Water Can Be a Pathway to Peace, Not War

Worldwatch Institute Publishes Global Security Brief by Aaron T. Wolf, Annika Kramer, Alexander Carius, and Geoffrey D. Dabelko

Jun 01, 2005

"Water wars are coming!" the newspaper headlines scream. It seems obvious-—rivalries over water have been the source of disputes since humans settled down to cultivate food. Even our language reflects these ancient roots: "rivalry" comes from the Latin rivalis, or "one using the same river as another." Countries or provinces bordering the same river (known as "riparians") are often rivals for the water they share. As the number of international river basins (and impact of water scarcity) has grown so do the warnings that these countries will take up arms to ensure their access to water. In 1995, for example, World Bank Vice President Ismail Serageldin claimed that "the wars of the next century will be about water."

These apocalyptic warnings fly in the face of history: no nations have gone to war specifically over water resources for thousands of years. International water disputes-—even among fierce enemies—-are resolved peacefully, even as conflicts erupt over other issues. In fact, instances of cooperation between riparian nations outnumbered conflicts by more than two to one between 1945 and 1999. Why? Because water is so important, nations cannot afford to fight over it. Instead, water fuels greater interdependence. By coming together to jointly manage their shared water resources, countries build trust and prevent conflict. Water can be a negotiating tool, too: it can offer a communication lifeline connecting countries in the midst of crisis. Thus, by crying "water wars," doomsayers ignore a promising way to help prevent war: cooperative water resources management.

Click here to read the rest of the brief online:
http://www.worldwatch.org/features/security/briefs/5/

For more information, or to interview the authors, contact: Darcey Rakestraw at 202.452.1992 x517 or drakestraw@worldwatch.org


Experts & Staff

  • Roger-Mark De Souza // Director of Population, Environmental Security and Resilience, Wilson Center
  • Sandeep Bathala // Senior Program Associate, Environmental Change and Security Program, Maternal Health Initiative
  • Katharine Diamond // Program Assistant, Environmental Change and Security Program
  • Benjamin Dills // Program Assistant, Environmental Change and Security Program
  • Lauren Herzer // Program Associate, Environmental Change and Security Program
  • John Thon Majok // Program Associate, Environmental Change and Security Program
  • Schuyler Null // Web Editor and Writer/Editor, Environmental Change and Security Program, Maternal Health Initiative
  • Meaghan Parker // Writer/Editor, Environmental Change and Security Program
  • Sean Peoples // Multimedia Producer and Program Associate, Environmental Change and Security Program
  • Geoffrey D. Dabelko // Senior Advisor, Environmental Change and Security Program
  • Ruth Greenspan Bell // Public Policy Scholar
  • William Krist // Senior Policy Scholar
  • Louise Lief // Public Policy Scholar
  • John W. Sewell // Senior Scholar