Saturday, July 30, 2011

Water crisis offers chance for unity over strife

Kanya D'Almeida in IPS has a ray of optimism about water conflicts and the potential for cooperation among neighbors: As record-breaking temperature highs and rapidly melting ice caps fuel fears about impending "water wars", some experts in Washington say that the threat of full-blown conflict is exaggerated, adding that robust institutions and solid treaties could transform water crises into international cooperation.

The planet is currently home to 276 international river basins, which cover almost a half of the earth's land surface and are home to 40 percent of the global population. Many of these basins cross boundaries with no regard for the incendiary politics that divide nations, religions and peoples. In fact, a full 80 percent of the world's fresh water originates in basins shared by two or more countries.

However, while the risk of water wars has long made headlines, new research suggests that possible cooperation over shared resources would be a better, and more accurate, message. "Those of us who work on issues of international water management see only the boundaries of watersheds themselves, we see the things that unite us, that bring us together," Aaron Wolf, a professor of geography at the University of Oregon, told a panel at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington on Thursday.

...The Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database (TFDD), a project of Oregon State University's Department of Geosciences in partnership with the Northwest Alliance for Computation Science, carried out extensive research into the history of water-related conflict, referencing over 3,600 international treaties signed between the years 805-1997.

Rating water-related events between the years 1948-2008, the database found only 21 cases of "extensive military acts" compared to 682 instances of "mild verbal support" for treaties. The same period also witnessed the signing of 145 treaties on shared water resources....

The Cumbe Mayo Aqueduct (1500 B.C.E.) near Cajamarca, Peru. Photographer Gsd97jks has released it to the public domain

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