Global Policy Forum

Water in Conflict

Picture Credit: UN Photo/Ky Chung

As demand for water hits the limits of finite supply, potential conflicts are brewing between nations that share transboundary freshwater reserves. More than 50 countries on five continents might soon be caught up in water disputes unless they move quickly to establish agreements on how to share reservoirs, rivers, and underground water acquifers. The articles and analysis below examine international water disputes, civil disturbances caused by water shortages, and potential regulatory solutions to diffuse water conflict.

Key Documents

Troubled Waters: Climate Change, Hydropolitics and Transboundary Resources (2009)

This comprehensive document studies the environmental and socio-political dangers of shared fresh water resources in a world experiencing climate change. Climate change will interfere significantly with global fresh water systems. As glaciers melt, seas rise and storm intensity increases, the availability of drinking water will diminish considerably. (Stimson)

Water Conflict Chronology (last updated in November 2008)

Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security explores the interrelationship between water resources, water systems, and international security and conflict. The water conflict chronology tracks and categorizes events related to water and conflict since 1503.

Water and Violent Conflict (May 26, 2005)

Water-related tensions occur when the resource is scarce and access is limited. According to this OECD briefing, political, socio-economic and cultural factors fuel these tensions and can create conflicts on four different levels - local, national, international and global. International cooperation on rivers, basins and other sources of water can help diminish tensions, as they serve to build trust and confidence, as well as facilitating development.

Dehydrating Conflict (October 2001)

Sandra Postel of the Global Water Policy Project stresses the need for nations to react preemptively, rather than retroactively, in order to avoid emerging crisis over water usage. (Foreign Policy)

Water, the Looming Source of World Conflict (March 20, 2001)

As the demand for clean water becomes more and more of a concern, there are nearly three hundreds potential conflicts over water around the world. (Agence France-Presse)

Avoiding War Over Natural Resources (November 1, 1998)

Water is the lifesource of all humanity. In particularly arid climates like those of the Middle East and Northern Africa, water rights can become very contentious issues. This article demonstrates water's role in internal state conflicts. (Forum: Water and War)


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Water is a fundamental resource, it is a vital part of the production process of almost everything we make and do. Most importantly, it is essential in the generation and production of energy and food. Water security is important for retaining political, economic and environmental stability.  With supplies declining (1.2 to 1.7 billion people struggle with shortages), water has been described as an “urgent security issue” by a group of former heads of state and government.  As the draft of the Sustainable Development Goals is to be released in September, many international observers and organizations are pushing for the inclusion of universal water security.  (IPS)

The UN's Vanishing Act in Asia (February 7, 2013)

The Asia-Pacific region has recently witnessed a series of threats to peace. The Sino-Japanese dispute over the ownership of the Senkaku Islands has escalated, with both countries now flying surveillance fighter jets. Chinese jets have entered what is known as Japan’s Air Defense Identity Zone, but have not infringed Japan’s airspace under international law. There are also maritime disputes over the Paracels and the Spratlys, two island chains claimed in whole or in part by a number of countries including the Phillipines, Vietnam and China. China, a permanent, veto-holding Council member, is opposed to a multilateral solution to these disputes, which explains the absence of the issue on the Council’s agenda. No other involved state has forced the issue, and without any other members having interest in the conflict, it is unlikely it will be preemptively addressed. Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, US counterterrorism policies, and Asia's territorial disputes show that the Council still struggles to be relevant in the crises most likely to spark conflict.  (Foreign Affairs)

Nigeria's Vital Lake Chad Left Out to Dry (January 11, 2013)

The shrinking Lake Chad, on which approximately 30 million people in surrounding areas of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger depend, is proof of the growing problem of water scarcity worldwide. It has depleted to 1/5th of its original area and is expected to disappear by the end of the century if nothing is done to protect it, according to the FAO. Farming and fishing are the main livelihoods in the basin; however, fishing activity is already threatened. Tensions over scarce resources have also led to conflicts between users. To help replenish the lake, a $14 billion project to divert water from the Congo River is currently awaiting funding. The future of Lake Chad cannot be ensured solely through large water diversion projects, requiring instead greater focus on sustainable management of current and future water demands within the basin. (Al Jazeera)

A Parched Future: Global Land and Water Grabbing (January 7, 2013)

The displacement of small farmers, environmental degradation and food insecurity are common concerns in the discussion of land grabbing.  A recent study, “Global land and water grabbing”, examines how the mass acquisition of land also has severe impacts on countries’ water reserves, an implication that is often less prominent.   Water security in many southern countries is put under strain, particularly in Africa which accounts for over half of the total land grabbed across the globe. Although the FAO’s “Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security” are an important step to regulate land grabbing, they do not address water grabbing. Furthermore, as the title “Voluntary Guidelines” suggests, the extent to which they will be implemented is uncertain. (farmlandgrab)


The Power Politics of Water Struggles (November 28, 2011)

Dr. Mark Zeitoun has developed a new framework for analyzing how power politics influence international water issues, significantly shifting the dominant discourse. Working in Gaza and the West Bank, he was forced to cope with Israeli rules impeding aid workers’ attempts to construct a basic sustainable water infrastructure for Palestinians. Under the Oslo Accords, Palestinians agreed to an inequitable distribution of the Jordan River’s water, and all water-related projects require Israeli political and military approval. According to Dr. Zeitoun, the Palestinians’ consent to this agreement demonstrates that hydro-hegemony can be attained by coercion rather than force. (New York Times)

