According to the International Water Management Institute environmental research organisation global water stress is increasing, and a third of all people face some sort of water scarcity. Where demand exceeds supply and no effective management operates, there will be conflicts between the various players involved.
In addition, global climate change will exacerbate these challenges faced by countries and populations. Shifting precipitation patterns threaten to reduce water availability in some regions while inflicting stronger storms on others, increasing both potential droughts and floods. This may increase the frequency of more serious conflicts and result in ‘water wars’.
Meeting the world’s growing water needs will require far more effective use of available resources. By combining appropriate technology, strategic management and involving all the players water conflicts can be avoided.
The Nile river exemplifies an International dispute with the source of the conflict being the water supply. Egypt who have a historical right to The Nile are highly dependent on its waters, which are required for agricultural purposes with the waters being a necessity to irrigate the arable land. Many countries in the Nile basin depend heavily on the Nile, with Egypt depending on the Nile for 97% of its renewable water resource. Consequently, The Nile is essential to the food and water security in all of the countries that lie within the Nile river basin. With so many countries being reliant on one single water source it is no surprise that this water supply has increased tensions in the area and that there is a huge potential for it to cause conflict.
Ethiopia’s tributaries supply roughly 86% of the Nile however as a result of the Entebbe Agreement Ethiopia and other upstream countries have begun to divert water for new dam projects that would provide hydro-electric power and irrigation networks. These developments upstream have led to threats from Egypt, who are extremely protective over their decreasing share of the Niles water supply. However in order to secure their supply they must engage in peaceful negotiations as violence would only jeapordise their share of the supply. Thus the potential for water conflict is there as tensions continue to increase between upstream and downstream nations, and perhaps overtime as the downstream nations share of the supply is further squeezed, these tensions are likely to result in conflict.
Conflict can also occur within a country, for example the states situated within the Colorado river basin have been constantly squabbling over who owns the water supply and who should be allocated the most water. In the 1920s the ‘Law of the River’ established the division of water amongst the upper basin states, it also defined their responsibility to supply water to the lower basin states. This division had been based on an estimated annual flow of 21 billion m3/yr in 1920, however this was a time of above normal flows, recent studies have indicated that long term average flows are around 18 billion m3/yr.
The deficit between the flow and the allocation has become more apparent as the population in the clorado basin states continues to rise. As a result of this deficit tensions are rising between the states, California receives a large percentage of the water as a result of its large population and political power even though the river does not directly flow through it. This has heightened tensions with the states who are experiencing severe water shortages who actually have a grater claim to the river than California. Although the city dwellers may be losing out as they are having to share their water with other states, farmers are profiting as they claimed the land first and thus the majority of water, 80%, lies with them.
The Colorado river has not only caused internal disputes but also international disputes, causing there to be the potential for conflict with Mexico. The reason being that the Colorado river is that the basin states are so dependent on the water that the river supplies that it no longer reaches the sea, 90% of the water has been extracted before it reaches Mexico. The delta has decreased in size as a result of the extraction and the large dams put in place along the river such as the Hoover Dam. This did increase political tensions between the two nations and there was a strong potential for the supply of the Colorado river to become a source of Conflict between the two countries, however in 2012 an amendment was made to the ‘Law of the River’ entitled ‘Minute 319’ which gave Mexico a grater allocation of the water supply.
This is an example of how there can be a potential for conflict yet an agreement can be reached to prevent it. Nonetheless there is still a potential for new disputes among the Colorado river, this is less likely to occur internationally on the US-Mexico border as a result of the recent amendment, however at the artificial border drawn at Lees Ferry, between the upper and lower basin states. Aside from the strain put on the supply by a growing population, the upper basin has a small surplus that it is using to develop its economy. However at the same time water shortages in the lower basin could limit the potential for economic growth in the lower basin and thus their remains a potential for the water supply to cause conflict in the future.