There is increasing interest within politics and the media in linking climate change, particularly via water, to conflict. Recent statements linking drought to the Syrian conflict resulted in a surge of academic papers countering this simplistic relationship. Despite increased interest, there is no clear framework showing the different potential effects of water on civil conflict. The quantitative literature in particular is very contradictory, with different analyses finding: no effect; more rainfall increases conflict; more rainfall reduces conflict; abnormal rainfall patterns increase conflict; freshwater scarcity increases conflict; or freshwater abundance increases conflict. For quantitative analyses to be taken seriously by peace and policy makers, there must be some consensus or demonstration that the potential links between water and conflict have been investigated.
A systematic review of the quantitative and qualitative literature investigating water and conflict was conducted. First, the qualitative literature was reviewed with papers grouped by their focus on direct or indirect links between water and conflict. The major indirect links investigated were food, governance and migration. The methodologies and data selection within the quantitative literature were then compared against the main links identified in the qualitative literature review. A framework of key themes potentially linking water and civil conflict was developed that broadly included migration, food and governance. This framework demonstrated that the quantitative literature does not replicate the variety of linkages between water and conflict, thus biasing the results. The framework identifies the key variables that should be included in future large-scale quantitative analyses. Peacemakers and policy makers can use the linkages demonstrated in this paper to identify which additional factors they should consider when dealing with water-related conflict. This framework can also aid assessments of scientific advice that do not adequately integrate the diversity of potential relationships between water and conflict.
On World Water Day 2002, then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asserted that “the water problems of our world need not be only a cause of tension; they can also be a catalyst for cooperation”. This narrative contrasted with warnings of ‘water wars’ popular in the 1990s – predictions reinforced by then-UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
A variety of sometimes-contradictory claims about the relationships between water, peace, and conflict continue to be made. But the idea of ‘hydro-diplomacy’, using water to stimulate cooperative relations, has gained prominence. Susskind and Islam championed the rationale in their 2012 book. Tufts University has a graduate program in the field. The 2013 theme of World Water Day was “Water Cooperation”. A 2014 report from adelphi, “The Rise of Hydro-Diplomacy”, argued that greater foreign policy cooperation over shared waters can help resolve other conflicts and encourage regional integration.
While the concept is thus no longer new, hydro-diplomacy conversations have up till now been state-centric, intentionally focused on formal international relations and transboundary river basins. This paper will apply the notion of hydro-diplomacy to a fog-harvesting project in rural Southwest Morocco to interrogate the scalar potential of water-based environmental peacebuilding.
In the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Aït Baamrane, Dar Si Hmad for Development, Culture and Education oversees the world’s largest operational fog-harvesting system, piping potable water collected from the mountains’ extensive fog cover to some 400 Amazigh villagers. The local NGO spent ten years testing, building, and installing the fog system to ensure viability. Over this period, strong networks of trust were built with partner villages, enabling a variety of related projects. These include a Water School engaging rural children in environmental learning, capacity-building workshops supporting women seeking economic empowerment, and a study abroad program involving international audiences in the work. The Ethnographic Field School leverages the fog project’s uniqueness to attract students to a marginalized region. Activities focus on building equitable relationships with local communities, questioning mainstream narratives of Morocco and development, and exploring how traditional knowledges can be integrated in scientific innovation.
By intentionally using fog to facilitate collaborative exchange, Dar Si Hmad is engaging in a form of hydro-diplomacy. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork using participant observation and semi-structured interviews with staff, students, and beneficiaries, this paper will demonstrate how fog water is being used to foster relationships that lay the groundwork for durable peace, intercultural understanding, and symbiotic growth.
Building on theories of Track 1 (official negotiations), 2 (unofficial dialogue between civil society leaders), and 3 (people-to-people relationship-building) Diplomacy from international relations scholarship, the paper will consider how the hydro-diplomacy of international relations can be bolstered by hydro-diplomacy focused on interpersonal relations – and how river basins need not be the only water source used in peacebuilding. Dar Si Hmad’s fog project and other local iterations of hydro-diplomacy should be better understood and integrated with the emerging literature on state-to-state water cooperation in order to develop holistic expertise, share best practices, and promote positive policy interventions.
Cooperation over transboundary water basin is important for regional development, peace and security. However, transboundary water cooperation often poses challenges as it involves sharing limited water resources and agreeing on how it is managed. In order to better address this challenge and with aim of applying the findings from the research to policy, a research was conducted with an aim of identifying the key factors affecting transboundary water cooperation, as one of the steps contributing to overcoming challenges facing transboundary water cooperation.
The paper will discuss the framework and preliminary result from the analysis of the two case studies: The Brahmaputra River and the Jordan River. Based on review of existing literature, a legal-political-economy analysis framework was developed as a way to analyse key factors affecting cooperation. Key components of the framework includes: contextual factors, formal institutions, customary rules, actors’ interests and their agency, processes and power dynamics. The preliminary analysis from case studies validates that these are the important factors affecting the transboundary water cooperation.
In order to ensure the policy relevance and feedback of the research finding, stakeholder workshops and focused group meetings are conducted. These events served several purposes including 1) validating the research result 2) providing further input to the research 3) policy uptake of the research result through discussions among participants.
The research also identified possible opportunities for water cooperation through regional economic cooperation. Too often, only water experts discuss transboundary water cooperation, with a focus only on water issues. This lack of multi-sectoral approach often creates an upstream-downstream dichotomy, focusing the issue only on how to share the water ‘pie’ and manage flow. Focusing the attention only on solving transboundary water issues creates ‘hydro-hegemon’ an influential state actor who could make things difficult for riparian state with disadvantaged geographic location with less political power, and often traps the discussion resulting in stalemates. However, seeking solutions for cooperation outside of the ‘water box’ would allow identifying possible new avenues for transboundary water cooperation boosting, for example, regional economic cooperation.