The Riparian relationship continuum: Conflict and cooperation in an evolving international system
Water is a unique social, economic, political, finite natural resource endangered by human activity. Nations sharing transboundary water sources must interact politically to manage, access, utilize, and preserve. A descriptive analysis of four riparian relationships, categorized on a conflict to cooperation continuum, show that predicted, "water wars", or violent conflict over access has not manifested. Hydro hegemony, or a riparian hegemon exerting soft and hard forms of power over neighboring riparians to control the management, access, and utilization of transboundary water for its own self interests at the expense of others exists somewhere between conflict and cooperation. Conflict and hydro hegemony are political problems riparians face that the international community seek to solve by the creation and implementation of institutional cooperation. Transboundary integrated water resource management, an institutional process that promotes the coordinated development and management of transboundary water to maximize economic and social welfare in an equitable and sustainable manner while simultaneously preserving ecosystems and the environment, is one solution. Hydro solidarity builds upon TIWRM, enhancing it with ethical, just, and moral social norms and principles, with a strong focus on sustainability, preservation, human rights, and increased interconnectedness. However, at this time, these solution relationships face insurmountable challenges of practical, implementable frameworks, enforceable global water law, and the self-interests and sovereignty of individual riparian nations. Cooperation, sustainability, preservation, and fair access and distribution of fresh water for all are the goal that cannot yet be realized in an international community stagnant in old ways of political thinking and being.