Billions of people around the world struggle with adequate access to safe, clean drinking water. Farms and industries also struggle. It’s increasingly clear this essential resource – and its scarcity – will fuel global conflicts. The causes of wars are complex, and usually not due to a single reason, but water “will be an increasing factor in conflict,” expert Peter Gleick recently told the Anadolu (news) Agency in Ankara, Turkey. We already see violence over water scarcity and control, he said.

Gleick, a hero to many, founded the research and policy organization Pacific Institute in 1987 and remained at the helm until 2016. He developed one of the first analyses of climate change impacts on water and has fought for recognition of water access as a human right. He’s also a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and received a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship.

The Pacific Institute’s Conflict Chronology map documents more than 680 water-related conflicts around the globe since the year 2000. In 2019, for example, more than 50,000 people fled their homes in Mali because of land and water conflicts. Conflicts will only increase, Gleick says, as climate change, population growth, migration, economic growth and pollution all increase.

Governments must step up to play the essential role in improving and safeguarding water supplies, Gleick says. “Governments must set good water quality standards to protect human and ecological health, And all governments must participate in global efforts to cut emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change and worsen water and other problems,” he says.