Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database | Publications

Shira, Yoffe B., Aaron T. Wolf, and Mark Giordano. 2003. Conflict and cooperation over international freshwater resources: indicators of basins at risk. Journal of the American Water Resources Association, vol. 39, no. 5: 1109-1126 [PDF file]

In this paper we seek to identify historical indicators of international freshwater conflict and cooperation and to create a framework to identify and evaluate international river basins at potential risk for future conflict. We derived biophysical, socioeconomic, and geopolitical variables at multiple spatial and temporal scales from GIS datasets of international basins and associated countries, and we tested these variables against a database of historical incidents of international water related cooperation and conflict from 1948 to 1999. International relations over freshwater resources were overwhelmingly cooperative and covered a wide range of issues, including water quantity, water quality, joint management, and hydropower. Conflictive relations tended to center on quantity and infrastructure. No single indicator including climate, water stress, government type, and dependence on water for agriculture or energy explained conflict/cooperation over water. Even indicators showing a significant correlation with water conflict, such as high population density, low per capita GDP, and overall unfriendly international relations, explained only a small percentage of data variability. The most promising sets of indicators for water conflict were those associated with rapid or extreme physical or institutional change within a basin (e.g., large dams or internationalization of a basin) and the key role of institutional mechanisms, such as freshwater treaties, in mitigating such conflict.