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Shared Waters: Conict



and Cooperation
Aaron T. Wolf
Department of Geosciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331-5506;

Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 2007. 32:3.13.29 Key Words

The Annual Review of Environment and Resources transboundary water resources, water conict, water quality
is online at
management, water resources development
This articles doi:
10.1146/ Abstract
Copyright  c 2007 by Annual Reviews. This review examines the state of conict and cooperation over trans-
All rights reserved
boundary water resources from an environmental, political, and hu-
1543-5938/07/1121-0001$20.00 man development perspective. Although the potential for outright
war between countries over water is low, cooperation is also often
missing in disputes over transboundary resources. This background
chapter will
 Provide a brief overview of the nature of conict and experi-
ences of cooperation over transboundary resources.
 Provide a conceptual basis for understanding cooperation and
the costs of noncooperation over water.
 Indicate the possible triggers for conict over water sharing
and the implications on the livelihoods of ordinary commu-
 Offer evidence on the potential costs of noncooperation or
even conict over water resources.
 Analyze power asymmetries between riparian states and how
they affect the outcomes of negotiations.
 Analyze different examples of cases that countries have used
to manage the competition for water resources.
 Propose general principles and conclusions on conict and
Fierce competition for fresh water may well become a source of
conict and wars in the future.

Ko Annan, March 2001

But the water problems of our world need not be only a cause of
tension; they can also be a catalyst for cooperation . . . If we work
together, a secure and sustainable water future can be ours.

Ko Annan, February 2002

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BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE Indicators of Hydropolitical
NATURE OF CONFLICT Resilience and Vulnerability . . . . 3.12
AND EXPERIENCES OF Intranational Impacts of
COOPERATION OVER International Tensions . . . . . . . . . 3.13
TRANSBOUNDARY Regional Instability: Political
RESOURCES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.2 Dynamics of Loss of Irrigation
Water Conict and Water . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.13
Cooperation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.3 WATER AND INSTITUTIONS . . . 3.15
POLITICAL TENSIONS AND Institutional Development
COSTS OF Contributions from the
NONCOOPERATION . . . . . . . . . . 3.7 International Community . . . . . . 3.15
Tensions and Time Lags: Causes Conventions, Declarations, and
for Concern . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.8 Organizational Developments . . 3.16
Overcoming the Costs of Legal Principles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.18
Noncooperation: From Institutional Lessons for the
Rights to Needs to International Community . . . . . . 3.19
Interests . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.9 WATER CONFLICT AND
From Rights and Needs to COOPERATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.20
Interests: Baskets of GENERAL PRINCIPLES AND
Benets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.11 CONCLUSIONS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.22
VULNERABILITY, RESILIENCE, Lessons Learned . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.22
AND THE IMPACTS Why Might the Future Look
OF TENSIONS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.11 Nothing Like the Past? . . . . . . . . 3.22

BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE land that contributes to the worlds 263 trans-
NATURE OF CONFLICT boundary waterways.
AND EXPERIENCES OF Both water quantity and water quality have
COOPERATION OVER been neglected to the point of catastrophe (2).
TRANSBOUNDARY RESOURCES  More than a billion people lack access
As human populations and economies grow, to safe water supplies.
the amount of freshwater in the world remains  Almost three billion do not have access
roughly the same as it has been throughout to adequate sanitation.
history. The total quantity of water in the  Five to ten million people die each year
world is immense, but most is either saltwa- from water-related diseases or inade-
ter (97.5%) or locked in ice caps (1.75%). quate sanitation.
The amount economically available for hu-  Twenty percent of the worlds irrigated
man use is only 0.007% of the total, or lands are salt laden, affecting crop pro-
about 13,500 km3 , which is about 2300 m3 duction.
per a persona 37% drop since 1970 (1). The pressures on water resources develop-
This increasing scarcity is made more com- ment leads to intense political pressures, of-
plex because almost half the globes land sur- ten referred to as water stress, a term coined by
face lies within international watershedsthe Falkenmark (3), or water poverty as suggested

3.2 Wolf
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by Feitelson & Chenoweth (4). Furthermore, that water scarcity can and will lead directly
water ignores political boundaries, evades in- to warfare between nations; this lends itself to
stitutional classication, and eludes legal gen- diversion of a potentially huge amount of re-
eralizations. Water demands are increasing, sources in attempts to arrest these processes
groundwater levels are dropping, surface- at the highest levels. If the processes are actu-
water supplies are increasingly contaminated, ally both more subtle and more local in nature
and delivery and treatment infrastructure is (as suggested by, among others References 8,
aging (5). Collectively, these issues provide 2427), then so too are the potential solutions.
compelling arguments for considering the se- Throughout thisreview, we will note that
curity implications of water resources man- shared water does lead to tensions, threats,
agement (68). and even to some localized violenceand we
A huge and growing literature speaks to the will offer strategies for preventing and miti-
human and ecological disasters attendant on gating these tensionsbut not to war. More-
the global water crisisessentially an ongo- over, these tense ashpoints generally in-
ing deployment of a hydrological weapon of duce the parties to enter negotiations, often
mass destruction [see especially the works of resulting in dialogue and, occasionally, to es-
Gleick, e.g., his biennial Worlds Water Series pecially creative and resilient working arrang-
(913); Postel (5, 14); the UN Environmental ments. We note also that shared water pro-
Program (1518); the UN Educational, Sci- vides compelling inducements to dialogue and
entic and Cultural Organization, which has cooperation, even while hositities rage over
produced dozens of papers under the auspices other issues.
of its PCCP Program (http://www.unesco. But lets look at the evolution of the water
org/water/wwap/pccp/), and others]. leads to war thesis. Although the extreme wa-
In conjunction with this crisis, though, ter wars literature mostly began to fade in the
come the political stresses that result as the late 1990s, a number of articles dating back
people who have built their lives and liveli- decades argue quite persuasively for some
hoods on a reliable source of freshwater are degree of causality between environmental
seeing the shortage of this vital resource im- stressreaching up against relative resource
pinge on all aspects of the tenuous rela- limitsand political decision making. One
tions that have developed over the years cannot discuss water institutions, for example,
between nations, between economic sectors, without invoking Wittfogel (28) and his clas-
and between individuals and their environ- sic argument that the drive to manage water in
ment. This review speaks to how people have, semiarid environments led both to the dawn
and have not, dealt with hydropolitics and of institutional civilizationdescribed by
their impacts. Delli Priscoli (29) as the training ground for
civilizationand to particularly autocratic,
despotic forms of government. This latter
Water Conflict and Cooperation argument, and the generally enthusiastic
It is quite clear that people affect their envi- reception he received, needs to be under-
ronment, but to what extent is the opposite stood in the Cold War setting from which it
true? Just how deep is the causal relationship sprang and was quite effectively challenged
between environmental stresses and the struc- by Toynbee (30), among others. Toynbees
ture of human politics? This relationship is vehemence in his review (he calls Wittfogels
at the heart of understanding the processes of book a menace) is particularly interesting
environmental conict prevention and resolu- because many of Wittfogels theories can
tion. If, as the large and growing water wars be seen as extensions of a sort of Toynbees
literature would have it (see, for example, 19 challenge-response thesis (31) in which he
23), the greatest threat for water conicts is argues that the impetus toward civilization Shared Waters 3.3

