B Explanatory memorandum by Mr Marquet,
1. Water is not only part of humankind’s common heritage
and a vital resource for human survival, it is also essential for
the main sectors of economic activity (agriculture, manufacturing,
energy production and passenger and goods transport). While three
quarters of the earth’s surface are covered by oceans and seas, fresh
water represents only 2.5% of this volume. The bulk is concentrated
in icebergs and therefore as such unexploitable.
2. It is estimated that of all the water abstracted in the world,
10% is destined for domestic consumption, 20% for industry and 70%
for agriculture. Water resources also help to maintain the balance
of ecosystems. According to United Nations figures, a billion people
do not have access to drinking water, 2.6 billion do not have access
to basic sanitation and 2.2 million die every year of diseases linked
to lack of access to water or because of poor water quality. Availability
of fresh water per head of population has dropped dramatically from some
17 000 cubic metres per year in the mid-20th century to some 6 000
cubic metres per year today.
3. The final report of the 2002 Johannesburg Summit set a target
for 2015 of reducing by half “the proportion of people who are unable
to reach or to afford safe drinking water … and the proportion of
people who do not have access to basic sanitation”.
4. Population growth, the contrasting but increasing needs of
the developing and industrialised countries and climatic vagaries,
whether recurrent drought and chronic shortages or devastating floods,
exacerbate the crucial nature of water which thus becomes a major
economic stake and a national or international political issue conducive
to situations of conflict between states.
5. Tensions between countries which share a river basin may,
for instance, jeopardise sustainable development and heighten poverty,
foster migratory movements and social instability and cause conflicts, whereas
in fact the mutual need to pool water resources should help to forge
peaceful co-operation between different communities.
2 Climate change
6. Global warming has obvious effects on water, such
as variable precipitation, flooding, periods of drought, glacier
melt and rising sea levels.
7. Scientists estimate that a one-degree increase in the average
temperature will lead to a 1% rise in precipitation, as warm air
absorbs more humidity. The total volume of water in the world would
not change, but the water cycle would be speeded up, affecting most
of the world’s agriculture, which depends on the amount of precipitation
and the season in which it falls.
8. In recent years, world temperatures have risen by an average
of 0.74°C. The increase has been more pronounced in northern latitudes.
It has resulted, among other things, in a decrease in the surface
area of the polar ice cap and of snow and ice cover on mountains
in both hemispheres and a significant increase in precipitation
on the eastern side of North and South America, in northern Europe
and in north and central Asia.
9. These developments also have important repercussions on agriculture
and forest management and have led to the emergence of new diseases
resulting from the presence of allergens in the environment. They also
mean that certain animal species are threatened with extinction.
10. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
emphasises that it is very difficult to attribute these changes
to a natural change in the climate. Albeit cautiously, the IPCC
establishes a clear link between global warming and human activity.
11. Greenhouse gas emissions are the main signs of industrial
growth. The IPCC says that they increased by 70% between 1970 and
2004 and if nothing is done to curb it, the increase will pass from
25% to 90% between 2000 and 2030. According to some theories, temperatures
could rise by 0.2°C over the next twenty years.
12. Climate change not only brings droughts and flooding but is
also indirectly responsible for changes affecting the flow rate
of watercourses and has an important impact on increases in concentrations
of pollutants and toxins in the water and water stress. For example,
the surface area of Lake Chad has decreased from 25 000 square kilometres
to 3 000 square kilometres as it has lost some 90% of its water
under the combined influence of climate change, the construction
of dams and demographic pressures. The drying up of this lake, on
which 30 million people depend for their survival, gives rise to
fears of conflicts over resources between the various parties affected
or even between states.
13. By altering the migratory movements of populations threatened
by environmental disaster and making access to drinking water even
more difficult in certain regions, climate change may aggravate
strained international relations and become the source of numerous
conflicts or indeed wars.
3 Water, poverty and migration
14. Wealth is unevenly distributed throughout the world.
The mere fact of living in a particular part of the world can mean
a perpetual struggle for water, food and housing.
15. Water resources are vital for mankind but also for economic
development and the preservation of ecosystems. Alas, it is observed
that billions of human beings lack water and sanitary facilities,
generally because of poor management of resources and insufficient
investment, so much so that people do not live as long in good health
in the southern countries.
Climate change also compounds the problem of malnutrition
in the world’s most arid regions, giving rise to millions of climate
refugees and undermining the development of the countries concerned.
