From small streams to pipe dreams: The hydro-engineering of the Cyprus conflict

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Series Details Vol.23, No.2, June 2018, p265-285
Publication Date June 2018
ISSN 1362-9395
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A 2008 water crisis triggered collective fears of droughts and long-term scarcities both north and south of the buffer zone dividing the Mediterranean island of Cyprus since 1974. Tectonic shifts in the island’s water management were the result. Central to export oriented agricultural production since British colonial days, water has always been a policy priority throughout independence, conflict and division for all administrations on the island.

With discourses of scarcity and impending doom on the rise, policy makers north and south of the buffer zone started investing heavily in non-conventional high capacity water resources. Since October 2015 an underwater pipeline from the Turkish mainland supplies the north of the island with freshwater while the Republic of Cyprus has commissioned desalination plants through public private partnerships.

This article argues that both the construction of the motherland’s “umbilical water cord” in the north as well as the “desalination rush” in the south are not just reactions to issues of environmental scarcity. It shows that Malthusian narratives of water scarcity leading to conflict are just as mistaken as liberal notions of scarcity leading to cooperation. Instead, relationships of power, rooted in post-colonial state formation, development, conflict and division have motivated financially costly but politically expedient investments in excess capacities, rather than improvement of water management.

Both the northern and southern water infrastructure boom is understood within its geopolitical context of creating water as political capital in the peace process. This geo-politically conditioned over-engineering of water resources, finally, provides ample grounds for rethinking the relations between water, conflict and division more generally.

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