Water Scarcity: Preventing Future Conflicts

By O'Connor, Rush | Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Spring 2017 | Go to article overview

Water Scarcity: Preventing Future Conflicts


O'Connor, Rush, Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law


This Note focuses on nations with shared water sources forming transboundary agreements to promote peaceful solutions and to protect people's right to water. Given the growing scarcity of water, this Note emphasizes the urgent need to create agreements. It argues that international agreements are ineffective with respect to protecting the right to water and do not create proper forums for settling disputes over water. Yet international organizations can take an active role in helping to form transboundary agreements and acting as mediators when an agreement fails. This Note then explores how transboundary agreements work and why they are better than international agreements when protecting the right to water. In particular, the Note examines two of the more successful examples--the International Joint Commission and the Indus Water Commission--and how they can serve as models for other agreements. Finally, the Note then outlines the components necessary for effective transboundary agreements, which will in turn create a safer world and protect the right to water.

CONTENTS

I.   INTRODUCTION
II.  BACKGROUND
       A. Water Scarcity
       B. International Agreements
       C. Regional Agreements
       D. Transboundary Agreements
          1. The International Joint Commission
          2.  Indus Waters Treaty of 1960
III. WHY TRANSBOUNDARY AGREEMENTS?
       A. The Flaws in an International Solution.
       B. How Transboundary Agreements Address These Issues.
IV.  THE KEY COMPONENTS IN AN AGREEMENT.
V.   CONCLUSION.

I. INTRODUCTION

There are 263 sources of fresh water shared by multiple nations. (1) These water sources serve about 40% of the world's population and account for approximately 60% of the total fresh water on the planet. (2) Of the 263 shared sources of water, only 105 of the sources are the subject of an agreement regulating what a nation may do with the source. (3) Most of the existing fresh-water agreements are significantly limited in scope. (4) Although some shared sources of water may not soon create controversy, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicts that "by 2050 almost 40 per cent of the world population will live in areas of high water stress." (5) One study suggests that four billion people currently experience water scarcity during at least one month of the year. (6) Since World War II, there have been 37 conflicts over shared sources of water. (7) While most were minor, more conflicts are likely to arise as the planet becomes more arid. (8) To address this problem before it worsens, every nation with a shared source of water should create a bilateral or multilateral agreement equipped to handle any disputes over the shared body of water. By examining the failures of other strategies and the benefits of transboundary agreements, it is possible to see how all countries with shared resources must form transboundary agreements to better protect water rights for all.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Water Scarcity

Although water covers most of the Earth's surface, fresh water has become increasingly scarce, impacting countries and regions all over the world. In the U.S., California has entered its fourth year of drought and, despite being hit hard by El Nino in 2015, the drought will likely continue. (9) Syria has experienced a drought since the civil war began in 2011, and some researchers argue that the drought itself provided an indirect cause of the conflict. (10) The lack of water caused rising food prices and placed stress on the sources of water that do exist in Syria, all of which created unrest and government stress. (11) The Aral Sea in Central Asia, which provides water to about 43 million people through the rivers it feeds, has shrunk to 10% of its original size since 1960. (12) In addition to these regions, South Africa, Brazil, the Caribbean, and North Korea all currently experiencing some of the worst droughts in decades. …

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