Egypt: Water Challenges Forcing a Rethink on Usage (October 18, 2011)

Egypt faces water shortages due to infrastructure problems, evaporation, a rapidly growing population and the increasing demand for Nile water by neighboring countries. This water crisis challenges the Egyptians’ usage of water and poses a direct threat to agriculture. Regional tension contributes to worsening the crisis while the Egyptian population fears fights over water. (IRIN News)

Tibetan Waters: A Source of Cooperation or Conflict? (September 30, 2011)

The control of natural resources remains a source of conflict between states. China has decided to build dams and river diversion projects in Tibet. These initiatives will divert all the major rivers originating on the Tibetan plateau and will directly affect lower riparian states. These different projects may have negative environmental consequences for two billion of people living in the entire zone and trigger an eco-disaster while pushing population to migrate. The Chinese government’s unwillingness to engage in a dialogue on water with its neighbors contributes to tensions in the region. (Institute for Defense Studies & Analyses)

Egypt and Ethiopia to Review Nile River Dam (September 17, 2011)

Ethiopia is planning the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam. This $4.8bn project has been controversial, worsening the already tense relations between Ethiopia and Egypt. The core of the dispute lies in the revision of colonial-era agreements, which Ethiopia supports but Egypt rejects. However, following Hosni Mubarak’s ousting, the Egyptian prime minister has announced his will to settle the dispute and forge new relations with his Ethiopian counterpart. Ethiopia and Egypt have recently agreed to review together the impact of the Nile River dam. This is meant to promote a win-win strategy between the two countries and could prove beneficial for the entire region, including Sudan. (Al Jazeera)

Water, Oil, Food – A Crisis for Saudi Arabia and the World (September 14, 2011)

Saudi Arabia is facing an important water crisis that will have negative consequences for its population and the rest of the world. The Kingdom is using its underground water for agricultural purposes and to feed its citizens. But rapid population expansion and industrial development have led to water shortages and food insecurity. Saudi Arabia is now leasing land in Ethiopia to meet national food demand and is undertaking the desalination of seawater. This second solution remains energy-consuming and will deplete Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves. This would mean that Saudi Arabia will have to diminish its oil exports, thus slowing down production in other countries. (State of the Planet)

Water as a Basic Human Right Has a Market Price, Says U.N. Chief (August 3, 2011)

In a recent statement, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has asserted that water, a human right, has a market price.  Water distribution has become increasingly profit-driven as governments have shifted this service to private companies, often with disastrous consequences. In Argentina, for instance, the price of water increased 88.2% after privatization. Governments should be responsible for providing a clean and affordable water supply, particularly if the alternative is an unreliable and expensive private system.  Public-public partnerships (PUPS), a method of providing water through not-for-profit partnered municipalities, are an option that would increase the quality and range of water distribution, ensuring that water remains a right rather than a business opportunity. (IPS News)

As Central Asia Dries Up, States Spar Over Shrinking Resources (July 24, 2011)

Thousands of people depend on the Amu Darya River, the longest river in Central Asia, for irrigation as well as for personal use. But while the population - and thus the demand for water - has more than doubled in the past two decades, the river is drying up. Central Asian governments are unable to cooperate on water management and relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have worsened. At the core of their disagreement lies Tajikistan’s plan to complete the construction of Rogun, a hydropower dam from the Soviet-era. The existing problems will be magnified by climate change and the increasing demand for water. According to a UNEP report, Central Asian States must cooperate and agree on water sharing, otherwise the situation will continue to deteriorate. (Radio Free Europe)

Africa’s Flourishing Niger Delta Threatened by Libya Water Plan (February 3, 2011)

The Niger delta is Africa’s second largest floodplains. It sustains millions of farmers, fisher people and herders and is home of a rich diversity of wildlife. But, Libya supports a project to divert the Niger River for extensive irrigation upstream and make Libya self-sufficient in food. This plan is the result of a backdoor deal between Libyan leader, Moammar Gaddafi, and Mali’s President, Amadou Toumani Toure. Mali, one of the poorest countries in the world, has agreed to hand over land to a Libyan-controlled organization and “undisclosed rights” to the Niger delta in exchange for aid and investment. Yet, this will prove detrimental to Malian food security. The Niger delta will run dry, diminishing the seasonal floods and damaging the livelihood of millions of poor citizens. (Yale Environment 360)

Water Crisis Offers Change for Unity Over Strife (August 1, 2011)

1.4 billion people lack access to safe water and half the world’s population is expected to live in areas of high “water stress” by 2030. 80% of the world’s fresh water sources originate in basins that cross national and cultural boundaries leading to concerns of impending “water wars.” Such concerns are exacerbated due to the reality of climate change and water depletion. A new approach to the sustainable distribution of water is necessary. International cooperation must be achieved through treaties ensuring a more equitable distribution of the world’s water. (InterPress Service)

Dam Project in Turkey Breeds Controversy (June 13, 2011)

