Water Security: Towards the Human Securitization of Water?

Article excerpt

"All political concepts, images, and terms have a polemical meaning. They are focused on a specific conflict and are bound to a specific situation."1

"One person's open-and-shut case for securitization will not be another person's, and there will be contestations. So the job of politicians or of campaigners of any sort is to try to get their version of securitization accepted."2

Carl Schmitt's observations are broadly correct; the concept of security is by its essence a strongly political topic, one which is open to various interpretations and contestations linked to the position of different political actors in various contexts.3 Barry Buzan has charted many of these contestations across the political spectrum since the end of the Cold War. This article argues that water security is one such contested and normative concept.4 It entails no single authoritative definition because different definitions are drawn from multiple accounts involving the various moral positions and viewpoints of actor-stakeholders.

The general concept of security has evolved from being associated with national security concerns tied to ideas of territory, to encompassing larger issues linked to individual well-being (the concept of human security) and global risks (global security). At the same time, when security is attached to a resource such as water that has a vast bearing on food production and food security, human health and environmental sustainability, the very range of contexts stemming from that resource entails a multiplication in meanings. Hence, the variety of definitions and approaches makes any analytical singular distinction of water security difficult to achieve, but important, given the power resources and political interests associated with the use of the term.

This article will seek to open up the current analysis to assess what the existing understandings and meanings of water security realities are, and how they play out in contexts ranging from water and food security to water and health debates. We ask whether amongst this dispute of meanings and interpretations a new and stronger discourse is emerging which centralizes notions of human security within water security discourse. Human security was defined most effectively - but broadly - in the 1994 Human Development Report as "...safety from such chronic threats as hunger, disease and repression, and protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily lives, whether in homes' iobs or communities."5 If this notion of security which is firmly embedcied in wider questions of social and economic rights comes to the fore in water security debates, what can this tell us about wider development processes, the exercise of political power, and, ultimately, the governance of water resources? The emerging human securitization of water has many implications for global processes including rights-based approaches to development, consumer awareness, and collective action on climate change.

The article proceeds in three sections. In part one, the historical evolution of the concept of security from the end of the Cold War to the current period, including the establishment of concepts of water security will be examined. In the second part, this article will look at the different uses of water and how each suggests a particular understanding and meaning of security. Finally, this study will examine how various definitions of security and water uses are used in the wider paradigmatic 'competition' over definitions of water security. The article concludes by suggesting that the human securitization of water is an important development and that this has, in part, been a product of global campaigning and the strength of narratives on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other global development targets.

Hajer defines politics as the struggle for discursive hegemony in which actors compete to secure support for their definition of reality. …