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becomes stronger with greater environmental other scarce, consumable resources, is used
stress. Toynbees objections are primarily with to fuel all facets of society, from biologies to
Wittfogels tribalistic lens to history, aimed, economies to aesthetics and religious practice.
security: the as Toynbee charges, at demonizing the Soviet As such, there is no such thing as managing
securitization or Union. Wittfogel (28) in turn, distinguishing water for a single purposeall water manage-
conict potential of himself from Toynbee, writes of his own posi- ment is multiobjective and is therefore, by def-
environmental issues tion, causality yes, determinism no (p. 504). inition, based on conicting interests. Within
However, the premise that there is a critical a nation, these interests include domestic use,
link between how society manages water agriculture, hydropower generation, recre-
and its social structure and political culture ation, and environmentany two of which are
remains as an important and valid insight. regularly at oddsand the chances of nd-
This thread of causality between the envi- ing mutually acceptable solutions drop pre-
ronment and politics has been taken up reg- cipitously as more actors are involved.
ularly over the years. When Sprout & Sprout As described conceptually and with case
(32) describe the environmental factors inher- studies by Trolldalen (38), these conicting
ent in international politics, it becomes the interests within a nation represent both a mi-
direct intellectual precursor to todays blos- crocosm of the international setting and a
soming environmental security literature, as direct inuence upon it. Trolldalens work is
spearheaded by Homer-Dixon (33). Homer- particularly useful in that he sidesteps the
Dixon, like Wittfogel, was initially greeted common trap of treating nations as homo-
enthusiastically by the defense establishment, geneous, rational entities and explicitly links
this time in the setting of the postCold internal with external interests. Bangladesh
War redenition of relevance, and, again like is not just the national government of
Wittfogel, has been taken to task for the de- Bangladesh when it negotiates a treaty with
gree of causality in his arguments. (A summary India over Ganges ow; it is its coastal popu-
of Homer-Dixons ndings, along with a de- lation, inundated with saltwater intrusion; its
bate on the topic is presented in Reference 34.) farmers are dealing with decreasing quantities
In his defense, Homer-Dixons arguments, of water and increasing uctuations; and its
along with those of much of the water wars shermenare competing for dwindling stocks.
crowd, have become more muted over the last This link between the internal and exter-
few years: In 1994, he wrote, The renewable nal is critical when we look at violent interna-
resource most likely to stimulate interstate tional conicts (39). Gleick (6) is widely cited
resource war is river water (35), which he re- as providing what appears to be a history re-
peats in his 1996 article (36). He modies the plete with violence over water resources. But a
claim, elaborated in his 1999 book (37), In re- close read of his article reveals greater subtlety
ality, wars over river water between upstream and depth to the argument. Wolf (40) points
and downstream neighbors are likely only in a out that what Gleick and others have actually
narrow set of circumstances . . . [and]. . . there provided is a history rife with tensions, ex-
are, in fact very few river basins around the acerbated relations, and conicting interests
world where all these conditions hold now or over water, but not State level violence, at least
might hold in the future. not between nations or over water as a scarce
In water systems, the dichotomy of causal- resource. It is worth noting Gleicks careful
ity is manifested as whether water stress lends categorization because the violence he de-
itself more readily to conict or cooperation. scribes actually turns out to be water as a tool,
Both arguments are powerful and have been target, or victim of warfarenot the cause.
supported by a rich, if mostly anecdotal, his- Wolf (40) contrasts the results of a system-
tory. Postel (5) describes the roots of the prob- atic search for interstate violenceone true
lem at the subnational level. Water, unlike water war in history, 4500 years agowith the

3.4 Wolf
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much richer record of explicit, legal coopera- tem of surface and underground waters con-
tion with 3600 water-related treaties. In fact, stituting by virtue of their physical relation-
a scan of the most vociferous enmities around ship a unitary whole and owing into a com-
the world reveals that almost all the sets of mon terminus. An international watercourse is watercourse: a
nations with the greatest degree of animos- a watercourse with parts situated in different watercourse, parts of
ity between them, whether Arabs and Israelis, States [nations]. which are situated in
Indians and Pakistanis, or Azeris and Armeni- Surface and groundwater that cross in- different States
ans, either have a water-related agreement in ternational boundaries present increased
place or are in the process of negotiating one. challenges to regional stability because hy- Watercourse: a
system of surface and
Nevertheless, water management is, by drologic needs can often be overwhelmed by
underground waters
denition, conict management. Water, un- political considerations. Although the poten- constituting by
like other scarce, consumable resources, is tial for paralyzing disputes is especially high virtue of their
used to fuel all facets of society, from bi- in these basins, history shows that water can physical relationship
ology to economies to aesthetics and spiri- catalyze dialogue and cooperation, even be- a unitary whole and
owing into a
tual practice. Moreover, it uctuates wildly tween especially contentious riparians. There
common terminus
in space and time; its management is usually are 263 rivers around the world that cross
fragmented; and it is often subject to vague, the boundaries of two or more nations and
arcane, and/or contradictory legal principles. an untold number of international groundwa-
There is no such thing as managing water for a ter aquifers. The basin areas that contribute
single purpose; all water management is mul- to these rivers (Figure 1) comprise approxi-
tiobjective and based on navigating compet- mately 47% of the land surface of the earth, in-
ing interests. Within a nation these interests clude 40% of the worlds population, and con-
include domestic users, agriculturalists, hy- tribute almost 60% of freshwater ow (42).
dropower generators, recreation enthusiasts, Within each international basin, demands
and environmentalistsany two of which are from environmental, domestic, and economic
regularly at odds, and the chances of nding users increase annually, while the amount of
mutually acceptable solutions drop exponen- freshwater in the world remains roughly the
tially as more stakeholders are involved. Add same as it has been throughout history. Given
international boundaries, and the chances de- the scope of the problems and the resources
crease exponentially yet again. available to address them, avoiding water con-
The Register of International River Basins ict is vital. Conict is expensive, disruptive,
of the world (41) denes a river basin as the and interferes with efforts to relieve human
area that contributes hydrologically (includ- suffering, reduce environmental degradation,
ing both surface- and groundwater) to a rst and achieve economic growth. Developing
order stream, which, in turn, is dened by its the capacity to monitor, predict, and preempt
outlet to the ocean or to a terminal (closed) transboundary water conicts, particularly in
lake or inland sea. Thus, river basin is synony- developing countries, is key to promoting hu-
mous with what is referred to in the United man and environmental security in interna-
States as a watershed and in the Unite Kingdom tional river basins, regardless of the scale at
as a catchment, and includes lakes and shal- which they occur.
low, unconned groundwater units (conned A closer look at the worlds international
or fossil groundwater is not included). We de- basins gives a greater sense of the magnitude
ne such a basin as international if any peren- of the issues: First, the problem is growing.
nial tributary crosses the political boundaries There were 214 international basins listed in
of two or more nations. a 1978 United Nations study (41), the last time
Similarly, the 1997 UN Convention any ofcial body attempted to delineate them,
on Non-Navigational Uses of International and there are 263 today (42). The growth is
Watercourses denes a watercourse as a sys- largely the result of the internationalization Shared Waters 3.5


4 July 2007


International river basin

0 1,500 3,000 4,500


Figure 1
International basins of the world.
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of national basins through political changes, eral scholars underscore that current interna-
such as the break up of the Soviet Union and tional law does not adequately dene ground-
the Balkan states, as well as access to todays water, much less the spatial ow of ground-
better mapping sources and technology. water (4346).
Even more striking than the total number Disparities between riparian nations
of basins is a breakdown of each nations land whether in economic development, infras-
surface that falls within these watersheds. A tructural capacity, or political orientation
total of 145 nations include territory within add further complications to water resources
international basins. Twenty-one nations lie development, institutions, and management.
in their entirety within international basins, As a consequence, development, treaties, and
and a total of 33 countries have greater than institutions are regularly seen as, at best, inef-
95% of their territory within these basins. cient, often ineffective, and, occasionally, as
These nations are not limited to smaller coun- a new source of tensions themselves.
tries, such as Liechtenstein and Andorra but There is room for optimism, though, no-
include such sizable countries as Hungary, tably in the global communitys record of
Bangladesh, Belarus, and Zambia (42). resolving water-related disputes along inter-
A nal way to visualize the dilemmas national waterways. For example, the record
posed by international water resources is to of acute conict over international water re-
look at the number of countries that share sources is overwhelmed by the record of
each international basin. Nineteen basins are cooperation. Despite the tensions inherent
shared by ve or more riparian countries: one in the international setting, riparians have
basinthe Danubehas 17 riparian nations; shown tremendous creativity in approaching
ve basinsthe Congo, Niger, Nile, Rhine, regional development, often through preven-
and Zambeziare shared by between 9 and tive diplomacy, and the creation of baskets
11 countries; and the remaining 13 basins of benets, which allow for positive-sum, in-
the Amazon, Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna, tegrative allocations of joint gains. Moreover,
Lake Chad, Tarim, Aral Sea, Jordan, Kura- the most vehement enemies around the world
Araks, Mekong, Tigris-Euphrates, Volga, either have negotiated water sharing agree-
La Plata, Neman, and Vistula (Wista)have ments, or are in the process of doing so as
between 5 and 8 riparian countries (42). of this writing, and once cooperative water
Although lakes and shallow, unconned regimes are established through treaty, they
groundwater are included in these basins, the turn out to be impressively resilient over time,
important hydrologic link between ground- even between otherwise hostile riparians and
water and surface water is recognized but un- even as conict is waged over other issues.
derstood only at a reconnaissance level even Violence over water does not seem strategi-
in the most studied basins in the world. The cally rational, hydrographically effective, or
effects of groundwater use may be contained economically viable. Shared interests along a
within national boundaries; however, the wa- waterway seem to consistently outweigh wa-
ter laws of few states or provinces address ters conict-inducing characteristics.
groundwater management owing to the in-
visible nature of the resource or the technical
challenges in predicting spatial and tempo- POLITICAL TENSIONS AND
ral changes in the groundwater system with COSTS OF NONCOOPERATION
increased use. Part of the problem is asso- So if there is little violence between nations
ciated with recognizing the different types over their shared waters, what is the problem?
of aquifers; sand and gravel transmit and Is water actually a security concern at all? In
store groundwater differently than ground- fact, there are a number of issues where water
water stored in fractured rocks or in karst. Sev- causes or exacerbates tensions, and it is worth Shared Waters 3.7

