Conflict or Cooperation over Water 1

Conflict or Cooperation over Water Part I

From many angles it sounds: The struggle for increasingly scarce resources will intensify. Energy, food and water are at the forefront of these resources – often also referred to as strategic resources. Of the three resources, water is the one we can least do without. A human being cannot live without water for more than a few days. In parts of the world, the shortage of water is becoming clearer and clearer. And it does not seem to be better in the near future: An expected population increase of more than 1 billion by 2025, global climate change, industrialization, urbanization and a more water-intensive lifestyle in several parts of the world are central to the future picture.

  • How important is water?
  • How is the lake distributed?
  • Why has there been a shortage of water in a world rich in water?
  • How much does polluted water cost?

Water means life and provides livelihood . The struggle for daily water has been of great importance for the development of society, from the first river civilizations on the Euphrates and Tigris, Indus and Nile to the modern industrial societies. The battle for the lake will probably be the most important resource conflict in the coming decades. Perhaps we can take it as a sign that James Bond himself has become involved in water. In the latest Bond film (Quantum of Solace), the supply of water in Bolivia is a major theme. There, the chief villain has taken control of the water resources in the country.

Seen from the outside, the earth appears to be very rich in water – like the blue, water-rich planet in our solar system. Two thirds of the earth’s surface is covered by water. Nevertheless, the renewable resource of freshwater is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. The supply of water varies greatly both between and within land – and not least: between groups within land. Some regions experience a chronic shortage of water, while for others it is more seasonal . But, as it is also said in a UN report: “The shortage that is the cause of the global water crisis has its roots in power relations, poverty and inequality – not in the actual lack of water.”

2: Water – a human right

One in three people today experience a shortage of water (UN: less than 1000 m 3 per year). Globally, about one in five live in an area with a physical shortage of water, and the number is increasing sharply. In addition, one in four experience a financial shortage of water because they lack financial means and thus infrastructure (pipelines, dams, etc.) to make use of the water that is within reach. In 2025, the UN estimates that two thirds of the global population will live with water stress. Global climate change contributes to worsening the picture.

It is a human right to have one’s basic need for clean water covered, cf. the Convention on Economic and Social Rights. The state has a duty to deliver, and the individual has the right to sufficient, clean, physically available and affordable water for personal use and for household use. According to, Uruguay has included the right to water in the constitution. As of today, approx. 900 million people without clean drinking water .

Between the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, we also find part of the seventh goal – to halve the number of those living without safe drinking water. Yes, actually, says the UN, is a better water supply in influencing whether all eight UN goals are reached by 2015. Not least the first goal of ending extreme poverty.

Cleaner water will lead to lower death rates for children and less illness and directly stimulate productivity and schooling. A developing country will therefore often get many times in return for having to invest in better water supply and better sanitation.

3: Footprint of water

Over the last fifty years, global water consumption has tripled. We know that such a strong increase cannot continue. We can calculate the consumption of water as a footprint of water – for a product it means how much water goes into producing a particular product or service. If we know that, we can calculate the footprint of water also for a country :

This goal includes all the consumption of water that goes into producing everything we consume of goods and services within a year. It should show how much water a country really uses. One put it together

  • the water that the country draws from domestic sources – of its own river water and groundwater, and
  • the external footprint – the lake that joins other countries to produce goods and services that the people in the country consume annually. As one can understand, this is connected with international trade and the water that is “embedded” in goods a country imports.

The last part of the footprint is often called virtual water . For example, it takes an average of 16,000 liters of water to produce one kilo of beef. If the meat is produced in Botswana and is imported to Norway and consumed here, it must count in Norwegian water consumption. In a way, Norway imports all the water that has been used to produce the meat. For example, the water situation in Mexico would have been even gloomier if the country itself were to produce all the halibut and maize that the country currently imports from the United States.

Conflict or Cooperation over Water 1

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