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The escalation of water-related conflicts around the world

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  • The escalation of water-related conflicts around the world
Schneider Electric
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A recently updated database of events related to water and conflict assembled by American non-profit Pacific Institute shows that violence related to water increased over the past decade, reports The Guardian.

In fact, water-related conflicts have more than doubled in the last decade compared with previous ones, a trend that results from water scarcity while the global populations continues to grow, water resources are not always appropriately managed, and extreme climate events are on the rise. Together with water scarcity, and worsening it, is the readiness to weaponise the water supply, particularly in the Middle East.

Dr. Peter Gleick, a world-renowned expert on water issues who co-founded the Pacific Institute in 1987, said ‘The evidence is clear that there’s growing violence associated with fresh-water resources, both conflicts over access to water and especially attacks on civilian water systems’. Although part of the increasing trend in water violence could be due to the fact that in our connected world it is now easier to report conflicts than ever before, the database did show a small decline in incidents from 2000 to 2010, thus showing that the trend cannot be fully explained by better communications.

Making the headlines of international news over the past years were the large number of attacks on civilian water infrastructure during Syria’s civil war, in direct violation of international law. As Laura F. Zarza described in this SWM post on water conflicts around the world, since 2015, the parties involved in the Syrian conflict have used drinking water access as a means to realise their military and political goals. But the database also shows significant violence linked to water resources that has taken place in Iraq, Yemen, the Sahel region, India and Ukraine.

To try to predict potential water-stress induced conflicts and have a chance to take action early on, The Water, Peace and Security partnership (WPS), a collaboration between the Netherlands government and a consortium of six partners (IHE Delft, World Resources Institute (WRI), Deltares, The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS), Wetlands International and International Alert) has developed an early warning tool.

The WPS global early warning tool focuses on hotspots in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, analysing environmental, economic and social variables and using machine learning to forecast where organised violence is likely to occur. Its uniqueness lies in that not only does it consider political, economic and social factors, but also adds data on precipitation and drought to have a comprehensive picture.

Although water is not the only driver of conflict, is it important and often ignored. The Guardian quotes Susanne Schmeier, water law and diplomacy lecturer at IHE Delft involved in the project: ‘Once conflicts escalate, they are hard to resolve and can have a negative impact on water security, creating vicious cycles of conflict. This is why timely action is critical’. The tool has highlighted several countries at risk of experiencing water-related conflicts in 2020, including Iraq, Iran, Mali, Pakistan, India and Nigeria.