Water Securitization Reconsidered: Intrastate Water Disputes in India

This piece originally appeared in the 2017 Intercollegiate Issue of the Yale Review for International Studies. It was written by Marielena Octavio, who graduated from Georgetown University in 2017.

“Water wars” have dominated headlines in local and international media, moving the securitization of water from the political realm to the public imaginary. As a result, it has become increasingly important to think critically about water security. In a broad sense, water becomes securitized through two related mechanisms: a structural/institutional one and a linguistic one. Structural mechanisms are concrete infrastructures to protect the resource, which are justified by the institutional mechanisms that put them into practice.[1] Linguistic mechanisms are the rhetorical tools used to portray urgency and justify securitizing practices. The linguistic mechanisms of securitization often precede the structural and institutional ones, since governments are often required to justify securitizing practices to avoid social unrest and maintain political power. Previous scholarly work has already established that language has a decisive role in shaping the understanding of environmental issues (see Dryzek 1997; Hajer and Versteeg 2005), which will ultimately impact the response to them. Therefore, the linguistic mechanisms of water securitization have a crucial role in determining the policy responses to water crises.

This paper will explore the following question: How does discourse as a rhetorical and linguistic process—specifically the environmental security discourse utilized to justify securitizing practices—impact the decision-making process? How does this affect water cooperation across state boundaries? Are the failures of traditional cooperation related to water securitization in its various forms? This paper will challenge water securitization by analyzing the sociopolitical context of securitizing practices. It will focus specifically on the “water war” narrative, given that local and international media are increasingly covering “inevitable water wars” across the globe, without putting them in the correct sociopolitical context. Governments often utilize this same discourse to justify actions and practices, embedding it in discriminatory, nationalistic, and/or authoritative narratives. Additionally, this discourse benefits governments by de-politicizing the issue and shifting responsibilities elsewhere. Thus, the “water war” narrative, and the water securitization framework that accompanies it, offer an incomplete understanding of the socio-political context of water issues. As a result, this paper seeks to construct an alternative multi-dimensional framework to analyze water disputes, by drawing from constructivist and Environmental Justice theories, which may offer a more holistic view of water disputes and a better understanding of cooperation. Both frameworks will be applied to analyze a water dispute: the Cauvery basin dispute between the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in India. The media has, historically and currently, featured this dispute as a potential “water war.” Politicians constantly blame the other state for the dwindling water supplies and the drought for the fall of agricultural production, while overlooking decades of resource mismanagement.

The first part of this paper will place water securitization in context by discussing its philosophical foundation, its history, the different definitions of “water security/securitization,” important related concepts, and the existing critiques of the theory. The second part of this paper will introduce the new analytical framework. The third part will apply both frameworks to the case study. The paper will conclude by briefly outlining general characteristics of effective transboundary basin cooperation by drawing conclusions from the case study.

Part I: Water Securitization

Water security is encompassed within the overarching concept of environmental security. This concept emerged in the 1970s and it was mostly associated with resource depletion, exceeding the Earth’s “carrying capacity” and Malthusianism. However, the concept only began to gain ground in the 1990s, with Thomas Homer-Dixon—and the Neo-Malthusian movement—at the forefront. Environmental security was related to conflict over scarce resources, and the Middle East and Africa were soon regarded as potential hotspots for future “water wars.”[2] Critics condemned this approach for its state-centrism, which ultimately proved to be a counterproductive perspective since the State often perpetuates insecurity. Additionally, traditionalists also criticized this approach (see Walt, 1991) for broadening the concept of security too much, voiding it of any meaning.[3] Nonetheless, expanding the concept of security was necessary in the face of emerging threats to states, individuals and the world as a whole.[4]

The Copenhagen School (CS) went further by expanding the concept of threat beyond the military realm, and by broadening the concept of security “by arguing that issues can be considered matters of security even if they are not threatening states beyond the confines of military and trade affairs.”[5] According to proponents of the CS, securitization is a speech act, which identifies an existential threat to a referent object and justifies the use of extraordinary force (see Buzan, Waever, de Wilde, 1998). An innovation of the CS was the introduction of an “audience” that must acknowledge and receive an issue as securitized before securitization is considered successful. Thus, “securitization in this way reflects the values and interests of a political community.”[6] Nevertheless, the CS has some significant theoretical shortcomings: it ignores the different policy implications that result from different framings of climate change (for example, a national security framing will yield a much different policy response than a human security one); it is unclear as to what constitutes a relevant audience; it excludes visual representations and security practices by solely focusing on speech acts; and fixes the meaning of security to an existential threat.[7]

Environmental securitization eventually evolved to include human security, which “amounts to the human well-being; not only protection from harm and injury, but access to water, food, shelter, health, employment, and other basic requisites that are due every person on earth.”[8] The human security perspective overcame the failures of the CS by acknowledging and addressing the root causes of environmental problems and insecurity: the sovereign state.[9] Another contribution of this theory is the realization that economic, political, and cultural processes shape people’s access to water and their resilience to climate change.[10] However, critics of human security deem it as wishful thinking and point out the potential unintended consequences of its implementation. For example, human security—dressed up as the “responsibility to protect”—has in the past been used to legitimize military intervention in sovereign states.[11] Furthermore, human security concerns in the global South are often redefined in terms of national security of the global North and are only relevant “to the extent that they are strategically relevant for Northern homeland security.”[12] Therefore, human security is just as violent, short-term-oriented, and undemocratic as other security approaches.

