Water Conflicts


The Water Gap

  • Water is a fundamental need for humans for drinking, agriculture and sanitation
  • Growing water gap because of a high demand and low supply
  • The gap has grown because of:
  • Exponential population growth
  • Economic development in RICs and NICs
  • Rising Standards of Living
  • Increased need for food and energy

  • Following the business as usual approach will result in a 56% increase in water demand
  • Sustainable management of water will result in a 20% increase in water demand
  • Tensions will increase as water becomes more scarce
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Reasons for an Increasing Water Gap

  • Water supplies are unevenly distributed
  • 2/3 of the global population live in areas recieving only 25% of the worlds annual rainfall
  • The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region recieves less than 1% of rainfall but has 5% of the worlds population
  • Climate Change will cause a higher demand for water in LEDCs for agriculture e.g. Kenya
  • Rising sea levels and over-abstraction are resulting in salt water inundation and contaminating fresh water aquifers e.g. Israel/Palestine
  • The high demand for water in developing megacities is causing high prices for water e.g. in Mumbai, India bottled water delivered to the slums costs 6x as much as water recieved in the UK
  • Widespread pollution in LEDCs is reducing the supply of potable water e.g. Citarum River, Indonesia
  • The dumping of e-waste in rivers of NICs is causing the release of highly toxic chemicals and heavy metals reducing the supply of potable water e.g. The Ganges, India
  • Rapidly growing economies e.g. China are extracting more water for industry reducing the avaliability of water for non-industrial purposes.
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Geography of Water Supply


  • Patterns links to annual and seasonal precipitation distribution
  • Dry and arid countries suffer from huge droughts and high water demand
  • Topography and relief affects where rain falls and the climate of a region e.g. the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California reduce rainfall in the Mojave Desert, Nevada


  • Provide a continous fresh water supply
  • Rivers that cross international borders are often the source of conflicts


  • Porous rocks allow percolation of water through the ground into aquifers

Blue Flow Water is the collective name of rivers and aquifers as the visible part of the hydrological cycle.

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Water Stress/Scarcity

  • By 2025 nearly half the world population will be water vulnerable (access to 2500m per person per year)
  • Many regions will soon experience water stress (under 1700m/p/y) including the MENA region, Sub-Saharan Africa and South West USA
  • Water Scarcity occurs when the annual supply is less than 1000m/p/y
  • Physical Water Scarcity occurs when more than 75% of a region's river flows are being used
  • 25% of the worlds population live in areas experiencing Physical Water Scarcity
  • Economic Water Scarcity occurs when the development of bluewater sources is limited by the lack of capital invested into such projects/insufficient technology doesn't supply potable water
  • 1 billion people in Africa can only access 25% of water supplies because of high poverty
  • Climate Change is causing rising temperatures which is reducing the avaliability of water and environmental degradation resulting in more countries facing water stress
  • In April 2012, the South East of the UK had a hosepipe ban implemented to deal with the water scarcity that occured because of the lowest rainfall levels on record.
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Human Impacts on Water Avaliability

  • Humans remove large quantities of water for: drinking, irrigation, industry and recreational activities
  • Humans over abstract water meaning water supplies can't be replenished
  • Over abstraction of water can lead to subsidence of the land e.g. Mexico City
  • Salt Incursion of aquifers occurs when water is abstracted from ground sources
  • Humans also reduce the avaliability of potable water by polluting water sources
  • Sewage disposal in LEDCs causes the spread of water-borne diseases such as typhoid and cholera. 135 million people may die from water-borne diseases by 2020 (WHO)
  • Chemical fertilisers used by farmers pollute rivers leading to eutrophication and hypoxia (lack of oxygen reaching organisms tissues) forming dead rivers with no life
  • Industrial waste is dumped into rivers. Heavy metals and chemical waste (PCBs) are toxic
  • Sediments trapped behind dams can damage fish stocks and migration patterns
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Water Insecurity

  • Water Insecurity is the lack of having access to sufficient potable water
  • The LDCs tend to be the most water insecure
  • The Water Poverty Index (WPI) shows how general poverty is closely linked to water poverty
  • The country's WPI rating is the sum of five scores out of 20 in which water management is assessed:
  • Resources: The quantity of water avaliable
  • Access: The accessibility to improved water supply and sanitation
  • Capacity: The level of development of a country (GDP per capita, mortality rate etc.)
  • Use: The amount of water used per person (50L/day/person is the normal)
  • Environmental Impact: Water quality and stress and environmental impact
  • HICs e.g. Canada and Sweden score 80/100
  • LICs e.g. Burkina Faso and Ethiopia score 40/100
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Water Supply Issues

