All's Fair in Oil and Water: Conflicts, Compromises, and Compacts

Oil and water scarcities are already major causes of conflict within and between nations. Such hostilities are only expected to grow in enormity as widespread shortages become more commonplace in the 21st century. Sometimes oil- & water-based conflicts are resolved through compromises or compacts, an effort currently being attempted with the Great Lakes Compact. In this program, some questions raised include: How have oil and water been part of historical conflicts, and what lessons can we learn from these? Where are communities, countries, and regions being pitted against one another in fights over resources? How do issues of class, race, and geographical resource imbalance affect resource conflicts? What can be predicted about future conflicts over oil and water?

The web resources for this program are organized according to geographical region, with several additional links included at the bottom of the page. Conflicts and their impacts often span several regions, but the resources have been classified as to their major areas of focus.

Web resources available:

I. Africa

II. Middle East & Central Asia

III. Iraq War

IV. China, India & Australasia 

V. The Great Lakes & North America

VI. Additional Information

I. Africa

African oil nations must fight corruption (from AFP, September 2005)

Oil-rich countries in Africa must deal with the costly ‘culture of corruption' plaguing their oil industries. This corruption is linked to both financial security (avoiding losses) and perception problems in regions that have widespread poverty despite national oil wealth.

UN's Annan to mediate Cameroon, Nigeria land dispute (Naija Post, February 2005)

Coastal oil reserves caused tensions between Nigeria and Cameroon, which required the intercession of the UN Secretary General.

East Africa: Now Oil-Rich Country to Join Comesa FTA (The East African, December 2006)

The East African details the different oil alliances and agreements across the African continent, starting with Libya's new inclusion in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.

Nigeria: An eerie lull in the violent Delta (Economist, November 2007)

Even in times of relative peace, the tensions bred by Nigeria's oil reserves leaves open the real possibility of reinstated violence.

The slippery business of oil (Economist, June 2008)

Oil companies trying to maintain investments in Nigeria's sizeable reserves must deal with the violence that has darkened the country's oil dealings in recent years. This increases the risk of investment, which, because of Nigeria's centrality and importance to the global oil market, increases world market volatility.

Cracks in the peace in oil-rich Sudan as old tensions fester (NY Times, September 2007)

Sudan's ethnic and political tensions are exacerbated-sometimes created-through disputes over oil reserves. This article shows that these tensions are not binary and stretch across multiple regions and factions of Sudan.

Africa at large: We demand our place on the global economy (Business Daily Kenya, October 2007)

Africa wants the opportunity to develop across the entirety of the continent, which will benefit the world economy as a whole. ‘The challenge is for the industrialised countries to help Africa train its people fast enough to acquire, assimilate and apply science and technology to create new wealth, promote sustainable growth and to fight poverty.'

Drying up and flooding out (Economist, May 2007)

The Economist links Western negligence of African economic plights with the necessity of African leaders to industrialize and develop within the context of today's society. This particularly includes coming to reality, along with the west, of a climate-change cognizant economic agenda.

Starving people can't follow any 'world order' (The EastAfrican, January 2001)

This article, written from an East African perspective, argues that regions in the non-western world must deal with crises of scarcity with whatever means possible. International political and economic forces and organizations should not be determinate when dealing with these scarcity-based issues.

China: Winning friends and influence in Africa (IPS News, November 2006)

China has been attacked by some for its use of African resources. China staged a summit on Sino-African issues in late 2006, meant to highlight China's positive contributions to the region.

Angola's Oil Not Flowing for Safer Water (IPS News Agency, December 2006)

Angola, one of Africa's most oil-rich nations, has seen the emergence of a cholera epidemic due to a lack of safe drinking water. International political considerations, largely dictated by Angolan oil exportation, have prevented more forceful action or pressure to alleviate the crisis.

Fuel Price Discourse: Oil: Prize Or Curse? an International Quagmire (, July 2004)

This article sees Nigeria's economic power through oil reserves as a source of short- and long-term instability, particularly highlighting corruptive practices and internal antagonisms.

In Kenya crisis, a reminder of African economic fragility (International Herald Tribune, January 2008)

Violence and continued hostilities make the process of economic industrialization a risky venture in African nations. Increases in wealth possibilities, such as oil reserves, raise the stakes of already dangerous situations and standoffs.

U.S. minority-owned businesses face special challenges in Africa (, November 2003)

Emergent energy markets in Africa are opportunities for small business investment, according to the Department of State. This article also speculates on African energy as a top sector for minority-owned small businesses to take root and the problems they face in doing so.

When disaster strikes (The Guardian, July 2001)

This article describes the fall and attempted rise of Shell following revelation of human rights problems under the company's auspices in Nigeria.

