WWF in 'water wars' warning
Rivers are a much-prized resource and many form or cross national borders
Also In The News
The British foursome of Bradley Wiggins, Ed Clancy, Paul Manning and Geraint Thomas have won the gold medal in cycling's team pursuit.
Tuesday, 19, Aug 2008 08:26
Countries need to act quickly to resolve a "growing water crisis", it has been warned.
But the British government has sought to dampen down concerns that "water wars" are a growing threat to global security.
It was responding to the WWF's call on states to vote in favour of a UN convention on international waterways to prevent future conflicts based around competition for water resources.
Rivers, aquifers and lakes which cross or run alongside national borders form river basins which are home to 40 per cent of the world's population.
As world water week continues in Stockholm, WWF wants governments to act to end the "chaos" which currently governs water management for rivers like the Amazon, Indus, Mekong, Zambezi and Congo.
But the Department for International Development (DfID) told politics.co.uk that the principles of the convention can be applied without accession taking place.
A spokesperson said: "Our experience is that sharing waters are more commonly a point of cooperation rather than conflict and we will continue to work in this area given the increasing demand for water."
The WWF wants countries should sign up to the 1997 UN convention on the law of the non-navigational uses of international watercourses. At the time only China, Turkey and Burundi voted against it.
Subsequently only 16 of the 35 nations required to bring it into force have joined the treaty.
WWF-UK's head of freshwater Dave Tickner said: "This essential treaty has been stalled for more than a decade, largely due to the failure of nations in not signing up to what they long ago agreed to."
"Most of the world's trans-boundary river basins lack adequate legal protection and the world needs a global framework for sustainably managing and preventing disputes over those resources. This is the only such framework available in the timescale to help us deal with a growing water crisis."
A DfID spokesperson disagreed, saying experience to date suggests that water wars are "not immediately likely".
"Take Ethiopia and Egypt, which have negotiated trade agreements following the Nile Basin Initiative," the spokesperson added.
"Now some of the poorest countries in Africa which border the river Nile cooperate on managing the water resources, in turn contributing to peace and stability, economic growth and tackling climate change. This is a result of recognising a common - not conflicting - resource."
Ongoing disputes about water resources suggest the problem is a serious one, however. The biggest rivers draining Asia originate in the Tibetan plateau on Chinese territory; India has recently attacked China for not giving it enough warning about flood dangers. And Turkey disputes dam and irrigation projects for the Tigris and Euphrates.
Despite WWF's praise for the efforts of The Netherlands, Ghana and the Economic Community of West African States its director general James Leape remains concerned about the issue.
"The experts are telling us that rivalries over water will be a significant source of future conflict as indeed, they already are," he said.
"An essential element of the response to our current water crisis and the looming escalation of that crisis is on the shelf and ready to go. All we need is for the world's nations to match their actions on water to their rhetoric."