Water wars

Other Names:
Disputes over water
Water conflicts
Disputes over water rights

Water conflict is a term describing a conflict between countries, states, or groups over an access to water resources. The United Nations recognizes that water disputes result from opposing interests of water users, public or private. A wide range of water conflicts appear throughout history, though rarely are traditional wars waged over water alone. Instead, water has historically been a source of tension and a factor in conflicts that start for other reasons. However, water conflicts arise for several reasons, including territorial disputes, a fight for resources, and strategic advantage. A comprehensive online database of water-related conflicts—the Water Conflict Chronology—has been developed by the Pacific Institute. This database lists violence over water going back nearly 6,000 years.

These conflicts occur over both freshwater and saltwater, and both between and within nations. However, conflicts occur mostly over freshwater; because freshwater resources are necessary, yet scarce, they are the center of water disputes arising out of need for potable water, irrigation and energy generation. As freshwater is a vital, yet unevenly distributed natural resource, its availability often impacts the living and economic conditions of a country or region. The lack of cost-effective water supply options in areas like the Middle East, among other elements of water crises can put severe pressures on all water users, whether corporate, government, or individual, leading to tension, and possibly aggression. Recent humanitarian catastrophes, such as the Rwandan genocide or the war in Sudanese Darfur, have been linked back to water conflicts.


According to a 1999 report, corporations have started to sue governments in order to gain access to domestic water sources. For example, Sun Belt, a California company, was suing the government of Canada under NAFTA because British Columbia banned water exports several years before. The company claimed that B.C.'s law violated several NAFTA-based investor rights and therefore was claiming $220 million in compensation for lost profits.

Malaysia, which supplies about half of Singapore's water, threatened to cut off that supply in 1997 after Singapore criticized its government policies. In Africa, relations between Botswana and Namibia have been severely strained by Namibian plans to construct a pipeline to divert water from the shared Okavango River to eastern Namibia. There are potential water wars in the Middle East, where water resources are severely limited. The late King Hussein of Jordan once said the only thing he would go to war with Israel over was water because Israel controls Jordan's water supply.

International Water Resources Association (IWRA)
Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health (GIWEH)
Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS)
Global Water Research Coalition (GWRC)
International Society of Groundwater for Sustainable Development (ISGSD)
International Water Association (IWA)
World Water Council (WWC)
African Water Association (AfWA)
Arab Water Council (AWC)
European Federation of National Associations of Water and Waste Water Services
European Water Resources Association (EWRA)
European Water Association (EWA)
Freshwater Action Network - Central America (FANCA)
International Water History Association (IWHA)
Water Reuse Europe (WRE)
Maghreb-Mashreq Alliance for Water
Africa-EU Innovation Alliance for Water and Climate (AfriAlliance)
African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW)
Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGAW)
Central American Water Resource Management Network (CARA)
European Water Platform (WssTP)
Global Alliances for Water and Climate (GAfWaC)
Global Water Solidarity (GWS)
IHE Delft Institute for Water Education
Inter-American Centre for Studies on Water Resources
Inter-State Coordination Water Commission of Central Asia (ICWC)
International Centre for Water Resources and Global Change (ICWRGC)
International Office for Water (IOW)
International Water and Resource Economics Consortium (IWREC)
International Water Management Institute (IWMI)
Network for Capacity Building in Integrated Water Resources Management (CAP-Net)
Water Footprint Network (WFN)
Scientific Information Centre of Interstate Coordination Water Commission of Central Asia (SIC ICWC)
World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP)
World Youth Parliament for Water (WYPW)
African Water Facility (AWF)
Asia-Pacific Water Forum (APWF)
End Water Poverty (EWP)
European Institute of Research on Water Policy
European Water Partnership (EWP)
Global Water Partnership (GWP)
International Rainwater Harvesting Alliance (IRHA)
International Secretariat for Water (ISW)
International Waters Learning Exchange and Resource Network (IW-LEARN)
Smart Water Networks Forum (SWAN)
Water Research Fund of Southern Africa (WARFSA)
Water Solidarity Network
Women for Water Partnership (WfWfP)
Africa Water Journalist Network (AWJN)
Association for International Water Studies
Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM)
Gender and Water Alliance (GWA)
Global Water
International Center for Integrated Water Resources Management (ICIWaRM)
International Centre for Sustainable Development of Energy, Water and Environment Systems (SDEWES Centre)
International Centre of Water for Food Security (IC Water)
International WaterCentre (IWC)
Solidarity Water Europe (SWE)
Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)
Third World Center for Water Management
UNESCO Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science
Water Governance Facility (WGF)
Water Witness International
Waterkeeper Alliance
World Water Institute (AAI)
Oxfam International
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 15: Life on Land
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
14.02.2020 – 18:38 CET