1. An Introduction to Conflicts and Struggles Over Water Territories

Learning Objectives

  • Evaluate topics related to conflicts and struggles over water territories.
  • Identify diversity and the multi-dimensionality of water conflicts (ie., questions of power, legitimacy, etc).

Key Concepts

Multi-dimensionality of water conflicts, water security, water justice

1. Introduction to the module 

This submodule will provide an introduction to the topic of conflicts and struggles over water territories. It will give you an idea of what we are talking about when discussing water conflicts. The diversity of water conflicts and their multi-dimensionality will be central. With multi-dimensionality we mean that conflicts which seem to be about water are often about much more questions of who is defined as legitimate, which groups and which knowledge are defined as valuable and which invalid, and what powerful elites consider as “good” and what as “bad” water management. Follow the module and see for yourself! This video gives you a brief introduction and overview of this module and topics covered. Just watch it and note down the key points concerning what is important to remember about conflicts and struggles over water territories.

Prof. Dr. Ir. Rutgerd Boelens from the University of Amsterdam and Wageningen University giving an introduction to the Module “Conflicts and Struggles over Water Territories”. The general understanding of water conflicts and the different topics covered by the Module are presented. (video produced by L. Hommes and R. Boelens)

2. Examples of water territory struggles

Below you will find links to two videos that are about specific conflict cases. This video produced by the alternative news website Five Point Five in 2014, details controversy and protests following the intent to privatize water services in Ireland. This is an example of conflicts about how water should be managed, and the appropriateness of pricing and privatization, key discussions that have also occurred in France, Bolivia, South Africa and many other parts of the globe.

This video was produced in 2014 by the NGO Rights Actions as part of their Reparations Campaign claiming justice for people affected by the disputed Chixoy Dam in Guatemala. The video demonstrates different kinds of impacts, violence, conflict dimensions and protests surrounding a highly disputed dam project, also critically analyzing the involvement of international financing institutions such as the World Bank. Similar issues and conflicts can be found in other dam and infrastructure projects around the world.

Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions

  • What are the main topics/points of contention in conflict?
  • What are other levels of the conflict; what else is it about?
  • Which actors are involved and how would you describe their general stance towards the central topic?
  • Which actors are left out of the video?
  • How does each of the actors presented in the video justify his or her position?
  • Which methods and tactics (besides verbal justification) does each actor group employ? What kinds of resistance can you see?
  • Do the actors employ any strong verbal expressions in order to demonstrate and consolidate their position?
  • On which spatial levels are conflicts and resistance taking place?

If you would like to compare your answers with some of the points we think are important, click here.

Key Readings

Key Readings

  • First, an article by Prof. Ben Crow about water injustices and the Santa Cruz Declaration. This short reading argues that "inequality and injustice in water access, use and control should be matters of collective concern" and, furthermore, gives some examples of collective struggles for water justice. Click here to access the article on the UNESCO Global Water Forum.
  • Second, the article of Hoogesteger et al. (2014) about how concerns for water security are embedded in societal power relations, consequently often negatively affecting socio-economically and politically less powerful groups. 
  • Read here about Mexico's Yaqui People who are defending their water and territory

Further Readings

Further Readings

In case you would still like to read some more, the following papers could be interesting. Unfortunately, most of them are not open access but can be accessed for example through university accounts.

Interactive water conflict maps and data bases

Some of the organizations and institutions working on water conflicts

Other related International Waters Lessons and Submodules


Next submodule: Political Ecology and Water Justice: Conceptual Building Blocks

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