Desertification is progressing and threatening the livelihoods of
about a billion people throughout the world. According to the figures
of the United Nations Convention on Desertification and Drought
12 million hectares of arable land (or the equivalent of the surface
area of Benin), providing enough food for 6 million people, are lost
every year to soil erosion and desertification. This problem now
affects some 25% of the earth’s land surface, 40% of the world population
and 50% of its livestock. In 2010, over 8 million people developed
chronic malnutrition as a result of a drought in Niger. The convention
also points to the fact that “with the existing climate change scenario,
almost half the world’s population will be living in areas of high
water stress by 2030”.
17. Environmental damage also drives tourists away, resulting
in a considerable drop in income for poor countries.
18. In this way, poverty and environmental deterioration have
become trapped in a vicious circle. Environmental problems fuel
poverty and the lack of any alternative forces poor people to take
what they need to survive from nature, often through illegal activities
such as poaching. Growing tensions that put pressure on environmental
resources cause conflicts from which poor people are the first to
19. Most often, environmental migrants are clustered in very small,
unsuitable areas. In some cases, the meagre resources available
to them rapidly run out and this only serves to make their situation
20. For example, in the isolated regions of Ethiopia’s fertile
highlands, there is a camp along a dried-up river bed just outside
the old Muslim city of Harar inhabited by some 5 000 Somalis of
different ethnic backgrounds who were forced to leave the region
of Ogaden because of internal conflicts over water.
21. Very often women and children are attacked when they go to
fetch water or take their livestock to drink at springs or water
holes, forcing them to abandon their homes and take refuge in churches
4 Water – a new battleground
22. The last water war was fought 4 500 years ago in
Mesopotamia. In modern times, internal conflicts continue to develop
as water supplies reach their usable limits. According to some experts,
more than 50 countries on five continents will soon be involved
in conflicts over water unless decisions are taken promptly about
sharing arrangements for international rivers.
23. Very often two causes lie behind these conflicts. The first
is a rapid or major change in the physical environment of a river
basin (through the construction of a dam or the diversion of a river)
or its political context (through the breaking up of nations) and
the second, poor management by existing institutions, particularly where
there is no treaty establishing each nation’s responsibilities and
24. Yet if the right measures are taken, a dam can contribute
to development, notably by regulating the water supply, limiting
flooding, improving navigation and, in particular, producing electricity.
According to the World Commission on Dams, there are currently some
45 000 dams in the world. In ten years, hydroelectric power generation,
which does not emit any greenhouse gases or produce any toxic waste,
has increased by some 20%. There are, however, three impediments
to the growth of this energy source: dams are accused of disturbing
ecological balances upstream and downstream, causing large-scale
population movements and preventing the breeding of certain fish
species. At international level, treating water as a renewable energy source
does not fail to raise certain problems.
25. According to United Nations figures, there are 263 international
water basins (rivers, lakes or groundwater) shared by two countries
or more. These basins account for 60% of world water reserves and
40% of the world population live nearby. Where there are water shortages,
upstream installations on an international watercourse can have
an impact on water quality or availability for neighbouring states,
which may ultimately be a source of tension and conflict.
26. According to some experts, the danger lies less in water shortages
themselves than in the temptation for countries to try to control
international watercourses. Turkey, for example, is financing the
South-Eastern Anatolia Project (or GAP), which involves the construction
of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric plants on the Tigris and the Euphrates,
which supplied about 22% of Turkish electricity in 2010. The construction
of these dams enables Turkey to control the flow of water downstream
towards Syria and Iraq, increasing these countries’ dependence on
Turkish water sources. Relations between Turkey on the one hand
and Syria and Iraq on the other have deteriorated considerably since
the launch of the project. In the ecological sphere, scientists
have detected a pronounced salinisation of the land downstream,
which will cause major changes to the region’s ecosystem.
27. Water shortage undoubtedly leads to acts of violence and conflicts
which may threaten a state’s political and social stability. The
civil conflicts of today go beyond borders and are behind tomorrow’s
28. Wrangling between states over water gives rise to regional
tensions, impedes economic development and runs the risk of causing
more major conflicts.
29. It should be recalled that the International Court of Justice
has an important role to play, although it cannot impose decisions
on parties which have not sought its arbitration. It is suitably
equipped to work towards the settlement of global disputes, according
to well-defined criteria of interpretation (Article 38 of its statute).
30. It has to be stressed that experts on international security
have often ignored or underestimated the real and complex link between
water and security.
31. At the end of the 1980s, the Pacific Institute set up a scheme
to record and collate events relating to water and conflicts.
