Water for peace?
What is it about?
Rivers have shaped the Western Balkan Peninsula’s characteristic landscape and played an important role in its history. Following the violence of the Yugoslav secession wars in the 1990s and the creation of six new nations, the number of transboundary river basins doubled from 6 to 13. In Kosovo, where independence remains a question, the water sector is a microcosm of tensions between ethnic Serbs and Albanians. The challenge of water resource management exists not only over the province’s contested national boundaries with Serbia, but between divided ethnic groups within the territory. In recent research published in Cooperation and Conflict, I show how the international community, choosing a highly technical approach to reconstruction of the Kosovo water sector after the conclusion of violence, has frequently clashed with political realities in this landlocked and disputed territory. The United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK), which assumed trusteeship of the territory in 1999 until it was replaced by a European Union mission in 2008, was caught in continuous tension between technical ideals and the limits of what politics would allow. Empirical analysis shows that UNMIK’s handling of the water sector in fact impeded the peace process rather than aided it.
Why is it important?
Unquestionably, the situation in Kosovo in 1999 was a tremendous challenge for the United Nations, OSCE, European Union, and those involved in the reconstruction effort. From a technical perspective, water resource management efforts in Kosovo were successful. In most instances, UNMIK and the KTA managed to reconstruct and reform the water sector. In addition, water resource management efforts did not incite direct violence or a deterioration in the security situation, despite the high level of ethnic tension between Serbs and Albanians. Yet, the case provides scholars and practitioners important insight into post-conflict water resource reforms in how they fell flat in northern Kosovo. The complex and important political dimensions of water resource management during reconstruction cannot be ignored and require new strategies. These strategies need to not only be sensitive to ecological contexts, but local political contexts to foster social integration and long-term peace in deeply divided societies. To achieve sustainable peace, we must better acknowledge and understand the linkages between such social, political, and ecological processes.
The following have contributed to this page: Florian Krampe
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