  • Water supplies are essential to development
  • Water is required for irrigation, often 70% of total use in many regions e.g. Bread Basket Countries.
  • High-tech cash crop farming from the Green Revolution demands high amounts of water. Their popularity has increased amongst nations who want to rapidly develop which is reducing avaliability of water for other needs in the nations e.g. drinking, sanitation
  • TNCs use large amounts of water is the manufacturing of microchips and beverages e.g. in Kerala the Coca-Cola bottling plant uses 4.5 million litres of water a day using the local water
  • Water supplies are required for the production of energy in both HEP and thermal power/nuclear power.
  • High demand for energy requires extraction of water to cater for the demand
  • Safe and Secure water supplies ensure better health. One of the 8 Millennium Development Goals
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The Aral Sea

  • Located on the border of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (Part of the former USSR)
  • 75% of the surface water and 40% of ground water is polluted
  • Originally the size of Iceland
  • Declined to 10% of its original size because of river diversions (e.g. Amu Darya and Syr Darya) to provide water for the growing of cotton
  • Salination of the Aral Sea is an ecological and environmental catastrophe
  • World Bank funded a programme to restore the northern part of the Aral Sea
  • Following the break up of the USSR their is potential for conflicts between the newly independent states
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Water Conflicts

  • When demand for water overtakes the supply, several stakeholders will wish to use the same resource increasing the potential for severe future conflict
  • The sites for potential conflicts are known as water hotspots, pressure points or flash points due to the rising demand and diminishing supply
  • The Helsinki Rules are a set of rules that determines how much water a country is entitled to if the river basin extends over multiple countries
  • The building of dams to increase one countries supply of water and reducing countries further upstream are often the cause for some tensions e.g. Sudan and Egypt
  • The large scale usage of water by MEDCs can also be the source of tensions to countries who recieve very little water e.g. Mexico recieves only 2% of the water from the Colorado Basin whilst California extracts over 50% of the water
  • Tensions also increase over water in regions which already suffer from other tensions e.g. Israel and Palestine have been involved in several wars over territory.
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The Colorado River Basin

Key Stakeholders: USA (California, Nevada, Arizona) and Mexico

  • California extracts over 50% of the water from the Colorado River
  • The Hoover Dam provides power for most of Nevada and Arizona including several major cities including Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tuscon as well as creating a reservoir, Lake Mead, for providing water to the surrounding area
  • Climate Change and the construction of the Hoover Dam has reduced the amount of water avaliable downstream for California and Mexico
  • California needs the water for its increasing population and for its industry/agriculture
  • Only 2% of the water reaches Mexico for drinking, agriculture and sanitation
  • California uses large amounts of water for leisure activities e.g. golf courses and gardens
  • California may see the need to claim more water by force using their National Guard and increasing tensions within the South West USA.
  • Southern California also uses a lot more water than the North which is causing intrastate conflict between the North and South
  • Nevada and Arizona also recieve very little rainfall due to the Sierra Nevada Mountains causing precipitation on the Western side of the mountains leaving the Mojave Desert (Death Valley) recieve very little rainfall.
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Middle East Water Tensions

  • The Middle East has 5% of the World Population but only 1% of the freshwater
  • Population growth due to developing countries being in Stage 2 or 3 of the Demographic Transition Model
  • Increased affluence - demand in swimming pools and golf courses
  • Irrigagtion - 89% of extracted water used on crops
  • Depleting oil supplies means a lower future income meaning desalination cannot be paid for
  • Imported food cannot be bought so more food is grown = more water usage
  • Israel and Turkey rely on high yield crops for their wealth
  • Water sources in the region are interconnected leading to conflict e.g. Tigris and Euphrates
  • Climate Change is causing water sources to diminish and droughts to become more severe
  • Salt incursion of underground aquifers is occuring as ground water sources get used up e.g. Gaza Aquifer
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Turkey's GAP Project

