Water Conflicts Case Studies

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Canada and Ethiopia Comparative Study

Canada and Ethiopia are two extremes of water and development. Canadian household use 800 litres per person each day.

Whereas, in Ethiopia water consumption is 1litre per person per day. Much of the water is fetched from a shared source.

Since Ethiopia is an LEDC problems relate to water shortages, pollution and risk of disease.

Population being concentrated in widely disposed rural villages and over populated slums aggravate the problems.

Population in Canada is 30 million whereas Ethiopia 62.9 million means that higher levels of scarcity are due to lack of development but also due to higher populations. 

Also show lack of contraceptives, eduaction and medical care causing high birth rate indicating further a lack of development from the government.

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A densely populated country with a population of 161 million. It's main economy is agriculture.

Prior to Bangladesh becoming independent in 1970's, surface water was the main source of drinking water.

However, contamination caused many cases of water borne disease with high mortality rates, notably to cholera. Tub wells were installed to prevent this and allowed access of shallow water.

In the 1980's patients from Bangladesh showed characteristics of skin lesions that appear from chronic exposure to high arsenic levels. In early 1990's the groundwater of regions in Bangladesh were tested for arsenic. High concentrations were found, ranging from 1µg1L to greater than 30µg1L.

out of 8 millions tube wells in Bangladesh, more than 50% have been tested for arsenic. It is estimated that 20% have unsafe levels of arsenic over 50µg1L or higher and 57 millions people exposed to drinking water concentration greater than 10µg1L. In addition 10,000 people have showed signs of arsenicosis with this number to rise.

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Tensions between India and Bangladesh

The Ganges mainly runs through India, but a small part runs through Bangladesh.

In 1974 India open the huge Farakka barrage, just 11km from Bangladesh. Further upset a series of dams divert water into irrigation systems and many of India's largest cities use the river to carry waste water from industrial and domestic sources.

Bangladesh is being deprived of much needed water and have to suffer their effects on India's pollution. About one third of the total population of Bangladesh lives in the Ganges basin. Also 43% of the total irrigated area in the country is also in the Ganges basin.

An agreement was signed in the 1990's by the two countries to allow fair flow, but India is very much still in control. To make matters worse India have plans to make greater use of the Brahmaputra River, which also flows into Bangladesh.

Bangladesh grievances include the following:

  • Reduced water flow of rivers is affecting irrigation and food production.
  • Fish stocks and fishing industry is declining
  • navigation and water borne trade are becoming harder due to lower water levels.
  • The delta is eroding as less silt is being carried and deposited
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Aral Sea, Central Asia

Once the worlds fourth largest inland sea (68,000 km²). It has been slowly shrinking since the 1960's. In the late 1950's the Soviet Government diverted water from the rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya for use in agriculture. By 2007 the sea had declined to 10% of its original size and had split into several small parts. Its water level dropped by 40 metres.

Aral Sea crises Stakeholders

The fishing community; an industry that employed 60,000 people from the villages around the lakes shores.

Local residents; health problems related to wind blown salt and dust from dried out seabed.

The former Soviet Government; communist leader lead an ambitious irrigation scheme in order to develop fruit and cotton farms.

Uzbekistan Government; the irrigation scheme allows poor countries, with few resources, to remain one of the worlds largest exporters of cotton. It also hopes to discover oil deposits beneath the seabed

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Aral Sea, Extension

40 years ago, Muynak was a busy fishing port where the waters of Aral sea lapped up against the shoreline. Today the waters have receded, that there is not a drop as far as the eye can see. When the Soviet Government diverted the Ama Darya and Syr Darya to grow cotton, they created an ecological and human disaster. What was the fourth largest inland sea is now mostly desert.

Effects of the Aral sea drying up:

  • Cancer, lung disease and infant mortality are 30 X more likely than previous as drinking water is polluted.
  • Job and food died with the sea, the Utegenavas are constantly hungry and sick. Their tea is salty due to contaminated water. Consequently killing their father 10 years ago, who had oesophagus Cancer.

