The year of water politics

The International Year of Water Cooperation is being launched at UNESCO headquarters in Paris on 11 February 2013.

Is there real cause for celebration? In a word, yes. Over the past 70 years, incidences of cooperation have outnumbered conflicts by two to one. And there is apparently no evidence of coming water wars, whatever the Cassandras of this world might say, even in regions where water supplies are declining.
This may come as a surprise.  ‘It seems intuitive’, write the authors in UNESCO’s journal, A World of Science. ‘The less water there is, the more likely it is that people will fight over it.’ Well, actually, no. Researchers have found that arid climates are no more conflict-prone than humid ones. It also transpires that conflicts over water erupt in equal measure in rich and poor countries, democracies and autocracies, fortunately on rare occasions.

There is thus real cause for celebration’, observes UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences Gretchen Kalonji. ‘Be it a transboundary river basin or aquifer, or a water pump built for a rural village, examples of cooperation apparently abound.’

Which is just as well since, with demand for freshwater increasing as a corollary of demographic and economic growth, we shall have to pull together even more in future to ensure that there is enough of this fragile, finite resource to go around. That will also mean convincing the food, water and energy sectors to work together, rather than in silos. It will take strong institutions at both the national and international levels to satisfy competing demands and defuse tension when it arises, such as over proposals for shale gas extraction, mass irrigation or dam construction.’

The following series of articles is taken from The Key to Managing Conflict and Cooperation over Water by Kramer et al. (A World of Science, volume 11, number 1, January 2013). Each of these articles examines a different aspect of conflict and cooperation over water, using examples from history – and more recent case studies – to show the human face of water politics.

Coming soon:

Part IV
Strong institutions make excellent peace-keepers
Part V
Cooperative mechanisms can solve smoldering disputes

Back to top