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And the waters divided

Most of the earth's 250 main river systems are the subject of political dispute. With some 80 countries-home to 40 per cent of the world's population-already suffering from water shortages, those disputes are likely to intensify. Faith Brooke reports on how to manage the conflicts ahead

By Faith Brooke   January 1996

The wars of the past were fought over race, religion, territory or access to minerals. The conflicts of the future could arise from a more fundamental problem-how to divide water, the planet’s most basic resource, among its rapidly growing population. In the words of World Bank vice-president Ismael Sarageldin, “many of the wars of this century were about oil, but wars of the next century will be over water.”

Sarageldin’s fears, voiced this summer, reflect the anxieties of a decade in which the abstract bloc-on-bloc hostilities of the cold war evaporated to expose the more local and practical reasons for…

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