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understanding these processes to know both the ecosystems of the lower Nile, the lower
how complications arise and how they are Jordan, or the tributaries of the Aral Sea; they
eventually resolved. Noncooperation costs re- have effectively been written off to the va-
GAP: Turkish
acronym for sult primarily in inefcient water manage- garies of human intractability. During such
Southeast Anatolia ment, leading to decreasing water quantity, periods of low-level tensions, threats and dis-
Project quality, and environmental health. But polit- putes rage across boundaries with relations as
ical tensions can also be impacted, leading to diverse as those between Indians and Pakista-
years or even decades of efcient, cooperative nis and between Americans and Canadians.
futures lost. (See also the section on Regional Water was the last and most contentious is-
Instability in this review for related impacts.) sue resolved in negotiations over a 1994 peace
treaty between Israel and Jordan and was rel-
egated to nal status negotiationsalong
Tensions and Time Lags: Causes with other of the most difcult issues such as
for Concern Jerusalem and refugeesbetween Israel and
The rst complicating factor is the time lag the Palestinians (52, 53).
between when nations rst start to impinge on The timing of water ow is also impor-
each others water planning and when agree- tant; thus, the operation of dams is also con-
ments are nally, arduously reached. A gen- tested. For example, upstream users might
eral pattern has emerged for international release water from reservoirs in the winter
basins over time. Riparians of an international for hydropower production, whereas down-
basin implement water development projects stream users might need it for irrigation in
unilaterallyrst on water within their own the summer. In addition, water quantity and
territory, in attempts to avoid the political water ow patterns are crucial to maintain-
intricacies of the shared resource. At some ing freshwater ecosystems that depend on sea-
point, one of the riparians, generally the re- sonal ooding. Freshwater ecosystems per-
gional power, will implement a project that form a variety of ecological and economical
impacts at least one of its neighbors. This functions and often play an important role in
might be to continue to meet existing uses in sustaining livelihoods, especially in develop-
the face of decreasing relative water availabil- ing countries. As awareness of environmental
ity [as, for example, Egypts plans for a high issues and the economic value of ecosystems
dam on the Nile (47, 48) or Indian diversions increases, claims for the environments water
of the Ganges to protect the port of Calcutta requirements are growing. For example, in the
(49, 50)] or to meet new needs reecting Okavango basin, Botswanas claims for water
new agricultural policy, such as Turkeys GAP to sustain the Okavango Delta and its lucra-
(Turkish acronym for Southeast Anatolia tive ecotourism industry have contributed to a
Project) project on the Euphrates (51). In dispute with upstream Namibia, which wants
the absence of relations or institutions con- to use the water passing through the Caprivi
ducive to conict resolution, the project can Strip on its way to the delta for irrigation
become a ashpoint, heightening tensions and (54, 55).
regional instability, and requiring years or, Water quality problems include excessive
more commonly, decades to resolvethe In- levels of salt, nutrients, or suspended solids.
dus treaty took 10 years of negotiations, the Salt intrusion can be caused by groundwater
Ganges 30, and the Jordan 40and, all the overuse or insufcient freshwater ows into
while, water quality and quantity degrades to estuaries. For example, dams in the South
where the health of dependent populations African part of the Incomati River basin re-
and ecosystems are damaged or destroyed. duced freshwater ows into the Incomati es-
This problem gets worse as the dispute tuary in Mozambique and led to increased
gains in intensity; one rarely hears talk about salt levels (56). This altered the estuarys

3.8 Wolf
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ecosystem and led to the disappearance of because of entrenched and contradictory

salt-intolerant ora and fauna important for opening positions. Generally, parties base
peoples livelihoods (the links between loss of their initial positions in terms of rightsthe
livelihoods and the threat of conict are de- sense that a riparian is entitled to a certain al-
scribed below). location based on hydrography or chronology
Excessive amounts of nutrients or sus- of use. Upstream riparians often invoke some
pended solids can result from unsustainable variation of the Harmon Doctrine, claiming
agricultural practices, eventually leading to that water rights originate where the water
erosion. Nutrients and suspended solids pose falls. India claimed absolute sovereignty in
a threat to freshwater ecosystems and their use the early phases of negotiations over the
by downstream riparians, as they can cause eu- Indus Waters Treaty, as did France in the Lac
trophication and siltation, respectively, which, Lanoux case, and Palestine over the West
in turn, can lead to loss of shing grounds or Bank aquifer. Downstream riparians often
arable land. Suspended solids can also cause claim absolute river integrity, claiming rights
the siltation of reservoirs and harbors; for ex- to an undisturbed system or, if on an exotic
ample, Rotterdams harbor had to be dredged stream, historic rights on the basis of their
frequently to remove contaminated sludge de- history of use. Spain insisted on absolute
posited by the Rhine River. The cost was enor- sovereignty regarding the Lac Lanoux project
mous and consequently led to conict over (58), whereas Egypt claimed historic rights
compensation and responsibility among the against rst Sudan, and later Ethiopia, on the
rivers users. Although negotiations led to a Nile (59).
peaceful solution in this case, without such In almost all of the disputes that have
a framework for dispute resolution, siltation been resolved, however, particularly on arid
problems can lead to upstream/downstream or exotic streams, the paradigms used for
disputes such as those in the Lempa River negotiations have not been rights based at
basin in Central America (57). allneither on relative hydrography nor
specically on chronology of use, but rather
needs based. Needs are dened by irrigable
Overcoming the Costs of land, population, or the requirements of a
Noncooperation: From Rights specic project. (See Table 1 for examples of
to Needs to Interests needs-based criteria.) In agreements between
Most of the international negotiations sur- Egypt and Sudan signed in 1929 and in 1959,
veyed are hamstrung for so long primarily for example, allocations were arrived at on

Table 1 Examples of needs-based criteria

Treaty Criteria for allocations
Egypt/Sudan (1929, 1959, Nile) Acquired rights from existing uses, plus even division of
any additional water resulting from development projects
Johnston Accord (1956, Jordan) Amount of irrigable land within the watershed in each
India/Pakistan (1960, Indus) Historic and planned use (for Pakistan) plus geographic
allocations (western versus eastern rivers)
South Africa (southwest Allocations for human and animal needs as well as initial
Africa)/Portugal (Angola) (1969, irrigation
Israel-Palestinian Interim Agreement Population patterns and irrigation needs
(1995, shared aquifers) Shared Waters 3.9

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the basis of local needs, primarily those of estimates of needs are still disputed and
agriculture. Egypt argued for a greater share changing, particularly in these latter two
of the Nile because of its larger population examples) (63).
and extensive irrigation works. In 1959, Sudan From the global experience in determining
and Egypt then divided future water from needs, it is not apparent that any criterion is
development equally between the two. Cur- necessarily more effective than any othera
rent allocations of 55.5 billion cubic meters measure that is determined in dialog between
(BCM)/year for Egypt and 18.5 BCM/year riparians by denition generates more buy
for Sudan reect these relative needs (59). in than one imposed from outside (although
Likewise along the Jordan River, the only neutral third parties have often provided the
water agreement for that basin ever negoti- technology to help quantify needs). Moreover,
ated (although not ratied) until very recently, once the needs-based allocations are deter-
the Johnston Accord, emphasized the needs mined, not only is it not generally required
rather than the inherent rights of each of the that water actually be applied to those needs,
riparians. Johnstons approach, on the basis but specic allocations are generally not read-
of a report performed under the direction of justed, despite the fact that needs change dras-
the Tennessee Valley Authority, was to esti- tically over time. For example, the Johnston
mate, without regard to political boundaries, Accord determined allocations on the basis
the water needs for all irrigable land within of potential gravity-fed irrigated agriculture
the Jordan Valley basin that could be irrigated within the Jordan basin. Once the numbers
by gravity ow (60, 61). National allocations were derived, and Jordan and Israel implic-
were then based on these in-basin agricul- itly agreed, Israel applied most of its allo-
tural needs, with the understanding that each cation to other uses entirely, many of them
country could then use the water as it wished, outside of the basin. Jordan and Israel ad-
including to divert it out of basin. This was here to the Johnston allocations to this day, in
not only an acceptable formula to the parties spite all of the dramatic changes to all water-
at the time, but it also allowed for a break- related parameters within the basin over the
through in negotiations when a land survey of past 50 years.
Jordan concluded that its future water needs One might speculate as to why nego-
were lower than previously thought. Years tiations move from rights-based to needs-
later, Israel and Palestine came back to needs based criteria for allocation. The rst reason
in the Interim Agreement of 1995, whereby may have something to do with the psychol-
Israel rst recognized Palestinian water rights ogy of negotiations. Rothman (64), among
on the West Banka formula for agricul- others, points out that negotiations ideally
ture and per capita consumption that deter- move along three stages: the adversarial stage,
mined future Palestinian water needs at 70 where each side denes its positions, or rights;
80 million cubic meters (MCM)/year, and the reexive stage, where the needs of each
Israel agreed to provide 28.6 MCM/year to- side bringing them to their positions is ad-
ward those needs (62). dressed; and nally, to the integrative stage,
Needs are the most prevalent criteria for where negotiators brainstorm together to ad-
allocations along arid or exotic streams out- dress each sides underlying interests. The ne-
side of the Middle East as well. Allocations of gotiations here seem to follow this pattern
the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo and the Colorado from rights to needs and, occasionally, to in-
between Mexico and the United States are terests. Although each negotiator may initially
based on Mexican irrigation requirements; see him- or herself as Egyptian or Israeli or
Bangladeshi requirements determined the Indian and the rights of ones own country
allocations of the Ganges, and Indus negotia- are paramount, over time one must empathize
tions deferred to Pakistani projects (although to some degree and to notice that even ones