32. Recent events in the Middle East, the Balkans, East Timor
and other parts of the world have added new data, as can be seen
33. In this way, water has become a military and political tool,
but unfortunately also a weapon for terrorists.
34. Whereas international security and international and regional
policies are always changing, there is one constant, namely that
water is essential to life, and the measures introduced to meet
water needs and demand depend most of the time on political decision
35. Internal water stress also has an influence on international
political alliances, which merely exacerbate the burden of humanitarian
crises. Countries normally adapt to water stress by importing the
bulk of their food, enabling them to allocate a larger share of
their drinking water to cities and industry.
36. According to the experts, over the next fifteen years, more
and more people will be living in countries experiencing water stress,
and more and more countries will be forced to swell the ranks of
food importers, resulting in an increase in wheat prices and, in
poor countries, major famine and an increased need for humanitarian
37. Although full privatisation, in other words complete divestiture
(including the transfer of assets) is the exception rather than
the norm, privatisation of the water supply can also result in increased
costs and a reduction in subsidies. In Bolivia, for example, following
the privatisation of the water supply system in Cochahamba, water
costs reached unprecedented heights, with water bills for certain
residents amounting to a quarter or more of their income, causing
38. The water industry is now the third largest in the world after
oil and electricity, but its vital role and its scarcity will soon
make it the main potential source of profit.
39. In the United Nations General Assembly, Venezuela has condemned
the privatisation of water as a factor of conflict. Development
of the private sector allegedly carries a risk of community confrontations. Commercialisation
of an asset such as water in fact presents the danger that economic
interests may continue to take precedence over environmental issues.
The intensity of the debate between advocates and critics of private
sector involvement has perhaps obscured the success of this form
of management. Reports by the World Bank (the Gassner report) and
the OECD have highlighted productivity gains and improvements to household
water supply and sanitation connections. Nevertheless, if certain
states decide to rely on multinational corporations to manage their
water resources, it is up to governments to award private enterprise limited
leases (fixed-term, for example), in addition to a stringent regulatory
framework and mechanisms of complaint and accountability. The independent
expert’s report to the Human Rights Council (29 June 2010) thus
points out that “states have a duty to regulate and monitor providers
that they involve in service delivery … When the state does not
directly provide services, its role nevertheless remains obligatory
40. Participation by the private sector must be regulated. The
2008 report to the Human Rights Council includes a description of
a strategic framework founded on three principles: the duty of states
to protect people from human rights abuses by third parties, the
responsibility of companies to respect human rights, and the need
for access to effective remedies and grievance mechanisms to address
alleged human rights violations.
41. In the United States, the former Republican administration
refused to ban the harmful chemical, atrazine, now prohibited in
Europe, which is found among other substances in tap water. Nestlé
and other bottled water producers are engaged in frantic competition
to corner this increasingly lucrative market even if it means ravaging
springs and rivers.
5 The various causes of lack of and growing demand
42. The internationalisation of finance and trade has
repercussions on world trends, including the demand for and the
consumption of natural resources. Globalisation has caused an increase
in demand for water due in particular to the expansion and acceleration
43. This is compounded by the problem of limited water stocks.
Although overall water stocks are currently sufficient to meet demand,
consumption is increasing, meaning that shortages will be felt in
the next few years. There are three main reasons for the dwindling
of fresh water resources: irrigation, wastage and pollution.
44. Irrigation is a major problem, since this practice represents
nearly 70% of world supplies of renewable water. Irrigation directly
affects the employment of hundreds of millions of farmers for whom
the harvest is the chief source of income. It is therefore necessary
to invest in more efficient irrigation systems; many of them, such
as gravity sprinkle irrigation or drip systems, have proved effective
for controlling the watering of fields. Developing countries form
the majority of the agricultural countries, so technology transfers
should be supported and fostered. For example, Algeria, Morocco
and Tunisia lie below the water shortage threshold set by the United
Nations. The agricultural sector accounts for about 80% of water
use in the Maghreb and half of this is lost to evaporation from
reservoirs and supply ditches or inefficient irrigation techniques.
Another important consideration is crop choice. Many people consider
Morocco’s decision to opt for export-based forms of agriculture
with high energy consumptions, such as tomato growing, to be ecologically
unsound given that there are many other types of crop that require
45. To combat wastage of water resources, it is necessary to modernise
the supply systems, particularly in the developing countries where
infrastructures are often outdated. In the rich countries, growing
urbanisation and the use of appliances with a high water consumption,
such as dishwashers, result in a rapid reduction in the quantity
of water available.