Ten years on, Nigeria's Ogoni minority mark Saro-Wiwa's death (Agence France Presse, November 2005)

Shell's problems in Nigeria largely stem from non-allocation of resources for the Ogoni near an oil-rich delta. These tensions are still prevalent, as evidenced by large-scale protests commemorating the death of a hero to the Ogoni minority in Nigeria.

France warns climate change driving war, hunger (from Agence France Presse, April 2008)

French President Nicolas Sarkozy highlights how water scarcity and the drying up of land, tied to global climate change, are fueling major conflicts and migrations. Sarkozy specifically sees Darfur as an example of required emigrations that fomented conflict.

II. Middle East & Central Asia

Water Wars: the next major conflict in the Middle East (Mideast News, June 1994)

This mid-1990s lecture by British journalist Adel Darwish paints a bleak picture of water's future centrality to Middle Eastern conflict. Though the piece is somewhat dated, the general themes and tenor of the piece still hold resonance.

Liquid assets (The Guardian, July 2001)

The Middle Eastern water crisis affects basic facts of life such as food production. In the volatile region, hydro-problems are intensely, dangerously political, and their solutions must be global in reach. Also included is a short piece on tourism in the Canary Islands and the adaptations needed to deal with water scarcity.

Persian Gulf Oil and Gas Exports Fact Sheet (Energy Information Administration, March 2002)

This site gives comprehensive information on the oil market in the pre-2003 Middle East. The war in Iraq and its effects have altered the oil balance of the region, but the issues of oil flows, regional importation/exportation, and the Persian Gulf within the global oil market that this site addresses are still central to discussions on oil.

Oil Power and Adversity in Iraq's Experience: Case History of the Middle East (Strategic Insights, April 2008)

Oil is a major factor contributing to the current destabilization of the Middle East. The author discusses this historically and offers ideas of a new framing for resolving the Middle East's oil problems.

UN warns of climate change danger in Mideast (International Herald Tribune, March 2008)

According to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, water shortages in the Middle East are predicted to grow, causing increased pressure on the region in its search for necessities along with an increased likelihood of conflict with its roots in water disputes.

Israel and Turkey strike 20-year water deal (US Water News Online, August 2002)

Water shortages play a role in Israel's foreign policy decisions, including its 2002 purchase of water from Turkey that was directly linked to an arms deal.

Central Asia: Age-Old water problem brings tensions to a boil (Radio Free Europe, June 2008)

Central Asia faces perennial challenges in ensuring that each constituent nation has access to an adequate supply of potable water. This problem stems from resources being spread non-equally across the region-with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan lacking in domestic water sources.

Kazakh paper warns of possible hostilities over water in Central Asia (originally in Russian, March 2002)

This article focuses specifically on Kazakhstan's problems with water shortages and the need for regional, long-term solutions to this continual crisis.

Colonialism is alive and well in the Middle East (from The Times of London and reproduced on, December 2001)

This article argues for more western involvement in the Middle East as the cure for tensions rooted in colonial antagonisms. Issues of political involvement and pressures are linked directly to oil production due to the Middle East's vast reserves, whose presence on the global oil market largely follow with political shifts.

III. Iraq War

U.S. is banking on Iraq oil to finance reconstruction (NY Times, April 2003)

Jeff Gerth discusses both the governmental and private sector interests in the Iraqi oil market following the 2003 invasion. Since the exact situation of Iraq's oil supply was unknown, there were conflicting reports of the expected oil regime under U.S. leadership.

In Iraq's oil fields, signs of hope finally are emerging (USA Today, June 2008)

Iraq's oil supply has remained below pre-war levels since the 2003 invasion. This situation shows signs of change, but the future is still up in the air due to varying control of oil fields, dynamic political circumstances, and changes within the world oil market..

Deals with Iraq are set to bring oil giants back (NY Times, June 2008)

Western oil companies are negotiating with the Iraqi government over access to the country's oil resources. Since this article was published, the no-bid contracts have been delayed while several oil fields have been opened for private production.

Iraq's Oil Surge (Wall Street Journal, July 2008)

The Wall Street Journal advocates for Iraq's opening of oil fields to Western oil companies, praising the Iraqi government for putting competition above nationalism.

Analysis: Iraq, oil and Greenspan's Gospel (UPI, September 2007)

‘History and reality cap the fallout from former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's one-liner in his new book that the war in Iraq is "largely about oil."' The quote from Greenspan is placed in context of Greenspan's entire book, the recent history of oil in U.S. foreign policy discussions, and comments by those agreeing with or dissenting from Greenspan's appraisal.