The Illisu dam project in Turkey has raised concerns from Turks, Kurds and Iraqis as the project will impact all three groups. While the dam will generate a significant amount of energy, it will at least partially destroy a town inhabited by Turks. Kurds in the area see the project as “a violation of their culture and land.” Iraqis have raised concerns over Turkish control of the water on the Tigris River, which despite promises of an increase of water flow could actually result in less water if there are Iraqi-Turkish tensions. The Turkish government, however, argues that if Turks want a more modern lifestyle, they must accept the sacrifices that come with projects like the Illisu dam.(Inter Press Service)

A Review of Private Sector Influence on Water Policies and Programs at the United Nations (May 18, 2011)

This report released by the Council of Canadians condemns increased corporate influence on UN water policy. The timing of the report is important as water was only recognized as a human right last year, and the UN is still determining the limits of corporate involvement. While the report does not oppose corporate involvement in ensuring sustainable water protection policies, it warns that the UN should be aware of the “imbalance in power, influence, and money” that comes from allowing corporate lobbying. (The Council of Canadians)

Burst of New Dams in Southwest China Produces Power and Public Ire (March 22, 2011)

China has been building new hydroelectric dams, and many more are planned or under construction. However, these dams are ruining fisheries and displacing citizens in the process.  Some are even being built in seismically active regions, where they could alter the environment enough to cause earthquakes, such as scientists believe occurred in May 2008 in the Sichuan province. While protests are sometimes stalling the building process, the Chinese government is determined to increase the country’s hydroelectric power. (Circle of Blue)

"Magic tree seeds" to Purify Dirty Water (February 10, 2011)

The Moringa oleifera tree's seeds are capable of purifying water and reducing the amount of present bacteria. The shrubs are widely grown in Africa, Central and South America, and South and Southeast Asia. While not a solution for purifying large amounts of drinking water, it could function on the household level. Moringa trees can't clean all water pollutants, but they could help make clean drinking water more accessible. (IRIN)
Officials in Afghanistan's Farah province have renewed accusations that insecurities at the Bakhshabad hydropower plant are part of Iranian sabotage attempts. The dam project would divert water from the Farah River to make water more affordable in the province, where the population depends on farming. However, altering the course of the river would reduce the water available for the Iranian provinces of Sistan and Baluchestan, which are among its driest. The attacks seem to be aimed at discouraging any investment in the project. (IWPR)

Can the Sea Solve China's Water Crisis? (January 24, 2011)

As China is facing water shortages, its government is undertaking projects that will yield greater water sustainability in the future. One of these projects is the Beijang desalination and power plant, which would make sea water usable for the Chinese population while providing power. The process, however, is costly and does not address the root causes of water shortages. (The Guardian)


Pakistan and India in Dam Building Race - Interpreting the Indus Waters Treaty (November 30, 2010)

Despite their tumultuous relationship, India and Pakistan have peacefully managed their needs for the same water sources since 1960 through the Indus Waters Treaty.  Under the treaty, Pakistan filed a complaint about a new Indian hydropower plant on the Neelum River that conflicts with a Pakistani dam project. Pakistan views the treaty as a method of conflict prevention and resolution. The decision could alter Pakistan's investment in the treaty because the last time a complaint was filed, the ruling was in India's favor. Without a water treaty, India and Pakistan's relations will be further strained. (Circle of Blue)

When The Water Ends: Africa's Climate Conflicts (October 26, 2010)

Large pastoral populations in Ethiopia and Kenya depend on water from Lake Turkana and the Omo River for survival. Climate change has caused the water levels of the Omo River to decrease and Lake Turkana's area to retreat into Kenya. Tribal competition for water and grazing lands has been escalating. Humanitarian response has focused on immediate relief, but has failed to offer a long term solution. The conflicts are likely to intensify in the future as resource scarcity increases. (Yale Environment 360)

Armenian-Azerbaijani Water Politics (October 21, 2010)

Water is a key factor in the on-going dispute over the Karabakh region, which is claimed by both Azerbaijan and Armenia. The water in the Karabakh region was shared by the Armenians and the Azeris under the USSR, but has been under Armenian control since the early 1990's.  The Armenians see control of the water as part of their sovereign right, regardless of how their water policy affects the Azeris downstream. The Azeris, who had been accustomed to access under the Soviets, view the Armenian water policy as deliberately hostile. Water is now one of the key factors in the ongoing negotiations over the Karabakh region. (Institute for War and Peace Reporting)

Human Impact on World's Rivers 'Threatens Water Security of 5 Billion' (September 29, 2010)

A report published in the journal Nature shows how 23 different human influences, ranging from dams, pollution and the introduction of alien fish, affect water security and biodiversity. The report indicated that even the world's greatest rivers such as the Nile and the Ganges are suffering serious biodiversity and water security stress. Moreover, some of the highest threat levels in the world are in the US and the EU, particularly concerning biodiversity loss. Scientists warn that human activity has affected the world's rivers greatly and almost 5 billion people face the threat of water insecurity. (The Guardian)

Water Dispute Increases India-Pakistan Tension (July 20, 2010)

For downstream Pakistan, dependent on irrigated agriculture and facing water scarcity, India's plans to build the Kishenganga dam are of serious concern. Under a 1960 treaty, Pakistan is afforded 80% of water in the Indus river system. Yet while the treaty permits India to dam the water, providing it doesn't withhold too much, Pakistan is concerned that the dam would give India power to manipulate the water flow as it wants. In this latest challenge to the already volatile inter-state relations, discussion of water sharing is envenomed by distrust and secrecy, preventing any mutually agreeable resolution. (New York Times)

