"Water resources have rarely, if ever, been the sole source of violent conflict or war."
Peter Gleik

A popular myth which is often expressed today is that "the next great war will a water war". This is in response to the growing pressure on natural resources which is being experienced throughout the world in the context of increasing demand. With the very high numbers of international water courses which are shared between countries, water and its use is undoubtedly a cause of tension and often strains relations between countries. Water remains a security concern for many countries, it has been used as a weapon in conflicts and water systems have often been targets within conflicts which have nothing directly to do with water.

Peter Gleik of the Pacific Institute categorises the Basis of Conflict over water as follows (see article):

  • Control of Water Resources (state and non-state actors): where water supplies or access to water is at the root of tensions.

  • Military Tool (state actors): where water resources, or water systems themselves, are used by a nation or state as a weapon during a military action.

  • Political Tool (state and non-state actors): where water resources, or water systems themselves, are used by a nation, state, or non-state actor for a political goal.

  • Terrorism (non-state actors): where water resources, or water systems, are either targets or tools of violence or coercion by non-state actors. This is a new definition and will be further clarified for the next version of the chronology in a new project on "Environmental Terrorism" at the Pacific Institute.

  • Military Target (state actors): where water resource systems are targets of military actions by nations or states.

  • Development Disputes (state and non-state actors): where water resources or water systems are a major source of contention and dispute in the context of economic and social development.



Water in Conflicts

The International Committee of the Red Cross has produced a number of documents as part of a forum series.

A sample of the publication:

Other articles from the ICRC on the issue include:


Conflict Prevention

Water Conflict Prevention Program.
"Green Cross works to prevent conflicts in water-stressed regions. They promote informed and participatory decision-making, regional cooperation and the integrated management of land and water resources at the basin level. Green Cross contributes to the prevention and resolution of actual and potential conflicts by convening people representing all sectors of affected communities to shape solutions together."


On-Line Chronology of Water-Related Conflicts

The Pacific Institute announces the posting of an On-line chronology of water-related conflicts from 1500 AD to the present on its subsidiary site, The chronology, which ultimately will be searchable, includes examples of the use of water as a weapon or tool or war, the targeting of water systems during war, and information on the growing numbers of violent disputes over access to water, water quality, and inequities in the availability and use of water. Full citations for each example are also provided, for those wishing to conduct additional research. The chronology may also be down loaded as a pdf file - Here


Related Material

The BBC Web site has several articles on water and conflict


Case studies:

Africa's water crisis

The Middle East

Dams in Turkey

Aral Sea tragedy

The Ganges

World Water Crisis