Water conflicts: Analysis for transformation brings together novel ideas and analytical perspectives to tackle the contested politics over water. This book builds on seminal work of hydro-hegemony and co-existing conflict and cooperation within critical hydropolitics scholarship, which the three authors have spearheaded over the last decade.
Here is cross-post of an article with extracts from the book from Oxford Academic (http://blog.oup.com):
“Because water is constantly cycling at rates we have generally adapted well to, there is no race for the last drop at the global level. The concern is thus not about a water threshold equivalent to ‘peak oil,’ nor that ‘the world is running out of water.’
The concern is, rather, about local water crises caused by our use of water at rates faster than local hydro-cycles replenish, in other words, unsustainable water use.
While we might not be able to halt the global hydro-cycle, we can kill rivers by diverting or polluting them, or drain lakes and deplete aquifers — and we seem to do with monotonous regularity.
Viewed from a geopolitical standpoint, the finite but renewable nature of water makes it a resource very different from diamonds or oil. The US and UK governments did not invade Iraq in 2003 following a calculation that the carrots and dates that could be grown with Tigris and Euphrates waters would help pay for their war machines, or give them a strategic military edge in the region. The scramble for water and resultant interstate tensions are mostly a local or regional, and not global, phenomenon. It follows, then, that international transboundary water conflicts are also, typically, local or regional.
Viewed from a geopolitical standpoint, the finite but renewable nature of water makes it a resource very different from diamonds or oil. The US and UK governments did not invade Iraq in 2003 following a calculation that the carrots and dates that could be grown with Tigris and Euphrates waters would help pay for their war machines, or give them a strategic military edge in the region.
However, international transboundary water conflicts can be global — for example, as a response to so-called hydro-capitalism. Mass protest in Bolivia in 2000 sparked great protests against the privatization of water services by multinational corporations. Though expressed locally in a (very) physical way, the enclosure of public and traditional water right holders by foreign corporations is also a product of (globalized) neoliberal discourses and institutions that are or have been dominated by Western states and situated toward capitalist aims. There are lessons for everyone involved in the construction of equitable international transboundary water arrangements — especially about how hegemonic capitalism impacts water use across the globe.
Crops are traded around the world, furthermore, and international transboundary water conflicts can result from or be dampened by global flows of virtual water. Intensive water use by a city or farming region may substantially alter a local hydro-cycle, which, in turn, can impact other hydro-cycles halfway round the planet. It follows that those seeking to transform transboundary water arrangements need to think globally as well as locally, that is, to consider the role of ministries of trade, international norms, and meteorological and climate science far beyond a particular river basin.
There are many water body ecocide stories beyond the graveyard already mentioned, including the permanently drained marshlands of southern Canada, the depleted aquifers of India, the tailings dam collapse in 2015 and 2019 that sent waves of toxic sludge for hundreds of kilometers in rivers in Brazil, the chemical spill on the Songhua River in China that made its way into Russia, the drained wetlands of southern Iraq and Iran, the Cold War legacies of uranium- contaminated Navajo watersheds in the United States, and Vietnamese waters still poisoned by dioxin-laced Agent Orange half a century after the war.
With eight to ten thousand cubic kilometers of water impounded in reservoirs behind dams, we have managed over just the last century to alter the earth’s rotation and gravitational fields so much that the change can now be measured. There is not a region in the world spared from water crises, so we would do well to interrogate the extent to which the crises are natural or caused by human behavior.
For the largely desertic region east of the Mediterranean Sea, the winter rains are expected to be shorter and arrive earlier; the monsoon of South Asia is expected to intensify; reduced rainfall and higher temperatures are projected to afflict the Amazon; and aridity is projected to increase across Central Asia as precipitation decreases and temperatures rise.
Human-induced climate change and variability are not helping the local water crises. At the global level, the general warming trend — currently estimated to be at about 1.1 degree Celsius above the preindustrial era — means there is more freshwater in cycling around the globe, because the sun is drawing more water off the oceans today than it did fifty or one hundred years ago, and there is more moisture in the air. At the same time, rain and snow continue to fall unevenly across the planet, and changes in climate are expected to exacerbate the extremes. Very generally, and within the limits of our scientific knowledge, wet areas are projected to become wetter and dry areas to become drier, and the frequency and severity of droughts and floods will increase. For the largely desertic region east of the Mediterranean Sea, the winter rains are expected to be shorter and arrive earlier; the monsoon of South Asia is expected to intensify; reduced rainfall and higher temperatures are projected to afflict the Amazon; and aridity is projected to increase across Central Asia as precipitation decreases and temperatures rise.
From a transformative analysis perspective, there are three issues about climate change to bear in mind: uncertainty, naturalization, and the minor influence of climate change relative to human activity.
Despite the reams of science dedicated to understanding the biophysical components of the climate, the systems are so complex that we have no choice but to accept an uncertain amount of uncertainty. In fact, many people already do so; farmers who experience the impact of climate change most acutely have long coped with uncertainty out of necessity. However, the findings from most climate models are not granular enough to be of much use to water resource managers. We still do not know, for example, whether the El Niño Southern Oscillation will increase or reduce the flow of the Nile. Attempts to incorporate the complexity of the uncertainty of climate change into decisions can drive water policymakers to distraction or — more likely — to make recommendations based on analysis that oversimplifies the complexity.”
See the full Oxford Academic article here. Emphasis above edited for the purposes of this blog.
Keep an eye out on the refreshed LWRG website which will have more information about the book, including podcasts with the authors!