Water Resource Scarcity and Conflict: Review of Applicable Indicators and Systems of Reference

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Publication Title

Water Resource Scarcity and Conflict: Review of Applicable Indicators and Systems of Reference

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UNESCO-IHP Publication, PCCP Series, 29 p.


Pal Tamas

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In considering water conflicts we should also note the importance of intra-state water tensions, which are related to inter-state conflicts. Water conflicts are related to a wide range of other socio-political tensions, such as border disputes or mega projects such as dams and reservoirs, environmental problems, or political identity. A range of instruments may be deployed, including: lobbying, open and hidden negotiations, violence, network building, recourse to international organizations, and the actions of elites.

The abundance or scarcity of resources decides the direction a society will take in development. Imbalances, not only of scarcity but of abundance, may distort environmental and socio-economic policies, leading to social friction, though newer approaches to social problems do not see scarcity as leading necessarily to conflict.

Problems may be mitigated by factors such as leadership and social capital, but it is not easy to identify the factors which lead to a spiral of degradation. Other studies indicate how conflict may arise through the efforts of elites to capture scarce resources, or through the debilitating effect on innovation that scarcity entails. Countries heavily dependent on exports of primary commodities are more liable to conflict.

The “honey pot” of abundant resources may be a focus for greed that determines civil conflict.

In rentier states, which receive substantial rents from external sources, it is claimed that fewer people tend to be involved in the production of wealth, and more in its utilization or distribution. Democratic development and economic growth are both likely to be slowed down. To what extent can this model be applied also to water distribution? The article considers conflict resolution capabilities, in particular its institutional dimensions, comparing the capacities in developed and developing countries. While most of the articles presented in the article are tools for large-scale change, the relevance of incremental advances is also considered. Early warning models to predict the likelihood of conflict are compared, as are risk-assessment models such as that of the Minorities of Risk Project, and conflict prevention trajectories to identify “preventors” of conflict.



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See also

External Resources


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