New Report Proposes Solutions To The World's Water Conflicts

2 Sep 2020 by Staff - Water Diplomat
Edinburgh, Scotland

Water security challenges, and related instances of human conflict, are increasing across the world as populations grow, economies expand, and climate change begins to impact the hydrological cycle, says a new report published 2 September.

“Ending Conflicts Over Water: Solutions to Water and Security Challenges”, which has been produced by authors from the World Resources Institute (Charles Iceland; Ayushi Trivedi) and the Pacific Institute (Peter Gleick) with the Water, Peace and Security Partnership, describes a global rise in water-related conflict, observing political instability and intensifying driving factors, including population growth, economic expansion, severe and prolonged drought, climate change, pollution, the destruction of natural landscapes, upstream infrastructure development (such as dams and diversions), inefficient water use in agriculture, poor water resources management and weak institutions.

Billions of people across the world are facing urgent water challenges

Population growth and economic expansion are sharply increasing water demand in many regions of the world.

Water supply is expected to decrease in the mid-latitude regions of the world because of climate change. As temperatures rise, the amount of water needed to irrigate agriculture is predicted to increase due to higher rates of evaporation and crop transpiration.

Upstream countries of increasingly-stressed water basins are building dams and siphoning off water with little or no consultation with downstream neighbours.

Much of the world's irrigated agriculture uses inefficient flood irrigation schemes while water-intensive crops are planted in areas of high water stress.

As a result, billions of people are facing increasing challenges, including highly polluted water, increasingly erratic rainfall leading to more severe droughts and floods, and lack of access to safe and affordable drinking water.

These water challenges, already urgent before COVID-19, lead to increased insecurity, migration and a growing risk of violent conflict, especially in developing countries that lack the financial, technical and governance capacities to deal with these problems.

Researchers explored some of the world's worst water crises and proposed solutions in key hotspots

The report features six in-depth case studies covering water challenges faced by Iraq, Iran, India, the African Sahel, Central America and Yemen.

Despite the apparent complexity of many water and security challenges identified, researchers say that potential solutions aren't difficult to identify once the key drivers of risk are correctly understood. And while the incidence of water-related conflict appears to be increasing, researchers identified a number of solutions that can be implemented to address water challenges and enhance security. 
Proposed solutions centre around natural resources; science and engineering approaches; political and legal tools; economic and financial tools; and policy and governance strategies.
Solutions are likely to be difficult to implement for a number of reasons. They include political and economic trade-offs inherent in proposed solutions, problems associated with collective action, a lack of sufficient financial resources and/or technical capacity, the presence of social or cultural barriers, and the existence of widespread and entrenched corruption.

Barriers can be overcome with sufficient political will

"Robust solutions to water security challenges are critical," said Kitty van der Heijden, Director-General for International Cooperation at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at a 2 September webinar launching the report:

"For everyone: from public policymakers, farmers, businesses and the international community to residents of areas who face water scarcity, water pollution or flooding. We need bold decisions to implement solutions and increase resilience. The COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique opportunity to help us improve our decisions. We need to use this opportunity to build back better and prevent conflicts over water”.

Related reading, viewing and background:

OOSKAnews / The Water Diplomat has interviewed two of the report's authors, Peter Gleick from the Pacific Institute and Charles Iceland from World Resources Institute in recent months, as part of our "Water Diplomacy Talks" series. You can watch the video interviews here:

Charles Iceland, 19 December 2019

Peter Gleick, 25 January 2020

In May this year, the Water, Peace and Security Partnership (WPS) was announced as recipient of the 2020 Luxembourg Peace Prize for Outstanding Environmental Peace. The Luxembourg Prize recognises contributions to sustainable development, environmental governance, natural resource management and environmental conflict management from an ecological perspective.

The partnership is a collaboration between the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a consortium of six partners: IHE Delft (lead partner), World Resources Institute (WRI), Deltares, The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS), Wetlands International and International Alert. The initiative is intended to become an open network that can bring together knowledge, capacities and activities directed at accelerating and scaling up preventative action in the context of water stress - induced conflict, migration or other forms of social destabilisation.