International conflict over fresh water resources: the formulation of preventive and interventive guidelines
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The pressures of human society on available water resources lead to the grave and everworsening scarcity of this resource, which locally and internationally, strains policy and institutional capacity to deal with the issue cooperatively. While conflict over fresh water, to the extent even of war, is not generally characteristic of relations over water, tension is nevertheless felt between countries over various issues surrounding access to water. It is thus imperative to determine the nature and extent of issues that may give rise to future tension and conflict over freshwater resources. Given the above situation, this study aimed to meet the following objectives: - To gain in-depth understanding of the social, economic and political dynamics that underlie current relations over water, globally and more specifically in the Southern African region. - To assess current ways in which water issues are being addressed at the international and the regional level, by focusing on the existing global and regional policy frameworks for dealing with water scarcity. - To assess the institutional frameworks within which water issues are currently being dealt with at the international and the regional levels. - To develop a set of policy guidelines that can be used to facilitate cooperation over water issues in Southern Africa. The research design of this study was qualitative and interpretative, and four sources of information were utilised in data collection, namely primary and secondary literature sources; secondary demographic and environmental data; policy and legislative documents; and, information obtained from personal key-informant interviews. The following conclusions were drawn from the study - The dominant social paradigm underlying decision making with regard to natural resources does not support closer cooperation over fresh water. - The emphasis on political sovereignty in policy is inconsistent with the international commitment to cooperation over freshwater resources. - The policy obligation of equitable distribution of water between sectors and states is hampered by unresolved tensions in policy and institutional frameworks. - As a result of the vagueness with which contentious issues are addressed in international policy, current policy options may neither be adequately able to intervene in nor to prevent conflicts over fresh water. - A lack of both ratification and enforcement of the existing international policy framework renders these instruments powerless to prevent or intervene in future conflicts over fresh water. - Effective cooperation between water-resource institutions is hampered by significant shortcomings in vertical and horizontal communication linkages between such institutions. Recommendations made based on the study are: - A transition needs to be made from a technocentric approach focused on managing the issues arising from water scarcity, to an ecocentric approach focused on radical changes in policy formulation. - Current vague statements and terms in the international policy framework need to be conceptualised more clearly. - Policy makers at the regional and national levels should specifically work toward diffusing subtle tensions in current policy and institutional arrangements through closer integration of sectoral policies. - A regional perspective on the issues of water scarcity, conflict and cooperation over fresh water needs to be strengthened. - In line with the IWRM strategy’s emphasis on decentralisation, appropriate mechanisms need to be found to link institutions horizontally. - The capacity and functioning of multistakeholder platforms in the water sector need to be strengthened.
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