Nature 459, 163 (14 May 2009) | doi:10.1038/459163c; Published online 13 May 2009

Water: resistance on the route towards a fair share for all

Mark Zeitoun1

  1. School of International Development, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK


Wendy Barnaby's Essay 'Do nations go to war over water?' (Nature 458, 282–283; 2009) is a welcome counter to mainstream media hype about conflicts over water. But all is not quiet on the waterfront, and the need to establish fair water-sharing is growing increasingly urgent.

For example, southern Iraqi farmers downstream of dams located on the Tigris River in Iraq, Syria and Turkey are being forced into urban centres as the reduced river flows become overwhelmed by sea water. Palestinian farmers eke out a living dependent on highly variable and scarce rainfall, next door to the industrial farms of Israeli settlers whose irrigation water is state-subsidized. The flood-and-drought cycles of the Ganges inundate farmers in downstream Bangladesh.

Attempts to reconcile the mockery that this fluid resource makes of political borders are well under way. The movement to establish fair water-sharing principles is gaining momentum among legal bodies and non-governmental organizations. Although the UK government is resisting calls to ratify the 1997 United Nations Watercourses Convention, demographic and anticipated climate-change pressures dilute its excuses.

Water conflicts (not wars) are a clear and present danger for millions. They deserve our full collective scientific, financial and diplomatic attention.

See also:
Water: conflicts set to arise within as well as between states
The potential for water conflict is on the increase
Increasing inequality is already making shortages worse
Water is a source of cooperation rather than war