The human security perspective has also failed to address the interrelationship between wealth and environmental threats. The literature places most of the causes and threats in the global South while requiring “actors from outside, who inform, protect, and establish economic growth and good governance.”[13] Therefore, the “central paradox” of human security is that “although structures and norms that produce human insecurity are challenged, the remaining and enforcing effects of the traditional power structures on the vulnerable may achieve the opposite effects to the emancipatory aims” further disempowering the vulnerable.”[14] Moreover, this approach falls within neoliberal governmentality, “which regards those governed responsible for their own fate,” and often materializes in the form of development aid, which is highly variable and may leave “many of the most vulnerable … unprepared and unable to cope.”[15] Development aid has become a business in itself and it can paradoxically perpetuate human risk in order to profit from it.[16] Moreover, the evidence so far reveals that human security has not facilitated substantial action on climate change: “environmental security is not about the environment, it is about security; as a concept, it is at its most meaningless and malign…one cannot expect that an appeal to a human centered security will provide different outcomes…from the appeals to environmental security.”[17] In conclusion, while human security has made crucial contributions to the debate, it still offers an incomplete understanding of environmental issues.

Despite the substantial academic debate on water security, the term has become void of meaning: authors define it how they specifically use it or would like it to be used.[18] The definition of water security differs in each discipline: from a legal perspective water security is “associated with allocation rules and that seek to secure entitlements to desired quantities of water;” while from an agricultural perspective the main determinant of water security is the “protection from flood and drought risk.”[19] Perhaps this demonstrates that the linguistic mechanism of securitization precedes the instrumental/structural one. Thus, how actors frame water issues greatly impacts the response to the perceived threat. In practice, the term water security is interchangeable with water scarcity or used as a synonym for other water problems, such as water pollution, and drought.[20] The scales and methodologies to measure water security also range among various disciplines and the level of analysis varies from household, to population, to society. Nevertheless, none of these can truly account for the social and political nuances that shape water access and distribution, arguably the two determining factors of water security. Since no universal definition of water security exists and its implementation depends on how it is framed, “stronger actors with greater influence have a better chance of convincing audiences about the importance and acuteness of their securitized issue.”[21] For the purposes of this paper, water security will be defined in its broadest sense to highlight how discourse is truly what defines practices and policy responses. Securitization is first and foremost a linguistic and rhetorical tool.

As previously mentioned, the securitization process contains a structural/institutional mechanism (for example, military personnel protecting water infrastructure or the exclusion of civil-society from decision-making processes),[22] and a preceding linguistic one, which includes the framings and narratives to justify securitizing practices. Science often justifies these discourses, given the technical and managerial nature of water securitization: “in the case of the environment the relevance of th[e] scientific agenda is evident in the attempts to legitimize different competing claims with the authority of science.”[23] There are two main issues with the over-reliance on scientific authority in the context of water. First, while scientific knowledge and data are crucial for establishing effective water management and water governance regimes, they paint an incomplete picture of the sociopolitical context of water. Water is a resource with economic, political, social, cultural, and even religious dimensions. Besides economic benefits (agricultural production, hydropower, etc.) water is also linked to political goals (for example, self-sufficiency), social life (livelihoods, health, sanitation, etc.), and cultural and religious value (for example, the Ganges in India). Thus, scientific data can only go so far in analyzing water issues since it leads to a de-contextualized approach that is ultimately counterproductive for the achievement of a just and equitable solution.

Secondly, authority—including scientific authority—is a contested concept, particularly in the context of the era of “post-truth politics,” when facts and evidence are disregarded over bold rhetorical, often inaccurate, statements. Moreover, authors can easily manipulate (or omit) data to fit within a hypothesis and often leads researchers to confuse correlation with causation. An example of the latter is the scarcity-conflict thesis: while a vast array of quantitative studies show an overlap between scarce resources and armed conflict, jumping to the conclusion of scarcity being the sole trigger of conflict grossly oversimplifies what drives a country to armed conflict. In the case of Syria, many isolate the drought as the main trigger for the uprising. However, the first protests occurred in the governorate of Dara’a, where rainfall levels exceeded the average in 2009 and 2010.[24] Claiming the drought as the main culprit of the Syrian revolution, rather than the government’s failure to respond to the humanitarian crisis ravaging the nation, oversimplifies and de-politicizes the issue and “diverts attention away from the core problem: the long-term mismanagement of natural resources.”[25] Consequently, science-backed securitization cannot adequately respond to the issues it seeks to address because it de-contextualizes a resource which functions within social, political, economic, cultural and religious realms.

