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An interdisciplinary approach to water basin analysis and conflict resolution

3.4.1 Summary of disciplinary survey
3.4.2 Towards an interdisciplinary approach
3.4.3 Water and its evaluation

In the survey of disciplines relevant to the analysis of water basins and water conflicts, I examined the applicability of several paradigms to water issues in general, and to the conflict over the waters of the Jordan River watershed in particular. I showed, in the process, that each discipline offers several useful tools and guidelines for water basin analysis, but that no single discipline can provide all the answers necessary for a thorough study. In this section, I select useful tools from each discipline and compile them in a single interdisciplinary analytical framework that might be applicable to any international watershed.

Summary of disciplinary survey

Each of the disciplines surveyed offers useful tools and guidelines for water basin analysis. The physical sciences offer several practical options, both for increasing water supply through such measures as desalination and waste-water reclamation, and for decreasing demand, through more efficient agricultural practices. Other technical options offered included other political entities - through shared information and technology - and other water basins, through water transfers.

A discussion of law has revealed that, although assignment of water rights is requisite both for addressing past and present grievances, and for the establishment of water markets, the current state of international water law is not sufficiently developed to handle the task. Treaties, which can be negotiated using the principles of ADR and incorporating the guidelines of "dispute systems design" to encourage ongoing conflict resolution, are both site and conflict specific. Emphasis, therefore, might be placed on water-sharing and basin-development treaties, incorporating the contentious issues raised historically of "equity" ("Who gets how much?") and "control" ("From where, and whose hand is on the tap?").

Political science suggests strategies for reducing water use within each country, informed by the relative salience and power of each of the groups of water users. A discussion of international relations has suggested some ambiguity over whether increased international integration of water planning and projects leads to increased stabilization or the opposite, to increased points for contention. This discussion, combined with the lessons offered in the section on history and in the field of dispute systems design, may reinforce the contention that both joint planning and joint water projects may be designed in a progression of cooperation toward the goal of ever-increasing integration, but starting with "small and doable" projects safeguarding the need for each political entity to have direct control over its own primary water source.

Economics offers the useful tools of the benefit-cost analysis, to help provide a method of comparative measurement of water projects, and the water market, which could help to increase efficiency both within each entity and internationally. Prerequisites for the latter include allowing the price of water to reflect its true costs and the clear assignment of water rights, both of which, we found, present difficulties under the current conditions. Some policy guidelines were offered as well, including allowing the price of water to reflect the costs associated with its development, treatment, storage, and delivery, as mentioned above, which might lead to greater efficiency of water use and greater incentive both for water-saving research and even for international cooperation.

A brief discussion of game theory has suggested that the field offers options both in terms of predicting the strategies that might be chosen by entities in competition over water, and for analysing the distribution of pay-offs for potential cooperative projects, for a variety of possible coalitions.

Finally, ADR offers guidelines for the process of resolving conflicts, from prenegotiation, to the process itself, to guidelines for implementation. Suggestions have been made for when a party should, or should not, be at the negotiating table to begin with, and what can be expected, given each party's "bargaining mix." The recent subfield of ADR, "dispute systems design," offers methods to incorporate the dynamics of conflict resolution into the institutions that deal with conflicts. Some of these methods may be applicable to physical systems of cooperation as well.

Towards an interdisciplinary approach

The discussions of history and physical science have conveyed a sense of water basin planning as an ongoing dynamic process, as water quantity, quality, and demand factors all fluctuate over space and time. Political science also shows the equally fluctuating political pressures that act on water policy markers, both within each political entity and internationally. From ADR, we have found that successful conflict resolution should be equally dynamic, with constant feedback and iteration incorporated within the process to match the variability of both the physical and the political systems.

Even while recognizing the fluctuations inherent to water basin analysis, we can also recognize the need to examine each option available and its viability at a certain point in time. To bring options and evaluations together, I begin by listing each of the technical options presented in the section on physical science, and adding the policy options recommended by economics. Each option can then be evaluated for its viability, as recommended in three sections - physical sciences, economics, and political science.

I offer three phases to the process of water conflict analysis, parallel to ADR's prenegotiation, negotiation, and implementation (Susskind and Cruikshank 1987). Within each phase, I offer guidelines as suggested by the previous disciplinary discussions. The justification for each phase from ADR is included in parentheses, as are the disciplines that inform each of the guidelines.

  1. Preliminary watershed analysis. (Identify Actors' Initial Hydropolitical Position)
  1. A framework for evaluation: options and viability. (Invent Options for Mutual Gain)
  1. Implementation. (Determine Feedback Mechanism for Perpetuating Agreement)

To match the technical, economic, and political dynamics of the system, I suggest that the process of analysis be both interactive and iterative, as described below.

