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Contenuto archiviato il 2024-05-27

Water Scarcity as Potential Cause of Global Conflict – <br/>Time for UN Green Helmets or a New EU Water Strategy?

Final Report Summary - WATER AND WAR (Water Scarcity as Potential Cause of Global Conflict – Time for UN Green Helmets or a New EU Water Strategy?)

Sometimes drinking water is called the new oil or the blue gold of our time emphasizing its extraordinary economic value. Often we are even told that future wars will be fought over water. However, is there any evidence to suggest that water scarcity has caused armed conflict in the past or will do so in the future? If so, under which conditions are water conflicts most likely to evolve? And which actors within the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) frameworks should deal with this issue, and in which way?

Answers to these questions have – also in light of anthropogenic climate change – become increasingly urgent and have partly been answered within the research project “Water and War” during the last four years. The complex relationship between water scarcity and international peace and security was investigated and legal and policy recommendations for the involved actors in order to counteract water scarcity as a potential driving force of armed conflict were developed. Furthermore, the findings of the project were made accessible to a growing academic as well as practically oriented audience.

From the beginning, the study had three key objectives. Firstly, it aimed to identify to what extent greater water scarcity and the resulting conflicts influence the maintenance of international peace and security. Secondly, the project intended to address the role of the UN and develop adequate strategies to deal with this connection for different actors within the UN system. Thirdly, the study’s goal was to assess which policy the EU should develop in terms of its external action on the issue of water scarcity and international peace and security. The main focus regarding the last key objective was placed on how the EU should reshape structures and processes for future negotiations with EU candidates (such as Turkey).

After having analysed different sets of empirical data and having conducted three case studies, the project recommends to re-conceptualize the connection between both water scarcity and peace and security. The researcher and his team have developed a two factor-thesis: water scarcity both holds a “conflict-potential” and a “cooperation-potential”. The three case studies have concentrated on different regions. One of them investigates the difficult relationship between upstream Turkey and downstream States Syria and Iraq in the Euphrates-Tigris region. The second case study focuses on the Pacific island States Kiribati and Tuvalu that are existentially threatened by rising sea. Thirdly, the team looked at the South American Amazon region (with a focus on Brazil) where regional discrepancies with drought in some parts and floods in others are prevalent.

The research group has subsequently analyzed several ways of how to legally justify the competence of the UN Security Council within the existing legal framework. The possibility to appoint a new UN Special Rapporteur on the issue of climate change and international security was also discussed. The research group came to conclude that the more fruitful path would be to focus on existing UN mandates and procedures: either within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or by anchoring the topic within existing UN Special Rapporteur mandates. Moreover, the challenges and chances of the upcoming EU accession negotiations with Turkey with respect to water issues were analysed; different scenarios were discussed and scrutinized. The respective recommendations, for actors within the UN and the EU, are thereby always based on the refined understanding of the twofold relationship between water scarcity and armed conflict that the research group has developed in the first part of the project.

Over the last four years, the researcher and his team have published largely on the topic in various scientific journals and edited book collections. The researcher has also organized several panels on the topic and attended several international conferences to present his research findings. A detailed overview can be found at the project’s website at

As a result of the study and to carry its findings further into the future, several related PhD projects supervised by the researcher were initiated during the second project period. One project conducts research on the emerging human right to land (including potential water and land grabbing). Another one answers the question whether the responsibility to protect can and should also be applied to the case of climate change. A third project examines the interrelation of international humanitarian law to foreign investment (including investment in the water sector), while the fourth analyses the effectiveness of alternative human rights mechanisms.