Issues We Work On

Water and Conflict

There is a long history of conflicts over water resources, extending back thousands of years into myths, legends, and ancient history. But even now, in the modern world, disputes over access to water, the use of water as a weapon, and the targeting of water systems during conflicts remain all too common. It has been argued that water resources have rarely, if ever, been the sole source of violent conflict or war. But this fact has led some international security “experts” to ignore the complex and real relationships between water and security, which remain a major challenge. Indeed, our work suggests that the risks of water-related violence and conflict is growing, not diminishing, as population, resources, and economic and environmental pressures on scarce water resources increase. Many of these risks are materializing at the sub-national level rather than as disputes among nations, but even at the national level, there are growing concerns about tensions in Africa and parts of Asia that share international rivers but lack international agreements over how to manage those waters.

The Pacific Institute has long been a leader in research, analysis, data collection, and conflict resolution in the area of water resources. Some of the earliest academic analyses on the subject were developed by the Institute, but we have also worked directly with opposing factions to help find common ground and reduce conflict over resources. Since our founding, the Institute has brought together conflicting parties in Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, Central America, and the Middle East to explore ways of moving toward cooperation over water. We’ve worked with partners such as Oregon State University, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Sandia National Laboratory to bring together academics, arms control experts, hydrologists, water managers, policy makers, and international water negotiators to explore tools and techniques for reaching agreements.

One of the Institute’s major contributions continues to be the highly regarded Water and Conflict Chronology, which traces the history of water as a tool of war and conflict, explores the nature of those conflicts, and provides citations and data in an interactive system, set of maps, and database. The Chronology is updated annually.

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