The simple answer to this is yes, they have already happened. The Battle of Beersheba in 1917 is one example. It was a crucial battle during World War One in the Sinai in defeating the Ottoman Empire. The conflict was principally fought over securing water wells in the area. More recently, conflict arose in 2000, during the Cochabamba Water Wars in Bolivia. Here protests against high water rates escalated into more violent protests and disturbances in the region. Water scarcity in both these examples is prevalent, but could this occur on European soil?
Only speculation can be used to see if incidents such as those of Cochabamba could ever occur, but it is not entirely inconceivable. Is it not the case that more than half of England was in drought up until a few weeks ago? Of course this was by no means as acute of water shortage problems in Africa and South America, but it does show how we as ‘Westerners’ are not immune from the issue. Hypothetically, water could become scarce enough due to a drought that people begin to fight over control over stand pipes for example, or steal water from rationed amounts. The regional variations of Britain and England are also notable here. As we saw with the drought, the North and West escaped drought conditions, due to different climate and population density. In an acute water crisis, of course it would be up to the government to provide methods of dispersing water to the regions that needed it most. This could then easily escalate, just as it did in Bolivia only a decade ago.
The concept of water wars looks into the future, and flirts with the wider concept of resource wars. However, it is just this perception, which is dangerous, water wars are not something to worry about in some far away distant future, they are on our doorstep. Resource wars are definitely more conceivable, if we define resources as essentials such as oil for example. Such a war can be seen in the 1967 Biafran War in Nigeria, where Biafra seceded, enabled by its oil rich territory. Countless examples can be found once again throughout history. However is this conceivable in Europe, which imports most of its resources? Scholars such as Bulloch and Darwish predict this type of crisis in the Middle East, not in Europe, citing population growth as a prime cause of water shortage (Bulloch and Derwish, 1993). Other theorists, such as Shiva predict that ‘the water wars of the twenty-first century will surpass the oil wars of the twentieth’ (Shiva, 2002), suggesting that conflicts could easily arise in ‘the West’, with shortages already experienced in Texas and more famously, Las Vegas.
It is clear that in Britain today the closest inconvenience we have with water shortage is a hosepipe ban. In Africa, the Middle East and now the USA, water is becoming a scarce resource. Scarce resources are ultimately what wars are fought over. Therefore we should downplay the wider issues of water shortage at our peril.