Water Security at Extreme Risk in Africa and Asia (June 25, 2010)

A new report from the risk consultancy Maplecroft addresses the gross global inequalities in water availability and consumption. Many of the world's poorest groups remain without access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and vulnerable to water-related diseases and potential water-related conflict. Current water use is often unsustainable and competition for resources is expected to worsen with projected population growth and climate change. The report finds water and sanitation spending offers economic benefits. Yet it is power relations, rather than absolute resource availability, that maintain present water insecurities. (IDN Environment Desk)

IRAQ: Killing for Water (June 23, 2010)

For the third time in three months, an Iraqi water distribution official has been murdered as tribal negotiations over scarce water resources intensify. The decline in the flow of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has made water a highly contested resource in Iraq. The weak central government's has been unable to effectively regulate water resources, compelling clans to take matters into their own hands. As inter-clan tensions mount, the government has reminded Iraqis to comply with regulation guidelines, but to no avail. The situation illustrates how political destabilization brought on by external intervention can expose the dark side of natural resources.  (IRIN)

Ten years of talks - and still no resolution to Nile controversy (May 19, 2010)

The ten countries through which the Nile River runs have been unable to reach a water-sharing agreement. The agreement currently in place gives Egypt the right to nearly all of the Nile's flow. Egypt defends the status quo vigorously, declaring that its growing population would be devastated by any decrease in water flow. However, other parties claim that the current agreement is illegitimate, as it was drawn up and enforced by foreign colonial powers. Analysts urge parties to reach a deal, fearing that the Nile will become a source of armed conflict as water scarcity increases with rapid population growth.   (IRIN)

War is Boring: China Dam Project Stokes Regional Tensions (April 28, 2010)

China has confirmed that it is constructing five dams on rivers it shares with downstream India. The confirmation is perceived by many Indians as tantamount to a declaration of war. Beijing, however, does not seem fazed as it continues to hoard as much water as it can to provide energy for its booming economy. In contrast to other Chinese natural resource grabs - copper in Afghanistan, oil in Sudan etc - stealing India's water could have drastic political and military repercussions.  (World Politics Review)

Experts Call for Hike in Global Water Price (April 27, 2010)

Major countries - like the US and UK - are pressing for water prices to increase substantially, whilst the number of people without access to clean water continues to rise. The governments argue that increasing the price of water will make people "value" it more; however, critics rightly argue, it is the water subsidies given to agriculture and industry that have to stop if we are to halt real water wastage. Furthermore, the price hike will simply deprive the world's poor of this human necessity.  (Guardian)

In Detroit: No Money, No Water (April 19, 2010)

In 2005, forty-two-thousand residences in Detroit were without water. This number has now declined marginally but still tens-of-thousands lack water. As the number of people on the water system declines, water bills have increased to compensate for loss of revenue. Last year, the average water bill rose by $83 - putting this life necessity even further out of reach. Detroit feels the effects of increased utility bills especially because of chronic unemployment in the wake of the financial crisis. (Circle of Blue)

Egypt Reasserts Nile Water Rights (April 20, 2010)

Egypt insists that its traditional share of the River Nile, around eighty-seven percent of the river's flow, must be upheld. Egypt's insistence comes days after countries in the Nile basin met to discuss new frameworks for the river's distribution; a meeting Egypt did not attend. Egypt receives a disproportionately large amount of water because of a 1929 agreement between Egypt and Britain's other African colonies. This agreement gave Egypt power to veto decisions of upstream Nile countries.  (Al Jazeera)

Clear Gold: Water and Conflict in the Middle East (April 19, 2010)

The most likely source of conflict in the Middle East over the next few decades is not war or military coups, but water. Ten of the world's 15 water-poor countries are in the Middle East. Most of the recent scholarly work on water has been focused on the river basins of the region. However, the real issue lies with the wells. These feed most of the agriculture but are a finite resource, and are currently being exploited far more rapidly than they can recharge. Unless agricultural methods are revised, and an aggressive policy of recycling wastewater adopted, the consequences for the Middle East could be dire. (World Politics Review)

Dam Construction to Displace Thousands (April 6, 2010)

A dam being built in Myanmar's northern Kachin State will displace more than fifteen-thousand people, according to the Kachin Development Networking Group. The dam, known as Myitsone, is a joint project between the Myanmar's military government and two Chinese energy companies. The massive dam will inundate sixty-six villages, 766km2 of rainforest and create a reservoir the size of New York City. Controversially, the dam is not being built for Burmese gain; rather, the electricity generated will be exported to China. (IRIN)

World at War Over Water (March 28, 2010)

Many territories around the world - Cyprus, Yemen, Texas - are running out of fresh water. Despite this, societies have not changed the ways in which they use and produce water. Cyprus for example continues in its water intensive citrus trade and fails to invest sufficiently in desalinization. In order to avoid water wars, instability and mass migration, governments must adopt a radical new approach to water.  (Newstatesman)

Yemen: Capital City Faces 2017 Water Crunch (March 23, 2010)

Over the past year the cost of water in Sanaa has tripled , and thousands of families are left without water over the summer months. Annual per capita water availability is 1,500 cubic meters less than the international scarcity line.  Sanaa's population is growing rapidly, and the capital may - by 2017 - simply run out of water. (IRIN)

