Water conflicts

Water conflicts


According to the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research, [Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research (Department of Political Science, University of Heidelberg); Conflict Barometer 2007:Crises – Wars – Coups d’Etat – Nagotiations – Mediations – Peace Settlements, 16th annual conflict analysis, 2007] conflict is the clashing of interests (positional differences) over national values of some duration and magnitude between at least two parties (organized groups, states, groups of states, organizations) that are determined to pursue their interests and achieve their goals . According to the same Institute, conflicts can be caused for several reasons. Some of them are the following:

• Territory

• Secession

• Decolonization

• Autonomy

• System/ideology

• National power

• Regional predominance

• International power

• Resources

A conflict is not always related to violence. There are different levels of conflict intensity, ranging from Level 1 (Latent conflict) to Level 5 (War).

Water can also be a cause of conflict. Water conflicts can be intrastate and interstate. Interstate conflicts occur between two or more neighboring countries that share a transboundary water basin (river, lake, groundwater basin). Intrastate conflicts take place between two of more parties in the same country. Some examples are the conflicts between farmers and industry (agricultural vs industrial use of water). Water is a very important resource and its value can be summarized in the following points: Water is essential for life, also a fundamental economic resource. The usable freshwater is distributed unevenly and in many places of the world, water is in scarcity.To sum up, a conflict may occur when the users of the resource cannot agree on its management.

In this article, interstate conflicts will be focused, however this does not mean that intrastate conflicts are not as important or serious.

Case studies

The current interstate conflicts according to UNESCO are occurring mainly in the Middle East Area (Euphrates & Tigris rivers conflict among Turkey, Syria, and Iraq; and the Jordan river conflict among Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine population), in Africa( Nile river conflict among Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan), as well as in former Soviet Union ( the Aral Sea conflict among Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan).

Characteristics of water conflicts

According to Wolf et all. [Wolf A., Yoffe S., Giordano M., International Waters: Indicators for Identifying basins at risk, PCCP project, UNESCO, 2003] there occurred 1831 events concerning conflicts over transboundary water basins, during the period 1950 -2000. They categorizied the characteristics of these events as following:

• No events on the extremes

• Most interactions are cooperative

• Most interactions are mild

• Water acts as irritant

• Water acts as unifier

• Nations cooperate over a wide variety of issues

• Nations conflict over quantity and infrastructure

How can they be solved?

There is no rule of thumb. Each case is unique and one solution that is applied on one case cannot be applied on another. Still there are three points to be remembered that are common in all water conflicts:

• Water alone is not usually a cause of war: usually there’s a conflict background or other causes of conflict – the water is a cause that is added up.

• The parties should have an interest for cooperation: otherwise they refuse even the existence or the problem/conflict, yet alone to take part in a process of solving it.

• Presence or absence of International treaties for the basin: usually the existence of an international treaty about managing the water of the basin reduces the possibility of a conflict.

What will the future look like?

No one knows what the future will look like. There have been some studies that try to predict the future water conflicts. According to one of them , the authors tried to forecast the future water conflicts by using some indications, they call conflicts indicators. These are the following:

• Water stress index: it is calculated by dividing the volume of available water resources for the area by its population. An area is considered to be under water stress when the index value is lower than 1.600 m3/person.

• Countries that cooperate in general also cooperate about water: as it’s said before, water alone is seldom a cause of conflict.

• The richer and less populated the countries, the greater the cooperation possibility

• The higher heterogeneity between riparian parties, the higher the levels of conflict intensity: heterogeneity refers to different religious or ethnic groups that live in the same country but have different interests.

By calculating the different indicators, the authors of this study are proposing 20 basins where a conflict is possible to occur within the next five to ten years.Water conflicts is a very big topic, there is a huge bibliography about it as well as websites. What is necessary to keep in mind about water conflicts can be summed up in one sentence: The likelihood and intensity of dispute rises as the rate of change within a basin exceeds the institutional capacity to absorb that change.


Abu Ju’ub Ghassan, Water resources in Jenin governorate/North of the West Bank – Palestine: a part of the problem in the Middle East, Lehrstühl für Ingenieurgeologie und Hydrogeologie der RWTH Aachen, 2002Brown R.Lester, Plan B 2.0 (updated and expanded): rescuing a planet under stress and a civilization under trouble, W.W.Norton & Company, New York, 2006, ISBN 0393 328317

Dombrowsky Ines, Conflict, Cooperation and Institutions in International Water Management: an economic analysis, Edward Elgar editions, Great Britain, 2007, ISBN 9781847203410

Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research (Department of Political Science, University of Heidelberg); Conflict Barometer 2007:Crises – Wars – Coups d’Etat – Nagotiations – Mediations – Peace Settlements, 16th annual conflict analysis, 2007

Kibaroglu A., Klaphake A., Kramer A., Scheumann W., Carius A., Coperation on Turkey's transboundary waters, tatus Report commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, 2005

Le Monde Diplomatique, Atlas der Globalisierung:die neuen Daten und Fakten zur Lage der Welt, Paris, 2006Murakami Masahiro, Managing Water for Peace in the Middle East:alternative strategies, United Nations University Press, 1995, ISBN 92808 08583

Nickum E.James and Easter K.William (editors), Metropolitan Water Use Conflicts in Asia and the Pacific, Westview Press, USA, 1994, ISBN 08133 87795

Ohlsson Leif (editor), Hydropolitics: conflicts over water as a development constraint, ZED Books editions, London, 1995, ISBN 185649 3318

Selby Jan, Water, Power and Politics in the Middle East:the other Israeli – Palestinian conflict, I.B.Tauris editions, London, 2003, ISBN 186064 9343

Shiva Vandana, Water wars: Privatization, pollution and profit, Pluto Press, London, 2007, ISBN 07453 18371

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development – The World Bank, Water resources in Europe and central Asia, Volume I (Issues and strategic directions), 2003

UNESCO, Urban water conflicts: An analysis of the origins and nature of water-related unrest and conflicts in the urban context, Published by the International Hydrological Programme (IHP) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2006

Villiers d.M., Water wars: is the world’s water running out?, 1999,Weidenfeld and Nicolson editions, London, ISBN 0297 84270 6

Wolf A., Yoffe S., Giordano M., International Waters: Indicators for Identifying basins at risk, PCCP project, UNESCO, 2003

World business Council for Sustainable Development, Facts and trends – water, ISBN 2-940240-70-1, 2006, (downloaded from www.wbcsd.org)

WWF, Rivers at Risk: Dams and the future of freshwater ecosystems, prepared in cooperation with the World Resources Institute (downloaded from www.panda.org/dams)


See also

* Conflict

External links

* [http://www.hiik.de Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/science/nature/2859937.stm http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/science/nature/2859937.stm (2003)]
* [http://knowledge.allianz.com/en/globalissues/climate_change/natural_disasters/water_conflicts.html Water Conflicts: Fight or Flight?] Allianz Knowledge, March 2008

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