Where majors fear to tread (Telegraph, January 2007)

Smaller oil companies have become major players in Iraq's oil industry, taking on the risks associated with the country's volatility. One oil official quoted cites world oil scarcity as a major factor pushing these risky involvements.

The Black Box: Inside Iraq's Oil Machine (Harper's, December 2007)

Luke Mitchell starts from an impressionistic, episodic view of one Iraqi oil field and goes on to discuss the sometimes incomprehensible Iraqi oil system. This confused complexity arises, according to Mitchell, from the larger unsettled nature of Iraq's governing system.

IV. China, India & Australasia

China will speed up Beijing water delivery for Olympic Games (Associated Press, January 2008)

China is hurrying up the construction of canals and dams to facilitate the water needs of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Beijing has recently faced drought conditions and continual problems with construction of water redistribution passageways and facilities.

Water crisis looming for China, officials warn (Boston Globe, January 2004)

The enormity of China's water scarcity situation is somewhat masked by industrialization and consumption levels. However, China has large swathes of-growing-‘brown' areas, which lack the water for sustainable agricultural and industrial growth. Proposed solutions to these problems carry their own problems, including economic costs and negative environmental impacts.

Encroaching desert threatens northern China (Seattle Times-Associated Press, June 2000)

China is losing 1,000 square miles of fertile land per year to desert growth. This impacts both local communities hit by the encroachment and the larger Chinese and Asian economies. ‘Population growth and industrial development drain reservoirs and underground water tables faster than they can be replenished, leaving city residents and farmers alike without enough water to drink or irrigate crops. The scarcity threatens China's ability to feed itself and is a severe handicap for growing industries.'

Beneath booming cities, China's future is drying up (International Herald Tribune, December 2007)

Despite appearances of increased growth and wealth, industrialized areas in China face a longer-term problem of water scarcity. Increased focus on water's centrality to community survival will need to overtake or integrate with China's current industrial economic single-mindedness.

Beijing announces environmental plan for Three Gorges Dam area (International Herald Tribune, November 2007)

The Three Gorges Dam project presents challenges to the balance between water usage and the environmental/natural impact of water redistribution in a drying-up region. Criticisms of the project and official responses are discussed.

Water wars and the British Raj (Salon, February 2007)

Disputes over water resources on the Indian subcontinent are linked to past decisions made when the British were the dominant power of the region. The tensions bred by this are exacerbated by the growing crisis of Indian water scarcity, which is only predicted to get worse.

Water trading plan 'feudal' (Canberra Times, April 2008)

An Australian farmer advocates for equal access, or democratic allotment of, water resources. The article cites the unconditional provision of water for all persons' basic needs as necessary, with government distribution as the mechanism for Australia to achieve this.

Migrant plan warning (The Advertiser, February 2008)

Human migration patterns may be pigeonholed by water scarcity, as areas otherwise inclined for population growth may not have resources to accommodate such growth. South Australia possibly faces such a scenario in the upcoming decades.  

V. The Great Lakes & U.S.

Provinces loosen tap on Great Lakes water diversion (Globe and Mail, 2005)

Canada agreed to water diversions from the Great Lakes to U.S. communities that lack potable water sources. Objections were raised by various Canadian interests and individuals, dealing with issues of sovereignty, short-term necessities, and the appropriate protections (or lack thereof) placed on the agreements.

Minn. lawmakers advance multi-state water management compact (Land Letter, 2007)

While focusing on Minnesota's road towards passage of the Great Lakes Compact, the legislative trajectories of the Compact in other states are highlighted.

How to solve America's water problems (Salon, 2008)

Recent migration patterns in the United States have flowed from areas with large water resources, such as the Great Lakes, to areas with milder climates and less water, to places like Atlanta and San Diego. There is now a tension between the growing water needs in the U.S. south and the protection of Great Lakes' water resources.

Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact Implementation

The Council of Great Lakes Governors provide this compendium of information on the Compact relating to its background and legislative progress.

Counterpoint: The compact is flawed (Milwaukee Small Business Times, March 2008); I voted against the Great Lakes Compact (blog post, May 2008)

Mary Lazich is a Wisconsin state senator who, in May 2008, voted against the Great Lakes Compact when it came before the Senate. She briefly details her reasons for opposition before and after votes for passage were taken in the Wisconsin State Senate.

Understanding the Great Lakes Compact (National Wildlife Federation, May 2007)

The National Wildlife Federation supports the Compact and provides this brief be ‘to assist [state-by-state passage of the Compact] by addressing legal issues related to its approval by each of the States. Once the States have adopted the Compact, Congressional consent will make the Compact effective.'

Great Lakes Compact Would Hurt Michigan Agriculture, Economy (Environment & Climate News, April 2008)

The science director at the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank, attacks the Compact as having potentially devastating impacts on Michigan's economy.