My Enemy's Water (March 22, 2010)

The impending water crisis in the Middle East could accelerate the region's peace process because nothing reconciles old foes like a new common enemy. The Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian government are jointly examining the possibility of bringing water 110-miles from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea to provide desalinated drinking water for Palestinians and Jordanians. However, this ambitious project is seen by many as a political move in which many of the environmental consequences - rising sea temperatures and loss of aquatic life - are being overlooked. (Global Post)

Water Wisdom (March 16, 2010)

India is feeling the effects of climate change - monsoons have failed and two thirds of the country is affected by drought. Food security is at serious risk. Making matters worse are the methods of farming implemented since the green revolution which deplete groundwater reserves. The chemical monocultures promoted by the green revolution use ten times more water than bio diverse ecological farming. The author promotes bio ecological farming as the solution to the crisis. Sustainable, organic agriculture, she says, will increase climate resilience, food security and water security. (CounterCurrents)

Cyprus: Could Water Bring Peace ?  (March 2, 2010)

The 2008 drought in Cyprus has encouraged Greek and Turkish Cypriots to revive old plans to construct a massive underwater pipeline which would run from Turkey. Turkish Cypriot authorities call this the "pipeline for peace," and have offered to share the water with the Greek half of the Island. Some, however, such as the Greek Cypriot water director, fear that this pipeline will remain a pipedream. (Global Post)

Timor-Leste: Water Supplies Running on Empty (February 8, 2010)

Timor-Leste joins the ever-growing list of countries suffering from chronic water scarcity. Forty-percent of the country's population lacks access to an improved water source. This number rises to as high fifty-percent in the Eastern provinces. The country's water shortage stems from the destruction of eighty-percent of the water infrastructure during the war of independence from Indonesia.  (IRIN)

Cyprus: Could Water Bring Peace ?  (March 2, 2010)

The 2008 drought in Cyprus has encouraged Greek and Turkish Cypriots to revive old plans to construct a massive underwater pipeline which would run from Turkey. Turkish Cypriot authorities call this the "pipeline for peace," and have offered to share the water with the Greek half of the Island. Some, however, such as the Greek Cypriot water director, fear that this pipeline will remain a pipedream. (Global Post)

Obscured by War, Water Crisis Looms in Yemen (January 19, 2010)

Yemen's current water crisis was exacerbated by previous IMF and World Bank (WB) policies. Prior to their intervention, Yemeni farmland was irrigated with collected rainwater. However, in the 1970s, the IMF and the WB provided financial incentives for farmers to dig wells and use underground aquifers. These agricultural readjustments - though bolstering food production levels originally - have led to 85% of Yemen's water being used in agriculture. Agriculture in Yemen not only requires large amounts of water, but also wastes large amounts of this valuable resource. (National Public Radio)

India Spars with Pakistan, China over Water (January 19, 2010)

New tensions arise in the long standing Kashmiri conflict between India and Pakistan over water security. India has begun to construct a dam in the Jhuleum River, a river allocated to Pakistan under the "Indus Water Treaty 1960." However, Pakistan has also begun dam construction in the region, with the help of the Chinese. India is concerned about the deepening role China plays in Pakistani infrastructure projects; especially after the Chinese government blocked a $60 million "Asian Development Bank" loan to help India with flood management in the Kashmir area.  (Asia Sentinel)

South Rural Areas Forced to Rely on Trucked-In Water (January 14, 2010)

The highlands in Southern Yemen have exhausted their water resources. The three districts affected by the shortages have a combined population of two-million. Yemenis in the area have resorted to transporting water, at great expense, from neighbouring districts. Extensive cultivation of the popular chewing substance qat is partially blamed for the water shortages.  (IRIN)


The Big Question: Will Global Conflict Flow From The Quest for Water Security (December 2009)

The need for fresh, clean water unites all people. But population growth and climate change are threatening water security all over the world. The increasingly scant supply and inadequate management of resources has fuelled conflict worldwide and will likely do so still more in the years ahead.  This World Policy publication outlines the danger hotspots and urges world leaders to establish procedures for efficient water use and conservation. (World Policy)

Pentagon Preps for Conflicts Sparked by Climate Change (December 16, 2009)

The Nile Delta in Egypt is being dramatically transformed by the Mediterranean, which has risen one foot in about 70 years, creeping into aquifers and transforming fields into marshland. Meanwhile, the Nile itself is shrinking. Ethiopia is damming the river upstream, while Sudan is selling millions of acres of land to China for agriculture, which will require enormous amounts of water. Tellingly, the Pentagon is taking the issue seriously and increasingly includes climate-driven conflicts in its military planning. (NBC News World Blog)

Tajik-Uzbek Resource Battle Intensifies (November 30, 2009)

Uzbekistan has announced its withdrawal from the Central Asian electricity grid, a move that isolates Tajikistan by making it impossible for the country to import power from other Central Asian states. Following this announcement, Tajiks say that they may retaliate by restricting water supplies that Uzbekistan desperately need for its cotton sector during the spring and summer. This bilateral spat could create a major problem for US military operations in Afghanistan, given that the US and NATO use both countries to funnel material to troops on the ground. (EurasiaNet)

The First Climate Change Conflicts (November 23, 2009)

