Gauteng and NW Province

Water Wars and International Conflict

Abigail Ofori-Amoah

For centuries war and conflict has been tied to the protection of water resources. With the risk of water shortages around the world becoming more and more of an issue, water has become the fuel of certain conflicts in many regions around the world. “Water Wars” are becoming inevitable in the world’s future as the misuse of water resources continues among countries that share the same water source. International law has proven itself inadequate in defending the equal use of shared water supplies in some parts of the world (Darwish, Middle East Water Wars). The rapid population increase has greatly affected the amount of water readily available to many people.

Water as a resource is very comparable to oil; it is essential to all daily human activities. Water is becoming a very valuable commodity, yet freshwater resources are unevenly distributed among developing countries. This scarcity in water has triggered desperation in countries that already have little access to water, let alone reliable water supplies. This desperation usually cannot be resolved by negotiations. If governments or rebels want water badly enough, they resort to force to obtain it.

“Conflicts over water arise form the fact that under conditions of increasing scarcity, competition levels also increase.” Anthony Turton

The Potential Causes
There has been much speculation over what causes conflicts over water. The conflicts arise over who has the power to control water and therefore control the economy and population. By breaking it down into categories, we can begin to understand the causes. Conflicts can be caused by water use which includes military, industrial, agricultural, domestic and political uses. Through the military and political uses, conflicts can be exacerbated by the use of water systems as a weapon and as a political goal. In relation to industrial and agricultural uses conflicts may arise from the overuse and degradation of water resources, and the insufficient amount that is left over for communities.

Conflicts can further be a result of pollution affecting the quality of the water supply. The military is already most likely the number one producer of wastes in the world, and the leftover chemical and weapons used in times of war can have an effect on water supplies. Wastes from industries and agriculture can contaminate groundwater resources if not disposed of properly, and cause frustration for those who must travel to obtain sufficient daily water supplies. This lack of water quality can cause a conflict to arise regarding the distribution of water. Not having water evenly distributed among people and countries creates an imbalance among those who share supplies, particularly in developing countries.

The increase of urbanization has increased the demand for water. However the supply cannot take care of the demand. With the problem of uneven water distribution future conflicts can occur. As societies become more developed they tend to use more resources such as water.

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