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Subnational Hydropolitics: Conflict, Cooperation, and Institution-Building in Shared River Basins

Authors: Scott Moore*, University of Pennsylvania
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Water Resources and Hydrology, China
Keywords: water, conflict, climate change, China, India, Colorado River Basin
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Many scholars and policymakers still expect a World Bank official’s 25-year old prediction that “the wars of the future will be fought over water” to come true. But in reality, international water wars are exceptionally rare, while political-economic conflicts between sub-national actors, including states and provinces, are increasingly prevalent. This paper, based on a book manuscript of the same title, re-thinks the issue of water conflict by examining conflicts at the sub-national rather than international level. By examining several in-depth case studies of both conflict and cooperation, including topical and well-known examples like the Colorado River Basin in the United States and less-well-known, but even more protracted, inter-state water disputes in the Indian Subcontinent and even less-well-described examples of inter-jurisdictional conflict in authoritarian China, the paper argues that increasing sub-national water conflict is driven by two inter-linked forces, identity politics, which gives sub-national politicians a reason to compete over shared water resources; and political decentralization, which provides them with the tools to do so. However, by encouraging broad participation in managing shared water resources, policymakers can create “constituencies for cooperation.” The paper concludes by calling both scholars and policymakers to devote more attention to the growing challenge of sub-national conflict over water.

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