The media has been particularly pervasive in spreading the water securitization discourse, in particular the “water wars” narrative. Besides the fact that it is hard to find a case of a true water war, this narrative perpetuates the idea that humankind is at the mercy of a capricious nature, and allows government to shift responsibility elsewhere. If we push this rather fatalistic image to its logical extreme, then why bother with global coordinated climate change action if humankind is always going to be subject to the unpredictable forces of nature? This narrative seeks to create a sense of urgency through fear and anxiety, which are not necessarily motivators for action. Moreover, “the main causes of contemporary conflict are societal, not natural (in the broadest sense of the term, i.e., including man-made). Conflicts are borne out of human choices and mistakes.”[26] It is hard to claim that climate is the essential factor explaining collective violence in the Anthropocene—the current historical epoch where human activity changes the Earth and its processes more than natural forces.[27] Employing this narrative transforms governments into passive actors and victims of nature. This is particularly problematic when governments are at the root cause of unrest and conflict, such as the Darfur case: “framing climate change as a factor in the genocide in Darfur helps push to the background the political and economic motivations for the fighting—and unwittingly could let the criminal regime of Khartoum off the hook.”[28] The more nuanced version of the “water war” narrative—climate change as a “threat multiplier”—is equally as problematic since it “ underlines the complexity of predicting the future impact of climate change, not only on the environment but also on social and political unrest or conflict.”[29] Regardless of these significant issues, government officials continue to employ the water war narrative and utilize it to justify the securitization of water: the threat of a war warrants the use of securitizing practices.

The underlying logic of water security is the need for insecurity to address human concerns and eco-political issues.[30] This allows decisions to be made on the basis of impulse, urgency, anxiety, and willingness to sacrifice, which will produce countless unintended consequences for the environment. Security becomes reactive rather than preventive, requires a “decisionist” attitude,[31] justifies the use of force by creating a sense of urgency, and diminishes the space for discourse by taking issues outside the realm of “normal politics.”[32] Securitization also implies a zero-sum rationality that greatly reduces the space for cooperation. Given these shortcomings, one cannot help but question if water security, or the broader environmental security, is even useful in the context of water management (or environmental governance). In fact, “to claim that climate change may have an impact on security is to state the obvious,”[33] and while reframing water in security language has brought new actors into the water arena and broadened awareness of water problems it has, arguably, not fundamentally changed how water issues are approached. Oels argues that, if anything, the securitization of the environment has led to the “climatization” of security: the introduction of “new practices from the field of climate policy …  into the security field.”[34] In particular, water securitization has often tainted cooperation over transboundary basins, yielding inequitable and unjust cooperative regimes because of its de-contextualized nature. A new theoretical and analytical framework, that overcomes the issues of water securitization, may shed some light on how to ensure effective cooperation over transboundary basins.

Part II: A New Analytical Framework

First, a new analytical framework must move beyond what Selby and Hoffman (2014) call “scarcity framings.” They identify certain paradoxes of these framings relevant to the water war narrative. First, non-renewable resources (such as oil) are associated to conflict through abundance, while the most renewable of resources (water) through scarcity.[35] Second, scarcity and abundance are relative—“scarcity somewhere implies abundance somewhere else”—and these framings are sustained by state-centric political imaginaries and securitization discourses.[36] Third, it is not resource quantity but the economic and the political values associated to it that drive conflict: conflict can happen without any changes in resource supply.[37] Thus, these framings become geographically deterministic and shift focus away from the sociopolitical context of water disputes. Lastly, these framings ignore how global dynamics can drive conflict: under-development and state failure, while characteristics of developing states and societies, are often the result of their positioning and insertion into a highly uneven and hierarchical world economy.[38] Accordingly, the new proposed framework will not focus on water quantity but on water access, distribution, and management.

Water securitization de-contextualizes water and this is often what leads to ineffective policies responding to ensuing crises. Therefore, this framework will attempt to place water issues in their sociopolitical context by looking at both local and global dynamics that may impact water access or distribution by drawing from Environmental Justice theory. Patterns of environmental deterioration follow patterns of inequality. Additionally, environmental degradation does not only occur through the direct impact of policies from local central government but also through indirect forms of global oppression. The latter is particularly important in post-colonial societies and for the global South, where neoliberal policies, development, and insertion into the global market have transformed agriculture and peasant societies through the commodification of land and labor. Additionally, while most of the consequences of global environmental change are borne by the global South, most of the causes emanate from the global North. Environmental Justice theory has allowed for a re-orientation of focus from the oppressed to the oppressor: “small farmers might be degrading their environment because they had no choice …  peasants worked harder and longer, often degrading their land, in order to ensure social reproduction in the face of price squeezes.”[39] Taking this into consideration, this framework will, encourage against imposing lifestyle changes on the most vulnerable, and point to the patterns of the North that have led to widespread human and biosphere insecurity.

