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From Potential Conflict to Co-operation Potential:
Water for Peace

United Nations
Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organization


Conflict and Cooperation related to
International Water Resources:
Historical Perspectives

Selected Papers of the
International Water History Association’s Conference on

The Role of Water in History andDevelopment
Bergen, Norway 10-12 August 2001

Edited by S. Castelein and A. Otte

A contribution to IHP-VI, Theme 4 “Water and Society”and
the UNESCO / Green Cross International initiative
From Potential Conflict to Co-operation Potential: Water for Peace,
a sub-component of the World Water Assessment Programme

IHP-VI  Technical Documents in Hydrology (TDH)  No. 62
UNESCO, Paris, 2002(SC-2002/WS/53)

The designations employed and the presentation of
material throughout the publication do not imply the
expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of
UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country,
territory, city or of its authorities, or concerning the
delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.


by Andras Szöllösi-Nagy
Secretary of theInternational Hydrological Programme and
Deputy Assistant Director General for Natural Sciences,
The recent World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held from 26 August to
4 September 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa has, once more, pointed out that the signs of a
looming water crisis are evident. Since water is essential to every aspect of life, this crisis will likely
affecteverything—health, human rights, environment, economy, welfare, politics, culture—and will
be, therefore, well beyond the scope of any individual country or sector to deal with unilaterally.
To take appropriate action is particularly urgent in the 261 river basins which are shared by two or
more states. These basins include nearly half of the territory and population of the world. Indeed,
giventhe multifaceted and often transboundary nature of the diminishing water resources of the
Earth and their variable occurrence in time and space, many people fear an increase in inter-state
tensions, and some even allege that such tensions will inevitably lead to armed conflicts.
Certainly, tensions have arisen over the use of water resources. A growing number of states are
experiencingpermanent water stress, and the mechanisms and institutions needed to manage
disputes over water resources are often absent or inadequate. However, historical evidence shows
that water has rarely been the primary reason for armed conflicts between sovereign states. On the
contrary, it is precisely due to its essential nature that freshwater was and continues to be a powerful
incentive and catalystfor cooperation.
Water as a potential cause of conflicts and water as an agent of cooperation can be seen as two sides
of the same coin. Yet it requires determination and intervention to have the cooperative side prevail.
The need to find integrated, cooperative and culturally adapted solutions which take into account
the diversity of human interactions with water constitutes clearly animperative of international
scientific and political cooperation. In response to this challenge, the current, Sixth phase of
UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (IHP-VI) focusses on “Water Interactions:
Systems at Risk and Social Challenges”.
In this perspective, IHP-VI has launched the preparation of the multivolume “History of Water and
Civilization” as a tool to raise the awarenessabout the political and socio-cultural functions of
water. IHP and the International Water History Association (IWHA) cooperate closely in this
endeavor. Indeed, IHP supported the second IWHA Conference on "The Role of Water in History
and Development" held in August 2001 in Bergen, Norway. Most of the articles constituting this
volume have been presented at that occasion.
Furthermore, IHP...
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