ECC Platform Library


Dispute over Water in the Nile Basin

Type of conflict main
Intensity 2
Time 1944 ‐ ongoing
Countries S. Sudan, Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania …
Resources Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Conflict Summary The Nile basin features significant conflict over access to and rights over the Nile water resources among its eleven riparian countries. The Nile Basin...
Dispute over Water in the Nile Basin
The Nile basin features significant conflict over access to and rights over the Nile water resources among its eleven riparian countries. The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), founded by 9 out of 10 riparian countries in 1999 with backing from major donor institutions, has achieved some successes in its attempts to strengthen cooperation. Yet, since 2007, diverging interests between upstream and downstream countries have brought negotiations to a standstill, pitting Egypt (and, to a lesser extent, Sudan) against upstream riparians, especially Ethiopia. In 2015, trilateral negotiations between these countries over a major dam under construction in Ethiopia led to a framework agreement that may, in time, prepare the ground for a broader agreement.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

Plans by the government of Kyrgyzstan to construct the Kambar-Ata-1 were met with strong opposition from Uzbekistan authorities. In the course of the conflict, Uzbekistan stopped gas supply to Kyrgyzstan, who reacted by closing an important irrigation canal.

Social and Economic Drivers

The water needs of Nile countries are increasing due to rising population numbers. Facing an increased demand for energy and arable surfaces, upstream countries have embarked on ambitious development projects along the Nile and its tributaries. Particularly in Ethiopia, rising population numbers and a fast growing economy has presented the country with greater incentives to develop ambitious hydro-energy and irrigation projects.

Environmental Change

The prospects for increased water utilisation in the near future raise serious concerns among the downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, who are striving to maintain current downstream flows. Egypt in particular is highly dependent on irrigation from the Nile for sustaining its agricultural production, and therefore strongly opposes upstream development projects along the Nile.

Intermediary Mechanisms

While the construction of hydro-power facilities on the Nile tributaries does not necessarily lead to lower downstream flows, the government of Egypt is nevertheless worried that upstream damming projects might open avenues for irrigation projects and water diversion in the future. There are also fears that significant reductions in downstream flow and resulting dents in agricultural production could compromise Egypt’s political stability and lead to further insecurity in the region.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversChanging climate leads to decreased water availability.Demographic changes increase pressures on available water resources.Infrastructure development changes the allocation of water.Freshwater becomes scarce as an essential resource. Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to tensions between states.A slow change in climatic conditions, particularly temperature and precipitation.Gradual Change in Temperature and/or PrecipitationAn increase in the scarcity of clean water and/or an increased variability in water supply.Increased Water ScarcityChange in population density, age structure, or ethnic makeup.Demographic ChangeConstruction of major infrastructure, such as dams, canals or roads.Infrastructure DevelopmentReduced availability of essential natural resources, such as land and water.Change in Access / Availability of Natural ResourcesTensions between states that may but need not escalate into overt violent conflict.Interstate Tensions
Context Factors
  • Water-stressed Area
  • Political Transition
  • Power Differential
Conflict History

The Nile, though probably the longest river on the planet, moves only limited amounts of water. The region’s demographic and economic growth and the need to sustain the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people have put increasing pressure on a river basin shared by eleven countries. Although cooperation within the basin has made significant progress, it is still overshadowed by a fundamental conflict between upstream riparians insisting on their right to develop their water resources, which could significantly impact downstream river flows, and Egypt striving to maintain current downstream flows. Tensions came to a high-point in 2011 when Ethiopia announced the construction of a 6000 MW hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile - the main tributary of the Nile basin (see Dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam).

Description of the Nile basin
The Nile basin, including its main tributaries the White Nile and the Blue Nile, is shared by eleven countries, namely Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The White Nile originates in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, and flows north through Tanzania, Uganda and South Sudan. The Blue Nile begins in Ethiopia and flows into Sudan from the southeast. The two rivers meet near the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, from which the Nile flows through the Sudanese desert to Egypt. With a length of approximately 6,700 km, the Nile, together with the Amazon River, occupies the top spot on the list of the world’s longest rivers. However, in relative terms, it does not transport much water: approx. 84 km³/year as compared, for example, to 5518 km³/year for the Amazon and 1250 km³/year for the Congo River (Swain, 2011). Moreover, the Nile is characterized by strong inter-annual flow variation as the greatest part of its water comes from highly variable, monsoon-driven rain on the Ethiopian highlands.

