Development Disputes (state and non-state actors): where water resources or water systems are a major source of contention and dispute in the context of economic and social development."
Mark de Villiers, author of "Water Wars" contrasts, in ITT's aforementioned Guidebook, two opposing views about the likelihood of water-related conflicts. Thomas Homer-Dixon, the Canadian security analyst says:
"Water supplies are needed for all aspects of national activity, including the production and use of military power, and rich countries are as dependent on water as poor countries are ... Moreover, about 40 percent of the world's population lives in the 250 river basins shared by more than one country ... But ... wars over river water between upstream and downstream neighbors are likely only in a narrow set of circumstances. The downstream country must be highly dependent on the water for its national well-being; the upstream country must be able to restrict the river's flow; there must be a history of antagonism between the two countries; and, most important, the downstream country must be militarily much stronger than the upstream country."
Frederick Frey, of the University of Pennsylvania, disagrees:
"Water has four primary characteristics of political importance: extreme importance, scarcity, maldistribution, and being shared. These make internecine conflict over water more likely than similar conflicts over other resources. Moreover, tendencies towards water conflicts are exacerbated by rampant population growth and water-wasteful economic development. A national and international 'power shortage,' in the sense of an inability to control these two trends, makes the problem even more alarming."
Who is right?
The citizens of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states in India are enmeshed in bloody skirmishes over the waters of the Carvery River. Colonel Quaddafi has been depleting the Iittoral aquifer in the Sahara for decades now - to the detriment of all his neighbors - yet, not a single violent incident has been recorded. Last year, the Rio Grande has failed to reach the Gulf of Mexico - for the first time in many decades. Yet, no war erupted between the USA and Mexico.
As water become more scarce, market solutions are bound to emerge. Water is heavily subsidized and, as a direct result, atrociously wasted. More realistic pricing would do wonders on the demand side. Water rights are already traded electronically in the USA. Private utilities and water markets are the next logical step.
Water recycling is another feasible alternative. Despite unmanageable financial problems and laughable prices, the municipality of Moscow maintains enormous treatment plants and re-uses most of its water.
Wars are the outcomes of cultures and mores. Not every casus belli leads to belligerence. Not every conflict, however severe, ends in battle. Mankind has invented numerous other conflict-resolution mechanisms. There is no reason to assume that water would cause more warfare than oil or national pride. But water scarcity sure causes dislocation, ethnic tension, impoverishment, social anomy, and a host of other ills. It is in fending off these pernicious, all-pervasive, and slow-acting social processes that we should concentrate our efforts.