A team of international researchers from 14 institutions have met this week to present and debate the results of a 3-year study on water, conflict and security in the Mediterranean, Middle East and Sahel region in Africa.
The debate is part of the CLICO project, which brings together for the first time some of the world's leading researchers in water resource, vulnerability, and peace and security studies. The project explores the social dimensions of climate change and conflicts related to water, and how these affect national and human security.
The project was led by the Institute for Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA) of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), and financed by the 'Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities (SSH)' Theme of the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
It is expected that the effects of climate change on water will intensify in the Mediterranean and surrounding regions in the coming years. The researchers say this raises potential threats to the security of populations, particularly those most vulnerable to droughts or floods. High-profile people have, in the past, talked about the danger of 'water wars' and about climate change as a threat to national security.
The results of the CLICO project, however, found that such discourses oversimplify a complex reality. Climate and water resource changes are important, but play only a secondary role in conflict and insecurity compared to political, economic and social factors. According to the research, countries with good institutions are unlikely to experience violence because of water, and populations in countries with strong welfare and civil security systems will suffer much less from climate disasters compared to those in countries without.
The project's results were presented at CLICO's final conference in Cyprus, which was held at the same time as the EWACC 2012 (Energy, Water and Climate Change) conference. During the conference policy recommendations were established to raise the security of populations and new ideas were proposed on public policies and institutional arrangements needed to promote peace and security under changing climate and water conditions. Other topics discussed included the relation between droughts, floods and sea-level rise and social conflict, the role of institutions, and international agreements and adaptation policies for human security.
The CLICO studies found the vulnerability of populations stems from deeper causes which precede disaster events, such as poverty, lack of access to education, and corruption in political and administrative institutions. Researchers working on the CLICO project found that development reduces violent domestic conflicts over water and, in some cases, reduces the expansion of large-scale agriculture, which could also be a source of social tensions and conflicts.
A key conclusion found that political discourses must not reiterate simplistic models that link climate change directly to social conflict and insecurity: a better distribution of wealth, greater social protection, universal access to justice and higher levels of democracy can largely help to improve human security and reduce outbreaks of social conflict.
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