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Water-Related Violence Increased More Than 50% in 2010s: Report

  • Since 2010, 31 incidents occurred in India, including at least seven stabbings and the killing of a 33-year-old man in disputes over water.

    Since 2010, 31 incidents occurred in India, including at least seven stabbings and the killing of a 33-year-old man in disputes over water. | Photo: Reuters

Published 2 January 2020

A database of conflicts linked to water shows how incidents and violence related to the crucial resource have more than doubled since 2010.

Violence associated with the essential resource has soared over the past ten years, as shortages and extreme weather conditions contribute to a climate of mounting tensions in several parts of the world, with the Middle East and India as the most affected, according to the Pacific Institute's database of conflicts linked to water.


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Population development, mismanagement of resources and weather events linked to the climate crisis have contributed to diminishing supplies of freshwater in many regions of the planet, creating tense situations.

The statistics maintained by the California-based thinktank show that incidents and violence related to water have more than doubled since 2010 when compared with the previous decades. The database was created in the 1980s to track and categorize events related to water and conflict and was last updated in October 2019.

“As water becomes more scarce, because it’s such a critical resource, people will do whatever they can do meet their basic needs,” president of the Pacific Institute and a leading authority on water issues Peter Gleick said.

Among the incidents it reported, was the shelling in June 2019 near a water pipeline in Horlivka, Ukraine, that left three million people in the zone without a reliable supply; the shooting of five farmers in June 2017 in India over water and other issues in a state hit by drought, and a gun attack on a convoy of water tankers in the restive Indonesian province of West Papua in 2012.

“The evidence is clear that there’s growing violence associated with fresh-water resources, both conflicts over access to water and especially attacks civilian water systems,” Gleick said.

The scientist also explained that in addition to the lack of freshwater, an increasing tendency to use water supplies as a weapon by fighting forces has been witnessed, especially in the recent Middle East conflicts including Syria, Irak and Yemen, and across the Sahel region of Africa. 

“There have been a very large number of attacks in recent years in Yemen but also in Syria and Iraq, where it’s clear that in direct violation of international law, civilian water infrastructure has been intentionally targeted, relentlessly.”

In the Syrian city of Aleppo, for instance, the Islamic State group (ISIS) was accused in 2014 of poisoning water supplies. In 2015, fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda bombed a water pipeline, leading to the sickening and poisoning of more than 100 of the city’s residents, while Russian warplanes struck a water-treatment facility, cutting off water to more than three million people, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef).

The database also reported 31 incidents that occurred in India since 2010, including at least seven stabbings and the killing of a 33-year-old man in disputes over water. "Only" 11 incidents had been reported for the previous decade.

The World Resources Institute had warned last August that 17 countries, home to 25 percent of the world’s population, were facing “extremely high” water stress. 12 of these countries are in the Middle East and North Africa.

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