must not become new conflict commodity, says international
By Elaine Lies
OTSU, Japan On the day that war broke out in Iraq, delegates
at an international forum warned on Thursday that water
must not be allowed to become another cause for conflict
as shortages grow in the coming decades.
Participants at the World Water Forum in the western Japanese
city of Kyoto said that water is a far more important
commodity than the oil some say is behind the U.S. war
in Iraq, and has an equally deadly potential as a source
"Water is an inalienable human right. Water is life,"
said Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet
Union and now head of Green Cross, a nongovernmental organization.
"People are sometimes willing to do anything to
get water," he told a seminar. "There could
be grave consequences of this."
Others at the forum in the ancient Japanese capital were
"Water cannot be looked on as the next gold or oil,"
said Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of famed oceanographer
Jacques Cousteau. "Greed is not possible. There are
alternatives to oil, but there are no substitutes for
By 2050, water shortages brought on by booming populations,
pollution, and global warming, will affect between 2 billion
and 7 billion people around the world out of a projected
population then of about 9.3 billion.
The conference was aimed at putting in place a framework
to deal with the worsening water crisis, although pledges
of funds from governments have yet to materialise.
The outbreak of war in Iraq may make it even harder for
the meeting to bridge political differences blocking an
agreement over water programmes.
Although organizers have said the week-long conference
will not be cut short, some delegates, including the Iraqis,
have already decided to go home early.
"Peace is absolutely essential," said Mohamed
El Yazghi, Moroccan minister for Infrastructure, Water,
and Environment. "We in the Arab world need peace
so we can manage our water resources for the good of our
CENTURIES OF CONFLICT
Conflict over water has shadowed the world for centuries.
The bone-dry Middle East is notorious in this regard,
as is Africa, but water friction has also hurt relations
between Singapore and Malaysia, the main water source
for the city state.
Particularly tricky are cases where one river, or river
system, provides water to many nations, some of whom may
be steadfast political or ideological opponents.
"Certain states use their dominant situation in
the river basin to create situations of conflict,"
There is special concern surrounding the Tigris and Euphrates
rivers, which rise in Turkey and flow through Syria before
providing much of the water available to Iraq, along with
the perennial flashpoint of Israel and its neighbours.
Water has sometimes been a rare point of cooperation
in otherwise unfriendly relations. India and Pakistan
concluded an accord on the water of the Indus river in
1960 that remains a global benchmark for how things can
"Water-related conflicts can be prevented if humanity
recognises that water can be a learning ground for conflict
resolution," said Andras Szollosi-Nagy, Deputy Assistant
Director General at UNESCO, the United Nation's cultural