International water allocation disputes have been a constant in the universe of international disputes, as is demonstrated by the suite of disputes selected herein. Today, the issues that led to these disputes and other environmental and natural resources threats, are more problematic than they were in the past, as a consequence of the persistent expansion of worldwide agriculture,54 industrialization and climate change – the latter resulting in droughts.
A shift in the use of water and other resources, from a policy or pattern of unchecked water use a few decades ago, to today’s era of water scarcity, has created a situation that has resulted in the potential for disputes over rivers worldwide. Some of these arguments include the decades-long dispute between Mexico and the United States, over both the Colorado and Rio Grande Rivers, which is discussed in the Chamizal Dispute (U.S. v. Mexico Arbitration); one between China and its neighbors on the Mekong River in Southeast Asia; Egypt and upstream riparians over the White and Blue Nile River in Africa, as well as Iraq and Syria over Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, in Asia Minor.
Each of these disputes will require resolution within the next twenty to thirty years, either by diplomatic means or by adjudication, before an international court or tribunal or, the possibility that hostilities will break out is quite high. Moreover, as populations upstream and downstream become more modernized their need for additional water resources will become more acute, and they will need to fight against agricultural interests, who are inefficient, and use eighty percent of the world’s water – a figure that has not changed in millennia. The problem however is that the quantity of water will shift geographically, due to climate change, and become scarcer in locales where today it is abundant. This scarcity will likely cause flare-ups, and may lead to wars, or threats of violence requiring resolution, most likely by non-diplomatic pacific means, i.e., via dispute resolution. What we see in the cases assessed herein and elsewhere is that in many cases attempts at diplomacy have failed.
Another arena of natural resources where disputes have arisen and will continue to do so is over-fishing. There is also the dilemma of the continuing rampant destruction of tropical forests across Asia – which are among the most threatened on earth – as well as those in
“Half of the Asian nations have already experienced severe (>70%) forest loss, and forest-rich countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, are experiencing rapid forest destruction.” as are those in Amazonia. The relative rates of tropical deforestation have been about twice as high in Asia (0.8–0.9% per year) than in either Latin America or Africa (0.4–0.5% per year). Southeast Asia has also suffered higher rates of industrial logging than the other major tropical regions across the world. In addition, interstate dam construction for hydropower generation is a growing conundrum. One well documented example is the Yacyretá Dam and Hydroelectric Plant, located on the Parana River, which forms the border between Argentina and Paraguay. Dams have also caused and will continue to cause transboundary disputes. China’s dam construction on the Upper Mekong has already caused downstream impacts, especially along the Thai-Lao border where communities have suffered declining fisheries and changing water levels that have seriously affected their livelihoods. By changing the river’s hydrology, blocking fish migration and affecting the river’s ecology, the construction of dams on the Lower Mekong mainstream will have repercussions throughout the entire basin.