“Water wars are a myth” - expert says many govts eager to cooperate

The doom and gloom predictions of increasing battles around the world over water are a myth, with only a handful of disagreements over shared waters leading to armed conflict, an expert said.

Competition over water has often been cited as having a potential for turning into conflicts between countries fighting to secure the limited resource.

While water is fundamental to development and national security and can contribute to hostile situations, “very few” disagreements have led to conflict, said Therese Sjomander Magnusson of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).

“It is a myth that water leads to war,” Sjomander Magnusson, SIWI’s director of transboundary water management, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation late on Sunday on the sidelines of a global water conference in Stockholm.

She said that over the last 50 years, there have been more than 1,800 interactions on transboundary basins - including both conflict and cooperation.

In an insecure world that we are facing right now, with many unstable situations, what we’ve seen over and over again is how governments are eager to position themselves as a stable countries open to cooperation.

Therese Sjomander Magnusson, director, Stockholm International Water Institute

“Only seven disputes have involved violence,” she said. “During the same time, more than 200 agreements and treaties on transboundary waters have been signed.”

According to a United Nations report published in March, the world faces a 40 percent shortfall in water supplies in 15 years due to urbanisation, population growth and increasing demand for water for food production, energy and industry.

Even though population growth and climate change have led to disagreements over water, conflicts were more common on national levels - such as between pastoralists and farmers - than between countries, Sjomander Magnusson said.

In fact, she said, many governments are looking into dialogue and cooperation when it comes to water, rather than sending armies against each other.

“In an insecure world that we are facing right now, with many unstable situations, what we’ve seen over and over again is how governments are eager to position themselves as a stable countries open to cooperation,” Sjomander Magnusson said.

One unlikely example in which water issues have led to cooperation is discussions between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories over the Jordan River, which runs along their borders, she said.

“This is the only platform where these countries have met for the past couple of years.”

She said data sharing has been a sensitive topic in international water negotiations, but is becoming fundamental as countries cope with the effects of climate change.

Climate change will play an integral role in future water cooperation agreements, she said.

“Many treaties on transboundary waters probably need to be revised in line with the new climate change data and maybe be a bit more flexible to cope with the extreme weather events,” Sjomander Magnusson said.

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