Water politics

Water politics

Water politics, sometimes called hydropolitics, is politics affected by water and water resources.The first use of the term, hydropolitics, came in the book by John Waterbury, entitled Hydropolitics of the Nile Valley, Syracuse University Press, 1979 (ISBN 0-8156-2192-2).

Because of overpopulation, mass consumption, misuse, and water pollution, the availability of drinking water per capita is inadequate and shrinking. [ [http://www.cbc.ca/news/story/2003/03/05/water_report030305.html World's supply of fresh water shrinking dramatically: report ] ] For this reason, water is a strategic resource in the globe and an important element in many political conflicts. Some have predicted that clean water will become the "next oil", making countries like Canada, Chile, Norway, Colombia and Peru, with this resource in abundance, the water-rich countries in the world. [ [http://www.worldwater.org/data20062007/Table1.pdf Total Renewable Fresh Water Supply By Country] ] [ [http://www.keele.ac.uk/depts/ec/wpapers/kerp0219.pdf Peter Lawrence et al. "The Water Poverty Index : an International Comparison", Keele Economics Research Papers, 2002] ] [ [http://www.worldwater.org/conflict.html A Chronology of Water-Related Conflicts] ] UNESCO's World Water Development Report (WWDR, 2003) from its World Water Assessment Program indicates that, in the next 20 years, the quantity of water available to everyone is predicted to decrease by 30%. 40% of the world's inhabitants currently have insufficient fresh water for minimal hygiene. More than 2.2 million people died in 2000 from diseases related to the consumption of contaminated water or drought. In 2004, the UK charity WaterAid reported that a child dies every 15 seconds from easily preventable water-related diseases; often this means lack of sewage disposal; see toilet. The United Nations Development Programme sums up world water distribution in the 2006 development report: "While one part of the world sustains a designer bottled water market that generates no tangible health benefits, another part suffers acute public health risks because people have to drink water from drains or from lakes and rivers." [ [http://hdr.undp.org/hdr2006/report.cfm# UNDP Human Development Report 2006] United Nations Development Programme, 2006.] Fresh water — now more precious than ever in our history for its extensive use in agriculture, high-tech manufacturing, and energy production — is increasingly receiving attention as a resource requiring better management and sustainable use.

Water rights and associated issues like global warming and desertification have become issues in international diplomacy, in addition to domestic and regional politics. World Bank Vice President Isamil Serageldin predicted, "Many of the wars of the 20th century were about oil, but wars of the 21st century will be over water". [ [http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst;jsessionid=LzvKQT9QJpyrMBm5G3VrTtYfFGfbQlRT9LK7nv5Kn7zym7CZG2VG!-331657331?docId=5008625832 Where Oil and Water Do Mix: Environmental Scarcity and Future Conflict in the Middle East and North Africa ] ]

Water as a critical resource

Fresh water is a vital human resource, and is involved in many industries, including forestry, agriculture and mining. It can be dammed to create power in the form of hydroelectricity. Rivers often serve as the boundaries and demarcations between nations.

Perhaps most importantly, fresh water is a fundamental requirement of all living organisms, crops, livestock and humanity included. According to the WHO, each human being requires 20 litres of fresh water per day. [ [http://hdr.undp.org/external/hdr2006/water/10.htm Water Rights and Wrongs ] ] From country to country this specific figure varies, as is the case with developed nations having ready access to decontaminating water for human consumption, and bringing it to every home. At the same time, nations across Latin America, parts of South East Asia, Africa and the Middle East are unable to obtain such facilities at the scales required, for various reasons, meaning the quantity of fresh water consumed per capita is reduced, leading to disease, starvation and death.

The control of water resources is considered vital to the survival of a state. [ Daclon Corrado Maria, "Geopolitics of Environment, A Wider Approach to the Global Challenges", Comunità Internazionale, Italy, 2007 ] .

OECD countries

With nearly 2,000 cubic metres (70,000 ft3) of water per person per year , the United States leads the world in water consumption per capita. In the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, the U.S. is first for water consumption, then Canada with 1,600 cubic meters (56,000 ft3) of water per person per year, which is about twice the amount of water used by the average person from France, three times as much as the average German, and almost eight times as much as the average Dane. Since 1980, overall water use in Canada has increased by 25.7%. This is five times higher than the overall OECD increase of 4.5%. In contrast, nine OECD nations were able to decrease their overall water use since 1980 (Sweden, the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Poland, Finland and Denmark). [ [http://www.environmentalindicators.com/htdocs/indicators/6wate.htm Water consumption indicator] in the OECD countries ] [ cite news | title=Golf 'is water hazard' | publisher=BBC News | date=March 17, 2003 | url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/2857587.stm ]

United States

Ninety-five percent of the United States' fresh water is underground.

