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Seminar on water resource conflicts, 1 August

Centre for Civil Society Seminar: Managing resource conflicts through people, policies and institutions

Speaker: Larry Swatuk
Date: Thursday 1 August, 2013
Venue: CCS Seminar Room 602, 6th Floor, MTB Tower, Howard College
Time: 12:30-14:00

Global water resources access, use and management reflects back to us the deep inequalities in our societies. Roughly 80% of the world¡¯s income is in the hands of 20% of its people, while an estimated 1.5% is in the hands of the bottom 20%. Given that water is in everything, it is clear that the vast majority of the world¡¯s water captured in an unrelenting ¡®hydraulic mission¡¯ benefits ¨C economically, socially, and politically ¨C a small fraction of the world¡¯s people. Where there are water ¡®conflicts¡¯, therefore, they tend to be of three broad types. At the level of the empowered and highly influential, they are largely wars of words either resolved through negotiation or put aside until another time. Even the ¡®hard cases¡¯ such as the Jordan and Nile River Basins ¨C cases that attract so much media and academic attention ¨C are more about hyperbole than action. A second type of ¡®conflict¡¯ is that between contending users over a specific use at the level of the resource itself: pastoralists and farmers squabbling seasonally or in reaction to a specific stimulus such as late rains; groups of people dependent upon the same well. Most of these conflicts fade with the rains, but generally recur because there is never a suitable human intervention undertaken to address the issue. A third type of ¡®conflict¡¯ results from structural inequalities, where one actor or group of actors have captured the resource resulting in the ecological marginalization of another group. Conflict may be spontaneous and transient, such as that in Cochabamba, it may also be iterative, returning seasonally, it may be persistent but low©\level, involving poaching of resources or sabotage of infrastructure, and it often results in anomic violence, i.e. conflict between actors within the marginalized group who turn on each other out of frustration.

Larry Swatuk is Associate Professor and Director of the International Development Program at the School of Environment Enterprise and Development in the University of Waterloo Faculty of Environment. He is co-editor of the 2009 publication Transboundary Water Governance in Southern Africa: Examining Underexplored Dimensions. More about his work can be found at:, and

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