Current Condition of the Aral Sea:

  • A dam project in Kazakhstan was completed in 2005; in 2008 water levels had risen by 24 metres from its lowest level in 2007. Salinity has dropped and fish are again round sufficient numbers for some fishing.
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Restoration of Aral Sea

In 2007 the Kazakhstan Government secured a loan of $126 million to help save the North part of the Aral Sea. An ambitious project aimed at reversing one of the worlds worst environmental disasters.

The Kazakhstan Government used an earlier $68 million loan to build a dam that has split the sea into two parts. Officials claim that the Northern Sea is already filling up, now that the ater from the Syr Darya once again flowing into the Aral. The new loan will be use to make a dam to bring waters back to thew deserted part of Aralsk.

However, these actions haven't solved the problems on the Uzbek side. The southern part is still shrinking and many believe it is too late to save it. The waters of the Amu Darya that feed into the Southern area are used to grow cotton. And the Uzbekistan economy is highly dependant on "cash crops".

Another problem with the Syr Darya is that the headwaters are controlled by other countries, wghich couldtrigger conflict.

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Middle East Water Conflicts

An area of already significant conflict.

Low seasonal rainfall and population is the root cause of the tensions over water resources.

In the western regions; Israelis, Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Palestinians are in dispute over shrinking water supply.

Security of water supplies was not the cause of the Arab-Israeli War in 1967 but was a contributory factor. Water in this region comes from two sources the River Jordan and three aquifers. The divisions of these water resources between neighbouring states is an ongoing challenge.

In the East, turkey plans to build dams to store and use water in the head water of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Strongly approved by Syria and Iraq where reduced water supply threaten economic development and food production.

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The Colorado River

Most heavily used source of irrigation water in the USA. Water rights of states were allocated by the Colorado compact in 1922. Over the next 60 years treaties were agreed between the 7 states with direct interest in the river. A giant plumbing system has come into effect involving 10 dams to serve Mexico with water for 30 m, a 1/4 of their population.

The law was based on the division of water between the close states. Initial agreements allocated California the largest proportion due to population. However, this has been reduced by new development and legal challenges. As in 1920's it was a period of high rainfall and water surpluses. But, as demand and populations increase there are growing challenges.

Several Stakeholders have been involved:

  • Farmers, agriculture has always done well out of the River, receiving 80% of the water allocation. The water is supplied at a low cost to encourage agricultural development.
  • Indigenous Group, Native Americans along the river have claims to water based on agreements made between their tribes and federal governments in 1880's
  • Mexican People, the river is used so heavily it doesn't reach the sea. 90% is extracted before it reaches Mexico. Most of the local fisheries have had to move. The delta has reduced in size as sediment has been retained by huge dams.
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Indian Subcontinent

Water insecurity in this area is a big problem. There are several reasons why it is such a problem.

  • One of the main reasons is due to an increasing population of 1.7 billion. 
  • There is also an increased water consumption per capita.
  • Over usage of water for irrigation.

There are many pressure that are associated with this areas water supply.

  • Groundwater pollution of arsenic from industries in India discarding their waste in the Ganges which flows Bangladesh. 
  • Salt water invasion in India, due to rising sea levels. Causing drinking water to become salinised, of which treatment is needed to purify.
  • Falling water tables in Pakistan due to over extraction from aquifers and other groundwater supplies.
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*Water Transfers* The Snowy mountains Scheme

In the Kosciuszko national park is the largest engineering project in Australia and one of the most complex hydroelectric scheme in the world, with 16 major dams, seven power stations, a network of tunnels, pipelines and aqueducts. The scheme collects and diverts water to be used by power stations to create electricity. The water then flows west into the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers to irrigate farms and provide water for communities.

Work began in 1949 and finished in 1974. Since 1974 negative consequences have emerged. The creation of the storage lakes, such as Lake Eucumbene, has destroyed wildlife habitats, and in places the Snowy River flow has fallen to only 1% of its usual discharge.

Groundwater overdraft and salinisation problems resulting from this low flow and irrigation has affected farming in the Murray lowlands. Water scarcity has set farmers against city dwellers as they compete for supplies.