46. Pollution is a consequence of this growing urbanisation and
of industrialisation, particularly owing to factory and transport
effluent and emissions. These increase the level of toxic substances
in running water. Mismanagement of irrigation can also cause seepage
of chemicals (pesticides, nitrates, etc.) into the ground, and salinisation
47. Furthermore, the world population should reach about 9.3 billion
by 2050 and all of these people will need food, housing, clothing
and energy. Unfortunately, several of the countries with very high
population growth rates are located in areas where there is not
enough water. Water shortages have already made themselves felt
in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Many states thus have
less than 1 700 m3/inhabitant/year of fresh water and are therefore
in a situation of water stress. Some 20 states are below the threshold
of 1 000 m3/inhabitant/year and therefore in a situation of shortage
(particularly in Africa and the Middle East). This may result in
increased competition in future years, eventually leading to conflicts.
48. These quarrels often break out in poor, divided countries
with only one or two sources of wealth. In these countries, whoever
controls the water supply is likely to become very rich whereas
all the other inhabitants are destined to live in poverty. In developed
countries, water resources are controlled by the government and distributed
fairly among the inhabitants. In developing countries, interest
groups or gang leaders fight over these sources of wealth. Tensions
are seen to be encouraged where water management problems are compounded
by ethnic and/or religious differences, causing intercommunity confrontations.
6 A few prominent examples
6.1 The Middle East
49. In the age of rockets and long-range missiles, Israel’s
desire to continue to occupy the Syrian territory of the Golan Heights
to the east of Lake Tiberias, which it has held since the Six-Day
War of 1967, does not and never did have much to do with any military
strategy of protection or dissuasion. The real goal is quite simply to
secure control over a huge reservoir of water covering some 1 150
square kilometres, which, according to United Nations figures, provides
about 500 million cubic metres per year, much of which is said to
be piped into the Negev Desert. About 70% of the water which flows
into the lake is pumped out and routed to Israel. The occupation
of the Golan Heights also has the effect of keeping the Syrian border
away from the lake shores and hence the water. This reserve is vital
for the region and, directly or indirectly, the Israelis, the Palestinians and
the Jordanians all tap into it.
50. Thus, it often happens that behind such confrontations, there
are significant yet largely overlooked small-scale conflicts for
the control of a resource on which agricultural development and
thus all life in the region depends.
51. The Oslo Accords of 1995 failed to resolve the question of
water distribution in times of peace, despite the fact that, along
with the Lebanon, four countries – Israel, Jordan, Syria and the
Palestinian Territories – depend on the Jordan River Basin.
52. The sharing of the waters of the Jordan and its tributaries
provides a background, a pretext and an explanation for many confrontations,
particularly as regards settlement in the occupied territories,
whereas Article 12 of the Oslo Accords stipulated that questions
of water, like those of noise, sanitation and the protection of
flora, fauna and migratory species, should be settled outside the
sphere of political debate and conflict.
53. Clearly, this kind of conflict would not occur if the region
had plenty of water and the rains were not so irregular. Fears linked
with water resources are such that the Israelis regularly accuse
the Palestinians of poisoning or plugging springs. Conversely, the
Palestinian Authority sometimes claims that Israel occupied southern
Lebanon for so many years because it wished to construct an underground
diversion of the coastal River Litani, which rises in the Lebanese
Bekaa plain but abruptly changes direction towards the west and
the sea a few kilometres short of Israel’s northern border. It also
accuses Israel of covertly pumping water here, there and everywhere.
54. These are outright water wars, which are hard fought and vital
for the local communities.
55. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has drawn
public attention to the critical situation as regards access to
water for the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, where a large part
of the population does not have direct access to drinking water
and has to rely on water bought from private suppliers.
56. According to the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination
of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as a result of the Israeli military
assault organised under the code name Operation Cast Lead, 150 000
inhabitants of Gaza are still affected by insufficient water supply,
50 000 have no water at all while the others receive water only once
every five or six days.
57. Gaza municipality has been forced to pump tonnes of sewage
directly into the sea to avoid contaminating groundwater and drinking
6.2 The Caucasus
58. The largest river of the Caucasus is the Aras. It
flows along the borders of Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran
into the Kura River. It is thus a source of drinking water for a
large number of states, but it is polluted by millions of tonnes
of sewage and industrial waste. Furthermore, it is predicted that
within ten years there will be severe water shortages in this region.
These tensions over water are further aggravated by the poor relations
arising from other conflicts in the region.
59. In 2000, thousands of Chinese farmers defied the
police over a government plan to recover the run-off from a local
reservoir to supply cities and industry and for other purposes.
