Water Conflicts are global phenomenon
The causes of water conflicts and the mechanisms for cooperation can be clustered according to how the problem of reaching cooperation is defined. For example, understanding this problem as a result of water scarcity has often resulted in technological and market solutions being suggested to increase availability of the resource. Among them are water and virtual water imports and the adoption of an integrated system of management.
In contrast to economists and engineers, who often stress the physical aspects of the system, international relations (IR) experts argue that water conflicts are a function of institutional and political variables, and, thus, the solution should also address issues of politics and governance. Among the causes IR specialists stress are the degree to which cooperation infringes on the state’s sovereignty over its water sources, the effect of the scale of negotiations on the political cost of negotiations, and the power structure.
While some argue that power asymmetry is required for reaching an agreement, since the more powerful parties can forge a compromise, others counter that a regional power that also holds the position of an upstream riparian is better placed to implement unilateral projects that may become flashpoints for regional conflict.
Although the means to achieve cooperation over transboundary natural resources, water in particular, have been analyzed from many perspectives, the role of ambiguity in resolving disputes has thus far been overlooked. This is surprising, since many of the agreements and conventions pertaining to the regulation of water use are ambiguous in their schedule of water delivery during crisis events, in their cost-sharing arrangements, and may even include lists of contradictory resource allocation principles while being vague as to how to settle the contradictions.
The 1995 Mekong River basin treaty, the Indo-Bangladesh Ganges Treaty, and the Indo-Nepal 1996 Mahakali treaty are just a few examples of the commonality of ambiguities in water agreements. Another is the 1997 UN Convention on Non-Navigational Use of International water Courses.
This convention also adopted ambiguity of a ‘basket of Halloween candy’ nature, meaning that it provides something for everyone, enabling all sides to claim partial victory while not providing any tools for resolving competing claims . Likewise, the current implementation process of the EU Water Framework Directive, which aims to reconcile the different interests of member states and lobby groups that took part in its creation, clearly reveals its inherent ambiguities.
*Excerpted From “Ambiguity in Transboundary Environmental Dispute Resolution: The Israeli–Jordanian Water Agreement.” Journal of Peace Research, vol. 45, no. 1, 2008.
**Available on the net.