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Water Security, Conflict and Cooperation

Strategic Security Analysis - 2016 n°13

Release Date:

November 2016

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Key Points

  • Growing populations and economies, unsustainable consumption practices and mounting environmental challenges exert increasing pressure on the world’s freshwater resources. Many observers fear that shortfalls between rising demand and shifting supplies could foster sharpened competition among nations or communities attempting to secure increasingly scarce water resources.
  • History furnishes little evidence of actual water wars, but violent international water-related confrontations do occur, and frictions over water can also fuel internal conflicts within countries.
  • A range of indirect factors such as political institutions, economic conditions, and social perceptions affect the relationship between environmental pressures and conflict risks. Inequitable allocation of water development costs or benefits and lack of access to decision-making processes around water often generate conflict more than the unequal allocation of or inadequate access to the resource itself.
  • International treaties and integrated water resource management approaches provide important tools for collective risk reduction and dispute resolution. Policymakers should further develop these cooperative governance mechanisms, effectively adapt them to new challenges such as climate change, and extend them to regions where they are currently lacking.