3.10 Wolf
ANRV325-EG32-03 ARI 4 July 2007 15:14

enemy (be he or she Sudanese, Palestinian, or was granted rights to divert water between
Pakistani) requires the same amount of water the Columbia and Kootenai rivers for hy-
for the same use with the same methods as dropower. Likewise, the 1975 Mekong accord
oneself. denes equality of right not as equal shares
The second reason for the shift from rights of water but as equal rights to use water on
to needs may simply be that rights are not the basis of each riparians economic and so-
quantiable and needs are. We have seen the cial needs. The relative nature of benecial
vague guidance that the 1997 Convention (65) uses is exhibited in a 1950 agreement on the
provides for allocationsa series of occasion- Niagara, owing between the United States
ally conicting parametersthat are to be and Canada, which provides a greater ow
considered as a whole. If two nations insist over the famous falls during show times
on their respective rights of upstream versus of summer daylight hours, when tourist dol-
down, for example, there is no spectrum along lars are worth more per cubic meter than
which to bargain; no common frame of refer- the alternate use in hydropower generation
ence. One can much more readily determine a (68).
needs-based criterionirrigable land or pop- In many water-related treaties, water is-
ulation, for exampleand quantify each na- sues are dealt with alone, separate from any
tions needs. Even with differing interpreta- other political or resource issues between
tions, once both sides feel comfortable that countrieswater qua water. By separating the
their minimum quantitative needs are being two realms of high (political) and low (re-
met, talks eventually turn to straightforward source economical) politics or by ignoring
bargaining over numbers along a common other resources that might be included in an
spectrum (66, 67). agreement, some have argued, the process is
either likely to fail, as in the case of the 1956
Johnston Accord on the Jordan, or more of-
From Rights and Needs to Interests: ten to achieve a suboptimum development ar-
Baskets of Benefits rangement, as is currently the case on the In-
One productive approach to the development dus agreement, signed in 1960. Increasingly,
of transboundary waters has been to move past however, linkages are being made between
rights and needs entirely and to examine the water and politics as well as between water and
benets in the basin from a regional approach. other resources. These multiresource linkages
This has regularly required the riparians may offer more opportunities for the genera-
to go beyond looking at water as a com- tion of creative solutions, allowing for greater
modity to be divideda zero-sum, rights- economic efciency through a basket of
based approachand to develop an approach benets (69).
that equitably allocates not the water but
the benets derived therefroma positive-
sum, integrative approach. The boundary wa- VULNERABILITY, RESILIENCE,
ters agreement between the United States AND THE IMPACTS
and Canada, for example, allocates water ac- OF TENSIONS
cording to equal benets, usually dened by Understanding the indicators of conict and
hydropower generation. This results in the cooperation is a critical prerequisite both to
seemingly odd arrangement that power may designing resilient institutions and to de-
be exported out of basin for gain, but the veloping monitoring mechanisms to identify
water itself may not. In the 1964 treaty on future tensions. Vulnerable basins are at par-
the Columbia, an arrangement was worked ticular risk of tensions, but programs of in-
out whereby the United States paid Canada stitutional capacity building can help mitigate
for the benets of ood control, and Canada the potential impacts of rapid change. Shared Waters 3.11

ANRV325-EG32-03 ARI 4 July 2007 15:14

Indicators of Hydropolitical that very rapid changes, either on the institu-

Resilience and Vulnerability tional side or in the physical system, that out-
pace the institutional capacity to absorb those
Hydropolitical In general, concepts of resilience and vulner-
resilience: the changes are at the root of most water conicts.
ability as related to water resources are often
complex human- For example, the rapid institutional change in
assessed within the framework of sustainabil-
environmental internationalized basins, i.e., basins that in-
ity (e.g., 70) and relate to the ability of bio-
systems ability clude the management structures of newly
to adapt to physical systems to adapt to change (e.g., 71).
independent states, has resulted in disputes
permutations and As the sustainability discourse has broadened
change within these in areas formerly under British administra-
to include human systems in recent years, so
systems tion (e.g., the Nile, Jordan, Tigris-Euphrates,
too has work been increasingly geared toward
Hydropolitical Indus, and Ganges-Brahmaputra) as well as in
identifying indicators of resilience and vul-
vulnerability: the the former Soviet Union (e.g., the Aral trib-
nerability within this broader context (e.g.,
risk of political utaries and the Kura-Araks). On the physical
7274). In parallel, dialog on security has
dispute over shared side, rapid change most outpaces institutional
water systems migrated from traditional issues of war and
capacity in basins that include unilateral de-
peace to also begin incorporating the human-
RBO: River Basin velopment projects and the absence of coop-
Organization environment relationship in the relatively new
erative regimes [such as treaties, river basin
eld of environmental security (see 75, 76).
organizations (RBOs), or technical working
The term hydropolitics (coined in Reference
groups] or when relations are especially ten-
59) is the result of substantial attention to the
uous over other issues (27).
potential for conict and violence to erupt
The general assumption, then, is that
over international waters and relates to the
rapid change tends to indicate vulnerability,
ability of geopolitical institutions to manage
whereas institutional capacity tends to indi-
shared water resources in a politically sustain-
cate resilience, and the two sides need to be
able manner, i.e., without tensions or con-
assessed in conjunction with each other for a
ict between political entities. Hydropolitical
more accurate gauge of hydropolitical sustain-
resilience is dened as the complex human-
ability. Building on these relationships, the
environmental systems ability to adapt to per-
characteristics of a basin that would tend to
mutations and change within these systems,
enhance resilience to change include
and hydropolitical vulnerability is dened by the
risk of political dispute over shared water sys-  International agreements and institu-
tems. Wolf et al. (27), suggested the following tions, such as RBOs
relationship between change, institutions, and  A history of collaborative projects
hydropolitical vulnerability, The likelihood  Generally positive political relations
of conict rises as the rate of change within  Higher levels of economic develop-
the basin exceeds the institutional capacity to ment1
absorb that change.
In contrast, facets that would tend toward
This suggests that there are two sides to
vulnerability would include
the dispute setting: the rate of change in the
system and the institutional capacity. In gen-
 Rapid environmental change
eral, most of the parameters regularly identi-
ed as indicators of water conict are actually
only weakly linked to the dispute. Institutional Higher levels of economic development enhance re-
silience because these countries can afford alternatives as
capacity within a basin, however, whether de- water becomes relatively more scarce or degraded. In con-
ned as water management bodies or treaties trasting developing and developed countries, for example,
or generally positive international relations, is whereas the former may struggle for a safe, stable supply of
basic water resources, the latter might utilize greenhouses,
as important, if not more so, than the phys- expensive drip irrigation systems, bioengineered crops, or
ical aspects of a system. It turns out, then, desalination.