Another helpful tool this framework will utilize is discourse analysis. By looking at the discourse employed in the context of water disputes, the power asymmetries and the context of human vulnerabilities become clearer. Moreover, the aforementioned “patterns of exploitation and appropriation” are actually legitimized through discourses, in particular “discourses of climate crisis” (including the water wars narrative).[40] The dominant discourse will represent the views and the interests of the powerful and will determine the outcome: “discourses … ultimately determine the willingness of policymakers and the public to act on pressing issues.”[41] Therefore, this framework, by focusing on discourses rather than practices, will be able to analyze the sociopolitical nuances of water disputes, and thus propose responses that are adequate, efficient, and just.

Part III: The Cauvery Basin Water Dispute

Given India’s vast physical and demographic size and the diversity of human and climatic conditions, water issues vary dramatically across the country.[42] Spatial and temporal variability define India’s hydrologic regime. As observed in Figure 2, within India rainfall patterns vary widely: the Thar Desert, in the West, is one of the driest places on Earth, while Cherrapunji in the North-Eastern state of Meghalaya is the wettest place on Earth.[43] Additionally, most of the rain falls within the four-month period from July to October, and within that it mainly falls on just fifty days[44] As a result, most basins in India, including the Cauvery basin, oscillate between episodes of severe flooding and drought. Given the country’s federal system, the responsibility for India’s water resources is shared between the central government (through the Central Water Commission of India) and the individual states (through regional inter-state river boards), with the national government retaining overall management authority if a basin is shared[45]. If a dispute between two states over a river basin arises, the central government intervenes through a tribunal process to encourage cooperation.[46]

Figure 2: Annual Rainfall in India

Source: Maps of India

The Cauvery basin (refer to Figure 3) originates in Karnataka and flows through Tamil Nadu and Puducherry before flowing into the Bay of Bengal.[47] The dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka dates back to the 19th century and lies mainly in two agreements between the Madras Presidency (which comprised Karnataka) and the Kingdom of Mysore (which comprised Tamil Nadu).[48] The 1892 agreement defines the terms under which the Kingdom of Mysore was to construct the Krishnarajasagar dam in the Cauvery River and to expand the irrigation system in both States;[49] the 1924 agreement relates to the irrigation development of the Cauvery River.[50] Both agreements are based upon the principle of “no significant harm” to the downstream state. The dispute between the states worsened when the government of Karnataka began constructing self-funded dams across the tributaries of the Cauvery in 1967-68 without the appropriate approvals from Tamil Nadu or the Central Water Commission of India.[51] Tamil Nadu deemed the construction of these dams in direct violation of the 1892 agreement, and formally requested for adjudication and later filed a suit in the Supreme Court in 1970.[52]

Unsuccessful negotiations continued between the two states and in 1972 the Cauvery Fact Finding Committee compiled a report that led to draft proposals by the Government of India, eventually rejected by both states.[53] Informal and formal negotiations between the two states continued and in 1990 the government of India created the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal (CWDT) to mediate the dispute.[54] Unrest and protests erupted when the monsoon was unfavorable in the period of 1995-96 and later in 2002. The CWDT reached a final verdict in 2007, which established the following: Tamil Nadu would receive 419 TMC (one thousand million cubic feet), Karnataka 270 TMC, Kerala 30 TMC, and Puducherry 7 TMC.[55] This requires Karnataka to release 192 TMC to Tamil Nadu according to a monthly schedule.[56] Both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka challenged the  decision of the CWDT, and the issue was brought to the Supreme Court, which heard the case on January 4th, 2017. Tensions continue to rise in both states, with widespread protests and civil unrest ensuing in both.

Figure 3: Cauvery River Basin

Source: Maps of India

Water securitization discourse has infiltrated the narrative of this dispute. The national management of water resources in India as a whole falls in line with water securitization: one central “decisionist” authority holds the overall authority of water resources. Moreover, in defining the state of the water crisis and in the CWDT’s 2007 Final Order, the actors rely on “scarcity framings” and scientific data. The latter, while it shows there is an issue, it does not paint the full picture and often puts the burden of the blame on the most vulnerable: the farmers that are over pumping groundwater. In both cases, the actors focus on quantity rather than how the resources are actually distributed. This has allowed governments to shift responsibility to a capricious nature (ignoring decades of mismanagement) and attract funds: Tamil Nadu received this year a sizeable loan from the central government for desilting and restoring water bodies.[57] Additionally, since the Final Order dictates absolute values, rather than percentages, it is expected that conflict will emerge in years of stress. Another key shortcoming of the Final Order is its ambiguous language: it offhandedly mentions a reconsideration of the water allocations in years of stress, but without specific directives on how to put into effect these mechanisms.

