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Dig Deep: Conflict Prevention through Protection of Vital Human Water Needs

ContributorsLeb, Christina
Publication date2010

Deadly disputes over access to boreholes and wells are not uncommon in drought stricken or water scarce regions. Where livelihoods are at stake, human despair can become a cause of violent conflict. The case of Darfur has demonstrated that conflicts that emanate from situations of severe shortages of water do not always remain within local or national boundaries, but can spread across borders. This paper analyzes the contribution of international water law (IWL) to the prevention of conflicts caused at least in part by water scarcity. In line with the topic of the conference, the focus is on recent developments in international groundwater law; particular attention is accorded to recent improvements of legal mechanisms promoting conflict prevention that have been introduced by the 2008 Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers. Where water scarcity constitutes a potential cause for inter-state conflict, the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of transboundary water resources and associated cooperation obligations can serve as useful means to anticipate conflicts. The 2008 Draft Articles have developed the traditional conception of this principle a step further and have recast it into an increasingly forward-looking principle by putting additional emphasis on future uses and intergenerational equity. The paper argues that these small alterations as well as the special weight the Draft Articles accord to vital human water needs in determining equitable and reasonable utilization mark an important contribution to the preventive qualities of IWL. In contrast to the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention, the provisions of the Draft Articles establish legal mechanisms by which the emergence of situations that could lead to conflict is already considered before disputes between users occur. It is argued that such techniques of shaping normative content should be kept in mind in order to anticipate future conflicts when negotiating new groundwater agreements.

  • International water law
  • Human rights
  • Right to water
  • Transboundary water resources
Citation (ISO format)
LEB, Christina. Dig Deep: Conflict Prevention through Protection of Vital Human Water Needs. In: UNESCO Conference: Transboundary Aquifers – Challenges and New Directions. Paris (France). 2010.
Main files (1)
  • PID : unige:17461

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