3.12 Wolf
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 Rapid population growth or asymmetric between Maasai herdsmen and Kikuyu farm-
economic growth ers in Kenya (86). The inland desert state of
 Major unilateral development projects Arizona even commissioned a navy (made up
 The absence of institutional capacity of one ferryboat) and sent its state militia to
 Generally hostile relations stop a dam and diversion on the Colorado
River in 1934 (87). (See Table 2 for examples
of water-related disputes.)
Intranational Impacts of Another contentious issue is water quality,
International Tensions which is also closely linked to water quantity.
The subset of security issues of interna- Decreasing water quality can make it inap-
tional tensions occur at the subnational level, propriate for some uses, thereby aggravating
with direct impact on ordinary communi- its scarcity. In turn, decreasing water quan-
ties (77). Much literature on transbound- tity concentrates pollution, and excessive wa-
ary waters treats political entities as homo- ter quantity, such as ooding, can lead to con-
geneous monolithsCanada feels . . . or tamination by sewage. Low water quality can
Jordan wants . . . Analysts are only recently pose serious threats to human and environ-
highlighting the pitfalls of this approach, of- mental health. Water quality degradation is
ten by showing how different subsets of ac- often a source of dispute between those who
tors relate very different meanings to water. cause degradation and the groups affected by
Rather than being simply another environ- it. As pollution increasingly impacts liveli-
mental input, water is regularly treated as a se- hoods and the environment, water quality is-
curity issue, a gift of nature, or a focal point for sues may lead to public protests.
local society. Disputes, therefore, need to be One of the main reasons for decreasing wa-
understood as more than simply over a quan- ter quality is pollution, e.g., through indus-
tity of a resources, but also over conicting at- trial and domestic wastewater or agricultural
titudes, meanings, and contexts. Throughout pesticides. In Tajikistan, for example, where
the world, local water issues revolve around environmental stress has been linked to civil
core values, which often date back genera- war (19921997), high levels of water pollu-
tions. Irrigators, indigenous populations, and tion have been identied as one of the key
environmentalists, for example, can see water environmental issues threatening human de-
as tied to their very ways of life that are in- velopment and security (8). Water pollution
creasingly threatened by newer uses for cities from the tanning industry in the Palar basin
and hydropower (78, 79). Moreover, the local of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu makes the
setting strongly inuences international dy- water within the basin unt for irrigation and
namics and vice versa (39, 77, 80, 81). consumption. The pollution contributed to
If there is a history of water-related vio- an acute drinking water crisis, which led to
lence, and there is, it is a history of incidents protests by the local community and activist
at the subnational level, generally between organizations as well as to disputes and court
tribes, water-use sectors, or states/provinces. cases between tanners and farmers (8).
In fact, our recent research at Oregon State
University suggests that, as the scale drops,
the likelihood and intensity of violence goes Regional Instability: Political
up (82). There are many examples of inter- Dynamics of Loss of Irrigation Water
nal water conicts ranging from interstate vi- As water quality degradesor quantity
olence and death along the Cauvery River in diminishesover time, its effect on the
India (83, 84); to the United States, where stability of a region can be unsettling.
California farmers blew up a pipeline meant For example, for 30 years the Gaza Strip
for Los Angeles (85); to intertribal bloodshed was under Israeli occupation. Water quality Shared Waters 3.13

ANRV325-EG32-03 ARI 4 July 2007 15:14

Table 2 Selected examples of water-related disputesa

Main issue
Location Observation
Cauvery River, South Asia The dispute on Indias Cauvery River sprang from the allocation of water
between the downstream state of Tamil Nadu, which had been using the
rivers water for irrigation, and upstream Karnataka, which wanted to
increase irrigated agriculture. The parties did not accept a tribunals
adjudication of the water dispute; this led to violence and death along the
Mekong basin, Southeast Following construction of Thailands Pak Mun Dam, more than 25,000
Asia people were affected by drastic reductions in upstream sheries and
other livelihood problems. Affected communities have struggled for
reparations since the dam was completed in 1994.
Okavango basin, southern In the Okavango River basin, Botswanas claims for water to sustain the
Africa delta and its lucrative ecotourism industry contribute to a dispute with
upstream Namibia, which wants to pipe water passing through the
Caprivi Strip to supply its capital city with drinking water.
Rhine River, Western Rotterdams harbor had to be dredged frequently to remove contaminated
Europe sludge deposited by the Rhine River. The cost was enormous and
consequently led to controversy over compensation and responsibility
among Rhine River users. Although the negotiations led to a peaceful
solution, in areas that lack the Rhines dispute resolution framework,
siltation problems could lead to upstream/downstream arguments.
Quantity and quality
Incomati River, southern Dams in the South African part of the Incomati River basin reduced
Africa freshwater ows and increased salt levels in Mozambiques Incomati
estuary. This altered the estuarys ecosystem and led to the disappearance
of salt-intolerant plants and animals that are important for peoples
Syr Darya, Central Asia Relations between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistanall riparians
of the Syr Darya, a major tributary of the disappearing Aral
Seaexemplify the problems caused by water ow timing. Under the
Soviet Unions central management, spring and summer irrigation in
downstream Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan balanced upstream Kyrgyzstans
use of hydropower to generate heat in the winter. But the parties are
barely adhering to recent agreements that exchange upstream ows of
alternate heating sources (natural gas, coal, and fuel oil) for downstream
irrigation and sporadically breach the agreements.

Reference 63.

deteriorated steadily, saltwater intrusion de- ity the cause? It would be simplistic to claim
graded local wells, and water-related diseases direct causality. Was it an irritant exacerbat-
took a rising toll on the people living there. ing an already tenuous situation? Undoubt-
In 1987, the intifada, or Palestinian uprising, edly (88).
broke out in the Gaza Strip and quickly spread An examination of relations between
throughout the West Bank. Was water qual- India and Bangladesh demonstrate that these

3.14 Wolf
ANRV325-EG32-03 ARI 4 July 2007 15:14

internal instabilities can be both caused and for private gain or when water-use rights are
exacerbated by international water disputes. assigned in a secretive and possibly corrupt
In the 1960s, India built a barrage at Farakka, manner, as demonstrated by the violent con-
diverting a portion of the Ganges ow away frontations in 2000 following the privatization
from its course into Bangladesh in an effort to of Cochabamba, Bolivias water utility.
ush silt away from Calcuttas seaport, some Finally, there is the human security issue of
100 miles to the south. In Bangladesh, the re- water-related disease. It is estimated that be-
duced ow from upstream resulted in a num- tween 5 and 10 million people die each year
ber of adverse effects: degraded surface and from water-related diseases or inadequate san-
groundwater, impeded navigation, increased itation. More than half the people in the world
salinity, degraded sheries, and endangered lack adequate sanitation. Eighty percent of
both water supplies and public health. Migra- disease in the developing world is related to
tion from affected areas further compounded water. This is a crisis of epidemic proportions,
the problem. Ironically, many of those dis- and the threats to human security are self-
placed in Bangladesh have found refuge in evident (2).
India (89).
Two thirds of the worlds water use is for
agriculture, so when access to irrigation wa- WATER AND INSTITUTIONS
ter is threatened, one result can be movement The international community has long grap-
of huge populations of out-of-work, disgrun- pled with effective institutional arrangements
tled men from the countryside to the cities for managing shared water resources. From
an invariable recipe for political instability. the international to the local, grappling with
In pioneering work, S. Postel (unpublished) the institutional implications of shared waters
identied those countries that rely heavily on has taken many forms, from international dec-
irrigation and whose agricultural water sup- larations to guiding principles to treaties and
plies are threatened either by a decline in local management.
quality or quantity. The list coincides pre-
cisely with the world communitys current se-
Institutional Development
curity concerns: India, China, Pakistan, Iran,
Contributions from the International
Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, and Egypt.
Water management in many countries is
also characterized by overlapping and com- Acknowledging the benets of cooperative
peting responsibilities among government water management, the international com-
bodies. Disaggregated decision making often munity has long advocated institutional de-
produces divergent management approaches velopment in the worlds international water-
that serve contradictory objectives and lead to ways and has focused considerable attention
competing claims from different sectors. And in the twentieth century on developing and
such claims are even more likely to contribute rening principles of shared management. In
to disputes in countries where there is no 1911, the Institute of International Law pub-
formal system of water-use permits or where lished the Madrid Declaration on the Inter-
enforcement and monitoring are inadequate. national Regulation regarding the Use of In-
Controversy also often arises when manage- ternational Watercourses for Purposes other
ment decisions are formulated without suf- than Navigation. The Madrid Declaration
cient participation by local communities and outlined certain basic principles of shared
water users, thus failing to take into account water management, recommending that
local rights and practices. Protests are espe- coriparian states establish permanent joint
cially likely when the public suspects that wa-
ter allocations are diverting public resources 2
This section draws from Reference 90. Shared Waters 3.15