The most pervasive form of securitization that exists in this context is human security and its discourse, precisely because it attracts development aid. In an article by The Wire, the author depicts the tragic story of Sivagangai—a young man that struggles every day in finding water and has found himself digging deeper and deeper to find water. The story is very much in line with the human security discourse.[58] The media has also covered other socioeconomic impacts on rural livelihoods, in particular focusing on farmer’s suicides[59] However, while the media has dedicated a lot of coverage to the drought and its victims within this human security framework, it has failed to place them in the context of years of resource mismanagement and ineffective policy prescriptions (such as demonetization and energy subsidies). Additionally, the human security of the farmers and those most affected by the drought, only becomes relevant when it threatens the urban center’s security: focus on the socioeconomic impact of the drought only received media coverage when protests and civil unrest occurred in the large cities, while ignoring the suffering of rural India, which began well before the protests in the cities erupted.

All the CWDT documents and media articles depicting the suffering of the most vulnerable, fail to paint a full picture and to place the water dispute in its sociopolitical context. By applying the alternative framework, it allows us to move beyond these scarcity framings and actually look at the distribution of water resources. In fact, in India overall “scarcity has emerged as a ‘meta-narrative’ … [and] tends to be naturalized and its anthropogenic dimensions are whitewashed.”[60] Thus, it is necessary to examine how the biophysical aspects of scarcity are lived and experienced differently by different people and to isolate the global and local factors driving the drought. The focus on access and distribution would reveal an underlying pattern: the most vulnerable are coincidentally the most discriminated against on ethnic grounds, the most marginalized, and the most rural—and forgotten—communities of India.

The first factor driving the water crisis is the fact that India’s agricultural sector expanded by relying on groundwater extraction, facilitated by energy subsidies that essentially made pumping groundwater free for small farmers—the majority of farmers in India. The Green Revolution soon turned into the “Blue Revolution” or the “Pump Revolution” because these new high yielding crops also required more water to produce their yields. India’s insertion into the global economy drastically changed rural livelihoods. The value of produce from the global South greatly diminished, forcing farmers to choose non-food and water-intensive cash crops (such as sugarcane and cotton) and to grow crops in both the dry and wet season to earn a decent livelihood. This ultimately forced small farmers to seek loans and become indebted, broadening the urban-rural divide, and to over extract groundwater so that crop yields would be enough to provide for their household. In fact, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are among the top five Indian states with the highest proportions of indebted farmer households (refer to Figure 4), and many have pointed out farmer debt as the main driver of farmer suicides, not the drought per se.

Figure 4: Proportion of indebted farmer households

Source: The Hindu

The situation has worsened with the slowdown of agricultural growth and the ensuing agrarian crisis in both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. By placing the Cauvery water dispute in this context, one cannot demand lifestyle changes from farmers, even if they are pumping groundwater at unsustainable rates. The true culprits of the crisis are: perverse energy subsidies, the introduction of high yielding (and water-intensive) crops into the market, farmer’s diminished livelihoods (and the fact that no alternative livelihoods have been provided), and farmer debt. Another factor worsening human vulnerability in the region was demonetization: on November 8th, India’s prime minister announced that all 500 and 1,000 rupee notes (which represent 86 percent of the cash in circulation in India) would become invalid the next day.[61] The objective was to end the black market, but this policy ended up hurting the poorest in the most rural areas since they often had no access to banks to exchange the bank notes, and from day-to-night saw all of their life savings become worthless. Those that did have access to banks, saw limits on withdrawals: “we [the farmers] were [not] allowed to take our own money from the cooperative banks and from the nationalized banks and the Rs 2,000 given per day was nothing but peanuts to meet our farming requirements.”[62] It also created a fertile ground for moneylenders to take advantage of the distress of helpless farmers, worsening the vicious cycle of debt and farmer suicides. Additionally, demonetization was not paralleled by the creation of an alternative legal economy to replace the illegal market on which thousands of rural Indians relied on.

Simultaneously, both states are experiencing a deepening political crisis: widespread corruption, nepotism, and nascent loyalist movements. The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu is facing corruption charges, which have left government officials unsure from whom they should take instructions.[63] One can draw many parallels between DeChâtel’s (2014) image of Syria and the current state of drought in India. Similarly to Syria, India’s water sector operates in two realities:

On the one hand there is the official narrative, a facade, which portrays [India] as a naturally water-scarce country actively working to ‘modernize’ its water sector, and on the other there is the reality on the ground of an inefficient, corrupt and rigid water management system that has enabled large-scale overexploitation of water and land resources and engendered growing poverty and disenfranchisement among rural communities … The official narrative does not correspond to the reality of a deeply dysfunctional water sector, which is incapable of reform or change as long as basic issues such as inaccuracy and incompleteness of data, lack of human resources, opaque financial governance and lack of accountability are not comprehensively addressed … This situation is not helped by the sector’s arcane institutional framework. The system is trapped in a colossal bureaucratic structure.[64]


In conclusion, the core problem of the Cauvery water dispute is the long-term mismanagement of natural resources and the government’s inability to respond to the agrarian and humanitarian crisis: none of these are addressed by the Final Order, precisely because water securitization has de-contextualized the dispute. Finally, another factor, essential for the context of the dispute, is the ethnic marginalization and widespread racism against Southern Indians, as well as ethnic-based violence in India more generally.


