Water is humanity’s most precious resource. Without it life cannot exist, which is why it is so important for all people all over the world.
For years experts on armed conflict have been predicting that wars would be fought to claim control over water. Already today we are witness to a number of serious conflicts and wars caused by the way this natural resource is managed. Turkey, Syria and Iraq are all in dispute over the water contained in the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers; Angola, Namibia and Botswana compete to control the delta of the Okavango River; Relations between the Lebanon, Israel and Syria are fraught due to disputes over the control of the River Jordan, and we could name many more latent and active conflicts all over the world caused by the same issue.
Often the problem is not caused by there being a shortage of water; it is in fact because the resource is being badly distributed. In order to enable the inhabitants of these countries to enjoy this precious entity, political attention must be focused on the issue and people must recognise a sense of unity that goes beyond political and territorial borders and divisions.
Point VI of the Letter of Peace tells us “When organising new social structures now considered adequate to build a more stable, peaceful society, it is sometimes dangerous to base them on other older structures, even though these may have been considered appropriate in their time. It is safer to build the foundations of these new structures on human geographic units”
The document thus makes three very important points, firstly that we need to revise current social structures and assess whether they are still appropriate and truly contribute to peace; secondly that newly created structures must be designed to deal with the challenges of today and not get stuck in the past when our reality was different; and thirdly, that these new structures designed to deal with new times must be based on Human Geographic Units, which may be more solid and stable and, therefore, not provoke new and violent conflicts.
Human Geographic Units (HGU) are social structures based on natural elements and are made up of collectives who share a range of common characteristics in a particular area. Sometimes, due to historical reasons these social structures, which were designed to address certain needs, caused these human collectives to fragment. Thus, people who previously lived feely and in solidarity, despite the shortage of natural resources, today live in conflict as a result of political borders that were neither chosen nor laid down by them. This current political division could be at the root of confrontations between communities who once lived together or even formed part of the same ethnic or cultural unit, conflicts that are caused by issues relating to our need for natural resources.
The concept of HGU could therefore really help promote peaceful management of the supply of natural resources such as water, as it allows people to move beyond territorial divisions and formulate proposals that favour cohesion between different communities who inhabit these areas. In order to do this we must be able to change old structures peacefully and open ourselves up to new models that help empower us to live together in peace right now.
Today a number of initiatives of this kind have emerged. One of these is Internationally Shared Aquifer Resources Management (ISARM), developed by UNESCO.
Started in 2002, the project aims to locate, map and assess the quality of water found in subterranean aquifers shared by two or more countries, create a data-base to produce reports of case studies and a guide of innovative techniques to deal with the technical, socioeconomic and legal management of these valuable resources. Here are just some of the cases that have been studied up to now: the Nubian Aquifer System that lies hidden beneath the desert that spans Libya, Egypt, Chad and Sudan; the Mimbres Aquifer System located between the Columbus municipalities (New Mexico, United States of America), and Puerto Palomas (Chihuahua, Mexico); the Aquifer that exists on the border between Benin and Togo.
This project also aims to deactivate certain potential conflicts and in order to do this it brings together hydrologists from all these regions so they can carry out joint research on their shared resources, even when these countries are at war with each other. An effort is thus made to share and protect a resource that is of such great value to all. This demonstrates that the need to defend life should be placed above and beyond national boundaries and greater attention should be focused on Geographical Human Units.
This is a valuable experience that reminds us that if we want to build peace we must generate creative answers to new problems that arise in the world, answers that leave old and stagnant structures that obstruct human development in the past and favour union and cooperation amongst different communities and nations instead of divisions that often lead to violent conflicts.