The Coming Storm – Liam Fox

The one-sentence summary: Water is much more likely to shape the events of the 21st century than the competition for oil and gas.


The combination of an ever-increasing global population, climate change, industrialization, urbanization and limited natural resources means that one difficulty, above all, will shape the political, economic and security environment in the years ahead, and that is water.

If people and nations will fight for fossil fuels, it is nothing compared with what they will do for the most vital natural resource of all.

The book looks at water, the world, and us, covering the potential for conflict, what it means for sickness and health, now and in the future.

  • Some extraordinary statistics emerge:
    • Only 3% of the earth’s water is freshwater and with much of it locked away in glaciers, ice and the atmosphere, there is only a staggeringly small amount available for our use – 0.3 to 0.5%.
    • 2 billion out of 7.9 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water and 40% of the entire global population are victims of water scarcity.
    • 46% of the world’s population depends on rivers originating in Tibet.
    • Nearly 60% of China’s underground water is polluted, even according to their own state media. In India, the figure for contaminated water, whether in aquifers or on the surface, is 70%.
    • According to the World Bank, 60% of China’s 661 cities face seasonal water shortages and over 100 cities have severe water constraints. 80-90% of groundwater and 50% of river water is unfit for drinking, and cooling coal power stations accounts for 12% of water consumption. One of the reasons why the Tibetan Plateau is warming faster than other parts of the world is that black carbon dust from coal plants settles on ice and absorbs more heat, causing it to melt faster.
    • Less than 1,700 mper capita per year is regarded as water stress. Egypt now stands at 570 m3, down from 2,190 m3 in 1960.
    • The Water Conflict Chronology developed by the Pacific Institute list water disputes going back 4,500 years and cites 1,700 incidents of violence over water.
    • In the Middle East, where 5% of the world’s population has only 1% of the world’s freshwater, conflicts over agricultural and industrial use are frequent.
    • Water is also a disease carrier. 3.5 million people die from waterborne diseases each year – 2.2 million being children. That’s equivalent to six Titanic sinkings a day, or the capacity of Wembley Stadium every ten days.
    • WASH stands for water, sanitation and hygiene. UNICEF estimates that 3.5 billion people lack safely managed sanitation services and 844 million live without access to safe clean water. Half of the world’s human excrement remains untreated by proper sewage systems.
    • In relation to the Sustainable Development Goal 6 – equitable and accessible water and sanitation for all – a recent report stated that ‘our current trajectory towards achieving SDG 6 by 2030 is seriously off track.’
    • Urbanization is a large contributor to increased water use. Those in small towns use 110-180L per inhabitant per day. For those in cities, it’s 150-300L. This is because of urban amenities. A bar uses 5-15L per customer per day, an office 30-70L, a hotel 100-200L per guest, a laundry 100-200L per machine per day, and a hospital bed 300-1,000L.
    • It takes 4,300L of water to produce 1 kg of chicken, 15,000L for beef, 17,000L for chocolate and 126,500L for vanilla beans – that’s for ice cream.


  • Virtual water is defined as the hidden flow of water in food or other commodities that are traded from one place to another.
  • Blue water is that which flows naturally at the land surface.
  • Green water exists in the soils of farmland and natural landscapes.
  • Grey water is that needed to dilute pollutants to meet required standards.
  • Two legal principles are important in international water law:
    • Prior appropriation water rights: the first person to take water from a source for beneficial use (domestic, agricultural or industrial) has the right to continue to use the water for that purpose and subsequent users may only do so if they do not impinge on the rights of the previous users.
    • Riparian water rights allocate water, usually relating to a river, among those who have land along its path, giving landowners the right to make reasonable use of it as it flows over or through their properties.
  • Water Aid is an international NGO that originated in the UK and operates in 22 countries. It currently raises £94.5 million a year, and since 1981 has supplied 29 million people with decent toilets and 28 million with sanitation.
  • It would cost $150 billion a year to give everyone in the world access to clean water and proper sanitation. By contrast, each year we spend $2,240 billion on defence and $1,609 billion on alcohol, which means that we could supply clean water for everyone for 10% of our drinks bill.
  • The National Water Authority in Israel now captures 86% of water that is used and recycles it for irrigation – the highest rate in the world.