There is a clear disconnect between the CWDT, the media, and the government and the reality on the ground. Water is embedded in all the aforementioned issues and thus, the de-politicized view offered by water securitization is rather problematic since it does not address the true underlying causes of the dispute. Unless both the state and central government address these deep-rooted problems, no effective and equitable cooperation can be reached between the two states. Therefore, water securitization—in all its variants—is pervasive because of how it impacts, as a rhetorical tool, cooperative agreements, both formal and informal.

Certain generalizable traits for effective cooperation can be extrapolated from the case study. First, the need for allocation regimes that are based on percentages, rather than absolute quantities in order to avoid unrest in years of stress.[65] This allows cooperative regimes to move beyond “scarcity framings.” Second, agreements must first place scientific data, human vulnerabilities, water access and distribution in their sociopolitical context by looking at patterns of injustice (both local and global) and at discourses. As a result, this will place policy prescriptions and lifestyle changes on the perpetrators of injustice rather than on the most vulnerable. To facilitate the incorporation of situated knowledge in cooperative agreements, the decentralization of water management is imperative. By placing water governance on local entities, not only does it empower those affected by the water crisis directly, but it also fights against the decisionist (and slow-acting) attitude inherent of water securitization. Additionally, this will facilitate the implementation of evaluation, re-negotiation and enforcing mechanisms, which should also be clearly stated and delineated in written agreements. Lastly, expanding the negotiation to include allocation of benefits, rather than just the resource itself, allows parties to move beyond zero-sum games and create resilient cooperative regimes—in the case of the Cauvery dispute, there is no discussion whatsoever on anything but water allocation.[66] By incorporating these traits into cooperative regimes (formal and informal), it may yield more equitable and just agreements that move beyond the issues of water securitization, and offer a more holistic view of water disputes and their sociopolitical impacts.


“Annual average rainfall of India.” India Water Portal. Accessed May 5th, 2017. http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/map-annual-average-rainfall-india

“Cauvery River Water Disputes.” Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation – Government of India. Accessed May 5th, 2017. http://wrmin.nic.in/forms/list.aspx?lid=378

Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal (CWDT). “The Report of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal with the Decision.” Volume I: Background of the Dispute and Framing of Issues. New Delhi: 2007.

Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal, Final Order (2007). Accessed May 5th, 2017.

Cook, Christina and Karen Bakker. “Water security: Debating an emerging paradigm.” Global Environmental Change 22 (2012): 94-102. doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2011.10.011.

Dalby, Simon. “Environmental dimensions of human security.” In Environmental Security: Approaches and Issues, edited by Rita Floyd and Richard A. Matthew, 121-138. Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2013.

Daoudy, Marwa. “Asymmetric Power: Negotiating Water in the Euphrates and Tigris.” International Negotiation 14 (2009): 361-391. doi: 10.1163/157180609432860.

DeChâtel, Francesca. “The Role of Drought and Climate Change in the Syrian Uprising: Untangling the Triggers of the Revolution.” Middle Eastern Studies 50.4 (2014): 521-535. doi: 10.1080/00263206.2013.850076.

Fischhendler, Itay. “The securitization of water discourse: theoretical foundations, research gaps and objectives of the special issue.” International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics 15.3 (2015): 245-255. Accessed May 17, 2017. doi: 10.1007/s10784-015-9277-6

Floyd, Rita. “Analyst, theory and security: a new framework for understanding environmental security studies.” In Environmental Security: Approaches and Issues, edited by Rita Floyd and Richard A. Matthew, 21-35. Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2013.

Floyd, Rita. “Whither environmental security studies? An afterword.” In Environmental Security: Approaches and Issues, edited by Rita Floyd and Richard A. Matthew, 279-297. Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2013.

Giordano, Mark. “Water security.” Forthcoming.

Giordano, Mark, Meredith A. Giordano and Aaron T. Wolf. “International Resource Conflict and Mitigation.” Journal of Peace Research 42.1 (2005): 47-65.

Giordano, Meredith, Mark Giordano and Aaron Wolf. “The geography of water conflict and cooperation: internal pressures and international manifestations.” The Geographical Journal 168.4 (2002): 293-312. Accessed May 27, 2017. Doi: 0016.7398.02/0004-0293/$00.20/0

Hardt, Judith N. “Critical Deconstruction of Environmental Security and Human Security Concepts in the Anthropocene.” Hexagon Series on Human Environmental Security and Peace 8 (2012): 207-221. Accessed May 17, 2017. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-28626-1_10

Hough, Peter. “Part 1: The Securitization of Global Environmental Policy.” In Environmental Security, edited by Peter Hough, 21-35. New York: Routledge, 2014.

