Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Opinion: Nations don't go to war over water

Writer Wendy Barnaby has written an essay for academic journal Nature in stead of a book for her publisher as the conclusion on "water wars" wouldn't sell. Some facts...

There are 263 cross-boundary waterways in the world. Between 1948 and 1999, cooperation over water, including the signing of treaties, far outweighed conflict over water and violent conflict in particular. Of 1,831 instances of interactions over international freshwater resources tallied over that time period (including everything from unofficial verbal exchanges to economic agreements or military action), 67% were cooperative, only 28% were conflictive, and the remaining 5% were neutral or insignificant. In those five decades, there were no formal declarations of war over water.

Three examples are explored a bit further: the Israel-Palestine, the India-Pakistan and the Nile water conflict situations. The Nile issue is about how the countries surrounding it were forced into cooperation following years of low level conflicts and the India-Pakistan issue on how cooperation has been set up in a treaty with the help of the World Bank despite the two countries being engaged in an ongoing military conflict. The Israel-Palestine issue is presented a bit weird:
it is foolish for Israel, a water-short country, to grow and then export products such as oranges and avocados, which require a lot of water to cultivate

Yes it is. Israel and most neighbours have water shortages but alleviate it by importing grain. There are a whole bunch of inconvenient truths not mentioned, but one is:
Palestinian and Israeli water professionals interact on a Joint Water Committee, established by the Oslo-II Accords in 1995. It is not an equal partnership: Israel has de facto veto power on the committee.

I'll dig out some more facts soon (in the mean time try my Israel and Palestine tags). But let's just note Wendy Barnaby's main conclusions:

Inequitable access to water resources is a result of the broader conflict and power dynamics: it does not itself cause war [...] predictions of armed conflict come from the media and from popular, non-peer-reviewed work

Undoubtedly true that main stream media is better at sensationalistic headlines than scientific journals. But is this move from simplistic causation to hen-or-egg discussion a bit too easy? I mean demand is very likely to go up, supply very likely to go down. Leading to cooperation or conflict.

water 'embedded' in traded products could be important in explaining the absence of conflict over water [...] as poor countries diversify their economies, they turn away from agriculture and create wealth from industries that use less water. As a country becomes richer, it may require more water overall to sustain its booming population, but it can afford to import food to make up the shortfall

most importantly, improve the conditions of trade for developing countries to strengthen their economies

Sure. That's what the WTO is for, right? ;-)

Barnaby, W. (2009). Do nations go to war over water? Nature, 458 (7236), 282-283 DOI: 10.1038/458282a

Search Google Books for Wendy Barnaby.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Chilean town withers in free market for water

Quillagua is among many small towns that are being swallowed up in the country’s intensifying water wars. Nowhere is the system for buying and selling water more permissive than here in Chile


Some economists have hailed Chile’s water rights trading system, which was established in 1981 during the military dictatorship, as a model of free-market efficiency that allocates water to its highest economic use.

But other academics and environmentalists argue that Chile’s system is unsustainable because it promotes speculation, endangers the environment and allows smaller interests to be muscled out by powerful forces, like Chile’s mining industry.

Economists and military dictatorship vs academics and environmentalists - gee.

unbridled water trading and a two-year drought mean that “there are many more water rights for the river than water that arrives from the river,”

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Killing for Coal: The Ludlow Massacre and more

Coal's been generating controversy for about as long as it's been generating energy.

On April 20th 1914, coal was at the epicenter of the bloodiest battle in US labor history. It's called the Ludlow Massacre, after the mining town in Southern Colorado where coal miners went on strike demanding better conditions. The Colorado National Guard attacked a tent colony of striking miners and their families - 20 people were killed - most, women and children.

Interesting? Move right on to America's Deadliest Labor War which is an interview with the author of Killing for coal professor of history Thomas Andrews.

Also, I put it on the "curriculum". And the Ludlow massacre is on Wikipedia of course.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Video: Israeli Military Shooting Gaza Farmers

18th February 2009 Israeli forces shot a twenty year-old Palestinian farmer as he worked his land in the village of Al-Faraheen, east of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

US Army captain: "eco-friendly practices need to be applied"

On military bases in Iraq, plastic, paper, aerosol cans, Styrofoam plates, food waste, batteries, digital equipment and hygiene products fall under one category: waste. It is simply dumped at the edge of the base, then burned at night, irritating soldiers’ lungs. Untreated wastewater is also haphazardly disposed of and gradually finds its way into Iraq’s waterways, which can pose health risks for Americans on the base and Iraqis who live nearby.


Soldiers at a base in Balad have accused one [waste disposal contractor] of making them ill from burning toxic materials like aircraft fuel and arsenic, and medical waste, including amputated limbs.


our counterinsurgency policy of securing the populace and providing access to essential services can’t be separated from environmental considerations. It’s vital that the people we live among are getting clean water, that farmers are able to grow their crops, that communities aren’t buried under trash.

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