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Navigating Peace Initiative: Water Conflict and Cooperation

Navigating Peace Initiative: Water Conflict and Cooperation

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Published by The Wilson Center
Four policy briefs identify the current and emerging trends in water conflict and cooperation
Four policy briefs identify the current and emerging trends in water conflict and cooperation

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Published by: The Wilson Center on Sep 05, 2012
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EnvironmEntal ChangE and SECurity program
65
Water Conflict and Cooperation: Looking Over the Horizon
Therealityofwater’srolesinconictandcoopera 
-tion is more complex than the political rhetoric o “water wars” oten implies. While the potential orviolent and social conict over water is clear, the levelo this conict is not so clear-cut. Exhaustive research
byAaronWolfofOregonStateUniversityhasrmly
established that international violent conict is rare-ly—i ever—caused by, or ocused on, water resourc-es. Historically, ormal and inormal internationalpolitical institutions managing water have adapted toincreased scarcity without resorting to the expensiveand inefcient means o war to secure water supplies.Instead, nations cooperate to manage their shared water resources (although equity and power dier-ences mean all cooperation is not the same).
Thishistorydoesnot,however,closethedooronthepossibilityofwaterwars.By2050,asmanyas7billionpeople—morethancurrentlyaliveinthe
 world today—may live under conditions o water
scarcityandstress.Alargebodyofscholarlyresearch
suggests that environmental degradation may cata-lyze violent conict
within 
states, so the uture may not resemble the past.However, little systematic research examines animportant corollary: that environmental cooperationmay be a useul catalyst or regional peacemaking.
Theuniquequalitiesofwatercouldprovidethecor
-nerstone or eorts to build confdence and peacein regions with unsettled interstate relations. Shared water resources could oer avenues or trust build-ing that can in turn support predictable and moreenmeshed relations among potential adversaries.
TheNavigatingPeaceInitiative’sWaterConict
and Cooperation Working Group commissionedour policy bries to identiy the current and emerg-ing trends in water conict and cooperation. Withthe generous support o the Carnegie Corporation o 
NewYork,andledbyECSPDirectorGeoffDabelko,
the working group sought to:
•
Understand the current mix o conict and coop-eration over water along wider continua o conictand at more levels o analysis than have customar-ily been considered;

 Anticipatefuturepossibilitiesforviolentwater
conict given the negative indicators in many areas o water management; and

Formulate proactive steps or heading o conictand encouraging cooperation.
Water Conflict and CooperationWorking Group Members
Inger Andersen,
 World Bank 
Kent Butts,
U.S.ArmyWarCollege
Ken Conca,
University o Maryland
Geoffrey Dabelko,
 Woodrow WilsonInternational Center or Scholars
Kirk Emerson,
UniversityofArizona 
Patricia Kameri-Mbote,
Strathmore University,Nairobi
Aaron Salzberg,
U.S. Department o State
Anthony Turton,
TouchStoneResourcesandInternationalWaterResourceAssociation
Aaron Wolf,
Oregon State University 
Howard Wolpe,
 Woodrow Wilson InternationalCenter or Scholars
Navigating Peace
Initiative
 
