Water at the Roots of Twenty First Centurys Conflicts

According to a postulate made by Ignacio Ramonet ecological resources are deemed to constitute the main cause of this new century. Water as a source of scourge concerns: oceans and seas on the one hand (that's over 71 of the globe surface) and access to potable water (underground reserve and rivers) on the other hand. Over the years, water has gradually become a stake at many levels

Water: an economic stake

Water without any single doubt constitutes a consumption goods and surely the most consumed due to its various uses: drinking, irrigation, cleaning, provision of energy?) Water also constitutes a reserve of other resources such as fish, and other aquatic animals, a number of minerals among which oil and its derived products. The sensitive character of water and its scarcity have made water to become as other scarce values or resources a potential and often effective source of profits for individuals, organisations, and industries?

Water as a political or strategic resource

In the domain of politics and strategy, water more than any other geographic element and relief elements (mountains, gaps, climates?) could become a decisive tool in a given circumstance. By controlling access to certain passages and thereof to certain goods a protagonist through the possession of channels, springs, lakes?can hurt an opponent. A historical perspective reminds us of waters and water having been decisive in the course of conflicts. During World War II under sea war made a noticeable progress with enormous advantages given to the allied forces. During Cold War sea and its bottoms contributed to the race to sophisticated weapons as the super powers used them to test and move safely new weapons. The American hegemony and strengthened capacity to move a conflict and win in another country has a lot to do with their mastering of an important surface of oceans and the capacity to move a huge number of weapons through planes-carrier. The effective imposition of an embargo and the possibility to render such a measure effective also owes a tool to water namely control of channels, harbours and seaports.

Tensions and cooperation over the issue of sharing of water concerns a number of scales: territorial (basin authority, state and municipalities) temporal (present and future generations) new actors have also gained right to participate to such talks: the private sector, individuals and non governmental organisations.)

According to United Nations, more than 20°/° of the World population lacks water, such a figure could reach 30°/° by the year 2025 and by then 50 countries would be concerned. The scarcity of water is owing to many factors: waste, pollution and over exploitation of underground reserves. As concerns pollution, the Amazon and Congo rivers are considered as the remaining safe rivers while Ganges and Euphrates are their perfect opposites. The increasing industrialisation of emerging countries constitutes a multiplying factor of pollution. Temptations to produce at reduced costs have often led to less concern for pollution of soils and rivers.

O.Diallo states that, certain actors could artificially maintain tensions over water resources, since certain rivers flowing in a given region may have other uses such as the drawing of boundaries among sovereign states. In this sense he added that certain factors expose developing more to conflicts and tensions due to the sharing of water. These are: "the absence of conventions and rules governing certain rivers, the non existence or the weak implementation of texts and rules regulating the management of water among states, sector management policies not taking into account the whole of actors and the absence of technical knowledge on rivers"

The ^problem of access to potable water amplifies every day: the World population has tripled in a century while the global consumption of water was multiplied by 6. Lakes, springs and underground reserves of water are more and more polluted. In these conditions water has normally become a political tool. Nile, Egypt is tributary is equally shared by 10 other countries among which the poorest and most dry of world. But Egypt denies Ethiopia the right to perform necessary works to also get advantage of Nile for irrigation, provision of energy?This, while Egypt has build a dam at Aswan that causes harms to other countries as the level, course and bottoms of Nile are not spared. Since the 6 Days War, 67°/° OF Israeli provision of water is from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jordan affluent. Though a Peace Treaty passed with King Hussein of Jordan in 1994 solved the problem for that kingdom, the issue remains entire as concerns Syria and Lebanon. In January 2000, talks between Israel and Lebanon rendered obvious the stake an Israeli retreat from Golan Heights could represent. If such a thing had happened Syria would have been empowered with the control of the level of waters in the Tiberiades Lake. Another risky situation is that of Lake Chad and neighbouring countries. The dryness of the lake could eventually lead to border disputes and other disputes owing to access to water and other related resources such as fish.



The issue of water has constituted a cornerstone of the activity of United Nations. Since the organisation aims at preventing and solving conflicts.

United Nations organised a series of for a and conferences on water

* The United Nations Conference on Water (1977)

* The International Conference on Environment and Water (1992) The International Decade of Potable Water and Sanitation (1981-1990) The activities of United Nations system are geared at the exploitation of the fragile resources rendered scarce by pollution, demographic growth, and the growing needs of the new industries.

In 1958, 4 conventions of UN were signed by 40 states. This conventions concerned access to international waters, territorial or national part of seas, biological resources and continental heights. The emergence of newly independent countries a few years later led UN to reform the 1958 Convention so as to give a share to other countries on account of the sovereign equality of states. The Montego Bay signed by 119 states on 10th December 182 consecrated this new order. A new order United States and United Kingdom never accepted.


Solutions are also arising at the regional level to prevent and face the water crisis. In October 2002, Jose Eduardo Dos Santos acting in the capacity of president of South African Development Community (SADC), recalled the necessity of an enhanced policy concerning water resources through the implementation of a "regional strategic plan of action for an integrated management of water resources". This is among SAD regional initiative for the management of waters (SADC Water Protocol) that entered into force in 1998.

The neighbouring countries to major rivers have constituted into basin authorities (Mano River, Niger, Congo, Lake Chad?)

Though considered among the wet regions on Earth, central Africa is not spared by the problems of water. An International Conference held in Yaounde in 2003, attended by countries members of the Lake Chad Basin Authority (CBLT). A meeting that quickly turned into a crisis meeting to solve the reduction of water in the lake. Unfortunately, an initiative to transfer water from Oubangui could not come out. It should be noted that in less than 30 years Lake Chad passed from 300 square meters to a mere 25 square meters.

The Niger Basin Authority also held an important meeting in Paris the 26th and 2 7th of April 2004. The meeting came out with a declaration called the Paris Declaration. Principles for " a sustainable and shared development of the basin" were adopted.

Coordinated efforts seems to be the sole solution for a population of World called to turn the concept of sustainable development into practice

By Bagneki Hugues Olivier

Bagneki Hugues Olivie is a graduate of political science and public adminitration from the university of Buea in Cameroon - currently following a master's programme. Bagneki is interested and dedicated to economic, social, and international politics issues.

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