Take me back to all courses!

Conflict over shared water resources has a long and fascinating history. Interestingly, there is a global misperception that the next wars will be fought over water (Allan, 2005). Upon closer examination, there are in fact more instances of international cooperation over water, than armed conflict (Yoffe et al., 2003). Aaron Wolf and colleagues, in their research ‘Basins at risk’, examined the relationship between change and institutions in the context of transboundary waters (Yoffe et al., 2003). They found that where change exceeded the institutional capacity to absorb change, the potential for conflict (not necessarily armed conflict) was heightened. The study systematically examined conflictive and cooperative events and found that cooperation was the most likely outcome in most circumstances – at a ratio of about 2:1. However, there is still limited understanding of why cooperation rather than conflict emerges in such situations.

The understanding of the relationship between conflict and cooperation has been further nuanced by Mark Zeitoun, Jerome Warner, Naho Mirumachi and colleagues who remind us that conflict and cooperation are often not mutually exclusive. They also explain how hard and soft power influence the negotiation process and outcomes (Zeitoun and Mirumachi, 2008; Zeitoun et al., 2011).

We now think in terms of the stresses of scarcity and/or the stresses of change leading to focused attention on the processes necessary for cooperative outcomes. The work by Mirumachi (2010) on the Transboundary Waters Interaction Nexus (TWINS) takes this idea of coexisting conflict and cooperation further. This analytical tool importantly highlights that such coexisting conflict and cooperation can change over time, thereby providing an insight into the physical, socio-economic and political reasons for water use and management.

Sourced from: Patrick et al (2014).

Recommended Reading

Wolf AT (2007). Shared Waters: Conflict and Cooperation. Annual Review of Environmental Resources 32 (p241-269)


UNESCO IHE: Water conflict management I