IPCC 2014. Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, et al. “Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change.” Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

IPCC, 2014. Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, et al. (eds.). “Climate Change 2014: Impacts,Adaptation, and Vulnerability.” Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Karthikeyan, Aparna. “Digging for Water in Tamil Nadu.” The Wire. May 28, 2017.

Mehta, Lyla. “Whose scarcity? Whose property? The case of water in Western India.” Land Use Policy 24.4 (2007): 654-663.

Oels, Angela. “From ‘Securitization’ of Climate Change to ‘Climatization’ of the Security Field: Comparing Three Theoretical Perspectives.” Hexagon Series on Human Environmental Security and Peace 8 (2012): 185-206. Accessed May 17, 2017. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-28626-1_9

Ramasubramanian, R. “Tamil Nadu’s Deepening Political Crisis Threatens Fate of Litigants, Government in Courts.” The Wire. February 11, 2017.

Ramasubramanian, “How Demonetisation Has Accelerated Tamil Nadu’s Deepening Agrarian Crisis,” The Wire, January 15, 2017.

Ravishankar, Sandhya. “Tamil Nadu dry spell: Crop losses push farmers to the brink of despair.” The India Times. January 15, 2017.

Sadoff, Claudia W. and David Grey. “Cooperation on International Rivers: A Continuum for Securing and Sharing Benefits.” Water International 30.4 (2005): 420-427. Accessed May 3, 2017. doi: 10.1080/02508060508691886.

Selby, Jan and Clemens Hoffman. “Beyond scarcity: Rethinking water, climate change and conflict in the Sudans.” Global Environmental Change 29 (2014): 360-370.

Tertrais, Bruno. “The Climate Wars Myth.” The Washington Quarterly 34.3 (2011): 17-29. Accessed May 17, 2017. doi: 10.1080/0163660X.2011.587951.

Trombetta, Maria Julia. “Environmental security and climate change: analysing the discourse.” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 21.4 (2008): 585-600. Accessed May 17, 2017. doi: 10.1080/09557570802452920.

Trombetta, Maria Julia. “Rethinking the securitization of the environment: old beliefs, new insights.” In Securitization theory: how security problems emerge and dissolve, edited by Thierry Balzacq, 135-149. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, New York: Routledge, 2011.

Waghmare, Abhishek. “Tamil Nadu declares drought as 144 farmers die amid worst North East monsoon in 140 years.” First Post. January 10, 2017.

Watts, Michael J. “A political ecology of environmental security.” In Environmental Security: Approaches and Issues, edited by Rita Floyd and Richard A. Matthew, 82-101. Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2013.

Zeitoun, Mark,  and Naho Mirumachi. “Transboundary Water Interaction I: Reconsidering Conflict and Cooperation.” International Environmental Agreements 8 (2008): 97–316. doi: 10.1007/s10784-008-9083-5


[1] Itay Fischhendler, “The securitization of water discourse: theoretical foundations, research gaps and objectives of the special issue,” International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics 15.3 (2015).

[2] Hough, “Securitization of Global Environmental Policy,” 22-3.

[3] Hough, “Securitization of Global Environmental Policy,” 23.

[4] Hough, “Securitization of Global Environmental Policy,” 23.

[5] Hough, “Securitization of Global Environmental Policy,” 23.

[6] Maria Julia Trombetta, “Rethinking the securitization of the environment: old beliefs, new insights,” in Securitization theory: how security problems emerge and dissolve, edited by Thierry Balzacq (Milton Park, Abingdon,Oxon, New York: Routledge, 2011): 138.

[7] Angela Oels, “From ‘Securitization’ of Climate Change to ‘Climatization’ of the Security Field: Comparing Three Theoretical Perspectives,” Hexagon Series on Human Environmental Security and Peace 8 (2012): 194.

[8] Norman Myers (1996:31) in Hough, “Securitization of Global Environmental Policy,” 21.

[9] Oels, “From ‘Securitization’ of Climate Change to ‘Climatization’ of the Security Field” 194.

[10] Oels, “From ‘Securitization’ of Climate Change to ‘Climatization’ of the Security Field” 194.

[11] Oels, “From ‘Securitization’ of Climate Change to ‘Climatization’ of the Security Field” 197.

[12] Oels, “From ‘Securitization’ of Climate Change to ‘Climatization’ of the Security Field” 185.

[13] Judith N. Hardt, “Critical Deconstruction of Environmental Security and Human Security Concepts in the Anthropocene,” Hexagon Series on Human Environmental Security and Peace 8 (2012): 217.

[14] Hard, “Critical Deconstruction of Environmental Security and Human Security,” 217.

[15] Oels, “From ‘Securitization’ of Climate Change to ‘Climatization’ of the Security Field” 200.

[16] Maria Julia Trombetta, “Environmental security and climate change: analysing the discourse,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 21.4 (2008): 590.

[17] Trombetta, “Rethinking the securitization of the environment,” 139-140.

