Water Week: Water Conflicts Abroad and At Home

Background and the Syrian Water Conflicts
By Florence

Access to fresh water is becoming a critical public health issue. Less than 0.01% of water in the world is available for use by humans. For many nations, access to fresh water is an economic, social, and human rights issue.

The major underlying reasons for water conflicts are:

  1. Low rainfall, inadequate water supply, and dependency on one major water source
  2. Rapid population growth and urbanization
  3. Modernization and industrialization
  4. History of armed combat and poor relations between countries and among groups within countries

Water scarcity alone is infrequently the cause of armed water conflict. More immediate causes include sociopolitical tensions and disputes over dams, reservoirs, and other large-scale projects.

Water Conflict in Syria
Water Blog 2.2
Water has played a critical role in the escalation of the Syrian civil war that has been ongoing since 2011. From 1900 to 2005, there have been six significant droughts in Syria. Factors related to severe drought, multiyear crop failures, and subsequent economic deterioration have led to significant dislocation and migration of rural communities to cities. This has contributed to urban unemployment, social unrest, and further economic deterioration.

With growing unrest in Syria, there were intentional attacks on water systems and hydroelectric dams because of their strategic value. For example, in 2012, during fighting around the city of Aleppo, the major pipeline delivering water to the city was badly damaged and approximately three million people suffered drinking water shortages.

Preventing Water Conflicts
Water Blog 2.3
Several possible approaches can be used to prevent water conflicts:

  1. Reduce wasteful water use and increase efficient water use
  2. Increase availability of clean water, such as by reducing industrial pollution and sewage contamination
  3. Establish and maintain new groundwater wells
  4. Design and implement improved methods of desalinization
  5. Expand use of grey water (i.e. wastewater from domestic activities that can be recycled)
  6. Implement laws and regulations at the local, state or provincial, national, and international levels
  7. Proactive cooperation among nations and/or states or provinces within nations

Ensuring equitable access to freshwater will ultimately reduce the likelihood of water conflicts and contribute to sustainable peace. 

Canadian Indigenous Water Protection
By Keira
Water Blog 2.4.pngMany Canadians take clean, running water for granted. For most people, including myself, the prospect of needing to boil water before it is safe to drink has never even crossed our minds. However, the right to water is a very real issue right here in our backyards. Every single boil water advisory in Canada is on Indigenous territory – and many people know nothing about it.
Water Blog 2.5This is a photo of the Shoal Lake #40 reserve, which is accessible by ferry. This lake provides the drinking water for the entire city of Winnipeg, Manitoba – but the people of Shoal Lake #40 have been under a boil water advisory for a long time, due to the Government of Canada failing to replace their inadequate water treatment system. In fact, the main cause of drinking water problems in First Nations is underfunding from the federal government.

“How can there be any reconciliation in a country where this kind of inequality is acceptable?”
– Shoal Lake 40 Chief Erwin Redsky

As of January 2018, 91 First Nations communities in Canada were under long term drinking water advisories. This does not include First Nations in British Columbia, or First Nations without any drinking water systems at all.

What is Being Done?
Water Blog 2.6
Autumn Peltier, a teenage water activist from Wiikwemkoong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, addressed the United Nations General Assembly in March 2018 in order to advocate for water protection in Canada’s Indigenous communities. Two years prior, Peltier confronted Justin Trudeau about his “broken promises” at a meeting of the Assembly of First Nations. The Government of Canada has committed to eliminating all First Nations drinking water advisories by 2021 by investing in long overdue maintenance and repairs.

Florence Liu and Keira Ostrosser
Sustain SU Ambassadors

Syllabus: Global Economics of Water. https://www.europenowjournal.org/2016/12/10/syllabus-global-economics-of-water/
Syria conflict: Air strikes leave Aleppo ‘without water’.  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37460849
Water Diplomacy: An Approach to Prevent and Resolve Conflict. https://www.thehagueinstituteforglobaljustice.org/latest-insights/latest-insights/commentary/water-diplomacy-an-approach-to-prevent-and-resolve-conflict/
Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria. https://www.jstor.org/stable/24907379?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
Water Rights and Water Fights: Preventing and Resolving Conflicts Before They Boil Over. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3076402/#!po=16.6667
Truths of reconciliation: Canadians are deeply divided on how best to address Indigenous issues http://angusreid.org/indigenous-canada/
Amnesty International: The Right to Water https://www.amnesty.ca/our-work/issues/indigenous-peoples/indigenous-peoples-in-canada/the-right-to-water
National Post: ‘It’s time for action’: Indigenous water activist Autumn Peltier to speak at UN forum https://nationalpost.com/news/national/indigenous-water-activist-to-speak-at-un-as-part-of-youth-led-climate-movement
Cover photo https://thereview.ca/2019/05/17/weekend-rainfall-forecast-expected-to-affect-on-water-levels/





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