“Whisky is for drinking, water is for fighting over,” Mark Twain once said. At the start of the 21st century, his gloomy view on the water side of the equation has been getting endorsements from an impressive — if unlikely — cast of characters. The Central Intelligence Agency, the accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and, most recently, Britain’s Ministry of Defense have all raised the specter of future “water wars.” With water availability shrinking across the Middle East, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, so the argument runs, violent conflict between states is increasingly likely.
The specter is also on the agenda for the experts from 140 countries gathered this week at the annual World Water Week forum in Stockholm. Meetings of water experts are not obvious forums for debating issues of global peace and security. But the ghost of Mark Twain is in Stockholm this week as we reflect on the links between water scarcity and violent conflict between states. So, here’s the question. Are we heading for an era of “hydrological warfare” in which rivers, lakes and aquifers become national security assets to be fought over? Or can water act as a force for peace and cooperation?
Water conflicts are invariably shaped by local factors. But the sheer scale of these conflicts makes it impossible to dismiss them as isolated events. What we are dealing with is a global crisis generated by decades of gross mismanagement of water resources. The facts behind the crisis tell their own story. By 2025, more than two billion people are expected to live in countries that find it difficult or impossible to mobilize the water resources needed to meet the needs of agriculture, industry and households. Population growth, urbanization and the rapid development of manufacturing industries are relentlessly increasing demand for finite water resources. The threats posed by competition for water are real enough — but for every threat there is an opportunity. Cooperation tends to attract less news than violent conflict. Perhaps that is why “water wars” get such exaggerated coverage. Yet cooperation over water is far more widespread than conflict.
How can the world move toward a future of cooperation rather than conflict on water? We believe that there are three broad rules. First, governments have to stop treating water as an infinitely available resource to be exploited without reference to ecological sustainability. Yes, water is scarce in many countries. But the scarcity is the product of poor economic policies. Improving the efficiency of water use and encouraging conservation through pricing and more efficient technologies in agriculture and industry would help reduce scarcity. Second, countries must avoid unilateralism. Any major upstream alteration to a river system, or increase in use of shared groundwater, should be negotiated, not imposed. Governments should look beyond national borders to basin-wide cooperation. Building strong river-basin institutions could provide a framework for identifying and exploiting opportunities for cooperation. Third, political leaders need to get involved. Too often, dialogue on transboundary water management is dominated by technical experts. Whatever their level of expertise, dedication and professionalism, the absence of political leadership tends to limit the scope for far-reaching cooperation.
The most obvious reason for greater political and financial investment in transboundary water cooperation is spelled out in an unlikely source. “By means of water,” says the Koran, “we give life to everything.” As a single human community sharing a single planet, we need to look beyond our national borders to work out ways of sustaining the ecological systems on which human progress depends. By means of water, perhaps we can display a capacity for resolving problems and sustaining through cooperation.
馬克·吐溫說過，“威士忌是供飲用的，水是用來搶奪的。”他對水所持的悲觀看法，到了 21 世紀初，卻受到一批如不可能卻引人注目的人物的贊同。美國中央情報局、普華永道會計師事務所，以及最近英國國防部，都談到將來“為水而戰”的可怕景象。根據他們的說法，由于中東、亞洲以及非洲小撒哈拉地區可用水量日漸減少，國家間發生暴力沖突的可能性日益增大。
本周有 140 個國家的專家云集斯德哥爾摩，舉行世界水周論壇年會。上述可怕景象也反映在年會的議程上。水專家的會議顯然不是討論世界和平與安全問題的論壇。然而，馬克·吐溫的幽靈本周來到了斯德哥爾摩，因為我們要反映水荒和國家間的暴力沖突的關系。這樣問題就來了。難道說我們正走向“為水而戰”的時代，河流、湖泊和地下蓄水層都成為需要爭奪的國家安全資產?還是說水可以成為一支和平與合作的力量?
關于水的沖突總是由局部地區的多種因素引發的。但看一看這些沖突的純粹規模，讓人不能把它們看作是孤立的事件，而不予重視。我們當前面對的是一場全球性危機，這種危機是幾十年來對水資源管理不當而造成的。危機背后的事實最能說明問題。預計到 2025 年，在兩億多人生活的那些國家將無法或難以開發足夠的水資源，以滿足農業、工業和生活用水的需求。人口增長、城市化、制造業的迅猛發展都對有限的水資源毫不留情地提出越來越大的需求。爭水的威脅確實存在，但每個威脅都會帶來一個機遇。合作往往比暴力沖突吸引更少的新聞報導。也許正是因為這個原因，“為水而戰”才受到那樣言過其實的報道。然而，在水的問題上進行的合作要比它引起的沖突更為廣泛。