Upstream ambitions
Throughout the 20th century, economic constraints, external pressures and internal strife have precluded upstream countries of the Nile basin from developing their water resources, allowing Egypt to take full advantage of downstream water flow. However, upstream countries have experienced considerable population growth, economic development and political consolidation over the last decade. They have also profited from geopolitical changes in the form of alternative sources of capital for major infrastructure investments (IDS, 2013). Facing improved opportunities to harness their water resources, but also an increased demand for energy and arable surfaces, these countries have embarked on ambitious development projects along the Nile and its tributaries (Link et al., 2012).
Within this group of countries, Ethiopia holds a particularly important position, as the Ethiopian highlands provide nearly 86% of the Nile’s water (Swain, 2011). Confronted with rising population numbers and a fast growing economy (on average almost 8% over the last 8 years), the country has the incentive and the means for developing its largely untapped potential for hydro-energy and irrigation (Gebreluel, 2014).
While current water development plans in Ethiopia and other upstream countries require only a small portion of the Nile’s water, the prospects for increased water utilisation in the near future raise serious concerns among the downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan (Pearce, 2015; Link et al., 2012; Swain, 2011).

Downstream efforts to protect the status quo
Owing to increasing population numbers, the water needs of downstream countries are also rising. This pertains especially to Egypt, where water consumption could reach almost 87 km³/year in 2025 (Farrag, 2005). As Egypt receives only very limited amounts of rain, it is highly dependent on irrigation by the Nile for sustaining its agricultural production. It therefore opposes any upstream project that could reduce downstream river flow. While the construction of hydro-power facilities on the Nile tributaries does not necessarily lead to lower downstream flows, the government of Egypt is nevertheless worried that upstream damming projects might open avenues for irrigation projects and water diversion in the future (Swain, 2011; Link et al., 2012).
Egypt’s distrust of upstream development projects is further compounded by its loss of political influence. For most of the last century, Egypt has occupied a hegemonic position within the Nile basin, using its economic, military and political power to prevent upstream development projects. But this is set to change. As other riparian countries are catching up economically and Egypt is facing internal conflict, power in the Nile basin is gradually shifting southwards. This makes it harder for Egypt to counterbalance its vulnerable position as a downstream country (IDS, 2013; Gebreluel, 2014).
In view of the 2011 uprising, there are also fears that significant reductions in downstream flow and resulting dents in agricultural production could compromise Egypt’s political stability and lead to further insecurity in the region (see Security implications of growing water scarcity in Egypt).

The role of Sudan
As the second major downstream country in the Nile basin, Sudan has traditionally sided with Egypt against upstream development projects and both countries are bound by a treaty of 1959 to act in concert on Nile water issues. Like its northern neighbour, Sudan is highly dependent on the Nile’s flow for sustaining its economic development and growing population (Swain, 2011). Yet, the country is likely to benefit from cooperating with Ethiopia and harnessing its own water resources along the Blue Nile. Given the weakened position of Egypt, this could incite Sudan to realign with its upstream neighbours (Cascão, 2009; Link et al., 2012; Hussein, 2014).

One additional complication has arisen since 2011 from the independence of South Sudan, the new, eleventh basin riparian. Its territory, which includes an enormous wetland area called the Sudd, has long been seen by Egypt as a potential source of additional water. Currently, some 20 km³ of White Nile water evaporate there, which could be drastically reduced by channelling the Nile. The gigantic Jonglei canal, begun in the 1980s and never completed, was an attempt to generate additional water, but its expected huge environmental and social costs were among the grievances that led to the renewed outbreak of civil war in the 1980s. The position of the South Sudanese government on such efforts is currently reluctant, but Cairo is intensifying diplomatic relations with Juba in view of harnessing lost water resources on the White Nile (Salman, 2011; Aman, 2014; see The Role of Water Resources in the Sudan-South Sudan Peace Process).