For specific disputes and concerns, see:
* California Water Wars
* Colorado River Compact
* Ogallala Aquifer

For general information, see:
* United States groundwater law
* Clean Water Protection Act
* Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act


In Mexico City, an estimated 40% of the city's water is lost through leaky pipes built at the turn of the 20th century. [cite news | title=Mexico City - Water hot spots | publisher=BBC Newsnight | date=18/08/08| url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/world/03/world_forum/water/html/mexico_city.stm ]

Middle East

The Middle East region has only 1% of the world's available fresh water, which is shared among 5% of the world's population. Thus, in this region, water is an important strategic resource. By 2025, it is predicted that the countries of the Arabian peninsula will be using more than double the amount of water naturally available to them. [ cite news | title=Water shortages 'foster terrorism' | publisher=BBC News | date=March 18, 2003 | url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/2859937.stm ] According to a report by the Arab League, two-thirds of Arab countries have less than 1,000 cubic meters (35,000 ft3) of water per person per year available, which is considered the limit. [ "Major aspects of scarce water resources management with reference to the Arab countries", Arab League report published for the International Conference on water gestion and water politics in arid zones, in Amman, Jordan, December 1-3, 1999. Quoted by French journalist Christian Chesnot in cite news | title=Drought in the Middle East | publisher=Monde diplomatique | date=February 2000 | url=http://mondediplo.com/2000/02/08chesnot - French original version freely available [http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2000/02/CHESNOT/13213.html here] .]

Water politics is not an emerging field within international relations discourse, nor is it a force insignificant in comparison to other political pressures, such as those of critical infrastructure (for example, petroleum for the United States), or that of strategic geopolitical control (for example, control of the Suez canal or the Persian Gulf). In the context of the Middle East, with a multitude of existing national, subnational, ideological, ethnic, religious and pan-national tensions, conflicts and associations, water politics has already been considered to have played a major role in tensions between Iraq, Syria and Turkey in 1990, when Turkey commenced the Southeastern Anatolia Project (also known as GAP) to dam sections of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers north of the Syrian/Turkey border. Finding themselves without control of their waterways, Syria and Iraq formed an alliance, ignoring the previous disputes which had divided them, to confront the issue of water control.

Within the Middle East, all major rivers cross at least one international border, with rivers like the Tigris and Euphrates crossing through three major Middle Eastern nations. This means that the nations, cities and towns downstream from the next are hugely effected by the actions and decisions of other groups whom one has little practical control over. In particular this is evident with the cutting of water supply from one nation to the next, just as issues of air pollution effect the states surrounding that which is producing the pollution initially. It is believed that up to 50% of water required for any specific state within the Middle East finds its source in another state.

Iraq and Syria watched with apprehension the construction of the Atatürk Dam in Turkey and a projected system of 22 dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. [ cite news | title=Turkey - water hot spots | publisher=BBC News | date=? | url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/world/03/world_forum/water/html/turkey.stm ] According to the BBC, the list of 'water-scarce' countries in the region grew steadily from three in 1955 to eight in 1990 with another seven expected to be added within 20 years, including three Nile nations (the Nile is shared by nine countries). According to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the only conceivable flashpoint Egypt may encounter as it heads into the 21st century is the control of fresh water resources.

With substantial, but falling [ [http://www.metimes.com/Editorial/2008/01/25/editorial_mideast_fertility_rates_plunge/6336/ EDITORIAL: Mideast fertility rates plunge - Middle East Times ] ] , rates of fertility, the issue of water distribution in the Middle East will not be easily dismissed.

