|Water, Politics, and Conflict: Overview|
Given the critical importance of water to individuals, economies, and societies, water stress can lead to significant political and social tensions. Competition for limited water resources can create tensions among different users within a country, as agricultural, industrial, and domestic consumers compete, and rural and urban populations compete. Different political constituencies often vie for water resources, as in the case in the western US, where states compete with one another and with the federal government for control of water.
Sharing gets even more tricky when water sources cross international borders, and countries compete for often scarce resources in a confusing and fragmented legal and regulatory framework. Water stress often accompanies and can exacerbate other geopolitical tensions. Many of the world’s simmering conflicts are in regions where water is shared and scarce. Some believe that water is likely to be a greater source of conflict in the 21st Century than oil or any other natural resource.
However, history shows that while international conflicts over water often inflame political tensions, most disputes are resolved peacefully. Despite the limitations of international law regarding control of water, disputes over international waters tend to induce cooperation rather than incite violence. Still, as water stress increases, conflicts are likely to become harder to resolve. Water security is likely to be of widespread concern among individual nations and the international community as a whole.
Water security is not just a matter of averting hot wars. Global trade depends on peace, and most global trade occurs via international shipping lanes. Countries around the world, individually and collectively, have incentives to keep these global flows moving.
Another area of increasing concern within hydropolitics concerns the case of environmental refugees who have been driven off their land by desertification, floods, and other water-related disasters. The international community has yet to develop a framework for protecting the rights of this (as of yet unofficially classified) groups of refugees and displaced persons.
In this section…