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New risk assessment identifies global hotspots for future water conflict

A new analysis commissioned by the United Nations uses a comprehensive combination of social, economic, political and environmental factors to identify areas around the world most at-risk for ‘hydro-political’ threats. This river basins study was part of the UN's Transboundary Waters Assessment Program.

The study identified that more than 1,400 new dams or water diversion projects are planned or already under construction and many of them are on rivers flowing through multiple nations, fuelling the potential for increased water conflict between some countries.

Researchers from the United States, Spain and Chile took part in the analysis, which has been recommended by the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe as an indicator for the UN's sustainable development goals for water cooperation.

Results of the study have just been published in the journal Global Environment Change.

The analysis suggests that risks for conflict are projected to increase over the next 15 to 30 years in four hotspot regions: the Middle East, central Asia, the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin, and the Orange and Limpopo basins in southern Africa.

Additionally, the Nile River in Africa, much of southern Asia, the Balkans in southeastern Europe, and upper South America are all areas where new dams are under construction and adjoining countries face increasing water demand, may lack workable treaties, or worse, haven't even discussed the issue.

"If two countries have agreed on water flow and distribution when there's a dam upstream, there usually is no conflict," said Eric Sproles, an Oregon State University hydrologist and a co-author on the study. "Such is the case with the Columbia River basin between the United States and Canada, whose treaty is recognized as one of the most resilient and advanced agreements in the world. Unfortunately, that isn't the case with many other river systems, where a variety of factors come into play, including strong nationalism, political contentiousness, and drought or shifting climate conditions."

Asia has the highest number of dams proposed or under construction on transboundary basins of any continent with 807, followed by South America, 354; Europe, 148; Africa, 99; and North America, 8. But Africa has a higher level of hydro-political tension, the researchers say, with more exacerbating factors.

More information on the United Nations Transboundary Waters Assessment Program is available at http://www.geftwap.org



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