I read this article this weekend about a Palestinian water activist working in a conflict situation. It got me thinking about the importance of discussing water conflict. It has been said that the wars of the 21st century will not be fought over oil or land, but over water. In the case of Israel/Palestine, water has added to the unrest. Disputes over who ‘owns’ the water and who can do what with the water have added to the ongoing tensions.
Fighting over what little water is left is happening all around the world — nomadic tribes in the Kenya/Ethiopia area of Africa come into conflict over the dwindling Omo River that marked their boundaries, the US and Mexico argue over the supply of the Colorado River. People are intent on keeping what water they have under strict supervision, when the solution to some water issues is to share it as best we can.
Conflict over water is something that is not talked about nearly as much as other water issues. The intricate connections between water conflict and other political tensions make unraveling and negotiating water conflict tricky at best. It takes cooperation and give and take on both sides. And it means considering both sides to have equal standing — nomadic tribes have just as much right to water as city people.
As a side note to this discussion, the article also mentions dams as a solution to water issues. Most water people realize that dams generally do more damage than good. And damming transnational or international rivers can cause even more fuel for water conflict. There are even a set of international guidelines to govern the damming of cross-boundary rivers. Yet this water activist views building a dam (in an area where the damming of rivers has caused much of the existing conflict over water resources) as a way to foster peace? I’m not sure I follow that.