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Geopolitics of Water


Unequal distribution of water in the world is a source of tensions and even conflicts related to access and the right to water. There are two types of conflicts:

– Conflicts regarding access to water:
Due to increasing demographic pressure (the global population is expected to increase by 2.5 billion people in the next 40 years), climate change and western living standards, the 260 river basins shared between two or more countries are subject to more and more pressure.

Each country wants to access a sufficient quantity of water to undertake its activities. Yet, this vital good is more and more scarce.

There are currently major tensions in several places around the world: between Israel and Syria regarding the control of the Golan Heights, between Egypt and Sudan regarding the Nile, between Turkey, Syria and Irak on the sharing of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers and between the United States and Mexico on the matter of the river Colorado…
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– Conflicts related to the right to water: the example of the 2000 Cochabamba water conflict:

In September 2009 in Cochabamba (Bolivia), the municipal public drinking water and sanitation services were privatised and sold to the “Aguas del Tunari” company without consulting or informing inhabitants about it.

Afterwards, the price of water escalated and community water networks were also bought out by the company. People in Cochabamba started to mobilise and protest against this mismanagement. At first they demanded that prices be reduced but nobody listened to them. They were confronted with army repression during demonstrations.

As inhabitants felt deprived of their right to water, civic mobilisation kept on increasing. In April 2000, the “water war” took the form of a general strike that paralysed the whole city. Both government and police reacted with massive repression.

The result was many injuries and one death. People continued to struggle with determination until the government gave up on April 11th, 2000. Aguas del Tunari had to leave the city and public management of water in Cochabamba was re-established.

Further reading:
“Reclaiming Public Water – Achievements, Struggles and Visions from Around the World”, Belén Balanyá, Brid Brennan, Olivier Hoedeman, Satoko Kishimoto and Philipp Terhorst. Published by Transnational Institute (TNI) and Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)