Could water scarcity cause international conflict?
Some have predicted that conflicts over water scarcity are inevitable, but what does the record show?
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But really, as others have noted , what's remarkable about water wars is how many don't occur. In fact, according to an essay by Michael E. Campana, director of the Institute for Water and Watershed, at Seed Magazine's site, the only international conflict over water ever was the one referenced above between Lagash and Umma 4,500 years ago.Skip to next paragraph
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And that raises an oft-overlooked facet of water scarcity. Experts say that while the potential for international conflict over water certainly exists, international water crises are usually resolved peacefully. The real potential for water conflicts is intra-national (within-country.)
That same year, officials in the province of Guangdong blew up a water conduit, unintentionally killing six people. Their goal: to stop a nearby county from taking water for a power station.
Likewise, some surmise that China's claim on the Tibetan Plateau may have less to do with its being historically a region of China, the oft-cited justification, than with the China's desire to secure more water.
After all, one-quarter of China is desert. The plateau, meanwhile, has an abundance of glaciers.
The US has its own version of these in-country conflicts. The Southeastern states of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida have longstanding disagreements over water — they are in federal court over water rights — and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has emphasized the state's rights to use water that falls within its borders, despite claims by neighboring Florida and Alabama.
But with continued population growth in the sunny Southwest, the truth may be slightly different.
In 2007, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson caused some to gasp when he suggested that water piped in from the Great Lakes might help solve some of the Southwest's water shortage problems.
Hugh McDiarmid Jr. of the Michigan Environmental Council responded in a press release: "Mr. Richardson and his constituents in New Mexico are welcome to reasonable use of Great Lakes water. ... All they have to do is move to the Great Lakes region."