Water Disputes Between Nations

Water Disputes Between Nations

Water resources are facing tremendous and ever-increasing pressures throughout the globe. The population of the world has more than tripled in the last century, presenting major challenges to all governments of the world. Urbanization, industrialization and rapidly rising population, contrasted with a low per capita water availability, has compounded those challenges.

Water could be a cause for disputes, as well as a catalyst for cooperation. The picture is a mixed one and examples of both disputes and cooperation at the international level are abundant.

Examples of Cooperation

In 1959, Egypt and Sudan concluded an agreement over the sharing of the Nile waters and the construction of dams.

Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia concluded an agreement to share the waters of the Mekong river in 1995.

Similarly, eleven Danube riparians concluded a comprehensive agreement for the use of the Danube River in 1994.


Most disputes have centered on the issue of boundaries, water quantity and water quality.

Disputes over Boundaries

Many international rivers serve as boundaries between states such as the Senegal River between Senegal and Mauritania, the Orange River between Namibia and South Africa, and others

The issue of where the borders run across international rivers or lakes is not always agreed upon. Moreover, there are international watercourses where there are currently no agreements. The dispute over the Tigris and Euphrates between Turkey, Iraq, and Syria falls under this category.

Disputes over Water Quantity

The Brahmaputra River that flows through India, China and Bangladesh is considered an important resource for hydroelectricity and agriculture in all three countries. China’s dams on this river projects are feared to reduce the flow of the Brahmaputra in India.

In 2011, Ethiopia announced plans to build a dam on the Blue Nile to provide electricity for Ethiopians. However, its impact on Egypt’s water supplies has become a grave concern. 

Turkey‘s Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River has become an international water conflict as it has diverted water from the marshlands needed to grow food and led to severe drought in Iraq and Syria.

Disputes over Water Quality

The Rhine River which is shared by France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands gave rise to the first quality related dispute between Netherlands and France. However, this was solved amicably.

Issues related to international waters have becoming increasingly apparent recently. With water becoming increasingly a scarce resource and with the steady growth in population, such disputes will continue to erupt. However, they can be solved through mutual cooperation, legal activity, effective enforcement and the political will of the parties to solve these problems.

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