For a long time the farmers had been using the water from the Yellow
River and a drought had made water supply an even more critical
issue than usual.
60. Disputes have arisen in the provinces around the downstream
section of the river basin, where there is practically no more water.
The lower course of the Yellow River has experienced periods of
total drought, which have been getting longer and longer for some
61. The Salween River flows from southern China through Myanmar
(Burma) into Thailand. Each of these nations is planning dam construction
and development projects along the river, none of which are compatible. Furthermore,
China has shown little interest in water sharing. It was one of
only three countries to vote against a 1997 United Nations Convention
establishing guidelines and principles on the use of international
7 Promoting a responsible approach in order to preserve
62. Whereas the world population has more than tripled
since the beginning of the 20th century, water use has increased
six fold. In the next fifty years, the world population will have
increased by another 40% to 50%. This population growth, combined
with industrialisation and urbanisation, will result in vastly increased
water needs, which will have many effects on the environment.
63. The situation is made all the more dramatic by the fact that
the rise in water consumption for human needs not only causes a
reduction in the water available for industrial and agricultural
development but also poses a major threat to aquatic ecosystems
and species. As a result, ecosystems are no longer able to preserve
64. The question that arises then is whether there is enough water
to prevent water shortages from being added to all the other reasons
for making war.
65. Fresh water is a limited, fragile resource but one which is
vital for humankind. However, one in six of the world’s inhabitants
still does not have access to water, while nearly one person in
two has to live without a waste-water drainage system.
66. Global warming will increase evaporation and seriously reduce
precipitation by up to 20% in the Middle East and North Africa,
and the ration of water available per person will almost certainly
have decreased by half in these regions by mid-century.
67. A total of 260 river basins shared by two or more countries
have been catalogued. In the absence of agreements or treaties between
these countries, it is likely that cross-border conflicts will come
about. Major projects which are not combined with regional co-operation
programmes can cause conflicts.
68. Because of the pressure on the Aral Sea, its surface area
has halved and two thirds of its water volume has been lost; 36 000
square kilometres of the former seabed are now salt flats.
69. This rapid depletion of a resource that is essential to human
life will cause tensions and exacerbate conflicts throughout the
world, fuelling a vicious circle. For example, in developing countries
it is to be feared that the depletion of “white gold” may cause
deterioration of farming conditions and lowering of small farmers’ living
standards. This may prompt them to leave their home regions for
the towns, where the public authorities cannot afford to construct
the necessary infrastructure. Discontent may result, and hence recourse
to violence as an outlet for the despair of these displaced populations.
The role of water shortage in the degradation of the social fabric
is therefore not to be overlooked.
70. Consequently, there is now an urgent need to take measures
to make sure that states have sufficient quantities of water available
to them and ensure that this water has all the requisite healthful
and hygienic qualities.
71. On 28 July 2010, the United Nations declared access to water
and sanitation for meeting basic human needs to be a fundamental
human right (at Bolivia’s instigation) (Resolution A/RES/64/292).
On 30 September 2010, the Human Rights Council declared in turn
that “the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived
from the right to an adequate standard of living and inextricably
related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical
and mental health, as well as the right to life and human dignity”
(A/HRC/RES/15/9). It reaffirmed that “states have the primary responsibility
to ensure the full realisation of all human rights”. Accordingly,
the state must ensure that water is provided free of charge, or
at least at a price that their most disadvantaged citizens can afford.
By contrast, the supply of water as a luxury good to fill swimming
pools or wash cars should be considered a private economic commodity,
and made available in accordance with market laws.
72. Proper management of water resources should be viewed as a
factor that is conducive to peace and which is essential to avoid
lack of this vital resource becoming a geostrategic issue capable
of provoking armed conflicts. In this respect, the role of local
and regional authorities is primordial and decision makers must
strive to invest in, and ensure that the population is provided
with, a good quality water treatment system.
73. Although reliable information is often difficult to obtain,
a data base containing meteorological, hydrological and socio-economic
information is still the best means of achieving effective long-term management.
Tensions between states can arise when data are not properly shared
or are misused to block development plans. Disparities in the capacity
to process and share data may also hinder co-operation.
8 Conclusions and recommendations
74. Clearly, plans need to be made for the intelligent
future management of water resources, bearing in mind that water
has always created ties between people and brought them together.
However, this depends largely on the goodwill of governments.
75. In the light of the above considerations, it would appear
to be a matter of urgent necessity for states to recognise that
access to water is a fundamental human right.