Resource Shortages as a Political Issue

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6751.htm)

Resource shortages can mostly be solved by trade and technology (3.2.6), but the economic power associated with the possession of resources can be manipulated for political advantage.  Russia, for example, was able to put pressure on the government of Belarus by raising energy prices – as reported in an Economist article from 8 February 2007, headed Desperate in Belarus.

Although water shortages can be overcome by desalination of seawater, this is expensive and not every country has access to the sea.  Where rivers flow through more than one country, there is the possibility of conflict over how much water is extracted by each.  For example, The Economist published an article On 19 November 2011, entitled South Asia’s water, which reported that “A growing rivalry between India, Pakistan and China over the region’s great rivers may be threatening South Asia’s peace”.  As noted in IPPR’s Water Security Brief in May 2010, resolving such conflicts might be a matter for international courts (, or for the UN to act as an arbitrator (

Food shortages have occurred, at least partly because of the misuse of water according to an Economist article on 18 September 2008, entitled Water for farming.

The inappropriate delivery of humanitarian aid has been another problem, because it undermines local agricultural economies, and the entire Western policy towards developing countries needs to be re-evaluated (3.5.8).

It is important to resolve these problems of resource shortages, because otherwise they could lead to large-scale migrations of population – or some countries might take the law into their own hands and use military force (7.3.1).