Water Conflict

I grew up in the Northeast United States. Central New York, to be specific. Water wasn’t something we worried about; we were literally surrounded by lakes. Water was cheap from the utility company, and it was abundant. We used as much as we wanted. We never, ever thought about it.

When I was 25, I moved to Uzbekistan. That’s where I learned about water. It’s the scarcest resource in Central Asia. I live in Tajikistan now. We need water for hydropower, for irrigation, and to drink. We don’t have enough for any of it. If there is a regional war in Central Asia, it will be about water. Everyone knows it.

We’re not the only region that looks this way. Water for hydropower is one of the drivers of the Kashmir conflict, and it’s not the only water conflict dividing India and Pakistan. Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam are in constant, fraught negotiation over the Mekong River. Water scarcity exacerbated the violence in Darfur and the Rwandan genocide. Egypt and Sudan could break into a shooting war any time now over the waters of the Nile.

Water is a major factor in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and it’s driving Middle East tension in other countries. Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine fight over the Jordan River, while Turkey, Syria, and Iraq contend for the Tigris and the Euphrates.

I don’t need to tell you why water matters for human life. And it’s Blog Action day for water, so you can go to the site for lots of posts on water and its importance. We tend to focus on water’s impact on human health and sanitation.  But something as important as water has scarcity consequences that go much bigger. Triggering human conflict is one of them, one we need to worry about.

So far, we haven’t seen a international water war. We’ve been able to solve water conflicts through economic and diplomatic solutions. I hope  – I really hope – that we can keep that up. But as water gets scarcer, the fights are going to get worse.