Water security and peace - A synthesis of studies prepared under the PCCP-Water for Peace process

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Publication Title

Water security and peace - A synthesis of studies prepared under the PCCP-Water for Peace process

Publication Type

UNESCO-IHP, PCCP Series Publication, 108 p.


William J. Cosgrove (compiled by)

Publication Date



Publication URL




The report is organized to provide its main messages in sequence as described below:

Chapter 2, “ A History of Humanity and Water,” illustrates the assertion made in the background section above that humans have indeed always had water problems. This has led to the hegemonic definition of water wars as inevitable. Sometimes there has been conflict in the short term, but humans have always adapted in the long term. Now the scale of challenges faced is at least an order of magnitude greater than any known in the past. Yet history shows cases of great looming disasters that were resolved by wise men and women.

Chapter 3, “ Ethics: The Ideal and Only Long-Term Solution,” describes how ethics influence our behavior. It proposes that societies adopt and teach their children a system of moral principles for individual, community, and international behavior based on the shared fundamental human values of justice and equity.

Legal Approaches: A Sound Framework” (Chapter 4) recognizes that legal principles are ultimately based on moral principles. But they are difficult to apply and do not always lead to sustainable solutions. Those related to water are still in their infancy. Yet they do provide a framework against which negotiations to find cooperative mechanisms and solutions may take place.

In Chapter 5, “ Trends: Emerging Issues and Opportunities for Cooperation,” we look at the many emerging trends in today’s world. There is a tendency to look at them as negative, but they also bring opportunities. For example, unregulated free markets can hurt poor countries and poor people if they are driven by the sole interest of corporate profits; or they can ensure that those living in poor water-scarce countries have access to food they can afford by ensuring that they have access to markets where they can sell the goods they can produce to earn the needed foreign exchange to buy the food. Other trends that similarly have two sides to them are international relations in the post cold war era, changing technologies, societal (social and economic order), transcultural and transnational civil society,climate change, and environmental and human crises (floods, droughts). The migration of production sites to lower-cost economies can also provide opportunities for developing countries, but must be properly managed to prevent negative side effects. The optimal benefits of all of these opportunities will only occur in a world of peace and trust.

One of the most important trends affecting the management of water is the theme of Chapter 6, “ Emerging Trends: Public Participation and the Role of Civil Society.” Citizen groups all over the world are demanding and sometimes gaining the right to participate in decision making that directly affects their lives and livelihoods. As a consequence, the principle of subsidiarity, under which decisions are made and actions are implemented at the lowest level capable of carrying them out, is becoming widely accepted. This is of great importance when it comes to water, which can only be managed locally.

The foregoing would seem to point to the approach we should take, but it will not be easy. Chapter 7, “ Obstacles to Cooperation,” notes that the challenges faced include potential for socioeconomic political disturbances; poverty and socioeconomic underdevelopment; lack of information; inequalities in water allocation, knowledge, and military force; geographic advantages; and the weakness of globally ratified laws and conventions, especially enforcement mechanisms. The water sector also suffers from weak institutions (including lack of democracy and good governance, lack of political will, relative lack of trained human capacity, and lack of financing and other support for the development of institutions).

Decision makers cannot act everywhere at once. It will therefore be useful to identify those places where action can head off potential conflict and build the capacity of enduring institutions. Much research has already been done to identify the factors that should be included in such indicators. These are discussed in Chapter 8, “Indicators of Potential for Cooperation.”

What We Have Learned from Recent Experience” is the subject of Chapter 9. Examination of experience in sharing water, especially transboundary waters, has taught us many lessons. Examples from several basins studied show that cooperation is an iterative process that begins with sharing information and getting to know each other in order to build trust and confidence. In the end, though, institutions with clear mandates must be created for efficiency, effectiveness, and sustainability.

Institutions are more than organizations. They consist of all the formal and informal practices that determine our behavior. They exist from the community to the national and international level. They reflect the ethics that are shared at each level. These are discussed in Chapter 10, “ The Critical Role of Institutions.” Changing institutions means changing value systems and therefore takes time, perhaps generations. Some of the problems faced cry out for faster solutions.

The PCCP–WfP exercise has identified several tools and mechanisms that can be used to develop trust and build institutions that can secure cooperation. These are described in Chapter 11, “ Means and Tools for Managing Shared Water Resources.” Some of these are related to developing shared values that support justice and equity. Some are related to improving processes of conflict avoidance and resolution. They include mixtures of building human skills and using the latest technology. History and a review of experience in the past century both demonstrate that it is possible to manage the scarce resource that is water so that all benefit in a just and equitable manner. There are still many challenges ahead that emerge from changing global physical systems and evolving socioeconomic and political systems. However, as seen above, the PCCP–WfP process has identified a number of tools and mechanisms that will build the capacity and resilience needed to cope with these challenges. The exercise has also identified future actions to add to our toolbox.

Chapter 12, “Epilogue,” demonstrates that there is every reason to hope that the next generation will live in a world with water peace.

The report concludes with a chapter listing selected reference material that served for preparation of the volumes in the PCCP Series.



See also

External Resources


 W.Cosgrove Water security and peace synthesis 2003.pdf

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