March 25, 2009 I posted Opinion: Nations don’t go to war over water on a “peer reviewed opinion” (Nature 458, 282–283; 2009). In short, writer Wendy Barnaby discussed how a book project was stopped because research didn’t turn up a significantly bloody past history of water wars. The objections are in and there are plenty of arguments on the shelf…
The potential for water conflict is on the increase by Z. W. Kundzewicz and P. Kowalczak disagree almost completely:
water has often been the object, target or weapon of military or terrorist action
…they say; referring to a quite thorough list of incidents. Although pointing to certain circumstances where cooperation is more likely than conflict, they finish…
as populations in water-stressed areas continue to grow and the demand for water increases to improve living standards with better sanitation and a water-intensive diet. In arid areas, water scarcity is likely to be exacerbated by climate change […] The potential for water conflict — war or no war — deserves careful attention.
Increasing inequality is already making shortages worse by T. H. Meek and L. A. Meek says Barnaby was too “hasty” and points to her argument resting on at least three shady assumptions:
that developing nations will be able to afford food […] that food itself is not also a limited resource being threatened by global warming […that] poorer nations will become wealthier in the coming decades
Water is a source of cooperation rather than war by U. Shamir, S. Grand and N. Grand agree with Barnaby from the perspective of a senior adviser to the Israeli Water Authority. It is claimed that the Palestinian Territories receives more water from Israel than they are entitled to by the treaty.
Water: conflicts set to arise within as well as between states is by Ismail Serageldin, who was quoted by Barnaby, adds nuance:
arguments that have been made by others about international wars being unlikely for water, and they are probably right. But civil strife between competing groups within countries over water rights are very serious. […] Drought has driven many tribes in Africa into terrain that they are not normally expected to occupy. When coupled with other factors such as ethnic or religious divides, this becomes a dangerous mix. Water may also become a casus belli between states, if the downstream nation is considerably stronger militarily than the one upstream, and the latter tries to block or reduce the flow of water.
His finish is perhaps the most important contribution:
The answer […] is to manage our water resources better, learning from past experience, generalizing best practices and facing up to the mounting challenges that are coming our way, not to dismiss the issue as a myth.
Finally, in Water: resistance on the route towards a fair share for all M. Zeitoun largely agrees with Barnaby’s attack on the “media hype” of water wars but like most others he adds details of conflicts within countries – from Iraq, Syria, Turkey, India… and Israel / Palestine:
Palestinian farmers eke out a living dependent on
highly variable and scarce rainfall, next door to the industrial farms of Israeli settlers whose irrigation water is state-subsidized.
Water conflicts (not wars) are a clear and present danger for millions. They deserve our full collective scientific, financial and diplomatic attention.
On a more general note I’d say it is a bit naive to claim that because something didn’t happen in the past – a declaration of war stating water as the issue – it will not happen in the future. Especially since conflict rarely plays by the book anyway and since low level conflicts about water seem to be common and on the rise.