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Water Conflicts under Scrutiny

Water Conflicts under Scrutiny

Will water scarcity trigger wars, or will nations choose to cooperate in using this resource? This question was one of the main points of discussions during the Stockholm World Water Week 2009. For a long time this question was examined primarily from the perspective of international relations and the balance of power between countries. The volume titled "International Water Security. Domestic Threats and Opportunities" on the other hand, looks closely at the role of domestic factors in determining whether the approach to transboundary water bodies is cooperative or conflictive. The volume, edited by Nevelina I. Pachova, Mikiyasu Nakayama, and Libor Jansky, was published in 2008 by the United Nations University Press. The authors cite various case studies to demonstrate the influence of domestic security concerns on the negotiation and implementation of international agreements (e.g. Indus, Lesotho, Danube, Mekong and Lake Chad).

Domestic developments, such as migration, poverty or the creation of new water infrastructure, can intensify competition for the resource, as exemplified in the case of Sudan and Egypt, Thailand and Burma, or the Aral Sea and Mekong basins. These regions have been identified as potential water hotspots. Transboundary water cooperation must therefore be strengthened to counteract such developments. The authors recommend that water issues be viewed in the broader context of regional cooperation, so as to increase the scope of compromise and potential benefits for all parties. The example of the Okavango Delta illustrates the approach of a systematic assessment of security policies in river basins, which can identify the negative impact of national security considerations on sustainable water management. In upstream Angola, for example, the strategic relevance of water resources is steadily rising after the reconstruction phase that followed the end of the civil war in 2002. Economic development, ensuring food security and the resettlement of displaced population groups have been identified as priorities, whose implementation could have an impact on downstream Namibia or Botswana. Such developments need not, however, result in conflicts. Non-state actors, academicians, the Okavango River Basin Water Commission (OKACOM) and others have an important role to play in making the sustainable use of the shared water resource a political priority.

The book "International Water Security" broadens the debate on water and security by adding case studies and a new perspective. It demonstrates that even in very diverse regions it is possible to take action at the domestic level to minimize water-related tensions between countries. Although the contributions have a practical focus, the book is more suitable for enhancing one’s understanding of the basic framework of water cooperation rather than offering any concrete proposals for action. (Annabelle Houdret and Dennis Taenzler)

For more information on the volume "International Water Security. Domestic threats and opportunities":


For more information on the Stockholm Water Week 2009: