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 the seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanization, and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.
Conflicts surrounding the distribution, access and quality of water resources often arise between upstream and downstream riparians on waterways, since water usages upstream can affect the quantity and quality of the resource downstream. Bodies of water frequently flow across borders and can, therefore, also become the subject of international disputes.
Furthermore, conflicts can also develop between water users and the authorities responsible for water management. Water-related disputes take on different forms, such as civil disobedience, acts of sabotage or violent conflicts. However, the latter are more likely to be seen at the local and intrastate level than at the interstate level.
Even though it remains to be seen whether wars over water will actually develop, interstate water conflicts have nonetheless already contributed to tensions that, in several cases, significantly constrain the economic development of the region. In addition, interstate water conflicts can, in their own right, encumber the stability of the country and have negative consequences for international relations.
At the same time, various examples also demonstrate that precisely this need for joint management of water resources gathers conflicting parties around one table and encourages cooperative negotiating. Even if a tedious negotiation process often precedes cooperation in water management, water cooperation has in the past provided a fertile starting point for peace promotion, and has led to the development of stable institutions.