Water Conflict Pathways and Peacebuilding Strategies



Water Conflict Pathways and Peacebuilding Strategies


Growing populations and economies, unsustainable management practices, and mounting environmental pressures are exerting increasing strains on the world’s vital freshwater resources. Resulting shortfalls between rising demands and shifting supplies could engender or exacerbate water conflicts among countries or communities attempting to ensure their share.

History furnishes little evidence of outright water wars, but violent international water-related confrontations do occur and frictions over water can contribute to fueling civil conflicts within states. A range of indirect factors including political institutions, economic conditions, and societal values and perceptions affect the relationship between water insecurity and conflict risks. Inequitable allocation of the costs and benefits of water development and inadequate access to decision-making procedures around shared waters can loom larger in generating conflict than the unequal allocation of or inadequate access to the physical resource itself.

Studies examining the actors, drivers, and contexts engaged in different types of water conflicts may help to develop early warning indicators for emerging risks and contribute to crafting tailored conflict reduction approaches and targeted peacebuilding strategies. Many of the world’s shared waters most vulnerable to potential water conflicts are marred by a dearth of effective governance mechanisms and distrust and dissension among water users that frustrate sustainable cooperation.

Water diplomacy, formal and informal engagements undertaken by state and non-state actors not party to the water conflict, can constructively shape the context and collective decision-making frameworks for collaborative water resources management. By working to enhance the conflict parties’ water governance resources and capacities, promote cooperative decision-making processes and inclusive policy institutions, and facilitate peaceful dispute resolution, water diplomacy can contribute to building the environmental and societal resilience to sustainably manage future water resource challenges.