[18] Mark Giordano, “Water Security,” forthcoming.

[19] Christina Cook and Karen Bakker, “Water security: Debating an emerging paradigm.” Global Environmental Change 22 (2012): 95-96.

[20] Mark Giordano, “Water Security,” forthcoming.

[21] Fischhendler, “The securitization of water discourse.”

[22] Fischhendler, “The securitization of water discourse.”

[23] Trombetta, “Rethinking the securitization of the environment,” 141.

[24] Francesca DeChâtel, “The Role of Drought and Climate Change in the Syrian Uprising: Untangling the Triggers of the Revolution,” Middle Eastern Studies 50.4 (2014): 524-5.

[25] DeChâtel, “The Role of Drought”, 522.

[26] Bruno Tertrais, “The Climate Wars Myth,” The Washington Quarterly 34.3 (2011): 25.

[27] Tertrais, “The Climate Wars Myth,” 17.

[28] Fischhendler, “The securitization of water discourse.”

[29] DeChâtel, “The Role of Drought”, 524.

[30] Hough, “Securitization of Global Environmental Policy,” 26.

[31] Trombetta, “Environmental security and climate change,” 588.

[32] Hough, “Securitization of Global Environmental Policy,” 26.

[33] Tertrais, “The Climate Wars Myth,” 17.

[34] Oels, “From ‘Securitization’ of Climate Change to ‘Climatization’ of the Security Field” 185.

[35] Jan Selby and Clemens Hoffman, “Beyond scarcity: Rethinking water, climate change and conflict in the Sudans,” Global Environmental Change 29 (2014): 361.

[36] Selby and Hoffman, “Beyond scarcity,” 361.

[37] Selby and Hoffman, “Beyond scarcity,” 361.

[38] Selby and Hoffman, “Beyond scarcity,” 362-3.

[39] Michael J. Watts, “A political ecology of environmental security,” in Environmental Security: Approaches and Issues, edited by Rita Floyd and Richard A. Matthew (Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2013): 87-8.

[40] Selby and Hoffman, “Beyond scarcity,” 9.

[41] Fischhendler, “The securitization of water discourse.”

[42] Meredith Giordano, Mark Giordano and Aaron Wolf,“The geography of water conflict and cooperation: internal pressures and international manifestations,” The Geographical Journal 168.4 (2002): 297.

[43] “Annual average rainfall of India,” India Water Portal, accessed May 5th, http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/map-annual-average-rainfall-india.

[44] Giordano, Giordano Wolf,“The geography of water conflict and cooperation,” 297.

[45] Giordano, Giordano Wolf,“The geography of water conflict and cooperation,” 298.

[46] Giordano, Giordano Wolf,“The geography of water conflict and cooperation,” 298.

[47] “Cauvery River Water Disputes,” Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation – Government of India, accessed May 5th, 2017, http://wrmin.nic.in/forms/list.aspx?lid=378.

[48] “Cauvery River Water Disputes.”

[49] Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal (CWDT), “The Report of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal with the Decision,” Volume I: Background of the Dispute and Framing of Issues (New Delhi: 2007): 6.

[50] CWDT, “The Report,” 6.

[51] CWDT, “The Report,” 7-8.

[52] CWDT, “The Report,” 10-11.

[53] CWDT, “The Report,” 14.

[54] “Cauvery River Water Disputes.”

[55] Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal (CWDT), Final Order (2007): 2.

[56] CWDT), Final Order, 4.

[57] Sandhya Ravishankar, “Tamil Nadu dry spell: Crop losses push farmers to the brink of despair,” The India Times, January 15, 2017.

[58] Aparna Karthikeyan, “Digging for Water in Tamil Nadu,” The Wire, May 28, 2017.

[59] Abhishek Waghmare, “Tamil Nadu declares drought as 144 farmers die amid worst North East monsoon in 140 years,” First Post, January 10, 2017.

[60] Lyla Mehta,“Whose scarcity? Whose property? The case of water in Western India,” Land Use Policy 24.4 (2007): 654

[61] R. Ramasubramanian, “How Demonetisation Has Accelerated Tamil Nadu’s Deepening Agrarian Crisis,” The Wire, January 15, 2017.

[62] Ramasubramanian, “How Demonetisation Has Accelerated Tamil Nadu’s Deepening Agrarian Crisis.”

[63]  R. Ramasubramanian, “Tamil Nadu’s Deepening Political Crisis Threatens Fate of Litigants, Government in Courts,” The Wire, February 11, 2017.

[64] DeChâtel, “The Role of Drought and Climate Change in the Syrian Uprising,” 529-30.

[65] Mark Giordano, Meredith A. Giordano & Aaron T. Wolf, “International Resource Conflict and Mitigation,” Journal of Peace Research 42.1 (2005): 58.

[66] Giordano, Giordano & Wolf, “International Resource Conflict and Mitigation,” 58.

Comments are closed.

YRIS is a student publication, and Yale University is not responsible for its content.