18 Water at the Heart of Science

Water at the Heart of Science
and Conflicts
Over 260 rivers
and even more aquifers are shared between countries. This interdependency
leads to tensions, especially when the resource becomes insufficient.
Analysing tensions
Conflict related to freshwater
occurs on all levels: between
groups of users, between
regions, between states…
Many of these discords arise
when a water source has to be
shared between upstream and
downstream users. The most
frequent cases concern water
used for irrigation, causing
tension for example between
intensive farming and small
farmers, or in a given region,
between the agricultural sector
and tourism.
Research is done on conflicts
at various levels, by studying
available resources, needs and
uses, and analysing factors
underlying former or current
discords. Such studies can
throw light on appropriate
management choices for
decision makers, and
contribute to the establishment
of agreements to share joint
resources in a fair way.
Diagnosing the future
Scientists are speculating about
the long-term consequences of
such conflicts. Some foresee
“water wars” when the
demands on a limited resource
continue to intensify. For
others, the need to share water
could lead users and states to
collaborate and show solidarity.
1 Egypt and Sudan divided the
water of Nile among themselves in
1959, with a treaty that does not
really take into account border
countries, like Ethiopia.
2 More than 3 billion people
and nearly 150 countries in the
world depend on a shared water
resource, such as the Nile.
3 Upstream countries, being in
a position to control the flow of
a river, usually enjoy primacy
over those lying downstream.
This is for instance the case with
Turkey, which has control over the
Tigris and the Euphrates due to a
powerful dam network.
4 1.7 % of all agricultural land in
the world, particularly in Africa
and Asia, is leased or bought by
investor countries. With free,
unlimited access to resources, they
often opt for water-thirsty crops
such as rice or sugar cane, which
leads to conflict with local farmers.
6 Precise rules sometimes lack
when it comes to governing the
sharing of water, particularly when
there is a shortage. Conciliation
attempt between farmers and
government representatives at the
opening of canal gates, Tafilalet,
5 Due to a lack of legal
agreements, the Orontes is
a source of conflict between
Lebanon, Syria and Turkey.
7 Peasants take turns to “pass on
the water” to irrigate their plots.
An age-old sharing system that they
adapt according to the amount of
water available.
8 In the interest of protecting the
region’s natural heritage, part of
the Chilean population is against
the building of dams on the Baker
and Pascua rivers.
Water at the Heart of Science
The use of water
at high altitudes is in great demand in the Ecuadorian Andes, leading to conflicts
between the various users. Attempts are being made with the help of scientists to set up a better
coordinated, integrated water management system.
Population growth and
rampant urbanisation in
the Quito region are causing
a sharp increase in water
demands, which further
contend with irrigation needs.
Considerable amounts of water
therefore need to be brought
in from the Páramos region
to the urban areas of the
metropolitan district.
In the face of the arising
conflicts, the Ecuadorian
government has been trying
since 2008 to implement
a resource administration
system that is geared towards
concerted, integrated
management between the
various users. In this respect,
the Quito water company
is looking for cooperation
methods based on scientific
Studies were carried out by the G-EAU joint
research unit (IRD, Irstea, Engref, IAMMCiheam) that works in Quito together with
academic and technological institutions of
Ecuador (National Institute of Meteorology and
Hydrology, National Polytechnic School, and the
Municipal water and sanitation company).
Researchers have drawn up
reports of current supply and
demand, and have simulated
prospective supply scenarios
until 2050. Their studies were
presented to a river basin
council representing all users.
As a result of these discussions,
different actions were chosen
for the long-term management
of the basin: limiting grazing
to higher areas, creating
protected areas on land bought
by the town, etc. Proposals
were also made to limit tension
between the town and Andes
communities that consider
the water of the páramos as a
resource that belongs to them.
Researchers build supply-demand models
to test various water-sharing scenarios
for the Quito basins.
1 Tropical rains and glaciers
provide the páramos with an
abundant water supply.
4 Since time immemorial, the
páramos have supplied water to
irrigation channels.
2 The slopes of the Pichincha
volcano, some twenty kilometres
from Quito, are gradually being
invaded by unplanned urbanisation.
5 Water extractions for the city of
Quito generate conflict with users
of irrigation and small communities
in the Andes.
3 To meet its present needs, the
city of Quito intends to extract
water from the páramos by means
of catch basins and dams. Salve
Faccha dam.
6 Researchers are studying the
hydrobiological characteristics of
the páramos rivers.
7 To reduce tension with the
Andes community of Oyacachi and
strengthen relationships, the Quito
water company has pursued various
actions in the páramos: employing
6 wardens for hydraulic structures,
developing trout farming, building
a traditional craft centre,
improving road access to further
exchange, etc.
Water at the Heart of Science
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