Water for peace? Post-conflict water resource management in Kosovo

AuthorFlorian Krampe
Published date01 June 2017
Date01 June 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Cooperation and Conflict
2017, Vol. 52(2) 147 –165
© The Author(s) 2016
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DOI: 10.1177/0010836716652428
Water for peace? Post-conflict
water resource management
in Kosovo
Florian Krampe
Water resource management (WRM) has increasingly come to be considered within the realm
of peacebuilding. Through investigating the case of water resource management in Kosovo after
1999, this study argues that the international community has treated post-conflict water resource
management as a primarily technical issue, to the neglect of its complex political nature. This has
impeded the peacebuilding process in three ways. First, it consolidated the physical separation
of actors through allowing separate water governance structures. Second, it avoided conflictive
issues instead of actively engaging in conflict resolution. Third, it incapacitated locals by placing
ownership in the hands of external actors. To redress this tripartite dilemma, this study stresses
the need for research that provides deeper theoretical and empirical understanding of the political
mechanisms that connect WRM to post-conflict reconstruction efforts.
Environmental peacebuilding, functionalism, Kosovo, peacebuilding, post-conflict reconstruction,
UNMIK, water resource management
How can water resource management (WRM) support peacebuilding efforts after armed
conflict? This question is of growing interest for scholars and practitioners of water
governance and peacebuilding. While many emphasise the risks associated with the
mismanagement of water resources in fragile states, a growing group of scholars have
come to theorise the opportunities that effective WRM can bring for peace (Beck, 2015;
Swain, 2015; Swatuk, 2015; Weinthal et al., 2014). Multiple studies highlight the
cooperative potential of transboundary water resources and how this cooperation can
potentially build bridges between conflicting parties more broadly (Conca, 2002; Swain
Corresponding author:
Florian Krampe, Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, PO Box 514, SE-751 20
Uppsala, Sweden.
Email: Florian.krampe@pcr.uu.se
652428CAC0010.1177/0010836716652428Cooperation and ConflictKrampe
148 Cooperation and Conflict 52(2)
and Krampe, 2011; Swatuk, 2015; Wolf, 1998). To date, however, there is still
insufficient theoretical understanding on, and empirical evidence for, the relationship
between water resource management (WRM) and peacebuilding specifically. Most
notably, studies have not adequately addressed the politics of WRM that characterise
post-conflict peacebuilding situations. Instead, they have treated water as an apolitical,
technical challenge requiring physical infrastructure and institution building (Aggestam,
2015; Aggestam and Sundell-Eklund, 2013). The larger literature on post-conflict
reconstruction has long suffered from a similar technical framing, however, some
scholars have recently developed understanding of the political side of peacebuilding.
Their research has highlighted the negative social and political consequences of framing
peacebuilding agendas in a technical and functionalist way (Goetze and Guzina, 2008;
Tadjbakhsh, 2011; Zaum, 2007) and consequently proposed pathways for locally
relevant as well as emancipatory peacebuilding (Donais, 2012; Richmond, 2013). By
contrast, the literature on post-conflict WRM still remains largely focused on the
technical framing (for instance Weinthal et al., 2014). This neglect of politics is
particularly concerning when considering water’s indispensability to life. Poor WRM in
war-torn societies inevitably exacerbates and prolongs the human costs of war. To
address the prevailing research gap, this study reveals the complex tensions that arise
around WRM during post-conflict reconstruction. The study shows how these tensions
impede the reconstruction process and further stresses the importance for ecologically
sensitive, yet locally relevant and desirable post-conflict WRM.
At a case level, this article investigates the process of WRM in Kosovo from the end
of the Kosovo war in 1999 to 2004. There are few places where the tensions between
political and technical challenges to post-conflict WRM are as clearly visible as in the
Kosovo case. In the words of Tim Westmorland, who headed the Kosovo Trust Agencies
water sector from 2002 to 2008, Kosovo’s water sector is a microcosm of the larger ten-
sions between Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians. As a landlocked and disputed terri-
tory in the centre of the Western Balkans, the challenge of WRM in Kosovo exists not
only between contested national boundaries with Serbia, but moreover between divided
ethnic groups within the territory. Even though post-conflict reconstruction in Kosovo
might be one of a kind in size and mandate, it is a case that allows for a keen focus on the
role of external actors, especially the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo
(UNMIK) that assumed trusteeship over the territory in 1999.
This study holds important contributions for scholarship on water and post-conflict
peacebuilding. Through unique empirical data about water sector reconstruction in the
years following the Kosovo conflict, the study exposes how the technical framing of
water issues clashed with the political realities in Kosovo. The continuous tension
between the political reality and technical ideal impeded the peace process rather than
lending itself to building peace. In highlighting the complex and important political
dimensions of WRM during post-conflict reconstruction, the study stresses the need for
new strategies of post-conflict WRM. These strategies need to not only be ecologically
sensitive, but moreover be sensitive to local political contexts in order to foster societal
integration and long-term peace in deeply divided post-conflict societies.
This study is organised in four parts. First, it reviews the literature on WRM and post-
conflict reconstruction to provide theoretical understanding of the relationship between

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