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From Water Wars To Environmental Peacebuilding: The Changing Role Of Water In Conflict And Peace

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Carl Bruch (Washington, DC, USA), Jessica Troell

Carl Bruch
Environmental Law Institute

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 11: Key vulnerabilities and security risks,

For two decades, much has been made about forthcoming "water wars," but these wars have yet to materialize. In fact, historical analysis shows that cooperation around water is much more likely than armed conflict (Wolf, Yoffe, and Giordano 2003). Notwithstanding the lack of international water wars, disputes over water use and rights are a frequent source of localized conflict (Böhmelt et al. 2014; Wolf 2007). For example, in Afghanistan, where 80% of the population depends on agriculture for livelihoods and food security, land and water are the main causes of local disputes (Waldman 2008).

With the growing experience in post-conflict peacebuilding since the end of the Cold War (Bruch et al. 2009), it has become clear that effective and equitable water management is essential to peacebuilding (Troell and Weinthal 2014). Post-conflict peacebuilding seeks to both address the underlying causes of conflict and lay the foundation for a durable peace. Addressing water issues in the immediate aftermath of conflict can help reduce pre-conflict tensions and grievances over water use. For example, after the 1990-91 Gulf War, Iraq undertook a process to resolve community-level disputes over land and water (Barwari 2012).

Regardless of the causes of the conflict, effective water management can provide valuable peace dividends, helping to lay the foundation for a durable peace. Water underpins post-conflict efforts to restore livelihoods (including the reintegration of former combatants), economic recovery, public health, and governance and legitimacy--all of which can provide peace dividends.

Water services (that is, managing water resources to provide access drinking water and sanitation) are typically among the top priorities for post-conflict populations. Violent conflicts over access to water services can erupt in the post-conflict period, as Iraq experienced in 2008 (Troell and Weinthal 2014). Effective delivery of these services frequently means engaging the informal sector, which often fills the gap in formal service deliver during and immediately following conflict. This often occurs outside of the regulatory process, requiring integration and careful sequencing to avoid disruption to both critical services and to the livelihoods of those providing the services. Post-conflict private sector investment in the water sector often lags; in such circumstances, innovative approaches to public-private partnerships can be an important mechanism to foster investment. Water management can also support the demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration of former combatants; in Afghanistan, for example, the Afghan Conservation Corps provided temporary work-for-food arrangements for excombatants to rebuild water infrastructure.

Effective water management is central to rebuilding livelihoods and the national economy after war. Between 50 and 80 percent of excombatants return to the agriculture sector, and depend on water rights for their sustainable livelihoods. Typically, agricultural and extractive industries make up 50 percent of GDP in these nations.

Water also often figures prominently in post-conflict legal reforms. For example, 30 countries affected by major armed conflict since 1990 have addressed water in their post-conflict constitutions. Constitutional treatment of water addresses legislative power, public domain, state responsibility, local authority or federalism, transboundary waters, development, and protection of water resources. Such reforms are critical in allocating and protecting a resource that supports all areas of economic and social reconstruction and development.

Learning from experiences to date in managing water after conflict can improve the effectiveness of peacebuilding efforts, thereby reducing the likelihood of conflict relapse. This presentation will synthesize findings from work coordinated by the authors on environmental peacebuilding, and particularly on the role of water in post-conflict peacebuilding. This work is published in a series of six edited volumes on Post-Conflict Peacebuilding and Natural Resource Management (Earthscan 2012-2015), including Water and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding, edited by Erika Weinthal, Jessica Troell, and Mikiyasu Nakayama. 1. Barwari, N. 2012. Resolving natural resource conflicts to help prevent war: A case from Afghanistan. In Land and post-conflict peacebuilding, ed. J. Unruh and R. C. Williams. London: Earthscan.

2. Böhmelt, T., T. Bernauer, H. Buhaug, N. P. Gleditsch, T. Tribaldos, and G. Wischnath. 2014. Demand, supply, and restraint: Determinants of domestic water conflict and cooperation. Global Environmental Change. DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.11.018.

3. Bruch, C., D. Jensen, M. Nakayama, J. Unruh, R. Gruby, and R. Wolfarth. 2009. Post-conflict peace building and natural resources. In Yearbook of International Environmental Law, ed. O. K. Fauchald, D. Hunter, and W. Xi. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press 2009.

4. Troell, J., and E. Weinthal. 2014 Harnessing water management for more effective peacebuilding: Lessons learned. In Water and post-conflict peacebuilding, ed. E. Weinthal, J. Troell, and M. Nakayama. London: Earthscan.

5. Waldman, M. 2008. Community peacebuilding in Afghanistan: The case for a national strategy. Oxford, UK: Oxfam International.

6. Wolf, A. 2007. Shared waters: Conflict and cooperation. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 32:241--269.

7. Wolf, A. T., S. B. Yoffe, and M. Giordano. 2003. International water: Identifying basins at risk. Water Policy 5 (1): 29--60.

2011 IWRA - International Water Resources Association - - Admin