The political fallout has lead to governments in New South Wales and Victoria to restore some of the flow in the Snowy River and to invest in water saving projects. The main aim is to protect farmers from the worst effects of water shortages. Record droughts in Australia in recent years triggered by El Nino events have all but used up the water of the Snowy Mountains scheme.

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*Water Transfers* The Ebro River, Spain

In 2001, the Spanish government approved a scheme to divert water from the lower Ebro Valley to supply the South East. 3 years later the newly elected government cancelled the plans and replaced it with a cheaper, more localised schemes, including desalination plants.

This caused a debate between players in favour and players apposing the project.

The Case For the Project: big international investors were concerned because they had marketed the South East of Spain as the "New Florida". Leading to vast tourist developments between Alicante and Almeria costing billions, many people expected to be supplied with Ebro water, seeing it a a new future.

The Case Against the Project: Environmentalists in the North protested as the diversion scheme was a misuse of a scarce resource and that it would have a drastic impact on the Ebro and its fragile Delta. The environment minister claimed that the desalination plants would provide the same amount of water sooner and cheaper. The government also promised improved water recycling and to make irrigation systems more efficient.

The cheaper project costed the equivalent of £2.4 billion, consisting of 15 desalinisation plants. A more logical idea rather than piping water 600 miles.

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Water Aid Information

A non Government organisation aimed to help people stricken with poverty.

Hand Dug Wells: Most common method of extracting groundwater in rural areas of developing world. Restricted to softer ground such as clay, sand and gravel. Communities can often dig these by themselves. They are lined with concrete to stop them collapsing. 

Tubewells; Built more quickly, cheaply and safely as they require less lining materials, they also reach greater depths. However, specialist tools and expertise are needed to sink them and they can only be built where the ground is soft.

Boreholes: For low water table or where ground is hard, a borehole can be sunk using engine driven augrers and rich drills. Locating water requires hydrological survey which takes a lot of time, money and effort.

Pumps: Millions of people across the world collect water using a rope and bucket from deep open holes in the ground. Although these traditional wells may seem like a simple water solution, the open tops means that they are easily contaminated. In rainy periods waste often floods in and spreads disease. To prevent this wells should be lined and sealed with concrete cover and fitted with a pump

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Three Gorges Dam Project

The worlds largest hydroelectric scheme, based on the Yangtze River. China was reliant on coal with 70% producer of energy. China see hydroelectric power as clean energy with which to support its rapid industrial growth. But, before it was built the huge environment and social impacts were clear.


  • 18000MW of water generated electricity, could save 50 million tonnes of coal/year.
  • Will supply water to regionresponsible for 22% of China's GDP.
  • Food protection could save lives and cut financial losses created by flood damage.
  • Navigationalimprovementcould help open up the interior region of China.


  • The dammed water is predicted to drown 100,000 hectares of arable land, 13 cities, many small settlements and 1,500 factories.
  • The dam flooded and displaced somee 1.3 million people, and is causing significant ecological changes, including an increased risk of landslides
  • The river has the worlds 5th largest sediment load. Sediment could damage turbines and cause great strain behind the dam.
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China's South-North Transfer Project

The south of China is rich in water but the north isn't. To redistribute water a project was set up called the North-South diversion project which begun in 2003. It is expected to take 50 years and it will cost $62 billion. It involves building three canals which run 1,300 km across the Eastern Middle and Western parts of China and they link the countries four major rivers: the Yangtze River, Yellow, Huai and the Han. It will transfer 44.8 billion m³ per year.

Central Government will provide 60% of the costs, with the rest coming from local authorities which in turn will charge domestic and industrial users. Water conservation, improved irrigation, pollution treatment and environmental protection are all plans. Critics are concerned with the uncertainty and risks associated with the projects, including significant ecological and environmental impacts along the waterways, resettlement issues and worsening water quality

Pollution of the Yangtze is already at an alarming level, untreated industrial water is being mixed with agricultural runoff. The Huai River is severely polluted and the Yellow is undrinkable.

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These are really helpful!! Thank you! :D


brill! thank you !

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