GEOG 128
Geography of International Affairs

Territory, Conflict and the Environment


The Flint (2016) textbook only briefly covers the topic of water wars in the section Water Wars? Interstate and Everyday Geopolitics (pages 267-269). Let’s expand on this case study of water wars and bring it into conversation with the section on Territory, Conflict and the Environment. Review this section in the book (from pages 270-274) and then watch and read the material linked below.

To Watch

Click for a transcript of "Water" video.

Been cause for bitter disputes among nations, but for many it may be a surprise to hear that it's water rather or oil or gas that's becoming a reason for conflict. And you can see on this map right here that the world has witnessed close to one hundred and eighty disputes over water resources since nineteen fifties. These include small clashes and protests as well as more serious large-scale conflict. One example is the tensions in the Middle East where the struggle for water is a key issue and some ongoing conflict. Artis Boslear has more.

The Bible tells us that within a short distance from here Jesus turned water into wine. Two thousand years later, the greater miracle might be turning the wine back into water. Babi Kabalo has been living in the Golan Heights for over 30 years. Each day he attends to his vineyard and orchards keeping his wine in a cellar that was once a Syrian bunker. He is proud of the wine he produces but knows that in the absence of water none of this would be possible.

BABI KABALO, WINEMAKER: Water is important because it's the second main resource that we have other than the lamb. Each crop needs water and without it you will destroy all the crops and destroy all of the farming here. It can turn the Golan Heights into a desert.

And it's not just about the Golan Heights. Rainwater from its catchment feeds into the River Jordan providing a third of Israel's water supply. The disputed region was seized from Syria after the six-day war and residents of the Golan remember that water was a key issue in the conflict.

AVI ZERIA, LOCAL RESIDENT: Anyone who stands here understands the importance of Golan water supply of Israel, because every drop of water that is raining here on the Golan is flying to the sea of Gallity. So we can say it is a must for the state of Israel to have control over these water sources.

It's a worldwide rule that whoever controls the water controls the land, but the problem is in some cases there's very little water to go around. MARTIN SHERMAN, FOUNDER, ISRAEL INSTITUTE FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES: When you have a common water source shared by several sovereign nations, there's always a possibility of clash of interest. Conflicts that should be manageable will spin out of control.

And examples of possible conflicts are plentiful. Syria's major water sources travel through Turkey and Iraq making it vulnerable while Jordan is reliant on a river with Syria water dam. Egypt also recently expressed concern over countries using the Upper Nile to generate electric power.

PAULA SLIER: In the dry landscape of the Middle East, water is a prize more precious than diamonds. In its absence famine and drought are quick to follow, but this is a region that very seldom needs an excuse for war and water shortages might just tip the balance. Paula Slier in the Golan Heights.

As mentioned in the report Egypt is becoming increasingly concerned over a construction project on the Upper Nile. The country relies greatly on the river where upstream Ethiopia is currently building a massive dam. Political science professor Said Sadek says Egypt it may face serious consequences when the project is completed in 2017.

SAID SADEK, POLITICAL SCIENTIST, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN CAIRO: We have to remember that Egypt has only six to seven percent of its land. The rest of the Egyptian territory is desert. So that can really be serious, affecting national security. And that's why immediately when the Ethiopians raise the issue of the high dam there were some experts here in Egypt that were talking about going into a war with Ethiopia because if you cut water on us we will be dying. Eighty-five percent of the water, Egyptian water comes from Ethiopia and so it's serious. In fact, in 2050 Egypt will be 150 million people and we would be needing in addition to the fifty 5.5 billion cubic meter are 21 billion cubic meter extra. What would happen to Egypt in the year 2050 if we don't have more water?

Read the accompanying article here.

To Read

Goldenberg, S. (2014, February 8). Why global water shortages pose threat of terror and war.

Harrington, C. (2014, April 15). Water Wars? Think Again: Conflict Over Freshwater Structural Rather Than Strategic | New Security Beat. (less alarmist, more strategically thinking)

After reviewing the above materials, think about how water is discussed in geopolitical terms and how various states (e.g., Egypt, India, China) integrate discourses of national security, development, and so forth (in relation to water) with their geopolitical code and strategy.