Water Conflicts

Water conflicts occur when the demand for water overtakes the supply and several stakeholders wish to use the same resource. Conflict is more likely where developing countries are involved as water is vital to feed their growing populations and promote industrial development. The UN reports there are around 300 potential water conflicts in the world.

  • 90% of all countries share water basins with at least one of their neighbours.
  • Conflicts can arise when patterns of development on either side of a political boundary are uneven with borders becoming zones of tension as scarcity, stress and qualities issues build up.

potential water wars

  • Turkey Vs Syria Vs Iraq – the Euphrates and Tigris rivers provide potential for economic development in Turkey but could leave the ME dry if exploited.
  • China Vs India – the Brahmaputra River could be diverted to ease scarcity problems in southern China, reducing supplies in India.
  • India vs Pakistan – Indian dams on the Indus river threated to cut of irrigations waters to Pakistan.
  • Egypt V Ethiopia V Sudan V Uganda – the Blue and White Nile basins supply Egypt with vital water, but 85% of this water comes from other countries upstream, where population growth and increased demand could threaten Egypt’s supplies.
  • Angola V Namibia V Botswana – The Okavango Basin is fed by rivers originating in Angola and Namibia. Increased exploitation of rivers by these countries threated the Okavango Delta in Botswana which is an important wildfire area for ecotourism, major source of revue for country.

 CASE STUDY: the middle east water conflicts

  • There will be an average of 500m3 per person per year across the whole MENA region by 2025.

Low seasonal rainfall and population growth main cause of tensions over water resources. Increasing affluence (demands for swimming pools etc) and the development of irrigated farmlands there are increasing pressures on the water supplies. Groundwater is being extracted faster than it can be replenished, and fossil reserves are being tapped to meet farmers’ needs – use 89% of all the water extracted for irrigation. Further instability is created due to:

  • Overall scarcity of water but also poor access.
  • Declining oil reserves with future drop in oil revenues – which fiancé much of the economic development in region.
  • rising youthful population and increasing demands.
  • At the moment the Middle East uses revenue from their oil exports to pay for expensive desalinisation plants to provide extra water, but also pay for water and food imports. No single country in the Middle East can resolve its water problems without impacting on another country.
  • Israelis, Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Palestinians are in dispute over shrinking water supplies. Security of water supplies was a contributory factor to the Arab-Israeli war in 1967. Water in this region comes primarily from two sources, river Jordan and its lakes and three aquifers. The division of these resources between the neighbouring states is an ongoing challenge.
  • Turkey plans to builds damns to store and use water in the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This is strongly opposed by Syria and Iraq, where reduced water supplies threated to hold back economic development and food production
  • Countries without oil and gas reserves depend on high yielding crops which consume a lot of water to generate wealth and feed their populations, such as Turkey and Israel, hence required access tor rivers which flow into or out of neighbouring countries. Resulting in their water policies impacting Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon – destabilising the region further.
Potential conflicts:
  • The Euphrates and Tigris rivers originate in Turkey but supply Syria and Iraq with water. Turkey wants to dam these rivers to improve incomes in Anatolia (south-east turkey), Turkey has been accused of wanting to cut off Syria and Iraq’s water supply as result of its GAP scheme.
  • In 1967, Syria and other Arab states objected to Israel’s National Water Carrier Project and tried to destroy it. Israel then bombed their attempts to divert the River Jordan from Israel.
  • Droughts across the whole region between 1990-2005 increased fears of
  • Bombing of Lebanese water pipelines by Israel in 2006 when Israel feared that its water supplies were threatened.

case study: tensions between india and bangladesh

  • Ganges flows through India.
  • Last parts of its course are through Bangladesh, known first as the Padma river.
  • Joined later by the Jamuna river, the largest distributary of the Brahmaputra, takes on the name Meghna before flowing out into the Bay of Bengal.
  • In 1974 India opened Farakka Barrage, 11 km from Bangladeshi border.
  • Further upstream, a series of dams divert water into irrigation systems and many of India’s largest cities use the river to carry waste water from domestic and industrial sources.
  • Bangladesh is being deprived of water and has to suffer the effects of India’s pollution of the river.
  • An agreement was signed in 1990 by the two countries about sharing the waters of the Ganges, but India is very much in control of the situation.
  • India now has plans to make greater use of the Brahmaputra, which also flows through India before reaching Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s problems:

  • Reduced flow of river is affecting irrigation and food production.
  • Fist stocks and fishing industry declining.
  • Navigation and water borne trade are becoming harder because of lower river levels.
  • Lower rivers flows are increasing salinization.
  • The delta is eroding because less silt is being carried and deposited.
  • Seawater incursion is increasing as the delta dries out.