ANRV325-EG32-03 ARI 4 July 2007 15:14

commissions and discouraging unilateral recommendations outlined in the Confer-

basin alterations and harmful modications ences Dublin Statement on Water and Sus-
of international rivers. Expanding on these tainable Development, which the drafters en-
Conference on guidelines, the International Law Association trusted to the world leaders gathering in Rio
Environment and developed the Helsinki Rules of 1966 on the for translation into a plan of action. Although
Development Uses of Waters of International Rivers. Since covering a range of water resource manage-
then, international freshwater law has ma- ment issues, the Dublin Statement speci-
tured through the work of these two organiza- cally highlights the growing importance of in-
tions as well as the United Nations and other ternational transboundary water management
governmental and nongovernmental bodies and encourages greater attention to the cre-
(66, 67). ation and implementation of integrated wa-
The past decade, however, has witnessed ter management institutions endorsed by all
a perhaps unprecedented number of declara- affected basin states. Moreover, the drafters
tions as well as organizational and legal devel- outlined certain essential functions of inter-
opments to further the international commu- national water institutions including recon-
nitys objective of promoting cooperative river ciling and harmonizing the interests of ripar-
basin management. The decade began with ian countries, monitoring water quantity and
the International Conference on Water and quality, development of concerted action pro-
the Environment in the lead-up to the 1992 grammes, exchange of information, and en-
UN Conference on Environment and Devel- forcing agreements (91).
opment (UNCED) in Rio. Subsequently, ac- At the Rio Conference, water resource
tions taken by the international community management was specically addressed in
have included the pronouncement of non- Chapter 18 of Agenda 21, a nonbinding ac-
binding conventions and declarations, the cre- tion plan for improving the state of the globes
ation of global water institutions, and the natural resources in the twenty-rst century
codication of international water principles. adopted by UNCED participants. The over-
Although clearly more work is required, these all goal of Chapter 18 is to ensure that the
initiatives have not only raised awareness of supply and quality of water is sufcient to
the myriad issues related to international wa- meet both human and ecological needs world-
ter resource management, but also have led to wide, and measures to implement this objec-
the creation of frameworks in which the issues tive are detailed in the Chapters ambitious
can be addressed. seven-part action plan. Although transbound-
ary water resource management is mentioned
in Chapter 18, few specic and substantive
Conventions, Declarations, and references are made to water resource issues at
Organizational Developments the international scale. The Rio Conference
The 1992 UNCED served as a forum for did, however, generate a number of activities
world policy makers to discuss problems concerning freshwater management in gen-
of the environment and development. As eral, with implications for international trans-
such, management of the worlds water re- boundary water management (92).
sources was only one of several topics ad- One result of the Rio Conference and
dressed. Water was, however, the primary fo- Agenda 21 has been an expansion of inter-
cus of the International Conference on Water national freshwater resource institutions and
and the Environment (ICWE), a prepara- programs. The World Water Council, a self-
tory conference held in advance of the Rio described think tank for world water re-
Earth Summit. The ICWE participants, rep- source issues, for example, was created in
resenting governmental and nongovernmen- 1996 in response to recommendations from
tal organizations, developed a set of policy the Rio Conference. Since its inception, the

3.16 Wolf
ANRV325-EG32-03 ARI 4 July 2007 15:14

World Water Council has hosted three World ble to waters in an international setting. Fur-
Water Forumsgatherings of government, thermore, policy measures prescribed by the
nongovernment, and private agency repre- international community to build greater in-
sentatives to discuss and collectively deter- stitutional capacity, such as integrated water
mine a vision for the management of water resource management, expanded stakeholder
resources over the next quarter century. These participation, and improved monitoring and
forums have led to the creation of the World evaluation schemes, are likewise important
Water Vision, a forward-looking declaration components of international watercourse
of philosophical and institutional water man- management.
agement needs, as well as the creation of co- The large meetings are also spawning cri-
ordinating and implementing agencies such as tiques, mainly by some donors and selected
the World Commission on Water for the 21st international nongovernmental organizations
Century and the Global Water Partnership. (NGOs), as becoming too large and numer-
The Second World Water Forum also served ous (for example, 93, 94). At the same time
as the venue for a ministerial conference in many local NGOs, although also criticizing
which the leaders of participating countries the meetings, are quick to add that it may be
signed a declaration concerning water secu- better to err on the side of too many than
rity in the twenty-rst century. The recent too few meetings because they have become
World Summit on Sustainable Development places where local NGOs have been able to
(WWSD) has helped to sustain the momen- interact with the so-called world water elite
tum of these recent global water initiatives. and visa versa. Indeed, the meetings seem to
In the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustain- echo what has been happening within coun-
able Development, delegates at the WWSD tries. There is increasing awareness that wa-
reafrmed a commitment to the principles ter people alone will not deal with these
contained in Agenda 21 and called upon the problems and that more and different types
United Nations to review, evaluate, and pro- of stakeholders must be involved. In addition,
mote further implementation of this global politicians interact more with professionals.
action plan (92). Indeed, for many years, the world water meet-
Through these meetings, the international ings were mostly run and attended by water
community has reinforced its commitment to professionals. The large meetings have begun
satisfy the water quality and quantity require- to change this to reect the broader trends oc-
ments of the global population and its sur- curring within countries. The Fourth World
rounding environment and has identied at- Water Forum emphasized implementing local
tendant tasks and policy measures needed to actions and spawned a movement to identify
fulll its pledge. Although many of strategies and monitor these actions. It remains to be
in Agenda 21 and subsequent statements are seen whether the professional water commu-
directed primarily at national water resources, nity can accept this.
their relevance extends to international trans- Like Agenda 21, however, none of
boundary waters. In fact, the Ministerial Dec- these post-Rio statements or declarations
laration at the Second World Water Forum focuses exclusively on international freshwa-
included sharing water (between different ter sources. Additionally, despite the efforts
users and states) as one of its seven ma- over the past decade to expand global insti-
jor challenges to achieving water security in tutional capacity over freshwater resources,
the twenty-rst century. Many of the other no supranational agency exists to man-
six challenges, which include meeting basic age transboundary resources globally. Thus,
needs, securing the food supply, protecting although many of the principles of national
the ecosystem, managing risks, valuing water, water management apply to international
and governing water wisely, are also applica- waters, the political, social, and economic Shared Waters 3.17

ANRV325-EG32-03 ARI 4 July 2007 15:14

dynamics associated with waters shared be- by the international community for the man-
tween sovereign states can require special agement of shared water resources, such as
consideration. equitable and reasonable utilization of waters
with specic attention to vital human needs,
protection of the aquatic environment, and
Legal Principles the promotion of cooperative management
There is a vast and growing literature on mechanisms. The document also incorporates
international water law (see, for example, provisions concerning data and information
the excellent summaries in References 66, exchange and mechanisms for conict resolu-
67, 9597. Wouters and her team (98) at the tion. Once ratied, the UN Convention will
University of Dundee have created a Legal provide a legally binding framework, at least
Assessment Model to help countries develop upon its signatories, for managing interna-
transboundary institutions. According to tional watercourses. Even without ratica-
Cano (99), international water law was not tion, its guidelines are being increasingly in-
substantially formulated until after World voked in international forums.
War I. Since that time, organs of international The UNs approval of the Convention,
law have tried to provide a framework for however, does not entirely resolve many le-
increasingly intensive water use, focusing gal questions concerning the management of
on general guidelines that could be applied internationally shared waters. First, the Con-
to the worlds watersheds. These general vention would technically only be binding on
principles of customary law, codied and those nations that have ratied or consented
progressively developed by advisory bodies to be bound by the agreement. To date, ve
and private organizations, are not intended to years after its adoption by the UN General
be legally binding in and of themselves, but Assembly, only 14 countries are party to the
they can provide evidence of customary law UN Convention, well below the requisite 35
and may help crystallize that law. Wouters instruments of ratication, acceptance, acces-
(P. Wouters, personal communication, 2003) sion, or approval needed to bring the Con-
notes that, Customary law is not soft law, vention into force (100).
even though it might be found in codication Second, international law only guides
efforts of NGOs or even the ILC rules. conduct between sovereign nations. Thus,
Customary laws are rules of international law grievances of political units or ethnic groups
and considered as sources. It is tempting to within nations over the domestic manage-
look to these principles for clear and binding ment of international waterways would not be
rules, but it is more accurate to think in addressed. Third, although the Convention
terms of guidelines for the process of conict offers general guidance to coriparian states,
resolution: (T)he principles (of customary its vague, and occasionally contradictory, lan-
law) themselves derive from the process and guage can result in varied, and indeed con-
the outcomes of the process rather than pre- ictive, interpretations of the principles con-
scribe either the process or its outcome ( J. tained therein. As stated by Biswas (101), the
Dellapenna, personal communication, 1997). vague, broad, and general terms incorpo-
The UN Convention on the Law of rated in the UN Convention can be de-
the Non-Navigational Uses of International ned, and in certain cases quantied, in a va-
Watercourses (UN Convention), adopted in riety of different ways. Fourth, there is no
1997 by the UN General Assembly, is one practical enforcement mechanism to back up
post-Rio accomplishment that specically fo- the Conventions guidance. The International
cuses on international transboundary water Court of Justice (ICJ), for example, hears
resources (65). The UN Convention codi- cases only with the consent of the parties in-
es many of the principles deemed essential volved and only on very specic legal points.

