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The Emerging Water Wars

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To avoid such dependence, Turkmenistan has decided to divert water from the catchment basin of one of the rivers - the Amu Darya - to a $6 billion artificial lake. This inane project is comparable only to China's much-disputed Three Gorges Dam - the $30 billion, 180 meters tall hydroelectric plant that will block the fierce Yangtze River.

On January 2000, a Kinshasa-based firm, Western Trade Corporation, and an American partner, Sapphire Aqua, proposed to raise financing for a $9 billion set of 1000-2000 km. pipes from the Congo River to the Middle East and South Africa. Stratfor justly noted that the water were to be given free, casting in doubt the viability - or the even the very existence - of such a project.

Con-artists and gullible investors notwithstanding, water is big business. Water Forum 2002, sponsored and organized by the World Bank, attracted many NGO's, donors, and private companies. The Agadir conference in June 2002 attracted scholars and governments as well. According to the government of Morocco, it dealt with "views and experiences on water pricing, cost recovery and the interactions between micro and macro policies related to water".

T. Boone Pickens, a corporate raider, has bought water rights from Texans during the 2001 drought. He succeeded to amass c. 200,000 acre-feet worth c. $200 million.

Economic competition coupled with acute and growing scarcity often presage conflict.

"Water stress" is already on the world's agenda at least as firmly as global warming. The Hague Ministerial Declaration released on March 2000 identified seven 'water-related challenges'. This led to the establishment of the 'World Water Assessment Program' and UNESCO's 'From Potential Conflict to Cooperation Potential' (PC to CP) which 'addresses more specifically the challenge of sharing water resources primarily from the point of view of governments, and develops decision-making and conflict prevention tools for the future'."

Simultaneously, Green Cross International and UNESCO floated "Water for Piece" project whose aims are "to enhance the awareness and participation of local authorities and the public in water conflict resolution an integrated management by facilitating more effective dialogue between all stakeholders." In its efforts to minimize tensions in potential and actual conflict regions, the project concentrates on a few case studies in the basins of the Rhine, the Aral Sea, the Limpopo/Incomati, the Mekong, the Jordan River, the Danube, and the Columbia.

Peter Gleik of the Pacific Institute suggested this taxonomy of water-related conflicts (quoted in thewaterpage.com):
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"Control of Water Resources (state and non-state actors): where water supplies or access to water is at the root of tensions.
Military Tool (state actors): where water resources, or water systems themselves, are used by a nation or state as a weapon during a military action.
Political Tool (state and non-state actors): where water resources, or water systems themselves, are used by a nation, state, or non-state actor for a political goal.
Terrorism (non-state actors): where water resources, or water systems, are either targets or tools of violence or coercion by non-state actors.
Military Target (state actors): where water resource systems are targets of military actions by nations or states.
Development Disputes (state and non-state actors): where water resources or water systems are a major source of contention and dispute in the context of economic and social development."
Mark de Villiers, author of "Water Wars" contrasts, in ITT's aforementioned Guidebook, two opposing views about the likelihood of water-related conflicts. Thomas Homer-Dixon, the Canadian security analyst says:

"Water supplies are needed for all aspects of national activity, including the production and use of military power, and rich countries are as dependent on water as poor countries are ... Moreover, about 40 percent of the world's population lives in the 250 river basins shared by more than one country ... But ... wars over river water between upstream and downstream neighbors are likely only in a narrow set of circumstances. The downstream country must be highly dependent on the water for its national well-being; the upstream country must be able to restrict the river's flow; there must be a history of antagonism between the two countries; and, most important, the downstream country must be militarily much stronger than the upstream country."

Frederick Frey, of the University of Pennsylvania, disagrees:

"Water has four primary characteristics of political importance: extreme importance, scarcity, maldistribution, and being shared. These make internecine conflict over water more likely than similar conflicts over other resources. Moreover, tendencies towards water conflicts are exacerbated by rampant population growth and water-wasteful economic development. A national and international 'power shortage,' in the sense of an inability to control these two trends, makes the problem even more alarming."

Who is right?
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The citizens of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states in India are enmeshed in bloody skirmishes over the waters of the Carvery River. Colonel Quaddafi has been depleting the Iittoral aquifer in the Sahara for decades now - to the detriment of all his neighbors - yet, not a single violent incident has been recorded. In 2001, the Rio Grande has failed to reach the Gulf of Mexico - for the first time in many decades. Yet, no war erupted between the USA and Mexico.

As water become more scarce, market solutions are bound to emerge. Water is heavily subsidized and, as a direct result, atrociously wasted. More realistic pricing would do wonders on the demand side. Water rights are already traded electronically in the USA. Private utilities and water markets are the next logical step.

Water recycling is another feasible alternative. Despite unmanageable financial problems and laughable prices, the municipality of Moscow maintains enormous treatment plants and re-uses most of its water.

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Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Global Politician, Central Europe Review, PopMatters, Bellaonline, and (more...)

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