In Kenya, three years of drought have left nearly four million people dependent on food aid. The pastoralists have been hit hardest, forcing them to travel extra distances in search of water and pasture for their livestock. Although Kenya has usually suffered from drought in cycles of 10 years, climate change has increased the frequency and duration of droughts, sharpening competition over scarce resources. Since January 2009, 306 pastoralists have died from conflicts over water.  (The Guardian)

Conflicts Over Water Have Potential to be Catalysts for Peace, Cooperation (November 6, 2009)

Specialists and UN officials recently discussed the security implications of increased water scarcity during a panel on "Enhancing governance on water" held by the UN Second Committee (Economic and Financial). As a specialist in water resource policy and conflict resolution pointed out, the last formal war over water was fought in 2,500 B.C. Since then, water-related treaties have proven particularly resilient, even as cross-border conflicts raged. But while the risk of international conflict over water is low, regional and sub regional water disputes are a real security concern, with deep ramifications for poverty and food security. (UN)

Israel Rations Palestinians to Trickle of Water (October 27, 2009)

Amnesty International is denouncing Israel's discriminatory water policies in the Occupied Territories and their disastrous impact on the Palestinian economy. As the occupying power, Israel controls the underground water supplies for the West Bank, which it has disproportionately redirected towards Israel settlements and farms. The average water consumption per Palestinian is only a quarter of consumption per settler and way below the daily intake recommended by the WHO. Meanwhile, Palestinians under the Israeli blockade in Gaza are left with polluted water and no alternatives. (Amnesty International

Yemen: A Thirsty Nation (October 21, 2009)

Groundwater reserves in Yemen are critically low. The widespread production of the local drug 'qat,' which consumes large amounts of water, exacerbates the problem. Experts predict that, unless the government reduces the amount of eater used for 'qat' production Yemen could become the first nation to run out of water. (The Times)

Lack of Mid-East Peace Deepens Water Crisis (October 13, 2009)

As the Middle East is suffering from one of the worst droughts in decades, existing regional conflicts are making the water crisis more difficult to solve. In the disputed Golan Heights, Palestinians and Syrians resent the disproportionate appropriation of scarce water resources by Israelis. Meanwhile, Syria and Turkey are at loggerheads over the construction of Turkish upstream dams blocking water flows into Syria. Although water alone is unlikely to become the cause of war in the Middle-East, its destabilizing power is already apparent. (BBC)

Water Tensions in Central Asia (September 29, 2009)

Central Asian countries are facing a regional water crisis linked to disastrous past Soviet water policies, the impact of climate change and a rapidly growing population. Upstream countries are pitched against their downstream neighbors for the control and use of water flows. Existing tensions will increase as regional water resources are expected to reduce by 40-80% by the end of the century. In light of the failure of regional cooperation to save the Aral sea, effective cooperation on the upcoming water crisis seems improbable. (chinadialogue)

The Coming War for Water (September 21, 2009)

Rivers feeding Pakistan and India are running through disputed Kashmir, and both countries are vying for the control of these increasingly valuable water resources. With their huge populations still growing and global warming affecting water availability and quality, India and Pakistan are considering access to water a vital interest. While the sharing of rivers could form a framework for cooperation, hawks on both sides are using water to create an insurmountable impasse in the dispute over Kashmir. (GlobalPost)

Shebaa Farms key to Levant Hydro-Diplomacy (September 10, 2009)

The Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms, an 8 square miles area of land wedged between Lebanon, Israel and Syria, possess water resources highly sought-after in the arid Middle East. Regional actors are vying for the control of the land and its resources. With supply dwindling and climate change worsening, water will be a major trigger for conflict in the region if the key players don't engage in hydro-diplomacy. (IRIN)

Rising Temperatures, Rising Tensions: Climate Change and the Risk of Violent Conflict in the Middle-East (June 2009)

Climate change is expected to take a heavy toll on the countries of the Levant, which is already considered the world's most water-scarce region in the world. This in-depth report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development warns that rising temperatures will redraw the maps of water availability, food security, disease prevalence and population distribution, and may hold serious implications for regional security. After more than 60 years of regional conflict, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and the occupied Palestinian Territory will find it hard to cooperate in order to cope with climate change. With competition for water resources becoming fiercer, existing tensions are likely to worsen. (International Institute for Sustainable Development)

World Water Day: Transboundary Waters (March 23, 2009)

Shortages of water must be tackled at a local level in order to avoid a widening water crisis. Mid-way through the "UN International decade for Action for Water" the focus in 2009 is "Transboundary Waters." This article acknowledges that while it is not uncommon to witness violence over water, lessons from the past point to cooperation as the "logical response to trans-boundary water management issues." Water treaties date as far back as 2500 BC. Recently, India and Pakistan have held talks on the Indus Water Treaty that the two countries signed in 1960. (Dawn)

Water Isn't for Everyone (April 18, 2009)

In Peru the number of social conflicts related to water management issues has risen dramatically. Peru's growing population and shrinking portable water supply increase the tension among the population. One of Peru's sources of freshwater, the Andes Mountains glaciers, shrunk about 25 percent in the last 30 years, increasing social tensions. (Inter Press Service)


Is Water The Path To Health? (December 8, 2008)

The Middle East faces severe drought, especially in Syria, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Israel controls more than 85% of the water in the occupied West Bank, where one third of the Palestinians do not have access to proper water supplies and sanitation services, because Israel does not issue licenses. Moreover, Israel's military activities pollute the ground water in the West Bank, resulting in significant environmental damage. (Middle East Times)