Key Stakeholders: Turkey, Syria and Iraq

  • $32bn project in South Eastern Anatolia to address droughts in Turkey and the cities of Ankara and Istanbul
  • Aims to increase the growth of cash crops in Turkey e.g. wheat
  • There will be 22 dams with 19 HEP plants which will produce 22% of Turkey's energy
  • Syria and Iraq rely on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to provide most of their water
  • The 2004 Ilisu Dam caused the displacement of tens of thousands of Kurds from several villages in the Anatolia area e.g. Hasankeyf
  • It would help the Turkish economy grow by 12% and the Anatolia economy by 400%
  • The potential to cause an increase in water-borne diseases and malaria
  • Could spark off a conflict between Syria, Iraq and Turkey over the control of water
  • Could increase tensions between the Turks and Kurds
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Israeli Tensions

Key Stakeholders: Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon

  • Israel and the surrounding Arab countries (particularly Palestine) have been involved in a lot on conflicts e.g. The Six Day War
  • Israel uses their water unsustainably exceeding their supply of 1700bn L/year by 500bn L/year
  • The Sea of Galilee provides Israel and Jordan with their water supply
  • The Golan Heights have several rivers that provides 25% of Israels water. They used to be part of Syria which may cause a war over who owns the region
  • The Mountain Aquifer (West Bank) provides 80% of water to Israels and 18% of it to Palestine despite being under majority Palestinian Territory
  • The Coastal Aquifer provides 90% of its water to Israel despite being under Gaza
  • Lebanon and Israel are in tensions over the construction of pipelines to divert water from the Wazzani River as well as who owns the Litani River in Southern Lebanon
  • Israel have built a wall to surround Palestinian territory to reduce their access to other sources of water, which may cause a huge conflict
  • Israel are overabstracting the water on the Coastal Aquifer which is resulting in Salt Incursion
  • 50million m3 of water are shipped from Turkey every year - The Manavgat Project
  • Israel are Importing water rich food to expand their virtual water supplies
  • Israel are pumping in water from the Mediterranean and Red Seas and desalinating the water
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The Nile Conflicts

Key Stakeholders: Egypt, Sudan,South Sudan and Ethiopia

  • Egypt and Sudan are in tensions over the supply of water downstream
  • Sudan has built several dams along the Nile to built up their supplies of water, but this has caused a smaller flow of water downstream into Egypt
  • Over 90% of Egyptians live along the Nile and the cities of Alexandria and Cairo rely on heavily on the Nile
  • The Toshka project is a $70bn plan to increase irrigation of Egypt and boost agricultural productio. The funding is coming from the Arab nations of Saudi Arabia and the UAE
  • The Toshka Project will provide food and water for 16 million people
  • The construction of the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia is reducing water flow downstream 
  • Climate Change is reducing rainfall and increasing droughts
  • Nations further upstream are increasing their stores of water to provide water for rapidly growing populations e.g. Ethiopia
  • Sudan and South Sudan have just fought in a long civil war; with South Sudan damming upstream potentially causing another war to break out
  • Most of the nations in the region are LDCs with very little money to invest in alternative sustainable water sources
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Technology for Water

The Hippo Water Roller

  • A barrel and a sturdy handle to allow water to be transported over great distances
  • Can carry 5 times as much water as a bucket (90L)
  • More than 31,000 Hippo Water Rollers have been distributed to 20 African countries including Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Mozambique and Burkina Faso
  • Costs $100 plus shipping costs
  • Company aims to introduce them in Haiti to deal with water stress

Roundabout Water Solutions

  • NGO situated in South Africa which aims to provide clean drinking water for schools
  • Uses a roundabout to pump potable water.
  • The water is used by local communities to grow crops for school meals
  • Initial investments cost $9000 but billboards reduce the cost of maintenance
  • The NGO aim to set up other pumps in Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique
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Water Transfer Schemes

  • Involve the diversion of water from one drainage basin to another by diverting the course of a river or constructing canals to carry water
  • The Tagus-Murcia Transfer in Spain transfers water from the Tagus River by canal to the drought stricken area of Almeria-Murcia-Alicante to provide water for 700,000 villas and the tourist industry as well as the growth of cash crops
  • Following this, the Ebro Scheme aims to build 828km of canals to divert the waters of the Ebro River to Southern Spain
  • The NAWAPA scheme aims to take water from Alaska and North West Canada to supply water to Southern California and Mexico
  • A further scheme, the Grand Canal, could take water from Hudson Bay to the Great Lakes
  • Russia is proposing plans to divert rivers e.g. the Ob to the Aral Sea. However, there are concerns regarding the effect this will have on the Arctic Ocean's salinity
  • India plans to develop a national water network to ensure a better distribution of water to water deficit  regions e.g. the Deccan Plateau
  • A similar water system has been considered in the UK with the surplus of rain from the North West Providing water for the South East
  • The Melamchi River Project in Nepal aims to divert water from the river via a 26km tunnel to water stressed areas in the Kathmandu Basin and in return providing better health and education for the residents of Melmchi.
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China's Water Problems