Preliminary watershed analysis

To develop a suitable strategy for a water basin under conflict, one must determine what technical and policy tools are most appropriate, given the specific physical and political parameters.

The first stage of a preliminary watershed analysis ought to include a brief survey of the current hydropolitical position of each of the actors. Attitudes and power relationships might be examined, which, in addition to future water needs, might suggest what bargaining mix each player will bring to the table. Power, in hydropolitical terms, may include riparian position and legal water rights, in addition to the more traditional forms of political and military power.

Both defined overall goals and a reasonable planning horizon should then be determined. For an overall goal, I suggest "providing for future water needs while alleviating water-related political pressures." I have chosen a 30-year planning horizon, which both allows observation of long-term effects of shortterm policy decisions and provides time for larger technical projects to be implemented and their effects studied.

The next step is to project adequately the water needs for each entity over the planning horizon. For this purpose, a "water stress index," as developed by Falkenmark (1989a), is used that relies on an index of per capita water availability (PCA). Falkenmark (1989a; 1989b) and Falkenmark et al. (1989) describe the combined PCA for a population in a semi-arid region as follows:

Falkenmark combines all uses - domestic, agricultural, and industrial - in her calculations, and includes only natural sources - no additions for reclaimed water or desalination, for example. In actuality, industrialized countries willing to invest heavily in water technology and management might not be under the same "stress" as another country with the same PCA. Nevertheless, from the categories presented, it is clear that policy options are different for countries in different categories. The concept of "drought," for example, might mean a lack of water for survival in Ethiopia, a lack of water for agriculture in Jordan, or a lack of delivery infrastructure in Spain. As described in the next chapter, each of the riparians to the Jordan watershed falls well below the "water barrier."

The next step is to calculate water supply and demand dynamically over the planning horizon. There are dangers associated with any extrapolations over time, which increase, the further into the future a model projects. Patten (1976) and Bossel (1986) discuss ecosystem modelling and the hazards of extrapolation. It is recommended, by these authors and others, that any predictive model should incorporate any of a variety of possible scenarios and that a range of results should be presented. In a model of water supply and demand, these scenarios might include population variations, based on changing birth or death rates or on immigration or emigration. Supply fluctuations from the natural system might be included, as might gains from technical advances or increased cooperation, or losses from global warming or the demands of a higher standard of living. The uncertainties of resource estimates, such as aquifer yield and surface water supplies, should also be included.

A framework for evaluation: Options and viability


Once one knows the planning horizon and goals of a watershed plan, and has calculated what the future water needs are likely to be, one can look to the technical and policy options described in previous sections to determine the most useful strategy over time. These options for overcoming shortages in a watershed, taken from the physical sciences and from economics, are as follows:

Unilateral Options


  1. Population control.
  2. Public awareness.
  3. Allow price to reflect true costs (including national water markets).
  4. Efficient agriculture, including:


  1. Waste-water reclamation.
  2. Increase catchment and storage (including artificial groundwater recharge).
  3. Cloud seeding.
  4. Desalination.
  5. Fossil aquifer development.

Cooperative Options

  1. Shared information and technology.
  2. International water markets.
  3. Interbasin water transfers.
  4. Joint regional planning.


Once the technical and policy options are known, the next, and probably the most crucial, step is to develop a method for evaluating the options against each other; that is, to create a hierarchy of viability. As explored in previous sections, many disciplines provide their own version of viability. Where an engineer might ask, "Can it be done?", an economist might add, "At what cost?", a political analyst could suggest, "Is it politically feasible?", and anyone environmentally aware might counter, "Should it be done at all?"

One problem with these varied standards of viability is that they often measure at cross purposes, arriving at differing or even contradictory conclusions. Dinar and Wolf (1991), for example, evaluate a potential transfer of water from the Nile to the Jordan basin, in terms of both economic and political viability. Their findings using each standard are in diametric opposition to each other: whereas an economic analysis suggests greater payoffs for larger coalitions of cooperating states, a political investigation shows that the likelihood of such coalitions actually forming decreases as the size of the coalition increases, and that the most likely action is no cooperation whatsoever.

What I propose here is a unified approach to overall viability that incorporates established measures for technical (including environmental), economic, and political viability. Technical viability measures the physical parameters of a system or proposal: how much water might be produced; what is the quality; how reliable is the source, and what are the likely environmental impacts? Economic viability has one primary standard efficiency. For relative water projects, one might use the results of a benefitcost analysis and use the resulting net present value of benefits as a measure or, more directly, the cost per unit water that would result from each project. An im portent economic point is that costs are not fixed over time. A "resource depletion curve" for any project would show at what rate the utility, or value, of a unit of water would begin to drop and, consequently, what the most efficient rate of development would be.

