Water Crimes: A Global Crisis on the Rise

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Brookings Mountain West


Increasing urbanization, climate-change, deforestation, and poor agricultural, energy, and water-use policies are producing a severe scarcity of water in many parts of the world – a resource without substitutes. While the Middle East, South Asia, China, Central Asia, and SubSaharan Africa have long been known to be the loci of intense tensions over water, some potentially escalating to violent conflict and war, insufficient policy and scholarly attention has been paid to the proliferating smuggling of water within communities and potentially across international boundaries. It should be no surprise, therefore, to find that the smuggling of water and its illegal distribution are emerging as a new domain of organized crime. Going beyond the use of water in excess of allocations, tampering with meters, or drilling of illegal taps, the organized smuggling of water will increasingly present a highly challenging problem from a regulatory and enforcement perspective as well as from a moral perspective (as when slum communities depend on organized crime groups for access to potable water obtained in violation of existing regulations and with negative environmental effects). Additional political, regulatory, and moral problems arise where state authorities manipulate access to water as a mechanism of political control over communities. Meanwhile, increasing industrial-scale privatization of water by companies and questionable “water grabs” will not only further complicate regulatory and enforcement policies toward water use, but also increasingly intersect with organized crime and water smuggling.


Agriculture and state; Climatic changes; Deforestation; Energy policy; Urbanization; Water use; Water use--Government policy


Climate | Natural Resource Economics | Natural Resources and Conservation | Natural Resources Management and Policy | Sustainability | Water Resource Management

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