Is Water the New Oil? (November 2, 2008)

The UN estimates that half the world's population lives in countries suffering from water scarcity, after decades of over-exploitation by rich nations. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon warns that a lack of water increases international conflicts and ultimately can cause a threat to peace. In the Occupied Palestinian Territories for example, Israel controls most of Palestine's water resources, and unequally distributes the water between its own citizens and Palestinians. (Guardian)

Needed, a Paradigm Shift (October 28, 2008)

Since the 1990s, many countries have handed over water management to private companies. Water became a commodity instead of a public good, leaving millions of poor people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation. And as water resources dwindle, conflicts over water intensify. In Bolivia, South Africa, Ghana, the Philippines and Indonesia violent struggles have broken out against companies seeking to privatize water. (Hindu)

Where Water Leaves a Bitter Taste (October 6, 2008)

This Inter Press Service article argues that Israeli settlements dispose their waste on Palestinian land, thereby polluting valuable water resources. Israel controls 57,1 percent of the water in the West-Bank and Jordan 34,7 percent leaving only 8,2 percent for Palestinian control. Because Israel refuses to share its water resources, Palestinians have limited access to drinking water, which contains high levels of salinity.

Drinking at the Public Fountain: The New Corporate Threat to Our Water Supplies (September 29, 2008)

This article argues that the collapsing global economy causes a new wave of privatization of water. In their pursuit of profit multinational corporations want customers to use extra water and pay more for it. This caused people in communities to campaign to the water supply to return to public ownership(TomDispatch)

Land Battle in the Jordan Valley (August 5, 2008)

Under the 2008 Road Map - the basis for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks - Israel must halt all settlement activities in Palestinian territory. However, Israeli settlements in Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank have actually increased in 2008. According to this BBC article, Israeli authorities also continue to order the demolition of Palestinian homes and restrict Palestinians' access to water for drinking and irrigation in the Jordan Valley. The UN, together with the UK and the US, urges Israel to freeze all settlement activity in order to advance the peace process.

Drought and Israeli Policy Threaten West Bank Water Security (July 18, 2008)

Since its inception, Israel has developed policies to secure its water sovereignty, resulting in armed clashes such as the 1967 war with Syria over water supply networks. This article argues that Israel's economic and military superiority allow it to control the water resources in one of the world's driest regions. For example, Palestinians receive 60 liters per day, while Israelis get 280 liters. This imbalance threatens the water security of neighboring countries and fuels political conflict. (

World Water Crisis (June 19, 2008)

Water scarcity in eastern Africa fuels deadly conflicts, forcing thousands of displaced farmers and pastoralists to seek refuge in neighboring countries. This Z Magazine article claims that water shortage creates desperation that fuel politically-based conflicts in Kenya and Ethiopia. The author also warns that water wars are soon to engulf the nine countries that share the Lake Victoria/Nile River system, which would drastically increase the number of refugees in the region.

Water and Conflict in the Middle East (June 2008)

Water scarcity in the Middle East raises the risk of conflict between countries in the region. This report by the Middle East Institute argues that water scarcity is not just a natural scientific problem, but a political issue, which will lead to water wars. Powerful nations such as Turkey and Israel have become "hydro-hegemons." These nations' superior geographic, economic, and military positions give them greater access to water, inciting violent conflict with poorer nations such as Iraq and Syria.

Sudan: Watermelons, Conflict and Climate Change (May 13, 2008)

Climate change triggers conflict over water resources in Sudan. As temperatures rise and rainfall drops in Sudan, pastoral herders and agricultural farmers clash over shared water reserves. However, while this report warns of the dangers of climate change, it also illustrates that the pastoral Kawahla tribe and farming Gawamha people of Sudan offer a useful model of conflict resolution. The two groups have learnt to adapt to the changes in climate – by increasing trade, making use of livestock byproducts on crops, and using community forums to mediate disputes over scarce water access. (Integrated Regional Information Networks)

Climate Change Deepening World Water Crisis (March 19, 2008)

This article reports on the growing water crisis. One billion people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water and 2.5 billion are lacking safe sanitation. Experts say the crisis is not due to an outright lack of water, but rather a "chronic lack of funding and inadequate understanding of the need for sanitation and good hygiene at the local level." Climate change will only worsen the problem. In addition, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warns that water shortages will drive future conflicts. (Inter Press Service)

Climate Change: A Cause of Conflict? (January 2008)

Climate change exacerbates tensions over natural resources in poorer countries, warns Global Politics Magazine. The article notes that global warming reduces rainfall, which depletes fertile agricultural land and diminishes fresh water sources. These environmental changes will heighten competition for shared natural resources between different social groups, intensifying existing tensions. Therefore, the author urges that UN member states reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, and increase aid to the countries most affected by climate change.



