During a meeting in Brussels this week, European Union foreign ministers discussed the possibility of increased tensions over lack of access to water that could lead to instability in many regions of the world in the next 10 years.The ministers also promoted “water diplomacy” and cooperation based on the EU experience as a way to avoid future conflict. Many parts of the world are at risk of instability due to lack of water resources, and this in turn could affect EU interests and international peace, according to the ministers.
Climate change and demographic developments can only aggravate the situation, they added. They called for water and sanitation to be main factors in the design of the development goals that will replace the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which end in 2015.
Empowering women, civil society and local communities will lend to better water diplomacy, they stressed. The regions facing the greatest threat of water-related conflict and insecurity are the Nile Basin, the Middle East, the Sahel region, the Mekong River basin and Central Asia.
Many of these regions are already showing signs of water-related conflict. Egypt has recently threatened action against Ethiopia if that country’s Grand Renaissance Dam reduces any of the Nile flows into Egypt. Egypt considers the loss of water an attack on its security. However, the two nations have been holding diplomatic meetings in an attempt to reach an agreement.
Mekong River basin states are currently disputing large dams along the main stem of the river, with Laos deciding to begin construction on the controversial Xaraburi Dam without complete downstream approval. Laos has plans for another 10 dams, which is causing increased concern about livelihoods of people living in the delta.
In Central Asia, upriver nations are using the region’s major rivers for hydropower production, while downriver nations need the water for irrigation. The two sides have most recently clashed over Tajikistan’s plans to construct the mega Rogun hydropower dam; Uzbekistan has even threatened war over the possible loss of water.
As for the Middle East, there are examples of both water-related conflicts and water diplomacy. Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinians dispute Jordan River sharing, while Turkey, Syria and Iraq have disagreed over sharing the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. However, the Gulf Cooperation Council is currently developing a joint water network.
The EU ministers stressed that the long experience and knowledge gathered from shared management of trans-boundary waters in Europe could help the rest of the world improve cooperation.