BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Last January, a group of World Bank scientists withdrew from the Guarani aquifer region in South America, after almost nine years spent elaborating a detailed picture of the water table there. Located beneath the surface of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, the Guarani is not only the world's third-largest aquifer. It is also the only uncontaminated one of those three. With a volume of almost 55,000 cubic kilometers, it could supply drinking water to the world's entire population for 200 years.
The aquifer's four countries decided not to renew the World Bank's investigation license, which had reserved the vital information gathered by the bank regarding the Guarani for its own use, with no obligation to share the data. While the scientific investigations continue -- now under the supervision of the countries' governments and universities -- specialists wonder if they will ever see the information the World Bank holds regarding one of the most strategic water resources in the world.
While "water wars" have become a commonly evoked and spotlight-grabbing conflict scenario, the dispute over the Guarani offers a glimpse of a less dramatic version of how those conflicts might play out.