets them off. So we can look at the sorts of regimes, the way people interact with their societies, solve it in equity, give people more access to food help and to grow their own food in a much more resilient way. Or we try and take out some of the things that cause food prices to go up, oil prices to increase, and move to a much more resilient resource at the global level as well.
CHRIS MANN: That’s all very well, but there are factors on the ground which mean very often these things can’t take place.
ALED JONES: That’s true, and in certain areas there’s not very much you can do. Certainly in Syria. You can’t really go back and retroactively change things to fuse the situation. So once a trigger’s happened, and you’ve ended up in somewhere like Syria, it ‘s not then a case of going and sorting the water problem, it’ll all go away. However we need to be thinking a little bit more long term, a little bit more strategically, to at least make it less likely that these things will happen.
CHRIS MANN: You suggested that nobody has been acting strategically on this, even though it’s a fairly glaring piece of information, isn’t it?
ALED JONES: Yes. I don’t think very many governments or businesses have really thought about water and resources leading to these sorts of conflicts, until the Arab Spring, until the recent conflicts.
CHRIS MANN: It wasn’t on for instance the global warming table.
ALED JONES: Nope. Well, some of the impacts through the climate change negotiations are civil unrest due to water, and there have been discussions, and there have been riots in the past, over the last two hundred years, when food is a bit scarce. But it’s not one of those political hot topics that get governments talking around the table in advance.
CHRIS MANN: What you’re suggesting is that the political leaders have been looking in the wrong places.
ALED JONES: Yes. Yes, absolutely. And the climate change negotiations have interesting discussions, but then the United Nations Security Council don’t necessarily engage. So it’s bringing the people who do talk about it together with the people who make real decisions.
CHRIS MANN: Dr Aled Jones from Anglia Ruskin University. Thank you for joining us.