Using models of Middle East conflicts, Dr. Shahbaz Khan, regional coordinator of the Unesco – Hydrology for the Environment, Life and Policy, said water "is a strategic resource that is closely tied to issues of national security".
Khan warned that "resource inequities, like water, could be the root of conflict".
He cited the water crisis in the Middle East as "caused by four inter-related problems of water quantity, water quality, geopolitics, and data".
"Instead of waiting for potential conflict to emerge, Mindanao's stakeholders should tap the potential of their cooperation," he told MindaNews after the forum Thursday on Watershed Management in Davao.
Khan said leaders from local governments, environment agencies, water districts, farmers, operators of agricultural plantations and other stakeholders "should meet as co-owners of the pain, glory and work of watershed management".
In his video presentation of Middle East models of conflicts, Khan said resources could be used as strategic goals, targets and tools to avoid conflict, warning that even if Mindanao still appeared to have no problem with water, this resource "could be another potential cause of conflict" in this southern Philipines island "if the stake holders do not cooperate".
"There is a need to come up with the right kind of regulations that balances the different interests of all stakeholders," he said.
"If you alienate and marginalize a sector of the community, and allow unequal use of resources, that's when conflicts start to rise," he said.
Asked if banning aerial spraying in plantations situated in watersheds was proper, he said he would not support it because it would make banana production more expensive. Aerial spraying could be regulated, the area should be specified, he said, adding parties to the conflict should talk and agree on policies that protect everybody.
The Davao City council will meet with both the supporters and oppositionist of aerial spraying on August 23.
Khan said conflicts could be prevented through joint actions addressing issues of threatened watershed areas, pollution and contamination.
"There should be a comprehensive air and water monitoring system," he said, "that could be run by the water districts with multisectoral support in Mindanao". He said this should be done "to assess the air and water quality on a regular basis and to identify the causes of pollution and other problems".
"Even in the export of agricultural products, [monitoring] is important because there is a growing demand for eco-labeling in the international market, "he said.
Khan's presentation on "Water and Conflict: From global to local" was held as part of the Kadayawan's Davao River Festival. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)