Scarcity and Water Wars: Battling for Knowledge and Treaties

by Soupzilla on November 10, 2017 - 11:50am

              With the increasing relevance of climate change, there are numerous changes to environmental conditions around the world. Whether it be increased natural disasters, changing temperatures, ocean acidification or water scarcity, these have connective traits which span across current governmental boundaries. In an article by the Asia Times, published October 11th, 2017, Brahma Chellaney brought to the World’s attention the power China has over water resources that flow to neighbouring countries.

              China controls numerous upstream river flows through the construction of dams. In addition to this fact, China has not entered any water sharing treaties with downstream countries. This puts pressure on the water resource use and management for countries lower in the watershed. However, the sharing of meteorological data between countries has prevented flooding disasters and fueled resource management in the downstream countries to date. This year China decided to withhold that information about the Brahmaputra river from India leading to devastating flooding in certain states. It was determined this breached a 5 year bilateral accord mandating information sharing to India during the monsoon season. Some other shady information sharing was done with other countries about the Brahmaputra river while information was withheld from India and monitoring excuses were made.

              International interactions between states where power and money are involved leads to greed. China’s actions can be considered selfish and greedy. Effective management of flowing water resources is crucial in this current system to prevent flooding (loss of property and human life). The amount of uncertainty that the management in India has surrounding water flows makes management near impossible. Without knowing the amount of water being discharged from upstream dams there is little option to prevent flooding.

              The types of conflict existing in this situation both create and make the problem worse. This problem arises in the form of conflict of interest. China feels that the meteorological data it collects should only be shared at a price and India and many other countries believe that there should be no cost associated with the data. This ultimately led to China voting no against the 1997 United Nations Watercourse Convention.  The difference in opinion surrounding who should pay for the environmental data leads to initial tension. This type of interaction is sure to breed behavioural conflict between the two countries and act as a barrier to future cooperation. Behavioural conflict stems directly form differences in interactions and poor interactions between two groups.

              With future climate change, political, and ecological uncertainty associated with international interactions it’s clear there are outliers to institutional arrangements such as the United Nations and their agreements. Approaching this type of resource management issues requires international cooperation. The tools for implementing national cooperation can be substantive, procedural, or institutional as discussed in class. However, expanding these to the international scale limits their ability to be effective. China has fallen outside of current international arrangement surrounding water resources. Laws and regulation do not have impacts in other countries unless they agree with them.

              The tools that are left are “soft tools”. Informational instruments, public outreach, and voluntary instrumental are left to convince cooperation. Informational instruments can lead to public shaming and knowledge surrounding poor environmental actions, public outreach encourages action to be made to fix failing arrangements or environmental problems, and voluntary arrangements would let China show they are on the leading edge of climate change regulation and water resource management.

              Water will only become a more valuable resource. Water wars could spark because of climate change and international agreements must be made from cooperation to prevent loss of human life.

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