|Oropoi, Kenya - Photo courtesy IRIN|
When looking at the causes of any conflict analytically, it is difficult to separate the effects of water shortages from other factors, like food shortages, migration, ethnicity, climate change or other issues that could drive violence. However, the impact of water over energy, development, agriculture, and livelihood makes it one of the most important factors. When water insecurity is mixed with urbanization, migration, pollution, radicalization, and a proliferation of small arms, it is not difficult to see a scenario resulting in conflict.
Water shortages or imbalances of water distribution can be driver of civil conflict in a marginalized society. In terms of terminology, ʹwater riotʹ is more appropriate that ʹwater warʹ. Examples of small‐level riots - some leading to deaths - can be shown in Nigeria, South Africa, Yemen, Egypt, India, and Ecuador. These water riots can be expected to show similar characteristics to the food‐related riots that erupted around the world in 2008. Areas of particular risk are those with strong ethnic or tribal divisions, and the effects of water riots may be to drive disaffected and marginalized parts of society away from areas of water stress.
While no one factor (like water, ethnicity, or unemployment) was able to correctly predict when these regions fell into conflict, changes in water security often can be enough to tip a region over the edge.