PUBPOL 580S: Water Cooperation and Conflict

Course overview

Water resources provide to peoples and societies a myriad of economic and environmental benefits, related to productivity, consumption, health, and general well-being. Some experts however argue that conflicts over water are likely to become more frequent and violent as human population growth and development patterns increase pressure on available supplies of freshwater. This course will focus on the theories and historical evidence on linkages between water resources and conflict or cooperation. Our primary interest will be directed to transboundary water issues, broadly defined. Conceptual issues related to water scarcity, and theories of natural resource conflict, hydro politics, hydro hegemony and water security will be discussed. The role of multiple and diverse stakeholders, and the spatial scale of disputes or agreements over water will also be considered. International water resource problems will also be linked to a broader literature on the management of public goods and economic externalities as they relate to the environment and health.

Students will read about contemporary research on the patterns of water and resource conflict and cooperation, learn about the norms and laws for mediating water conflict at different jurisdictional levels, and relate these to current events related to water. Students will be expected to critically assess a) the assumptions of different elements of this research, and b) attempts thus far to classify or systematize knowledge of water resources conflicts and cooperation. Case studies of the Nile and other basins, and individual research projects will complement the broader course outlook.

Course objectives

Student learning will be achieved in the following specific areas in this course:

  • Knowledge of the factors and hypotheses that have contributed to the emergence of writings on water conflict and cooperation over the recent historical period;
  • Identification of specific cases of water conflict and types of agreements and cooperative frameworks devised for managing them (including a focused exploration of the Nile Basin led by a guest instructor);
  • Understanding of the basis for predictions that have been made about the future of water management from a variety of disciplinary perspectives;
  • Evaluation of various explanations for conflict and cooperation pertaining to water resources. This will include the following specific issues:
    a) Consideration of the importance and meaning of different conceptions of the value of water, including notions related to scarcity;
    b) Evaluation of different definitions of water rights for dealing with conflicts;
    c) Assessment of the role of institutions designed to deal with such problems;and
    d) Weighting of the importance of uncertainty and its role in encouraging risk aversive management strategies in light of the possibility of climate change and population-level impacts on health and well-being.
  • Exploration and conceptualization of an in in depth research project (quantitative or qualitative in nature) investigating a specific water resource issue that holds particular
    interest for the student.

Recent syllabus – Spring 2016