In 2015, drought drained a pond typically used to water cattle, near Maxwell, in California’s Sacramento Valley. Photo © Keith Schneider / Circle of Blue

By Isabella Caltabiano, with New Security Beat

This story was originally published by New Security Beat.

“We don’t have a world water crisis, we have a world water management crisis,” said Brigadier General Gerald Galloway (U.S. Army Ret.) at the 2nd National Drought Forum, hosted by the National Integrated Drought Information System and the National Drought Resilience Partnership at the United States Institute of Peace. The Forum brought together subject matter experts with federal and state leaders to discuss how to strengthen the state-federal relationship to improve U.S. drought readiness and resilience.

On a panel titled “Linking National Security and Drought,” Galloway, Wilson Center Senior Fellow Sherri Goodman, and Vice Admiral Lee Gunn (U.S. Navy Ret.) discussed the importance of making our nation drought-ready and resilient. “Extreme weather events can disrupt the conditions under which people have lived, built their infrastructure, developed their culture,” said Gunn. Areas that are resilient first identify their risks and then plan how to respond when faced with such challenges, said Galloway. There is now a recognized need to move away from reactive to proactive approaches to drought risk management, said Goodman, suggesting that American early warning systems and information sharing be improved to assist in risk response planning.

“Water is critical to our nation’s security,” said Goodman. “As vulnerable countries face prolonged drought and crisis, the US military will become the 9-1-1 of disaster relief.” According to a new report, extreme water stress effects a quarter of the world’s population. Countries important to US strategic interests are experiencing drought and heightened tensions over the competition of resources. The Syrian civil war illustrates one of the starkest examples of how a prolonged drought has helped fuel conflict, said Goodman. President Bashar al-Assad’s response to and mismanagement of the drought in Syria helped drive people from the countryside to cities that lacked the critical services and infrastructure needed to support the growing urban populations, deepening tensions that ultimately fed into violent conflict.

Military bases could be the launch platforms for resilience, said Galloway. A Pentagon report found that there are 43 bases in areas that are facing drought. These droughts can exacerbate heat-related illnesses, wildfires, and the ability to train. When our bases are at risk, we cannot fulfill our military missions overseas. Once drought resilience measures are on military bases, a similar model can be applied to non-military regions and events, said Galloway.

Focusing on the resilience of a military base can have positive knock-on effects for neighboring communities, said Gunn. Our soldiers depend on accurate information critical to their mission but so do the civilians surrounding the area. While there is no silver bullet or single technology that can solve the global water crisis, improved collaboration and a better understanding of the security risks posed by drought can inform more sophisticated and effective early warning systems, said Goodman.