3.18 Wolf
ANRV325-EG32-03 ARI 4 July 2007 15:14

Moreover, in its 55-year history, the Court deed apparent, the past 50 years of treaty writ-
has decided only one case, apart from those ing suggests that capacity-building opportu-
related to boundary denitional disputes, nities still remain. Many international basins
pertinent to international watersthat of are without any type of cooperative manage-
the Gabckovo-Nagymaros Project on the ment framework, and even where institutions
Danube between Hungary and Slovakia in do exist, the post-Rio treaty record highlights
1997.3 Finally, the Convention only addresses a number of remaining weaknesses. Thus, in
those groundwater bodies that are connected combination with its existing efforts, the in-
to surface water systems, i.e., unconned ternational community might consider focus-
aquifers, yet several nations are already be- ing more attention on the specic institu-
ginning to tap into conned groundwater tional needs of individual basin communities
systems, many of which are shared across by assisting riparian states in the develop-
international boundaries. Nevertheless, and ment of cooperative management networks
despite the fact that the process of ratication that take into account the following key
is moving extremely slowly, the Conventions factors:
common acceptance, and the fact that the ICJ 1. Adaptable management structure.
referred to it in its decision on the 1997 case Effective institutional management
on the Gabcikovo Dam, gives the Conven- structures incorporate a certain level
tion increasing standing as an instrument of of exibility, allowing for public input,
customary law (102). changing basin priorities, and adding
new information and monitoring
technologies. The adaptability of man-
Institutional Lessons for the
agement structures must also extend to
International Community
nonsignatory riparians, by incorporat-
A review of international water relations and ing provisions addressing their needs,
institutional development over the past 50 rights, and potential accession.
years provides important insights into water 2. Clear and exible criteria for water allo-
conict and the role of institutions. The his- cations and water quality management.
torical record of water conict and coopera- Allocations, which are at the heart of
tion suggests that international watercourses most water disputes, are a function of
can cause tensions between coriparian states, water quantity and quality, as well as
but acute violence is the exception rather than political at. Thus, effective institutions
the rule. A much more likely scenario is that a must identify clear allocation schedules
gradual decline in water quantity or quality, or and water quality standards that simul-
both, affects the internal stability of a nation taneously provide for extreme hydro-
or region, which may in turn impact the in- logical events; new understanding of
ternational arena. Early coordination among basin dynamics, including groundwater
riparian states, however, can serve to amelio- reserves; and changing societal values.
rate these sources of friction. Additionally, riparian states may con-
The centrality of institutions both in sider prioritizing uses throughout the
preventive hydrodiplomacy and in effective basin. Establishing catchment-wide wa-
transboundary water management cannot be ter precedents may not only help to
overemphasized. Yet, although progress is in- avert interriparian conicts over water
use, but also protect the environmental
health of the basin as a whole.
The ICJ was established in 1946 with the dissolution of its 3. Equitable distribution of benets. Dis-
predecessor agency, the Permanent Court of International
Justice. This earlier body did rule on four international tributing water benets, a concept that
water disputes during its existence from 19221946. is subtly yet powerfully different than Shared Waters 3.19

ANRV325-EG32-03 ARI 4 July 2007 15:14

pure water allocation, is at the root Also excluded were events where water is not
of some of the worlds most successful the driver, such as those where water is a tool,
institutions. The idea concerns the dis- target, or victim of armed conict. (Please see
tribution of benets from water use Figure 2 for instances of conict and cooper-
whether from hydropower, agriculture, ation.) The study documented a total of 1831
economic development, aesthetics, or interactions, both conictive and cooperative,
the preservation of healthy aquatic between two or more nations over water dur-
ecosystemsnot the water itself. Dis- ing the past ve decades and found the fol-
tributing benets allows for positive- lowing:
sum agreements, occasionally including First, despite the potential for dispute in
even nonwater-related gains in a basket international basins, the record of acute con-
of benets, whereas dividing the water ict over international water resources is his-
itself only allows for winners and losers. torically overwhelmed by the record of co-
4. Concrete mechanisms to enforce treaty operation. During those 50 years, there were
provisions. Once a treaty is signed, only 37 acute disputes (those involving vio-
successful implementation is dependent lence); of those, 30 were between Israel and
not only on the actual terms of the one or another of its neighbors, and the vio-
agreement but also on an ability to lence ended in 1970. Non-Mideast cases ac-
enforce those terms. Appointing over- counted for only ve acute events, and during
sight bodies with decision making and the same period, 157 treaties were negotiated
enforcement authority is one impor- and signed. In fact, the only water war be-
tant step toward maintaining coopera- tween nations on record occurred over 4500
tive management institutions. years ago between the city-states of Lagash
5. Detailed conict resolution mecha- and Umma in the Tigris-Euphrates basin
nisms. Many basins continue to experi- (40, 103).
ence disputes even after a treaty is nego- The total number of water-related events
tiated and signed. Thus, incorporating between nations of any magnitude are
clear mechanisms for resolving conicts likewise weighted toward cooperation507
is a prerequisite for effective, long-term conict-related events, versus 1228 coopera-
basin management. tive eventsimplying that violence over wa-
ter is neither strategically rational, hydro-
graphically effective, nor economically viable.
WATER CONFLICT AND Second, despite the occasional ery
COOPERATION rhetoric of politiciansperhaps aimed more
In order to cut through the prevailing anecdo- often at their own constituencies than at the
tal approach to the history of water conicts, enemymost actions taken over water are
researchers at Oregon State University un- mild. Of all the events, some 43% fell between
dertook a three-year research project, which mild verbal support and mild verbal hostility.
attempted to compile a dataset of every re- If the next level on either sideofcial verbal
ported interaction between two or more na- support and ofcial verbal hostilityis added
tions, whether conictive or cooperative, that in, the share of verbal events reaches 62% of
involved water as a scarce and/or consum- the total. Thus, almost two thirds of all events
able resource or as a quantity to be managed, were only verbal, and more than two thirds of
i.e., where water was the driver of the events, those had no ofcial sanction (27).
over the past 50 years (27). Excluded were Third, there were more issues of co-
events where water is incidental to the dispute, operation than of conict. The distribu-
such as those concerning shing rights, access tion of cooperative events covered a broad
to ports, transportation, or river boundaries. spectrum, including water quantity, quality,

3.20 Wolf
ANRV325-EG32-03 ARI 4 July 2007 15:14

Figure 2
Number of events by BAR scale.

economic development, hydropower, and ments or are in the process of doing so,
joint management. In contrast, almost 90% and the institutions they have created often
of the conict-laden events related to quan- prove to be resilient, even when relations are
tity and infrastructure. Furthermore, almost strained.
all extensive military acts (the most extreme The Mekong Committee, for example, es-
cases of conict) fell within these two tablished by the governments of Cambodia,
categories. Laos, Thailand, and Viet Nam as an in-
Fourth, despite the lack of violence, water tergovernmental agency in 1957, exchanged
acted as both an irritant and a unier. As an data and information on water resources de-
irritant, water can make good relations bad velopment throughout the Viet Nam War
and bad relations worse. Despite the com- (24, 104). Israel and Jordan have held secret
plexity, however, international waters can act picnic table talks on managing the Jordan
as a unier in basins with relatively strong River since the unsuccessful Johnston ne-
institutions. gotiations of 19531955, even though they
This historical record suggests that inter- were technically at war from Israels in-
national water disputes do get resolved, even dependence in 1948 until the 1994 treaty
among enemies, and even as conicts erupt (105). The Indus River Commission sur-
over other issues. Some of the worlds most vo- vived two major wars between India and
ciferous enemies have negotiated water agree- Pakistan (106). And all 10 Nile basin riparian Shared Waters 3.21