The River Jordan

Jordan, for example, has little water, and dams in other countries have reduced its available water sources over the years. The 1994 Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace stated that Israel would give 50 million cubic meters of water (1.7 billion ft3) per year to Jordan, which it refused to do in 1999 before backtracking. The 1994 treaty stated that the two countries would cooperate in order to allow Jordan better access to water resources, notably through dams on the Yarmouk River. [ See 1994 Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace, annex II, article II, first paragraph ] Confronted by this lack of water, Jordan is preparing new techniques to use non-conventional water resources, such as second-hand use of irrigation water and desalinization techniques, which are very costly and are not yet used. A desalinization project will soon be started in Hisban, south of Amman. The Disi groundwater project, in the south of Jordan, will cost at least $250 million to bring out water. Along with the Unity Dam on the Yarmouk River, it is one of Jordan's largest strategic projects. Born in 1987, the "Unity Dam" would involve both Jordan and Syria. This "Unity Dam" still has not been implemented because of Israel's opposition, Jordan and Syrian conflictive relations and the disinterest of international investors. However, Jordan's reconciliation with Syria following the death of King Hussein represents the removal of one of the project's greatest obstacles. See Christian Chesnot in cite news | title=Drought in the Middle East | publisher=Le Monde diplomatique | date=February 2000 | url=http://mondediplo.com/2000/02/08chesnot - French original version freely available [http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2000/02/CHESNOT/13213.html here] . ]

Both Israel and Jordan rely on the Jordan River, but Israel controls it, as well as 90% of the water resources in the region. The Golan Heights provide 770 million cubic meters (27 billion ft3) of water per year to Israel, which represents a third of its annual consumption. The Golan's water goes to the Sea of Galilee—Israel's largest reserve—which is then redistributed throughout the country by the National Water Carrier. However, the level on the Sea of Galilee has dropped over the years, sparking fears that Israel's main water reservoir will become salinated. On its northern border, Israel threatened military action against Lebanon in 2002 when it opened a new pumping station taking water from a river feeding the Jordan. To help ease the crisis, Israel has agreed to buy water from Turkey and is investigating the construction of desalination plants. cite news | title=Israel - water hot spots | publisher=BBC News | date=? | url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/world/03/world_forum/water/html/israel.stm ]

Water is also an important issue in the conflict with the Palestinians—indeed, according to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon quoted by Abel Darwish of the BBC, it was one of the causes of the 1967 Six-Day War. In practice the access to water has been a casus belli for Israel. The Israeli army prohibits Palestinians from pumping water, while Israeli settlers use advanced pumping equipment. Palestinians complain of a lack of access to water in the region. [ cite news | title=Analysis: Middle East water wars, by Abel Darwish | publisher=BBC News | date=May 30, 2003 | url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2949768.stm ] Israelis in the West Bank use four times as much water as their Palestinian neighbors. According to the World Bank, 90% of the West Bank's water is used by Israelis, despite them making up only a fraction of its population. Article 40 of the appendix B of the September 28, 1995 Oslo accords stated that "Israel recognizes Palestinians' rights on water in the West Bank".Statistics obtained from the Global Research Centre indicate that for the 3.7 million Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank, approximately 260–290 MCM/yr of fresh water are consumed, this figure including domestic, agricultural and industrial consumption. At the same time, 6.4 million Israelis have a total water consumption of 2,129 MCM/yr.

Israel obtains water from four sources: rainwater collected naturally into the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River(~36%), the mountain aquifers (~28%), the coastal aquifer (~14%), and water recycling (~23%). Almost all the water used in the Palestinian areas other than rainwater is drawn from the underground aquifers (mountain aquifer ~52%, coastal aquifer ~48%). The Palestinian Authority has not developed any significant wastewater treatment facilities. The mountain aquifers lie mostly under the West Bank and the coastal aquifer mostly under the Israeli coastal plain. Israel took control of the West Bank in 1967, including the recharge areas for aquifers that flow west and northwest into Israel and limits were placed on the amount withdrawn from each existing well. Since that time, the only permits for new Palestinian wells that have been granted are for domestic needs. Agricultural usage was capped at 1968 levels and all subsequent extension of land under irrigation has been through increased efficiency (Richardson 1984). At the same time, 17 wells were drilled to provide water to the new Israeli settlements. Almost 80% of aquifer usage is by Israel and its settlements. Some Palestinian wells were undercut and became desiccated, notably at al Auja and Bardala, because of the deeper, more powerful Israeli wells (Dillman 1989, 56-57). Of the 47 MCM/yr pumped in the mountain area, 14 MCM/yr, or 30 per cent, goes to the Jewish settlements. The eastern aquifer, which flows into the Jordan Valley, is the only one not being overexploited, but Palestinians have not been allowed to expand their water resources in this region either (Dillman 1989, 57). Currently, a total of 150 MCM/yr is consumed by its residents - 115 MCM/yr by Palestinians and 35 MCM/yr by Jews [ [http://www.unu.edu/unupress/unupbooks/80859e/80859E08.htm 08 ] ] . Water usage issues have been part of a number of agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. For these reasons, the question of water supply for both Israel and Palestine is a very serious obstacle to a comprehensive agreement.