66
ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE & SECURITY PROGRAM SPECIAL REPORT
“Water wars are coming!” the newspaper headlines scream. It seems obvious—rivalries over water have been the source o disputes since humans settled down tocultivate ood. Even our language reects these ancient roots: “Rivalry” comes romthe Latin
rivalis 
, or “one using the same river as another.” Countries or provincesbordering the same river (known as “riparians”) are oten rivals or the water they 
share.Asthenumberofinternationalriverbasins(andimpactofwaterscarcity)
has grown, so do the warnings that these countries will take up arms to ensure their
accesstowater.In1995,forexample,WorldBankVicePresidentIsmailSerageldin
claimed that “the wars o the next century will be about water.”
Theseapocalypticwarningsyinthefaceofhistory:Nonationshavegoneto
 war specifcally over water resources or thousands o years. International waterdisputes— even among ferce enemies—are resolved peaceully, even as conictserupt over other issues. In act, instances o cooperation between riparian nations
outnumberedconictsbymorethantwotoonebetween1945and1999.Why?
Because water is so important, nations cannot aord to fght over it. Instead, water
fuelsgreaterinterdependence.Bycomingtogethertojointlymanagetheirshared
 water resources, countries can build trust and prevent conict. Water can be a nego-tiating tool, too: It can oer a communication lieline connecting countries in the
midstofcrisis.Thus,bycrying“waterwars,”doomsayersignoreapromisingwayto
help
 prevent 
 war: cooperative water resources management.O course, people compete—sometimes violently—or water. Within a nation,users—armers, hydroelectric dams, recreational users, environmentalists—are otenat odds, and the probability o a mutually acceptable solution alls as the number o 
stakeholdersrises.Waterisneverthesingle—andhardlyeverthemajor—causeof
conict. But it can exacerbate existing tensions. History is littered with examples o violent water conicts: Just as Caliornian armers bombed pipelines moving water
fromOwensValleytoLosAngelesintheearly1900s,ChinesefarmersinShandong
clashed with police in 2000 to protest government plans to divert irrigation water to
Navigating Peace
JULY 2006NO. 1
(Photo©AvnerVengosh)
Water Can Be a PathWay to PeaCe,not War
By Aaron T. Wolf, Annika Kramer, Alexander Carius, and Geoffrey D. Dabelko
 
67
WATER CAN BE A PATHWAY TO PEACE, NOT WAR
cities and industries. But these conicts usually break out
within 
nations. International rivers are a dier-ent story.
Theworld’s263internationalriverbasinscover45.3percentofEarth’slandsurface,hostabout40
percent o the world’s population, and account or
approximately60percentofglobalriverow.And
the number is growing, largely due to the “inter-nationalization” o basins through political chang-es like the breakup o the Soviet Union, as well asimproved mapping technology. Strikingly, territory 
in145nationsfallswithininternationalbasins,and33countriesarelocatedalmostentirelywithinthesebasins.Asmanyas17countriesshareoneriverbasin,
the Danube.Contrary to received wisdom, evidence shows thisinterdependence does not lead to war. Researchersat Oregon State University compiled a dataset o 
nmb  Cis Si  ri Bsi
NUMBER OFCOUNTRIESINTERNATIONAL BASINS
 
3Asi (Orontes), Awash, Cavally, Cestos, Chiloango, Dnieper, Dniester, Drin, Ebro,Essequibo, Gambia, Garonne, Gash, Geba, Har Us Nur, Hari (Harirud), Helmand, Hondo, Ili(Kunes He), Incomati, Irrawaddy, Juba-Shibeli, Kemi, Lake Prespa, Lake Titicaca-PoopoSystem, Lempa, Maputo, Maritsa, Maroni, Moa, Neretva, Ntem, Ob, Oueme, Pasvik,Red (Song Hong), Rhone, Ruvuma, Salween, Schelde, Seine, St. John, Sulak, Torne(Tornealven), Tumen, Umbeluzi, Vardar, Volga, and Zapaleri4Amur, Daugava, Elbe, Indus, Komoe, Lake Turkana, Limpopo, Lotagipi Swamp, Narva,Oder (Odra), Ogooue, Okavango, Orange, Po, Pu-Lun-T’o, Senegal, and Struma5 La Plata, Neman, and Vistula (Wista)6Aral Sea, Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna, Jordan, Kura-Araks, Mekong, Tarim, Tigris andEuphrates (Shatt al Arab), and Volta8Amazon and Lake Chad9Rhine and Zambezi10Nile11Congo and Niger17Danube
Note:
From “International River Basins of the World” by Aaron T. Wolf et al., 1999,
International Journal of Water Resources Development 15 
(4), 387-427. Adapted with permission of the author.

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