Blog Posts March 6, 2018 0

Our Engineers as Security Forces

At the Netherlands’ PeaceTech Lab we focus on ‘food and water as drivers of conflict’. Well, actually we focus on solutions for these conflicts. Sometimes water conflicts are man made. When the government of a country decides to build a river dam and make use of hydro-energy for the  power supply of its population, people living downstream in the neighbouring country who are dependent on that river for irrigation of their fields, drinking water for their cattle or electric power can become nervous and demand from their government to take action. As long as that action leads to negotiation or mediation nothing is lost. But there are many examples of growing tension, for instance in the Nile basin region or the India-China border region. Than, violent ‘solutions’ can be tempting. By the way, don’t think that we in The Netherlands are immune to  water tension. Chemical pollution in the upstream Rhine states Germany, Switzerland and France seriously affected the quality of Dutch drinking water.

Water conflicts are also caused by climate change. Yes, man made as well, but more abstract and harder to solve. One such conflict was pointed out to me by my Nigerian friend Chichi. He had listened to our podcast and mentioned ‘our current national problem in Nigeria/West Africa, the farmers/herdsmen clash resulting in several deaths’ as an example of a water conflict. A BBC Report makes clear that Fulani herdsmen become involved in conflict with farming communities, but ‘while the clashes used to be confined to Nigeria’s central region, with the mainly Christian Berom farming community in Plateau state engaging in tit-for-tat killings with Muslim nomadic herders, the continued effect of climate change on grazing lands has pushed the Fulani herdsmen further forward south in search of grass and water (…) raising fears that the violence could threaten the fragile unity that exists among Nigeria’s diverse ethnic groups’. The Nigerian authorities responded by sending in security forces, but will that do the trick? I doubt it.

Thinking about the Dutch contribution to international water conflicts, technology first comes to mind, like this waterpump that needs no fuel and enables small-scale farmers to grow crops 20-30 metres above river level, or this water and sanitation project bringing clean water to communities in Ghana. But part of our water expertise is in water diplomacy as a means for preventing conflict and harnessing the benefits of cooperative water management. Instead of deploying our special forces to Luxembourg, we negotiated the Convention of the Protection of the Rhine. No bloodshed, no losers. So, lets make sure that besides our technological knowledge our water diplomacy experience is made known. It’s not the Dutch who can solve the farmer/herdsmen conflict in Nigeria nor make the tension around the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam disappear. But we can contribute by promoting our water diplomacy skills and putting to work our international reputation. Our diplomats and engineers are our most effective security forces.


Robert Zaal

Director PeaceTechLab NL

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