Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

“Water Wars” a Myth, Say Experts

By Thalif Deen | 25 August 2006

STOCKHOLM, Aug 25 (IPS) – The world’s future wars will be fought not over oil but water: an ominous prediction made by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the British ministry of defence and even by some officials of the World Bank.

But experts and academics meeting at an international conference on water management in the Swedish capital are dismissing this prediction as unrealistic, far-fetched and nonsensical.

“Water wars make good newspaper headlines but cooperation (agreements) don’t,” says Arunabha Ghosh, co-author of the upcoming Human Development Report 2006 themed on water management. The annual report, commissioned by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), is to be released in December.

In reality, Ghosh told the meeting in Stockholm, there are plenty of bilateral, multilateral and trans-boundary agreements for water-sharing — all or most of which do not make good newspaper copy.

Asked about water wars, Prof. Asit K. Biswas of the Mexico-based Third World Centre for Water Management, told IPS: “This is absolute nonsense because this is not going to happen — at least not during the next 100 years.”

He said the world is not facing a water crisis because of physical water scarcities. “This is baloney,” he said.

“What it is facing is a crisis of bad water management,” argued Biswas, who was awarded the 2006 international Stockholm Water Prize for “outstanding achievements” in his field. The presentation ceremony took place in Stockholm Thursday.

According to the Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), one-third of all river basins are shared by more than two countries.

Globally, there are 262 international river basins: 59 in Africa, 52 in Asia, 73 in Europe, 61 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 17 in North America. Overall, 145 countries have territories that include at least one shared river basin.

Between 1948 and 1999, UNESCO says, there have been 1,831 “international interactions” recorded, including 507 conflicts, 96 neutral or non-significant events, and most importantly, 1,228 instances of cooperation.

“Despite the potential problem, history has demonstrated that cooperation, rather than conflict, is likely in shared basins,” UNESCO concludes.

The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) says that 10- to 20-year-old arguments about conflict over water are still being recycled.

“Such arguments ignore massive amounts of recent research which shows that water-scarce states that share a water body tend to find cooperative solutions rather than enter into violent conflict,” the institute says.

SIWI says that during the entire “intifada” — the ongoing Palestinian uprising against Israel in the occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza — the only thing on which the two warring parties continued to cooperate at a basic level was their shared waters.

“Thus, rather than reaching for arguments for the ‘water war hypotheses,’ the facts seem to support the idea that water is a uniting force and a potential source of peace rather than violent conflict.” SIWI said.

Ghosh, co-author of the UNDP study, pointed out several agreements which were “models of cooperation”, including the Indus Waters Treaty, the Israel-Jordan accord, the Senegal River Development Organisation and the Mekong River Commission.

A study sponsored by the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars points that despite newspaper headlines screaming “water wars are coming!”, these apocalyptic warnings fly in the face of history.

“No nations have gone to war specifically over water resources for thousands of years. International water disputes — even among fierce enemies — are resolved peacefully, even as conflicts erupt over other issues,” it says.

The study also points out instances of cooperation between riparian nations — countries or provinces bordering the same river — that outnumbered conflicts by more than two to one between 1945 and 1999.

Why? “Because water is so important, nations cannot afford to fight over it. Instead, water fuels greater interdependence. By coming together to jointly manage their shared water resources, countries can build trust and prevent conflict,” argues the study, jointly co-authored by Aaron Wolf, Annika Kramer, Alexander Carius and Geoffrey Dabelko.

The study also says most of the conflicts have been within nations, and that international rivers are a different story, although a vice president of the World Bank predicted in 1995 that “the wars of the next century will be about water.”

In the early 1990s, California farmers bombed pipelines moving water from Owens Valley to Los Angeles, and in 2000 Chinese farmers in Shandong clashed with police to protest government plans to divert irrigation water to cities and industries.

Ghosh cited two recent incidents impacting on water supplies. When Israeli fighter jets recently reduced parts of the Lebanese capital Beirut into rubble, the U.S.-made F-16s also destroyed an important source of life sustenance: water pipelines from the Litani River to farmland along the coastal plain and parts of the Bekaa Valley.

The longstanding conflict in Sri Lanka — which has been dragging for over 20 years — was resumed last month over the diversion of a canal by the rebel group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, fighting for a separate nation state.

“These are two more cases for those who predict water wars,” Ghosh said.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"