Water More Valuable Than Gold (November 4, 2007)

The Peruvian Environmental Health Office has declared that mining companies have polluted 30.2 percent of Peru's coastal rivers. Aside from containing damaging quantities of aluminum, arsenic and lead, the river's water volume has also decreased compared to past years. Tensions arise when river-based villagers and local NGO's like the Red Muqui fight against the mining companies, who pollute the Andine region. The Ombudsman's Office of Peru has reported at least 35 conflicts caused by water. He also proposes a reform of the environmental regulations, which will include the participation of local population and regional governments. (Latin America Press)

The Water Problem (October 8, 2007)

A UN report predicts that water will be the main cause of conflicts in Africa over the next 25 years. Water disputes already exist in the Middle East and African Countries, especially concerning rivers and basins that flow through different nations. Humans can only consume 2.5 percent of the world's water, and even less is technologically and economically accessible. Population growth, the misuse of water and limited access, creates desertification. Unless strong institutions establish and act on prevention and management of these conflicts, an immense crisis will emerge. (Daily Star)

Water or War (August 1, 2007)

This New York Sun article points to Israel's shortage of water as fundamental to Israel-Syria peace negotiations. Twenty-five percent of Israel's water supply depends on access to the Golan Heights. Since Israel's 1967 occupation of the Golan Heights, Israel has claimed the territory as its own. To move peace negotiations forward, Israel should consider desalinization of the Mediterranean Sea as an alternative water source, and return the Golan Heights to Syria under a water-sharing agreement similar to that between Israel and Jordan.

How Much Is Ecology to Blame for Darfur Crisis? (July 22, 2007)

According to a UN Environmental Program report, degradation and desertification influence conflict in Darfur. The Sudanese government's manipulation and appropriation of such scarce resources as land, water and especially oil exacerbate conflict-inciting tensions. For example, in eastern Sudan, Khartoum diverted limited water from grazing land to commercial irrigation, leading to fighting in the region. (New York Times)

China Aims for Bigger Share of South Asia's Water Lifeline (June 26, 2007)

Tibet's rivers water the world's most populous continent. In Asia, water shortages and China's assertive water policy threaten regional stability. China's approach to the impending shortage involves water appropriation projects. It aggressively implemented the US$25 million Three Gorges Dam project, which displaced at least 1.2 million, and it plans to redirect Tibet's Brahmaputra waters to China's Yellow River through a project called the Great North-South Water Transfer. (Japan Times)

A Climate Culprit in Darfur (June 16, 2007)

In this Washington Post column, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon discusses the role of climate change behind the conflict in Darfur. Ban asserts that underneath the sociopolitical unrest, the real reason for the conflict is an ecological crisis. Since the 1980s, a sharp temperature rise in the Indian Ocean has caused a 40 per cent drop in Sub-Saharan Africa precipitation levels. The resulting water shortage triggered the violence between black farmers and Arab nomads in Darfur. Ban proposes economic development as the solution and urges UN member states to work in conjunction with Khartoum, humanitarian agencies and NGOs to cater to Darfur's urgent needs.

Water Conflicts Increasing, Uganda Conference Warns (June 5, 2007)

This article explains how conflict over water and land distribution aligned black African farmers and Arab pastoralists against each other in Darfur. Khartoum's interference in favor of the pastoralists, beginning in 2003, politicized the issue, moving the conflict beyond the humanitarian issue of water shortage. (Worldwide Faith News)

Troubled Waters (June 4, 2007)

"Decades of mismanagement and climate change" are causing rivers in Africa and Asia to slowly dry up, threatening drought and increased conflict over natural resources in already vulnerable areas. Although nonprofit organizations and ecoconscious corporations have developed a multitude of simple and inexpensive ways to purify water, this Newsweek article reports that wealthy Western countries will likely "only really start to worry about the water when it isn't there."

Is Water the Next Oil? (May 31, 2007)

Water shortages could lead to severe conflict says Rohini Nilekani in Yale Global. As climate change reduces freshwater supplies in glaciers and polar ice caps, depleted water stocks and unequal access to drinking water will cause intense competition for this most essential natural resource. Instead of focusing on maintaining modern lifestyles, Nilekani suggests that richer nations increase development aid to those countries most affected by water shortages, raise individual consciousness of water consumption and reduce the need to use fresh water to carry human waste.

Obstacles to Peace: Water (May 23, 2007)

The BBC analyzes the role of water in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel says that the proportion of water it uses has not changed substantially since the 1950s but Palestine claims that Israel allocates three to five times more water to its own citizens than to Palestinians. Israeli settlement activity has continued in some of the most sensitive areas of water dispute, with Israel pulling troops and settlers from Gaza and building a barrier around West Bank areas allegedly as a security measure. However the barrier encroaches onto occupied territory – especially some areas of high water yield.

Wars, No, Conflicts, Yes (March 22, 2007)

Mark Zeitoun, researcher with the London Water Research Group, tells Inter Press Service that whilst water resources are not usually a sole cause for violent conflict, it can often be an element and sometimes sparks conflicts falling short of war. Whilst in theory there is enough water for everyone, access to water can be a highly political issue because it is such an instrumental factor in development and climate change will only exacerbate the problem. As well as occurring between countries, water conflicts can also be on a sub-national level, with different tribes or even members of the same tribe fighting over limited resources.

Thirstier World Likely to See More Violence (March 16, 2007)

Inter Press Service discusses the strong links between drought and violent civil conflicts in the developing world. Marc Levy of the Centre for International Earth Science Information Network argues that whilst drought does not cause conflicts, it can contribute to them when there are already underlying political tensions between peoples. Discontentment grows in the developing world that while the rich are the main cause of global warming, the poor will suffer most from it.



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