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River basins potential source of international conflict, UN reports

River basins potential source of international conflict, UN reports

The future flash points for conflict could be the river basins upon which millions of people depend for drinking water, irrigation and energy, unless countries take urgent action to share those resources, according to a new atlas launched by the United Nations today.

The atlas, launched by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Oregon State University to mark World Water Day, shows that cooperative agreements are lacking in 158 of 263 river basins that cross or delineate international boundaries and suggests urgent diplomatic negotiation is needed.

Speaking at the Third World Water Forum in Japan, UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said the study, published as the Atlas of International Freshwater Agreements, "is both cause for alarm and cause for optimism." The publication chronicles the history of water agreements and treaties as far back as 2,500 B.C. and shows that cooperation between countries, the sharing of resources, has been the historical norm.

Drawing on maps, statistical analyses and historical documents, the Atlas lists 263 rivers that either cross or mark international political boundaries in 145 countries, representing half of the Earth's land surface and 60 per cent of its freshwater. Many are in Asia, Latin America and Africa, where rising populations, and existing political, social and environmental upheavals, may aggravate tensions over water.