Causes of Water Conflict

According to the 1992 International Conference on Water and the Environment, water is a vital element for human life, and human activities are closely connected to availability and quality of water. Unfortunately, water is a limited resource and in the future access “might get worse with climate change, although scientists’ projections of future rainfall are notoriously cloudy” writes Roger Harrabin. Moreover, “it is now commonly said that future wars in the Middle East are more likely to be fought over water than over oil,” said Lester R. Brown at a previous Stockholm Water Conference.

Water confl icts occur because the demand for water resources and potable water can exceed supply, or because control over access and allocation of water may be disputed. Elements of a water crisis may put pressures on affected parties to obtain more of a shared water resource, causing diplomatic tension or outright conflict.

11% of the global population, or 783 million people, are still without access to improved sources of drinking water which provides the catalyst for potential for water disputes. Besides life, water is necessary for proper sanitation, commercial services, and the production of commercial goods. Th us numerous types of parties can become implicated in a water dispute. For example, corporate entities may pollute water resources shared by a community, or governments may argue over who gets access to a river used as an international or inter-state boundary.

The broad spectrum of water disputes makes them diffi cult to address. Locale, local and international law, commercial interests, environmental concerns, and human rights questions make water disputes complicated to solve – combined with the sheer number of potential parties, a single dispute can leave a large list of demands to be met by courts and lawmakers.

Water Security

Water security is defi ned here as the capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being2, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability3. Th is defi nition implies that water is managed sustainably throughout the water cycle and is done so through an inter-disciplinary focus, so that it contributes to socioeconomic development and reinforces societal resilience to environmental impacts and water-borne diseases without compromising the present and future health of populations and ecosystems.

Achieving water security requires allocation among users to be fair, effi cient and transparent; that water to satisfy basic human needs is accessible to all at an aff ordable cost to the user; that water throughout the water cycle is collected and treated to prevent pollution and disease; and that fair, accessible and eff ective mechanisms exist to manage or address disputes or confl icts that may arise. Th e concept operates at all levels, from individual, household and community, to local, sub-national, national, regional and international settings, and takes into account the variability of water availability over time. Th e term water security captures the dynamic dimensions of water and water-related issues and off ers a holistic outlook for addressing water challenges. While some defi nitions of water security have a narrow focus, representing specifi c interests, many others attempt to capture the various dimensions of the term (see Box 1). Approaching water issues under the umbrella of water security captures most interests in water and off ers a means for considering these issues holistically, as many issues are closely interrelated and have multiple causes, impacts, and solutions across sectors.

Water security encapsulates complex and interconnected challenges and highlights water’s centrality for achieving a sense of security, sustainability, development and human well-being, from the local to the international level. Many factors contribute to water security and range from biophysical to infrastructural, institutional, political, social and fi nancial – many of which lie outside the water realm. Water security, therefore, lies at the centre of many security areas, each of which is intricately linked to water (Zeitoun, 2011). Addressing water security, therefore, requires interdisciplinary collaboration across sectors, communities and political borders, so that the potential for competition or confl icts over water resources, between sectors and between water users or states, is adequately managed (Wouters et al., 2009).

Source: Water Security & the Global Water Agenda




Current Issue: Africa Water & Sanitation & Hygiene March-April 2017 Vol.12 No.2