The role of climate change
The situation in the Nile basin is further complicated by high uncertainties regarding future water availability. Detailed climatic predictions vary across emission scenarios and employed models, but experts generally agree that the Nile region will experience further warming, with higher increases in the north of the basin than in the south (Elshamy, Sayed & Badawy, 2009; Kim & Kaluarachchi, 2009). Ceteris paribus, warmer temperatures will increase irrigation needs. Moreover, sea-level rise is going to put pressure on agriculture in the Nile delta, Egypt’s bread basket. Due to intensive irrigation, the Nile’s environmental flows are already very limited, contributing to salinization and making the delta more vulnerable to seawater intrusion with detrimental effects on agricultural productivity.

On the other hand, changes in precipitation are harder to predict and the results of existent studies remain inconclusive (see Link et al., 2012; Niang, Ruppel, Abdrabo et al., 2014). As a result of higher temperatures and evaporation, total runoff in the Nile basin could decline by the end of the century. Yet, this effect could be compensated by growing precipitations and the cooling effect of increased humidity and an expanded cloud cover (Elshamy, Seierstadt & Sorteberg, 2009; Conway & Hulme, 1993). While the future effect of climate change on the Nile basin remains uncertain, the possibility of a further reduction in Nile flows currently looms over the relations between riparian countries.

Resolution Efforts

The Nile Basin Initiative
In an effort to find a mutually acceptable basis for cooperation in the Nile basin, the riparians established the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) in 1999, an intergovernmental partnership with the objective of developing 'the river in a cooperative manner, sharing substantial socioeconomic benefits, and promoting regional peace and security' (NBI, 2015). External third parties, especially the World Bank, played a crucial role in bringing all riparian countries together, and almost all basin states joined the NBI, except for Eritrea which has an observer status. Most riparians were motivated by the expectation that a cooperative framework would facilitate substantial investments in large (hydraulic) infrastructure projects in the basin. Rather than focusing primarily on the highly divisive issue of water allocation, the NBI was purposely set up with a complementary investment programme based on benefit-sharing (Mekonnen, 2010). The NBI was conceived as a transitional institution until the negotiations around a permanent Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) could be finalized and a durable institution created. The CFA aimed to be inclusive of all the Nile riparians, deciding on principles, structures and institutions to jointly govern the Nile water resources (Swain, 2011; Mekonnen, 2010).

A political deadlock?
Despite more than 10 years of negotiations, this objective has still not been reached. Since 2007, an on-going dispute over the CFA has brought the negotiations in the Nile basin to a stalemate. The essence of the dispute is about whether or not the CFA should recognise current water use of the downstream countries and colonial-era treaties, specifically an agreement between Egypt and Sudan from 1959, which precludes upstream countries from developing their water resources without the consent of downstream countries. Whereas downstream countries have been insisting on an explicit recognition of what they consider their historic water use and rights, upstream countries vehemently oppose these treaties, to which they were not sovereign parties (Mekonnen 2010; Swain, 2011). More recently, downstream countries have appealed to the more moderate principle of the “obligation not to cause significant harm” from Article 7 in the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, whereas upstream countries emphasize the principle of “equitable use”, also derived from the same UN convention (Gebreluel, 2014).

Whilst Egypt, and intermittently Sudan, withdrew from the NBI in 2010 in protest against the decision by upstream countries to start the ratification of the CFA in the absence of agreement on a 'water security' clause, the multilateral cooperation among the other riparian countries continues. However, unilateral developments of water projects continue in parallel, with a potentially negative effect on the prospects of a comprehensive agreement (IDS, 2013; Link et al., 2012; Pearce, 2015).

Mediation and negotiations
There have been various attempts by both the riparian countries and third parties such as the World Bank, the USA, the EU and Switzerland to overcome the CFA stalemate and to re-engage Egypt (and Sudan). These included both formal high-level talks in 2011 and informal talks at ministerial level. A lot of work has focused on finding an alternative formulation to the most contentious article of the CFA. In March 2015, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia signed a declaration of principles on the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which may pave the way towards broader cooperation.