Great Lakes Compact at center of great debate (USA Today, December 2006)

Focusing on New Berlin, Wisconsin, a city that falls halfway within the Great Lakes watershed, USA Today brings to the forefront specific instances in which the Compact's policies have or will cause debate and conflict.

Water Works Coalition forms to protect jobs and resources (Reuters, December 2007)

A coalition of job providers and municipalities -- the Water Works Coalition -- is pressing state lawmakers to adopt Senate Great Lakes Compact legislation that would ensure water remains one of Michigan's most important competitive economic advantages. At the same time, the group says a House package of water related bills would kill job creation and investment in the state.

The Future Is Drying Up (NY Times, October 2007)

This is a detailed look, featuring both broad perspectives and individual accounts, at the effects of the current water crisis within a U.S. national context.

Dry West sends out for water (USA Today, July 2004)

The reality of water shortages in the western United States requires long-term importation of water, with the need growing as the regional population grows.

Nor any drop to drink (Economist, December 2007)

‘Gripped by drought, America's West is rethinking how it uses water'

No longer waiting for rain, an arid West takes action (International Herald Tribune, April 2007)

This article details some of the larger-scale actions that have been and are being pursued to deal with southwestern U.S. water shortages. The multiplicity of these proposals, some of which were formulated almost a decade ago, indicates the lingering nature of this unsolved problem.

Could climate change herald mass migration? (Toronto Star, July 2007)

The Great Lakes have large reserves of fresh water, distinguishing it from currently growing areas like the U.S. southwest. Long-term migration patterns should, because of water scarcity elsewhere, trend towards Great Lakes regional growth.

Global warming may put U.S. in hot water

As water resources grow more precious, interstate and international conflict over water sources may intensify. As one think-tank member is quoted, ‘Water is connected to everything we care about - energy, human health, food production and politics.'

U.S. Climate Change Science Program, Scientific Assessment of the Effects of Global Change on the United States

This is an official U.S. report remarking on the effects of climate change, occurred and predicted. Included is continued analysis of effects on water sources, whether precipitation, snow and ice runoff, or reservoir capacities. 

Alberta Struggles to Balance Water Needs and Oil (NY Times, August 2002)

The oil industry in Alberta, Canada, came under fire for its water consumption in the face of regional shortages, showing the dilemma and necessity of prioritization faced by oil-rich, water-short areas.

Border fight focuses on water, not immigration (NY Times, July 2006)

Parts of northern Mexico have received their water from southern Californian canal seepage. Around this water source has built up part of the Mexican region's agriculture-based economy. Plans are underway to divert the canal to prevent future seepage into Mexico, which might pressure many more attempts by Mexicans to immigrate illegally.

Las Vegas bids to fuel growth by tapping into farmers' water (Independent, August 2006)

Due to Las Vegas' recent growth, city officials argue for a pipeline to transport water from rural areas. The Independent places this potential ‘water war' within the historical context of historical water transportation in the western United States.

The Water Front's Films (official myspace site)

Water Front's Films short production Water Warriors ‘follows the heated struggle between residents, water workers and corporate managers in Highland Park, Michigan, over the future of the city's most valuable resource - a water plant connected to the Great Lakes.' A link is found on the front page of the myspace page.

Film Analysis: Water Warriors (Media That Matters Film Festival)

This page includes a piece by the director of Water Warriors detailing the conception and realization of the project. The piece highlights a particular community case study in dealing with the changing nature and pressures of water needs.

VI. Additional Information

Water Conflict Chronology (Pacific Institute, February 2008)

A detailed, if somewhat overwhelming outline of water's actual or perceived role in conflicts from prehistory onwards. The chronology's bibliography had  helpful resources for further study of specific water-based conflicts.

Saving the world, drip by drip (World Changing, August 2006)

Changing irrigation practices and structures is a possible solution to the world's water crisis, writes Jeremy Faludi. Farmers can be alleviated of the burden of change through cost-sharing mechanisms with urban communities.

Climate aid scarce for nations at highest risk (International Herald Tribune, April 2007)

The increasing impact of water scarcity is linked with the growing pressures of climate change. This unequally impacts different areas of the world due to varying levels of adaptation abilities. ‘But it is clear that the rich countries are far ahead of the poor ones in adapting to climate change.'

West's policies sow seeds of internal conflict, says study (DAWN, December 2003)

A report released in 2003 directly linked resource scarcities with internal state conflicts. Emigration is also more prevalent (sometimes required) due to rising levels of scarcity. According to the report, ‘countries with low availability of cropland or renewable fresh water were about 1.5 times more likely to experience civil conflict as those in other categories, added the report.'