News Feature | January 16, 2015

A Brief History Of Water Conflict

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

As nations face problems ranging from pollution to scarcity, the politics of water resources have become complicated—but that is nothing new.

The Pacific Institute, a think tank, has created a 5,000-year timeline of water conflicts, including religious accounts. It shows that water politics have been messy since the beginning.

In 3,000 BC, the timeline says, "Ancient Sumerian legend recounts the deeds of the deity Ea, who punished humanity for its sins by inflicting the Earth with a six-day storm. The Sumerian myth parallels the Biblical account of Noah and the deluge, although some details differ."

Other highlights include "Assyrians poisoning enemy wells with rye ergot in the 6th century B.C., the World War II targeting and destruction of Soviet hydroelectric dams, the U.S. bombing of North Vietnamese irrigation canals in the 1960s, and riots in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2012 sparked by insufficient water supplies," according to the Atlantic.

The problems are expected to continue. ;"By 2025, scientists predict that one in five humans will live in regions suffering from water scarcity, areas with insufficient resources to meet water usage demands," the Atlantic report said.

Many analysts have predicted that pressure on water resources could spark wars in the coming years.

Back in 1985, Boutros Boutros Ghali said, "The next war in the Middle East will be fought over water, not politics," according to BBC News.

Kofi Annan said in 2001: “Fierce competition for fresh water may well become a source of conflict and wars in the future,” per an announcement by United Nations University, an academic and research arm of the U.N.

Ban Ki Moon said in 2007: “The consequences for humanity are grave. Water scarcity threatens economic and social gains and is a potent fuel for wars and conflict."

Blood has already been shed in the Middle East over water.

"There is a water war going on in the Middle East. Behind the headline stories of brutal slaughter as Sunni militants carve out a religious state covering Iraq and Syria, there lies a battle for the water supplies that sustain these desert nations," Yale Environment 360 reported.

For more on policy and politics, check out Water Online's Regulations & Legislation Solution Center.