The neglected costs of water peace


Referring to the analytical definition of water wars, several scholars have coherently argued against the “water leads to war thesis.” There are four arguments that have contributed to successfully dispel the myths of water wars: (a) interstate cooperation prevails over conflict; (b) development of new technologies increases freshwater availability; (c) the intrinsic characteristics of water as a resource do not justify interstate military intervention; (d) virtual water trade provides the opportunity to circumvent local water scarcity. These arguments converge demonstrating that rather than water wars in the future, water peace will prevail. While we agree with these arguments on the low likelihood of future water wars, we find that hydropolitical theories have generally neglected the fact that the conditions for interstate water peace come with high socio‐environmental costs. In particular, the central idea that virtual water trade resolve issues of local water scarcity and therefore reduces tensions and escalation of violence among different countries does not fully take into account the fact that dynamics of transnational water appropriation have serious socio‐environmental impacts on the virtual water exporting countries. To conceptualize this phenomenon we introduce the notion of “hidden socio‐environmental costs of virtual water transfer,” which is understood as a specific form of environmental cost‐shifting. The empirical support to our reasoning comes from the study of transnational large‐scale land acquisitions which represent an expanding phenomenon central in the contemporary global agrarian transformation.

Publication Type
Journal Article
Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water