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What is a Water Dispute?

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  • Written By: V. Saxena
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 06 December 2016
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A water dispute, also known as a water conflict, is a conflict between two or more parties over access to both freshwater and saltwater resources. It typically occurs between large entities such as countries, states, and groups. In addition, it is usually solved through negotiations and diplomacy, but it can create a great deal of tension that in due time, may erupt into a full-scale war. In such cases, however, the water dispute is typically just one factor among many others.

The reason water disputes occur is due to the limited nature of water, especially freshwater, which is a limited resource in many areas of the world. In particular, there are three primary types of water rights disputes including those related to conflicting goals, factual disagreements, and distrustful relationships. All three can be resolved through diplomacy, but they each also pose a risk of war.

Conflicting goals is a main cause of water disputes. These disputes tend to be smaller and more micro-based, though they often times do end up drawing intentional attention. For example, a company might want to build a dam, which could anger the local population who feels it would endanger their immediate environment. Such water disputes are especially common in countries with extremely large populations, such as China and India.

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Another form of a water rights dispute is one wherein parties disagree over perceived facts. Such a dispute typically arises due to bias. In most cases, each side of the conflict has a completely different set of biased information to back up their arguments. For instance, the company mentioned above may concern itself with potential profit and the ability to help the local economy by constructing a dam, while local residents instead cite the risk of environmental damage.

This third type of water dispute is a power struggle, often between two different countries or factions within a country. These conflicts relate directly to two powerful entities or parties who disagree over water ownership rights, and it is the type of dispute that can and sometimes does lead to war. In such a dispute, two parties compete over water resources by using their financial clout and spreading propaganda through the media.

A water dispute can be quite difficult to resolve, especially if it is one pertaining to power. Resolving any water dispute often requires a compromise in which both parties make a sacrifice. The goal is to accommodate part of each entity’s needs. As the world’s water supply continues to diminish, solving such disputes will likely become more and more difficult.

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