Water Conflict

In an ongoing effort to understand the connections between water resources, water systems, and international security and conflict, the Pacific Institute initiated a project in the late 1980s to track and categorize events related to water and conflict, which has been continuously updated since. The database, updated in May 2017, presents the information three ways, to better illustrate how conflicts over water impact history:

View the Water Conflict Chronology (updated 5/17)

Chronological List Timeline Map
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table listing conflicts over water that can be filtered by region, conflict type, and date range. timeline showing when conflicts over water occurred that can be filtered by region, conflict type, and date range. An interactive map showing the geographic location where conflicts over water have occurred and information about each conflict.

Read the Water and Conflict Chronology in Spanish (2008 version)
Cronología de los Conflictos del Agua en Español 
(versión actualizada en 2008)

Changes to Chronology Reflect New Data
Recent world events from the Middle East to China to India to Ethiopia and other regions have, unfortunately, continued to lead to new entries. And new information is being sent in all the time by historians, water experts, and readers to update, correct, and expand the current chronology. As a result, we will continue to update the Chronology with new entries and a range of corrections and modifications. In addition, we have made changes in how several of these entries are categorized. The heading “Basis of Conflict” now offers a more clear set of categories than in previous listings. The current categories, or types of conflict, now include:

  • Control of Water Resources (state and non-state actors): where water supplies or access to water is at the root of tensions.
  • Military Tool (state actors): where water resources, or water systems themselves, are used by a nation or state as a weapon during a military action.
  • Political Tool (state and non-state actors): where water resources, or water systems themselves, are used by a nation, state, or non-state actor for a political goal.
  • Terrorism (non-state actors): where water resources, or water systems, are either targets or tools of violence or coercion by non-state actors.
  • Military Target (state actors): where water resource systems are targets of military actions by nations or states.
  • Development Disputes (state and non-state actors): where water resources or water systems are a major source of contention and dispute in the context of economic and social development

It will be clear to even the casual reader that these definitions are imprecise and that single events can fall into more than one category, depending on perception and definitions. For example, intentional military attacks on water-supply systems can fall into both the Targets and Tools categories, depending on one’s point of view. Disputes over control of water resources may reflect either political power disputes or disagreements over approaches to economic development, or both.

We believe this is inevitable and even desirable – international security is not a clean, precise field of study and analysis. It is evolving as international and regional politics evolves and as new factors become increasingly, or decreasingly, important in the affairs of humanity. In all this, however, one factor remains constant: the importance of water to life means that providing for water needs and demands will never be free of politics. As social and political systems change and evolve, this chronology and the kinds of entries and categories will change and evolve.

I continue to look forward to contributions and comments from readers.

Peter Gleick
Pacific Institute

Please email contributions, with full citations and supporting information, to Peter Gleick using our Contact Page.

Click here for a list of acknowledgments.

Additional References
Gleick, P.H. 1994. “Water, war, and peace in the Middle East.” Environment Vol. 36, No. 3, pp.6-on. Heldref Publishers, Washington.

Gleick, P.H. 1998. “Water and conflict.” (See Chronologies A and B.) In P.H. Gleick, The World’s Water 1998-1999, Island Press, Washington, D.C. pp. 105-135.