Thirst: When our water disappears (1): The fight for water


Synopsis/content of the film

"Thirst, when water runs out" is a series of three documentaries made by DW and SWR, including: 'The struggle for water' (1), 'What happens when there is not enough water?' (2) and 'Whose water is it?' (3).

The Struggle for Water, (Part 1) addresses the problems of water scarcity in different parts of the world where, through interviews with scientists and inhabitants, the film tries to understand the complexity of the causes of these water shortages, the development of uses and the impact of climate change on water reserves, especially underground. We visit Mendocino in California, a community supplied by tanker trucks; Bavaria in Germany, where wells are beginning to dry up and the water supply is increasingly dependent on long-distance transfers; Colorado, where the Lake Mead reservoir is at its lowest level in history and questions growth in Arizona and Las Vegas; and Kabul in Afghanistan, where water only reaches the tap once every 12 days.

The most worrisome phenomena mentioned are rising temperatures, extreme weather events, and increasingly severe and prolonged droughts that have made groundwater an increasingly vital and contested resource. The documentary ends with dramatic considerations and apocalyptic predictions. And raises a vital question: what happens if the water runs out?

Critical analysis

This documentary, made by the German channel SWR (Southwest Broadcasting), investigates the water crisis by taking illustrations from different places on the planet. From the start, the introduction to the various topics that will be addressed follow one another with agonizing music; the tone of the film is dramatizing: "what if the fight for water turns into war?", with war footages, "some parts of the world will become unlivable because of rising heat", the situation in Kabul is a "tale of never ending misery", "Water is disappearing everywhere", "huge global migrations" are to be expected and "International conflicts will become inevitable"…

These doomsday prophecies are illustrated by different situations, some of which, like California and Colorado, have already been the subject of many documentaries. "California is running out of water", with scary footages of communities supplied by tankers, and an almost empty Santa Clara county reservoir which supplies 2 million people in the Silicon Valley: "what if it really runs dry" ask the narrator, "people will move as they always did…", although the film also points to desalination as a way out. In the Colorado River basin "this is climate change right in your face" and although Las Vegas reduced its water withdrawals by 23% while gaining 800.000 more people, Arizona still expands its water footprint and is developing a booming high-tech industrial district.

The viewer will be less familiar with the situation in Germany. Although by no means as dramatic as the western US, people observe a growing imbalance of the hydrologic balance that prevailed until now. For the first time there is a realization that groundwater-based domestic supply could locally be disrupted. The 2020 and 2022 drought struck people's mind and has given way to a number of other DW documentaries on the water situation in Germany (see below). Hunger steins (hunger stones) appeared in the bed of the main rivers, revealing marks made by people during earlier historical droughts. Kabul also serves as an example of a much more drastic situation where the city is left "high and dry", bedeviled with water-borne diseases and intermittent water supply. People are also already migrating…

The film also features two inescapable commentators, who will be familiar to water film viewers. Jay Famiglietti and the GRACE (Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment) mission he was part of. And Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute and the water conflict chronology it helped to build. While Gleick underlines the role of drought in the genesis of the Civil War in Syria, Jay comments on the groundwater crisis and the situation in western US. He also has the final word, speaking on the shore of the doomed Salton Sea, expressing his "post-apocalyptic feeling" and warning us that "this could be our future"…

While the documentary adopts an agonizing tone which some viewers might find unwarranted, it avoids – by the same token – the trap of many similar wide-ranging water documentaries which review a series of "responses" and "hopes" that merely speak to technological innovations. It insists that even Germany is now affected by a global crisis which will put millions on the move. But the analysis presented in the film perhaps too heavily blames the crisis on climate change. It becomes hard to distinguish how much of the crisis is driven by overabstraction of water, de-politicizing the crisis and obscuring responsibilities. What responsibility do bear policies which let Saudi companies grow alfalfa near Phoenix and ship it all the way to the Gulf? Or which have reduced the return flow to Salton Sea to increase supply to San Diego? The German case also offers an interesting insight: we are told that "when change became tangible it was already too late", a statement that emphasizes how groundwater crises may slowly build up and be hard to reverse.

All in all, a documentary on the global water crisis that focuses on raising the alarm rather than on providing ready-made solutions. Food for thought with good quality images.

(with contributions from Carlos Cortes)


This is a three-part documentary series:

Part 1: The fight for water -

Spanish version:

Part 2: What happens when our water dries up? -

Part 3: Who owns water? - Series playlist:

Other films on the water crisis in Germany:

Références biblio pour aller plus loin sur le sujet

Daniel Harrich. (2022). In Wikipedia.

Über diwafilm. (s. d.). diwafilm GmbH. Consulté 13 novembre 2022, à l’adresse

#unserWasser—ARD | Das Erste. (s. d.). Consulté 13 novembre 2022, à l’adresse (s. d.). Consulté 13 novembre 2022, à l’adresse

Südwestrundfunk | (s. d.). Consulté 13 novembre 2022, à l’adresse

Das Erste. (2022). In Wikipédia.

Water Storage | Science. (s. d.). GRACE-FO. Consulté 13 novembre 2022, à l’adresse

Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment. (2022). In Wikipédia.

Schelter, L. N. (2021). On groundwater monitoring using machine learning and satellite remote sensing [RWTH Aachen University]. In Dissertation: Vol. Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen (p. pages 1 Online-Ressource : Illustrationen, Diagramme, Karten).

Unfried, K., Kis-Katos, K., & Poser, T. (2022). Water scarcity and social conflict. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 113, 102633.

Additional Info

  • Director: -
  • Producer: DW
  • Language: English, Spanish
  • Year: 2022
  • Duration (min): 42
  • Theme: Domestic water, Water scarcity, Environmental degradation, Climate change, Groundwater, Water governance, Water allocation, Water and community
  • Access: Free
  • Country: USA, Germany, Afghanistan
  • Technical quality (star): Technical quality (star)
  • Academic interest (star): Academic interest (star)
  • Societal interest (star): Societal interest (star)
  • Technical quality: 4
  • Academic quality: 4
  • Social interest: 4