Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Water scarcity leads to conflict? Not a foregone conclusion

Steven Heywood in AlertNet:  “Countries have not tended to go to war over water,” Ed Davey, the UK's Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change recently noted, “but I have a fear for the world that climate instability drives political instability.”

The idea that climate change will inevitably lead to an increase in violent conflict over scarce natural resources is an increasingly common position in public discourse, but is it necessarily true? If any resource is susceptible to conflict, it is water. Water is vital for drinking, washing, agriculture and industry, and a large proportion of the world's freshwater is shared between nations, with 214 major river systems shared by two or more states and 19 countries receiving more than half their water from outside their borders.

As climate change affects glacier melt and drought patterns, many countries are likely to find decreasing water resources creating problems for their growing populations and economies. However, the discourse that this situation will inevitably lead to 'water conflict', as countries try to secure as much of the dwindling resource for themselves as they can, is problematic in two major ways.

Firstly, climate change does not drive political instability, as Ed Davey claims, but is only one of a constellation of factors that can lead to violent conflict. Rather than causing conflict in a previously peaceful situation, climate change can act as a 'trigger' or 'multiplier' in situations where the basis for conflict already exists due to economic, social, cultural or historical factors. In actual fact, a team of academics led by Aaron T Wolf found that the number of incidents of serious international conflict over water is very small – just seven in the last four decades, and five of those were in the already volatile Middle East.

Secondly, by framing the problem in terms of conflict and security, we are encouraged to look to the same framework for solutions. In more developed countries that will be less affected by climate change, this can include further securing and militarising of borders to keep out refugees from climate-related conflicts....

The water between Bangladesh and India, shot by Ziaul Hoque, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

1 comment:

Sampling Waste Water said...

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