Defining the Geopolitics of a Thirsty WorldSM
Water Wars, War of the Well, and Guerilla Well-fare

Via WaterWired, a pointer to what appears to be an interesting article entitled Water wars, War of the Well, and Guerilla Well-fare.  Here are the Introduction and Conclusions:


To get a feel for how sensationalist the term “Water wars” is in the media, consider that a search on Google leads to nearly 31 million results. The water wars “tempest” appears to be part of a mindset ranging from the famous quote apocryphally attributed to humorist Mark Twain “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over” to comments by United Nations Secretary Generals. Zeitoun and Miramachi (2008) chronicled the proclamations from Boutros Boutros-Ghali known for his 1991 quote “the next war will be fought over water, not politics,” Kofi Annan for his 2001 quote “fierce competition for freshwater may well become a source of conflict and wars in the future,” and Ban Ki Moon in 2007 for his opinion piece for the Washington Post, stating that “Darfur is an environmental crisis—a conflict that grew at least in part from desertification, ecological degradation and a scarcity of resources, foremost among them water.” Just the other day I received a call for papers from the International Journal of Sustainable Society for a Special Issue on “Water Wars in the 21st Century along International River Basins: Speculation or Reality?”

The likelihood and significance of boundary disputes over the territorial integrity of a state and the extent of government control are greater now than at any time since WWII, especially with respect to transboundary movements where institutional capacity and international law are in the initial stage of formulation (Anderson 1999). Surface and groundwater crossing international boundaries present increasing challenges to regional stability because hydrologic needs can often be overwhelmed by political considerations. There are 270 international river basins and more than 270 transboundary aquifers (Wolf and Giordano 2002; Bakker 2009; Puri and Aureli 2009). The basin areas that contribute to these rivers comprise approximately 47% of the land surface of the Earth, include 40% of the world’s population, and contribute almost 60% of freshwater flow. Within each international basin and overlying each transboundary aquifer, the demands from environmental, domestic, economic users, and the inputs of pollution increase annually, although the amount of freshwater in the world remains roughly the same as it has been throughout history. Given the scope of the problems and limited resources available to address them, avoiding water conflict is vital because conflict is expensive, disruptive, and interferes with the efforts to relieve human suffering, reduce environmental degradation, and achieve economic growth.


Conflicts over water can be best described as a “wicked” planning problem that has uncertain boundaries, defies absolute solutions, and can be a symptom of larger problems (Rittel and Webber 1973). Yet, Delli Priscoli and Wolf (2009) state that water compels us to think regionally, that (1) the price for control over an agreement over water is sharing ownership and cooperating in both the process and outcome of the agreement; (2) the transaction costs are escalating beyond traditional management methods; (3) the available money to identify needs is contracting; (4) the public awareness of water resources is growing and changing; and (5) the traditional legal systems are unable to cope with change. These are just a few reasons why water conflicts may be well suited to conflict resolution through collaboration. As Wolf (2008) eloquently puts it, “Water ignores all separations and boundaries save for those of the watershed itself. As such, it offers a vehicle to bring those who share it together. Since it touches all we do and experience, water creates a language through which we may discuss our common future.”

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 17th, 2010 at 12:00 pm and is filed under News.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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