  • Northern China (e.g. Inner Mongolia) recieves very little rainfall
  • The Yellow River provides water for several major cities e.g. Beijing, Tianjin, Shijiazung
  • Heavy abstraction of water from the Yellow River for Industry has reduced the avaliability of water for sanitation, drinking and agriculture
  • Southern China (e.g. Hunan) recieves a lot more rainfall than the North
  • The Yangtze River flows through the cities of Chongqing and Shanghai
  • Heavy industrialisation of the South has resulted in high levels of toxic chemicals and heavy metals into the river
  • The Three Gorges Dam has also reduced the flow of water downstream to Shanghai
  • In 2007, 5 million people in Chongqing faced water shortages
  • Rapid industrialisation is outpacing the environmental control measures
  • 20,000 chemical plants frequently pollute the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers
  • China's North-South Water Transfer scheme aims to transport water from the wetter south to the cities in the North including Beijing
  • The Three Gorges Dam aims to create a store of water for the Transport Scheme
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Nationalising Water

  • Nationalisation is the control of a service by the government
  • In 1972 the UK considerred a National Water Grid
  • Drought in the 1970s helped to popularise the idea
  • It would ensure that all major cities recieved water despite being in dry areas e.g. London
  • Subsequent wet years and the privatisation of water led to the abandonment of the idea
  • The Australian Government set up a Nation Water Plan for the Murray Darling Basin
  • Australia is the greatest consumer of water per capita in the world
  • Increasing populations in South Eastern cities e.g. Melbourne, Sydney put pressure on water avaliability
  • The increase in droughts due to Climate Change and more frequent El Nino/La Nina events supported the idea of a nationalised water system
  • A lack of environmental conservation led to land dedgredation and the increased reliance on the basin resulted in less water for animals
  • The outflow of the Murray Darling has since been reduced by 80%
  • 30 dams, 3500 weirs and pipelines relocates water for agriculture from the East to the West
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Privitisation of Water

  • Privatisation is when private investors own a service
  • Around 17% of the world recieves its water from private companies
  • The World Bank actively supports LEDCs selling off their water to private investors to relieve debt
  • Agua del Tunari, a subsidary of the US-owned company Bechtel was used in Bolivia
  • In 1999, the TNC opperating in Cochabamba increased the price of water water to pay for a dam at Misicuni and ensure a 16% profit margin
  • Citizens of Cochabamba had to pay either 20% of their wages for either water or food
  • 4 days of rioting ensued in which 170 people were injured and a 17 year old was shot by a military sniper
  • The Bolivian Police force rioted against the Military who supported the TNC
  • The cities of La Paz, El Alto and Sucre are privately run by SUEZ of France as part of the World Bank/IMF conditions for debt relief
  • Coverage is 100% with connections increasing by 50% (78,000)
  • It costs $450 for a poor person to get conected so less than 20% of the population are connected
  • After the riots the Cochambamba, the water system was run publically by SEMAPA with connections increasing by 16% (9000)
  • SEMAPA are unable to supply 55% of the population and the water is only avaliable for 2 hours a day for 3 days a week
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The Future of Water

  • Global Demands for water are increasing and supplies are diminishing
  • Population Growth and Economic development require more need for water
  • Climate Change and More frequent El Nino/La Nina events are reducing supplies

    Business as Usual
  • A firm belief that there will not be a water crisis and that there will be no need for changes
  • Easiest to follow with little change to current methods
  • Long term - unsustainable uses of water

    Technology, Economics and Privatisation

  • Accepting problems exist and having faith in the market economy and technological fixes
  • Start to adapt to changes by utilising technology to increase water avaliability e.g. dams
  • May have economic consequences for LDCs; only useful for MEDCs

    Values and Lifestyles

  • A radical shift in attitudes regarding international cooperation and behavioural changes
  • Long term sustainability to conserve reducing resources
  • Harder to implement as TNCs/people will be reluctant to follow new changes
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