The most tenuous measure is political viability. To incorporate this important parameter in an integrated model, one must use a relative scale for a value that is difficult to quantify. While I recognize the general lack of enthusiasm for quantitative political analysis for its necessarily subjective nature (see Ascher 1989, for a good critique), I recommend the inclusion of results of a process such as the PRINCE Political Accounting System. Coplin and O'Leary (1976) describe the method of incorporating each player's "position," "power," and "salience," for any of a number of policy options, to arrive at a relative ranking of political viability. In Coplin and O'Leary (1983) they extend the process to provide an absolute measure of the likelihood of a policy action taking place. Appendix IV shows how the PRINCE Political Accounting System might be applied to derive a measure for political viability, in this case for a number of possible coalitions for a transfer of water from the Nile to the Jordan basin (Diner and Wolf 1992).

Two other qualitative measures might be used for political viability. For projects within a country, how well a proposal "fits" with national goals might be evaluated. Population control, for example, which might be successful in western Europe or the United States, runs counter to both Israeli and Palestinian interests in numerical superiority. International projects might be determined in terms of relative measures for "equity" of project costs and water distribution, and "control" by each political entity of its own major water sources.

The above measures of viability can be described in qualitative terms (+, 0, - , for example, representing good, neutral, or poor) adequate for a preliminary analysis. If the resources are available to perform a detailed feasibility study, the results can be described quantitatively as well. Listed below are the proposed measures of viability, followed by the possible quantitative standards that might be used:

  1. Engineering
  1. Economic
  1. Political


Table 3.1 shows the technical and policy options listed lengthwise, and the possible measures of viability along the top, so that any possible option can then be evaluated with each measure of viability. By examining the results, it should be possible to sense which options are more viable than others, and why. It should be remembered that these results are for a particular geographic location, and for a single point in time.

Although a column is provided for a measure of "overall viability," it is recommended that, if this column is used at all, it be used with great caution. First, each measure does not necessarily have equal weight, and each was arrived at with both some subjectivity and some uncertainty. Adding or multiplying across would therefore only compound and accumulate error. Instead, by leaving the measures separate, one acquires a greater sense of why options are viable and where emphasis can be placed for the future in order to help boost viability. Public awareness, for example, has been shown to be a very cost-effective method of saving water, but the total amount that can be saved is rather small in comparison to the total water budget. In contrast, unlimited water can be made available through desalination, but at a relatively higher cost. The latter might change with technological breakthroughs, but the former is likely to remain fairly constant over time.

As mentioned above, each measure can be evaluated in qualitative terms, such as +, O. - , to represent good, neutral, or poor, or quantitatively, using the values described above. Chapter 4 includes a discussion of the options available to the Jordan River watershed using qualitative values, and several examples of quantitative evaluation are also presented.

It should be emphasized that this evaluation process should be iterative repeated often to allow for the constant changes of so many of the parameters over space and time. Changes that can affect viability include the following:

Table 3.1 Evaluation table for tools to decrease demand or increase supply of water


Viability measure

  Technicala Economicb Politicalc Overall Viability
Population control _/_/_/_ ________ ________ = ________
Public awareness _/_/_/_ ________ ________ = ________
Allow price to reflect true costs (incl. na tional water markets) _/_/_/_ ________ ________ = ________
Efficient agriculture:  
Drip-irrigation _/_/_/_ ________ ________ = ________
Greenhouse technology  
_/_/_/_ ________ ________ = ________
Genetic engineering for drought and sal inity resistance  
_/_/_/_ ________ ________ = ________
Waste-water reclamation _/_/_/_ ________ ________ = ________
Increase catchment and storage  
_/_/_/_ ________ ________ = ________
Cloud-seeding _/_/_/_ ________ ________ = ________
Desalination _/_/_/_ ________ ________ = ________
Fossil aquifer develop ment  
_/_/_/_ ________ ________ = ________
Cooperative Shared information and technology  
_/_/_/_ ________ ____/___ = ________
International water markets  
_/_/_/_ ________ ____/___ = ________
Interbasin transfers _/_/_/_ ________ ____/___ = ________
Regional planning _/_/_/_ ________ ____/___ = ________

a. Quantity/quality/reliability/environmental impact.
b. Efficiency.
c. National goals (or international: equity/control).

