Water - cooperation or conflict?

History shows that conflicts over water often emerge and give rise to political tensions, but that most disputes are resolved peacefully. However, the absence of conflict is, at best, only a partial indicator of the depth of cooperation. Measuring the level of conflict between governments over water is inherently difficult as water is seldom a stand-alone foreign policy issue. Oregon State University has attempted to compile data covering every reported interaction over water going back 50 years. What is striking in these data is that there have been only 37 cases of reported violence between states over water (30 of them in the Middle East). Over the same period more than 200 water treaties were negotiated between countries. In all, 1,228 cooperative events were recorded, compared with 507 conflict events, more than two-thirds of which involved only low-level verbal hostility.

Most of the conflict events were related to changes in the volume of water flow and the creation of new infrastructure, which could affect future timing and volume of water flow. Looking back over the past half-century, perhaps the most extraordinary water governance outcome has been the level of conflict resolution and the durability of water governance institutions. The Permanent Indus Water Commission, which oversees a treaty on water sharing and a mechanism for dispute resolution, survived and functioned during two major wars between India and Pakistan. (UNDP Human Development Report 2006)