Negotiations between the leaders of up- and downstream countries are nevertheless constrained by domestic pressures and the highly symbolic nature of the dispute over the Nile waters. On one hand, the river holds a special and entrenched role in the history and identity of many Egyptians. On the other hand, the recent capacity of upstream countries to utilise the Nile waters epitomises their emergence from years of political and economic marginalisation. The GERD in particular has taken on a significant role in Ethiopian ‘nation-building’ (see GERD case). The dispute over the Nile is therefore a ‘political minefield’ where overly generous concessions might encounter strong domestic opposition (Gebreluel, 2014). Beyond the ‘core conflict’ between Egypt and Ethiopia, there is also a regional political struggle for allegiance and a leadership position. Ethiopia has managed to unite the African upstream countries (which also resented Egyptian dominance) in support of its position on ratifying the CFA in spite of Egyptian opposition and invested significant political capital. This makes it anything but easy to find a solution that would allow both Egypt and Ethiopia to claim victory and justify a putative compromise domestically.

Opportunities for basin wide cooperation
Despite these difficulties, opportunities for cooperation and more efficient use of the Nile’s water exist. Water resources could be used more efficiently in a basin-wide approach, where the riparian countries take full advantage of economic integration and comparative advantages in natural and societal conditions (e.g. more efficient hydro energy production in Ethiopia and better conditions for agriculture in Sudan paired with the financial investment capabilities of Egypt) (Whittington et al., 2014). This way, evaporation losses could be avoided by storing water in cooler regions upstream, rather than in downstream desert regions. The Egyptian economy could shift from agriculture to other sectors, thereby reducing its dependency on the Nile’s water (see Link et al., 2012; IDS, 2013). Moreover, Ethiopian hydro-power could provide much-needed energy to Egypt, whose demands are bound to rise, not least for air conditioning in order to counter increasingly ferocious heat waves.

However, increased regional integration also requires trust building measures and the credible commitment of all basin countries in order to promote mutually beneficial inter-dependencies. Furthermore, civil society actors need to have a say in basin-wide development strategies as dam construction and irrigation projects along the Nile and its tributaries are certain to have important implications for riparian ecosystems and the livelihoods of local communities living along the river banks (Kameri-Mbote, 2007; Hussein, 2014). Third parties might be able to support this process by facilitating a multi-track negotiation that allows (key) basin governments to identify mutually beneficial solutions, and/or to extend various types of guarantees to these governments (Subramanian, Brown, & Wolf, 2012). This could be supported by targeted investments that assess, or underpin, the realization of cooperative ventures and which support informed transnational debate on this issue.

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Diplomatic Crisis Note of diplomatic crisis in case history, conflict purely verbal
Violent Conflict No
Salience within nation
Mass Displacement None
Cross Border Mass Displacement No
Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Resolution Success
Reduction in geographical scope There has been no reduction in geographical scope.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future The capacity to address grievances in the future has increased.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been partially addressed.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity Conflict resolution strategies have been clearly responsible for the decrease in conflict intensity.
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political

Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Egyptian Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Sudanese Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Ethiopian Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
South Sudanese Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Eritrean Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Ugandan Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Kenyan Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Tanzanian Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Burundian Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Rwandan Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
DRC Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
World Bank
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
United States of America Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
European Union
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
Swiss Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
Conflict Resolution Strategies
Institutional solutions to reduce conflict
2 Increased coordination The strategy is an important part of the conflict resolution process
1 Reduction in conflict potential of scarcity through
better management institutions The strategy is present, but only attempted weakly
Economic and technological adaptation
0 Reduction in scarcity through changed resource consumption habits This strategy is applicable because a shift from agriculture could effectively reduce demand for water, as shown by Link et al., 2012.
0 Shift of livelihood bases This strategy is applicable because agricultural livelihoods are being threatened by dam building.
Third Party Tools
1 External Support for Capacity Building The strategy is present, but only attempted weakly
1 Peacemaking / Mediation The strategy is present, but only attempted weakly
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Common-pool resource: No one can be excluded from use but the good is depleted.
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Asymmetric: The power to affect the environmental resource is unequal.
Broad conflict characterization Resource capture is not present.
Ecological marginalization is not present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse
Conflict References References with URL


Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.


Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.


The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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