International Freshwater Resources: Sources of Conflicts or Cooperation

by Peter Wallensteen and Ashok Swain, Uppsala university, Sweden

The scarcity of fresh water is now an important issue in many parts of the world. When multiple countries are jointly dependent on the same water body, one's withdrawal or pollution provides the ground for conflict as well as co-operation among the riparian countries to get the best use of the available supply. By making comparative analysis of the sharing of five international rivers, the study tries to determine under what conditions, the conflict or co-operation takes place among nation-states over the fresh water issues. The river systems which are selected for close scrutiny are: The Rhine in Europe, Colorado in North and Central America, Paran in South America, Nile in Africa, and Ganges in Asia.

The authors conclude: there is a larger conflict potential in water quantity issues than in water quality issues. Issues of river water pollution and regulation appear to have a record of finding solutions. Finally, the successful cases of handling river water disputes appeared to be those cases where an "international regime" covered an entire river basin, not just two major users of the river. The reason might be that this gives a chance of more relaxed discussions, more coalition building, and, in essence, more third party activity.