An Opportunity For Change

by Srishti Sharma

Environmental wealth or scarcity has always given rise to conflict. Our history is sprinkled with instances where countries have fought over natural resources. Population growth, urbanization, rising consumption, climate change, environmental degradation, and new technologies for the extraction and processing of natural resources have led to large scale environmental damage and are a source of major conflict across boundaries as everyone wants to get their hands on the available natural resources. Out of land grabbing, sand mining conflicts, industrialisation of fishing, fights over fuel etc. water conflicts are major and most commonly heard of.

There can be no life without water and there is nothing more valuable than this natural gift. Though plenteous, the sources of fresh water are limited and increasing demand due to population growth is a chief cause of concern. The regional and seasonal availability and quality of water have been impacted by climate change and environmental degradation. Rapidly increasing competition over water use has led to conflicts and sometimes violence.

Whether it is the unilateral irrigation plans altering the flows of the rivers, coupled with political tensions between the countries, that have strained relations in the Euphrates – Tigris Basin shared between Turkey, Syria and Iraq; Iran and Afghanistan’s water disputes due to agricultural expansion and dam construction or the long-standing conflict over water from the Kaveri river between the Indian states Karnataka and Tamil Nadu etc. dispute and conflicts over water across the world are commonplace and need to be resolved. Though straight of the edge modern technology can be a prospective solution in future where individual needs can be satiated but, it is not an answer that can be relied on. The methods of rain water harvesting, humidifiers and fog harps seem like a very utopian idea and have their own limitations. They cannot be viewed as a viable solution to solve water conflicts at least in the near future.

In order to resolve an environmental conflict, the first step is to develop an understanding of the context in which we operate. Breaking down what the conflict is and then defining it comes next. The other important step is to identify the stake holders involved in the conflict. That entails evaluating each individual stakeholder’s needs, interests and positions. Recognising the actual reason of conflict between two parties and mapping it helps keep a balance between the different needs of the individual stakeholders and the possible scenarios to reach a solution or agreement. The connection between societies and the environment is perpetual and we are inevitably tied to the environment.  The natural resources available to us help form social cohesion even though we constantly fight for growing needs. These competing needs and wants that lead to conflict and tension can be steered in a beneficial and restorative way and can lead to stronger more long lasting solutions that would reunite the communities and restore social order. The very thing that causes conflict can be used as a way of seeing interconnectedness of structures, behaviours and relationships and interdependence on each other.  It can help in forming shared solutions that are much more plausible and are good for the people and planet alike. Conflict itself isn’t always negative, it’s just an opportunity for change.

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