  1. Technical:
  1. research and development
  2. storage and delivery
  1. Economic:
  1. Political:
  1. riparian position
  2. military
  3. legal (e.g. clarity of water rights)
  4. form and stability of government

The evaluation process should also allow for interaction, with ongoing feedback between the disciplines, to reflect real-world influences. For example, a project with extremely positive economic results might help overcome political reluctance to enter into cooperation. Likewise, political constraints can effectively cause a project, which has been judged worthwhile in terms of its technical and economic value, to be vetoed.


Based both on the information of the preliminary watershed investigation and on the ranking of technical and policy options from the evaluation framework described above, a plan can be developed for the watershed in question, both to overcome projected deficits in the water budget and, in the process, to help alleviate water-related political pressures. Lessons from political science in general, and from the region's history of hydropolitics specifically, can be combined to develop a plan for increasing cooperation and integration as political relations develop. The process techniques from ADR can help to guide the actors through the negotiation process and allow feedback for ongoing conflict resolution in the future.

The general steps that might be followed include the following.


The previous discussion of history, law, and political science suggests that, because much water conflict has been over ambiguities over water rights, any attempt at cooperative projects preceding the clarification of these rights would be building on years of accumulated ill will. It was also mentioned, in the section on economics, that the clear establishment of property rights is a prerequisite for any market solution. As also discussed previously, the political viability of international planning or projects depends on each entity agreeing on the equity of the project (who gets how much), and on control of the resource (from where, and who controls it). The necessary steps include (a) negotiating property rights to existing resources, (b) guaranteeing control of a water source adequate to meet future needs, and (c) addressing the issue of equity within the design of any cooperative project. As these steps involve a separation of control as a precondition to "integration," we might refer to the process as "disintegration."


Each party to negotiations usually has its own interests uppermost in mind. The initial claims, or "starting points" in the language of ADR, often seek to maximize those interests. By closely examining the assumptions and beliefs behind the starting points, one might be able to glean clues for inducing some movement within the "bargaining mix" of each party. These underlying assumptions and beliefs may also provide indications for the creative solutions necessary to move from distributive bargaining ("win-lose") over the amount of water each entity should receive, to integrative bargaining ("win-win") - inventing options for mutual gain.


Building on the first two steps, the riparians of a watershed, who have clear water rights and control of enough water for their immediate needs, might begin to work slowly towards increasing cooperation on projects or planning. Even hostile riparians, it has been shown, can cooperate if the scale is small and the cooperation is secret. Building on that small-scale cooperation, and keeping the concerns of equity and control firmly in mind, projects might be developed to increase integration within the watershed, or even between watersheds over time.

The design of a plan or project can incorporate a feedback loop to allow for greater cooperation as political relations develop, encouraging the project always to remain on the cutting edge of political relations. A process for ongoing conflict resolution would also help to relieve tensions that might arise owing to fluctuations in the natural system.

The "cooperation-inducing design" process described in this section can be applied to water rights negotiations, to watershed planning, or to cooperative projects for watershed development, as described in chapter 4.

Water and its evaluation

Because of water's particular "salience" and its singular characteristics as a resource, it is not surprising that water poses a particular challenge for the disciplines that attempt to analyse conflict. Delli Priscoli (1992) lists five kinds of conflicts: value, interest, structural, data, and relationship conflicts. Water has been, and will no doubt continue to be, the source of many conflicts of all five types.

As is seen in this chapter, the disciplines through which we seek to evaluate conflicts have parallel roles, sometimes complementary, sometimes contradictory, in the long-term assessment of water basin development. One important point that should be mentioned is that none of the paradigms are autonomous. Just as political considerations can effectively block a project with an otherwise favourable economic evaluation, a project that can be shown to bring greater economic welfare to a region might influence the political decision-making process to allow the necessary cooperation.

Because these disciplines become so intertwined in issues raised by international water scarcity, the proponents of each approach increasingly have to become not only aware, but thoroughly knowledgeable, of the criteria and concerns of the other.

As the interdisciplinary needs of water resources planning draw the worlds of the physical scientist, the economist, and the political analyst increasingly closer, each will have to learn at least a little about the other. Hydrologic variations in water supply and demand, political considerations of equity, control, and ideology, and economic measures of marginal utility and relative advantage, all interact to determine overall viability of solutions to interbasin water issues. But new opportunities to influence, rather than strictly to analyse, the needs and opportunities of a water basin can ensue from a united language, resulting in increased options for the ever-desperate inhabitants of water basins. The results, finally, should be well worth the effort.

One such interdisciplinary framework for water conflict analysis, presented in this chapter, might be applied to any number of the more than 200 international water basins. The results of such an analysis are extremely site specific, however, depending on the unique combination of hydrology and politics of each basin. In chapter 4 this interdisciplinary framework is applied to the Jordan River watershed, to explore options for watershed development and cooperationinducing project design.

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