Pacific Institute Releases New Online Historical Summary of Conflicts Over Water Resources

For Immediate Release: December 10, 2009

Pacific Institute Releases New Online Historical Summary of Conflicts Over Water Resources

Interactive Site Describes and Maps Hundreds of Water Conflicts

December 10, 2009, Oakland, Calif. – The Spartans poisoned wells during the Peloponnesian War. Da Vinci and Machiavelli planned to divert the water of the Arno River during a conflict with Pisa. This week a man was killed in Mumbai for protesting water rationing.

The Pacific Institute has released a fully updated Water Conflict Chronology, cataloging the ways water and conflict are related, from the local to the international. The new searchable table of conflicts at is augmented with interactive maps and timelines that illustrate the magnitude of struggles over freshwater issues that have been part of societies’ development for millennia.

“There is a long history of conflict over the world’s scarce freshwater. Identifying and addressing the risks of violence over these resources is critical to understanding how to reduce such risks in the future as populations grow, climates change, and pressures on limited water resources worsen,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute. Gleick, one of the world’s leading experts on water and sustainability, initiated the project in the late 1980s to track and categorize events related to water and conflict, and has been continuously updating it since.

The newest version of the Water Conflict Chronology illustrates how water problems increasingly become political problems as conflicts over water use, allocations, and management worsen. “Water resources are seldom the sole source of violence, but history is rife with tension over water and the use of water systems as weapons, targets, or tools during war,” said Gleick. “Inequitable access to resources is a critical source of conflict.”

Pacific Institute Research Associate Matthew Heberger designed the new Water Conflict Chronology. “We consistently hear that the Water Conflict Chronology is one of the most popular features of our book series The World’s Water. We wanted visitors to our website to be able to explore this information in more depth and interact with it in new ways, so we created a set of visualizations or “mashups,” including an interactive map and timeline,” said Heberger. “Our goal is always to make the Institute’s research easier to access and user-friendly.”

The record of conflict involving water resources spans 5000 years. Today the disturbing trend is toward more terrorism and disputes over economic development, water allocations, and equity. Increasing numbers of disputes occur within a country’s borders between groups with conflicting needs and claims, but international tensions continue to worsen in some regions. The Pacific Institute’s updated Water Conflict Chronology offers more than 200 examples, and the list continues to grow as new events unfold and older events are brought to the Institute’s attention. These conflicts are categorized under broad topics of Control of Water Resources, Military Tool, Political Tool, Terrorism, Military Target, and Development Disputes. Often a dispute falls into more than one category, depending on one’s point of view and definition.

“The goal of keeping track of water conflicts is to find a way to reduce them,” said Gleick. “We need to have effective means of resolving disputes over water peacefully and when resource disputes become intractable, and diplomats need a better understanding of water and conflict to mediate more effectively.”

The Pacific Institute Water Conflict Chronology begins with an ancient Sumerian legend from 3000 B.C. and chronicles events up to the present time from around the globe, from destruction of water infrastructure in war to protests to inundation to contamination to people’s desperate acts when they are deprived of safe and adequate water.

“There are regions of the world with a history of conflict over water resources, such as the Jordan and Euphrates Rivers in the Middle East; the Nile, Zambezi, and Niger Rivers in Africa; the Ganges in Asia; and the Colorado and Rio Grande Rivers in North America,” said Gleick. “The recognition that increased water demand increases the likelihood of conflict in hotspots like the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Southeast Asia highlights the need for more proactive conflict resolution.”

The Water Conflict Chronology has been an evolving chapter in the biennial series The World’s Water edited by Peter Gleick, and people with events to contribute to the chronology are encouraged to send them, with full citations and supporting information, to

Based in Oakland, California, the Pacific Institute is a non-partisan research institute that works to create a healthier planet and sustainable communities. Through interdisciplinary research and partnering with stakeholders, the Institute produces solutions that advance environmental protection, economic development, and social equity – in California, nationally, and internationally.