The Ganges is disputed between India and Bangladesh. The water reserves are being quickly depleted and polluted, while the Gangotri glacier that feeds the sacred Hindu river is retreating hundreds of feet each year because of global warming [http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Retreat_of_Gangotri_declines/articleshow/2770963.cms] and deforestation in the Himalayas, which is causing subsoil streams flowing into the Ganges river to dry up. Downstream, India controls the flow to Bangladesh with the Farakka Barrage, 10 kilometers (6 mi) on the Indian side of the border. Until the late 1990s, India used the barrage to divert the river to Calcutta, to keep the city's port from drying up during the dry season. This denied Bangladeshi farmers water and silt, and it left the Sundarban wetlands and mangrove forests at the river's delta seriously threatened. The two countries have now signed an agreement to share the water more equally. Water quality, however, remains a problem, with high levels of arsenic and untreated sewage in the river water. [ cite news | title=Ganges river - water hot spots | publisher=BBC News | date=? | url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/world/03/world_forum/water/html/river_ganges.stm ]

South America

The Guaraní Aquifer, located between the Mercosur countries of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, with a volume of about 40,000 km³, is an important source of fresh potable water for all four countries.


Privatization of water companies has been contested on several occasions because of poor water quality, increasing prices, and ethical concerns. In Bolivia for example, the proposed privatization of water companies by the IMF was met by popular protests in Cochabamba in 2000, which ousted Bechtel, a US engineering firm based in San Francisco. Suez has started retreating from South America because of similar protests in Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, and Córdoba, Argentina. [ [http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=32660 WATER-LATIN AMERICA: Suez Packs Its Bags and Won't Be Back ] ] Consumers took to the streets to protest water rate hikes of as much as 500% mandated by Suez. In South and Central America, Suez has water concessions in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Mexico. "Bolivian officials fault Suez for not connecting enough households to water lines as mandated by its contract and for charging as much as $455 a connection, or about three times the average monthly salary of an office clerk", according to the "Mercury News". [ cite news | title=Bolivia's water wars coming to end under Morales | publisher=Mercury News | date=February 26, 2006 | url=http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/world/13969197.htm ]

South Africa also made moves to privatize water, provoking an outbreak of cholera that killed 200. [ cite news | title=Water privatisation: ask the experts | publisher=BBC News | date=December 10, 2004 | url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/talking_point/2957550.stm ]

In 1997, World Bank consultants assisted the Philippine government in the privatization of the city of Manila's Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage Systems (MWSS). By 2003, water price increases registered at 81% in the east zone of the Philippines and 36% in the west region. As services became more expensive and inefficient under privatization, there was reduced access to water for poor households. In October 2003, the Freedom from Debt Coalition reported that the diminished access to clean water resulted in an outbreak of cholera and other gastro-intestinal diseases. [ cite news | title=Rights Education Empowers People in the Philippines | publisher=Aurora Parong | date=1995 | url=http://www.columbia.edu/cu/humanrights/publications/rn/rn_2004_5.htm ]

ee also

* Drainage law
* Hydropolitics in the Nile Basin
* Water management
* International waters, Territorial waters, Internal waters
* Water exports

External links

* [http://english.sviva.gov.il/Enviroment/bin/en.jsp?enPage=e_blankPage&enDisplay=view&enDispWhat=Zone&enDispWho=water_top&enZone=water_top& Israel Ministry of the Environment]
* [http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH00ic0 Israel's Chronic Water Problem]
* [http://www.wws.princeton.edu/~wws401c/basin.jpgMap of drainage basins]
* [http://www.nad-plo.org/maps/map7.jpgMap of portion of mountain and sub-aquifiers underlying the West Bank]
* [http://www.mideastweb.org/Mew_water95.pdf Detailed analysis (PDF 115 pages)]
* [http://christianactionforisrael.org/isreport/marapr00/water.html Does Israel use Palestinian Water]
* [http://www.wws.princeton.edu/~wws401c/geography.html Source of numbers cited above in table at end]


* Global Research Centre, 2005

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