Water Sauce of Conflict!

The Pacific Institute, a think-tank based in Oakland in California, USA, Suggests there are three types of water-based violence:

  • Sometimes water itself can be used as a weapon, as when China in 1938 breached dykes along the Yellow River to repel the Japanese army, or, just last year al-Shabaab, a terrorist group, diverted water from the Jubba river in Somalia, causing a flood that forced opposing forces to move to higher ground where they were ambushed.
  • Sometimes water is the trigger, as last year when conflicts over pasture land and water led to violence in both northern Kenya, and central Nigeria, where 11 people were killed in an attack by Fulani herdsmen on a farming community.
  • Water installations can also be the target of military action, as in 2006 when Hezbollah rockets damaged a wastewater plant in Israel, which mounted retaliatory attacks on water facilities in Lebanon. Last year, during ethnic strife in the populous Oromia region of Ethiopia, dozens of water systems were attacked.

The economist (2019, p.8) suggests that most “water conflicts” will be sub-national, but transboundary tensions are also likely to intensify.

In 2018, the Joint Research Centre, a think-tank under the European Commission, used computer modelling to rank the rivers where these are most likely to flare up. The study listed five:

  • The Nile:
    • Is an ‘international’ river as its drainage basin covers eleven countries, namely, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Republic of the Sudan and Egypt.In particular, the Nile is the primary water source of Egypt and Sudan.
  • Ganges-Brahmaputra:
    • The Gange, or Ganga, is a trans-boundary river of Asia which flows through India and Bangladesh. The Brahmaputra is one of the major rivers of Asia, a trans-boundary river which flows through China, India and Bangladesh.
  • Indus:
    • The Indus River (locally called Sindhu) is one of the longest rivers in Asia.Originating in the Tibetan Plateau in the vicinity of Lake Manasarovar, the river runs a course through the Ladakh , a union territory of India, towards the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Kashmir and the Hindukush ranges, and then flows in a southerly direction along the entire length of Pakistan to merge into the Arabian Sea near the port city of Karachi in Sindh.It is the longest river and national river of Pakistan.Pakistan and India squabble over the treaty they concluded in 1960 (to which the World Bank was also a signatory) on sharing the waters of the Indus.
  • Tigris-Euphrates:
    • The Tigris and Euphrates, with their tributaries, form a major river system in Western Asia.From sources originating in eastern Turkey, they flow by/through Syria through Iraq into the Persian Gulf.The system is part of the Palearctic Tigris–Euphrates ecoregion, which includes Iraq and parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan.
  • Colorado:
    • The Colorado River is one of the principal rivers (along with the Rio Grande) in the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico.The 1,450-mile-long (2,330 km) river drains an expansive, arid watershed that encompasses parts of seven US and two Mexican states.

The Joint Research Centre suggest that in all these instances, downstream nations fear or resent the effect on their waters of the actions of upstream countries.


The Economist. (2019) Special Report Water: Water Fights. The Economist. 02 March 2019, pp.8


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