ANRV325-EG32-03 ARI 4 July 2007 15:14

countries are currently involved in senior tity or quality, or both, which over time
government-level negotiations to develop the can affect the internal stability of a na-
basin cooperatively (107), despite water wars tion or region, and act as an irritant be-
rhetoric between upstream and downstream tween ethnic groups, water sectors, or
states. states/provinces. The resulting instabil-
ity may have effects in the international
GENERAL PRINCIPLES AND 4. The greatest threat of the global water
CONCLUSIONS crisis to human security comes from the
The vast experience of the international com- fact that millions of people lack access
munity and its shared water resources around to sufcient quantities of water at suf-
the world offers lessons for effective, efcient, cient quality for their well-being.
and equitable water resources management
and strategies for resolving disputes or, bet-
Why Might the Future Look
ter, in helping to avoid them altogether.
Nothing Like the Past?
Lessons Learned Much of the work presented here is based
partly on the assumption that we can tell
The most critical security lessons learned something about the future by looking at the
from the global experience in water security past. It is worth stopping at this point, then,
are as follows: and challenging the very foundation of that as-
1. Water crossing international bound- sumption: Why might the future look nothing
aries can cause tensions between nations at all like the past? What new approaches or
that share the basin. Although the ten- technologies are on the horizon to change or
sion is not likely to lead to warfare, early ameliorate the risk to the basins we have iden-
coordination between riparians can help tied, or even to change the whole approach
ameliorate the issue. Furthermore, wa- to basins at risk?
ter is a useful inducement to dialog and By denition, a discussion of the future can
collaboration, even in settings of intense not have the same empirical backing as a his-
political tension. torical studythe data just do not yet exist.
2. Successful agreements move generally Yet there are cutting edge developments and
from thinking in terms of rights to recent trends, which, if one examined them
needs and nally to interests, allowing within the context of this study, might sug-
for an equitable distribution of ben- gest some possible changes in store for trans-
ets. Whereas focusing on allocating boundary waters in the near future. What fol-
water mires negotiators in a zero-sum lows are four possibly fundamental changes in
game, thinking in terms of benets al- the way we approach transboundary waters.
lows riparians to move beyond the river,
(and even beyond water) with new pos- New technologies for negotiation and
sibilities for the basket of benets to management. Most analysis of international
be enhanced. Once international insti- waters dates from the mid-1960s onward. In
tutions are in place, they are tremen- some ways, water management is very sim-
dously resilient over time, even between ilar now as it was then (or, for that mat-
otherwise hostile riparian nations, and ter, as it was 5000 years ago). But some fun-
even when there is conict over other damental aspects are profoundly different.
issues. Although global water stresses are increasing,
3. More likely than violent conict occur- institutions are getting better and more re-
ring is a gradual decrease in water quan- silient, management and understanding are

3.22 Wolf
ANRV325-EG32-03 ARI 4 July 2007 15:14

improving, and these issues are increasingly proceeding through the studied avoidance of
on the radar screen of global and lo- development banks and their mores.
cal decision makers. But most importantly, There is a more subtle effect of globaliza-
WTO: World Trade
the twenty-rst century has access to new tion, which has to do with the WTO and its Organization
technologyincluding remote sensing and emphasis on privatization and full cost recov-
modeling capabilities and technologies as well ery of investments. Local and national gov-
as management practices that increase water- ernments have traditionally implemented and
use efciency, which could not be dreamed of subsidized water development systems to keep
in 1948 and adds substantially to the ability water prices down but are under increasing
both to negotiate and to manage transbound- pressure from the forces of globalization to
ary waters more effectively (108). Although develop these systems through private com-
new technologies and data cannot replace the panies. These large multinational water com-
political goodwill necessary for creative solu- panies manage for prot and, if they use de-
tions, nor are they widely available outside the velopment capital, both push and are pushed
developed world, they can if appropriately de- to recover the full cost of their investment.
ployed allow for more robust negotiations and This situation can translate not only into im-
greater exibility in joint management. mediate and substantial rises in the cost of
water, disproportionately affecting the poor,
Globalization: private capital, World but also to greater eradication of local and in-
Trade Organization, and circumvented digenous management systems and cultures.
ethics. Very little of the recent attention on If there is to be water-related violence in the
globalization and the World Trade Organiza- future, it is much more liable to be like the
tion (WTO) has centered on water resources, water riots against a Bechtel development in
but there is a denite water component to Bolivia in 1999 than water wars across national
these trends. One of the most profound is boundaries.
the shift of development funds from global As WTO rules are elaborated and negoti-
and regional development banks such as the ated, real questions remain as to how much
World Bank and the Asia Development Bank of this process will be required of nations
to private multinationals, such as Bechtel, in the future, simply to retain membership
Vivendi, and Ondeo (formally Lyonnaise des in the organization. The commodication of
Eux) (for example, 109, 110). Development water as a result of these forces is a case
banks have, over the years, been susceptible in point. Over the past 20 years, no global
to public pressures and ethics and, as such, water policy meeting has neglected to pass
have developed procedures for evaluating a resolution, which, among other issues, de-
social and environmental impacts of projects ned water as an economic good, setting
and incorporating them in decision making. the stage at the 2000 World Water Forum for
On international waters, each development an unresolved showdown against those who
bank has guidelines that generally prohibit would dene water as a human or ecosystem
development unless all riparians agree to the right. The debate looms large over the future
project, which in and of itself has promoted of water resources: If water is a commodity,
successful negotiations in the past. Private and if WTO rules disallow obstacles to the
enterprises have no such restrictions, and na- trade of commodities, will nations be forced
tions eager to develop controversial projects to sell their water? Although far-fetched now
have been increasingly turning to private (even as a California company is challenging
capital to circumvent public ethics. The most British Columbia over precisely such an is-
controversial projects of the dayTurkeys sue under North American Free Trade Agree-
GAP project, Indias Narmada River project, ment rules), the globalization debate between
and Chinas Three Gorges Damare all market forces and social forces continues to Shared Waters 3.23

ANRV325-EG32-03 ARI 4 July 2007 15:14

play out in microcosm in the world of water Currently, there is inherent political power in
resources. being an upstream riparian, controlling the
headwaters. In the scenario for cheap desali-
The geopolitics of desalination. Twice in nation above, that spatial position of power
the past 50 yearsduring the 1960s nuclear would shift from mountains to the valleys and
energy fervor and in the late 1980s, with from the headwaters to the sea. Many nations,
discoveries in cold fusionmuch of the world such as Israel, Egypt, and Iraq currently de-
briey thought it was on the verge of having pendent on upstream neighbors for their wa-
access to close-to-free energy supplies. Too ter supply would, by virtue of their coastlines,
cheap to meter was the phrase during the suddenly nd roles reversedagain unlikely,
Atoms for Peace Conference. Although nei- but plausible.
ther the economics nor the technology nally
supported these claims, it is not far-fetched to The changing sources of water and the
picture changes that could profoundly alter changing nature of conflict. Both the
the economics of desalination. worlds of water and of conict are undergo-
The marginal cost of desalinated water ing slow but steady changes that may obviate
(between US$0.55 and US$0.80/m3 ) makes much of the thinking in this report. Lack of ac-
it currently cost-effective only in the devel- cess to a safe, stable supply of water is reaching
oped world where (a) the water will be used unprecedented proportions. Furthermore, as
for drinking water; and (b) the population to surface water supplies and easy groundwater
whom the water will be delivered lives along sources are increasingly exploited throughout
a coast and at low elevations; and (c) there the world, two major changes result: Qual-
are no alternatives. The only places not so ity is steadily becoming a more serious issue
restricted are where energy costs are espe- to many than quantity, and water use is shift-
cially low, notably the Arabian Peninsula. A ing to less traditional sources. Many of these
fundamental shift either in energy prices or in sourcessuch as deep fossil aquifers, wastew-
membrane technology could bring costs down ater reclamation, and interbasin transfers
substantially. If either happened to the extent are not restricted by the connes of watershed
that the marginal cost allowed for agricultural boundaries, our fundamental unit of analysis
irrigation with sea water (around US$.08/m3 in this review.
on average), a large proportion of the worlds Conict, too, is becoming less traditional,
water supplies would shift from rivers and increasingly being driven by internal or lo-
shallow aquifers to the sea (an unlikely, but cal pressures, or more subtle issues of poverty
plausible, scenario). and stability. The combination of changes, in
In addition to the fundamental economic water resources and in conict, suggest that
changes that would result, geopolitical think- tomorrows water disputes may look very dif-
ing of water systems would also need to shift. ferent from todays.

The author is not aware of any biases that might be perceived as affecting the objectivity of
this review.

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