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International conflict and cooperation over freshwater resources


Unsustainable use of freshwater resources worldwide creates enormous challenges for human societies populating these natural systems, and these challenges are likely to grow with climate change. Will societies respond with increased cooperation to manage freshwater resources more sustainably or will there be more conflict over this scarce but vital resource? This review of research on conflict and cooperation over transboundary freshwater resources shows that, thus far, the prevailing response is cooperation, albeit non-violent conflict is quite frequent, too. It also documents substantial progress in understanding the drivers of water-related cooperation and conflict. Key knowledge gaps remain, particularly with respect to transboundary water conflict and cooperation in the past 10 to 15 years and in terms of local water-related events. The key prerequisite for filling these gaps is that the research community engages in a joint effort to address persistent shortcomings in existing event datasets on water cooperation and conflict.

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Fig. 1: BAR scale, 1948–2008.


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Correspondence to Thomas Bernauer or Tobias Böhmelt.

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Bernauer, T., Böhmelt, T. International conflict and cooperation over freshwater resources. Nat Sustain 3, 350–356 (2020).

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