Thursday, April 2, 2009

More Waterblogging

Jack Shafer of Slate has posted a neat piece that attempts to dispel the myth that water shortages can lead to armed combat:

Water scarcity in the [Middle East] results in "conflict and tension," Barnaby adds, but the Israeli and the Palestinian officials have successfully used a committee (controlled by the Israelis) to peacefully resolve problems. In other places where competition for water should theoretically escalate into violence, Barnaby finds similar resolution. Egypt has become more fluid in its relations with its water neighbors because it wants to improve the climate for trade. Similarly, India and Pakistan, which war with each other with the same frequency that other nations exchange sister cities, have so far used a World Bank-arbitrated treaty to make water peace.

Shafer makes much of the fact that  "in the last five decades there have been no formal declarations of war over water."  He seems to be arguing that there's something so special about water that otherwise warring factions are willing to compromise over its allocation.  Of course, it's also possible that global water scarcity is just beginning.  We're only starting to come around to the idea that water is a market based commodity and that water shortages can limit a country's development.  Moreover, the article ignores the violence that erupted in Cochabamba, Bolivia when that city tried to solve its water problems through market pricing.   It's an interesting piece, but ultimately unsatisfactory. 

Steve Clowney

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