Will There Be Wars Over The Ownership Of Water?

Water scarcity is here to stay, and struggles for greater share of water not only between countries, but more importantly, between regions that form parts of the same country, are also going to be there. Yet, the situation may not be so bad as to lead to open violence and wars. Wars are costly affairs, and the ability of the modern technologies providing a cheaper way of solving the water scarcity may be the best insurance against such wars.
Will there be Wars over the Ownership of Water?
Source - Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AThe_palace_of_Maharaja_Gulab_Singh%2C_on_the_banks_of_Chenab%2C_Jammu%2C_mid_19th_century

As the human population grows, the environment continues to be degraded and the greedy consumerist tendencies of humanity continue to have a free run, there is likelihood that several abundant commodities in nature will gradually become scarce. Water is certainly one of them, in particular, a result of mindless exploitation of ground and surface water resources. This leaves masses and in turn nations, competing for getting a greater share for water in rivers and other water bodies. If there is something that can prevent this competition from becoming ugly and destructive, it the ingenuity of our scientists and technicians, who

must find better ways of conserving water and ensuring that each has enough for his needs.


Struggles for water associated with threats is not beyond the expected, but most of them would get converted to war only if there are other political reasons as well. Any wars involving control over water are more likely to be a result of an ongoing political dispute for other underlying reasons like boundaries, dominance, supremacy and economy, not primarily because of water shortages. However, a water dispute can easily become a precipitating factor between hostile neighbors waiting to get a reason to get at each other's throat.

Rivers Flowing through International Borders

In our current settlement spread over different territories, many rivers flow across more nations than one. Thus nations situated upstream are in an advantageous position in terms of placing control over those rivers. This gives them a weapon in hand which they can use in case they wish to exert undue influence over other countries that depend on the water of those rivers flowing downstream.

This is more common in case of major rivers flowing across smaller countries. Till now, this has not happened, but in the future, when most developed and developing nations are averse to fully blown up wars, because of the immense destruction associated with them, some countries may use tactics like this as an alternative to military offense, or may use it to provoke the other party to initiate the first military move, thereby shifting the responsibility of conflict to the opposite country.

Water Scarcity & Threat to Peace: Urban - Non Urban Divide

Water is definitely becoming a scarce commodity, and this will also contribute to the use of water in defense strategies, but this scarcity is very unlikely to become the sole cause of such conflicts. More likely, it can lead to heart-burning between the non-urban territories which supply water and the highly urbanized centers which receive them, over price of water supply. The demand for water will continue to rise in these cities, as their population increases, and as the paying capacity of people residing there goes up.

Such urban - non urban tensions are particularly likely to happen in developing countries. Rapidly expanding cities

will need diversion of water from other reservoirs and resources including ground water, to them, and when it comes at the cost of needs of water for economic activities like agriculture, fisheries or other industries in the areas from which water is diverted by the governments, there will be resistance.

Even if both the areas are within the same country, there could be stress and violence. Things can become worse when the water is supplied from across the border, but the major result will be negotiations and re-negotiations of price, and it is still unlikely that countries, which peacefully negotiate over all other commodities including food and oil, will start a war over this issue. In fact, struggles and tensions for water are far more likely to arise within the countries themselves.

Developing Technology: Recycling & Solar Desalination Holds the Key

Another reason why wars for water may not commonly happen is the rapid strides made in the technology for recycling and desalination of water. While these technologies may not be inexpensive, they may still be cheaper compared to the cost of war, unless of course, the other country is devoid of any military might and lacks any international support as well.

Wars for water may be prevented by the cheaper costs of recycling and desalination technology. It would also be somewhat premature to presume that responsible nations and governments, which are able to handle most of their differences and opposing interests in other areas like trade, pollution and even tax, will never be able to enter into acceptable agreements, either bilateral or multilateral, in case of water. Humans are wiser than that, though occasional stupidity is inherent and may manifest itself from time to time - then, there could even be wars.

Stress, but Not Wars

There is no doubt that water is going to become a very important resource, for which there would be a lot of struggle. What will save the day for our civilization, in my opinion, is the fact that water or H2O can be used but not destroyed, and there is so much of it available on this planet that the likelihood of any nation hoarding it does not exist. All we need is to ensure that this very important gift of nature is properly utilized, and we all learn to become a part of the natural water cycle in a manner that ensures its adequate distribution without too much disturbance or destruction of nature.

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