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Agreements between countries that share the same river have helped to avoid about 1,800 conflicts in the past 50 years, the World Water Council (WWC) said.

The accords were designed to ensure that what happens upstream does not harm countries downstream, Benedito Braga, WWC president, said on the sidelines of the 8th World Water Forum in Brasilia on Thursday.

“Rivers that run through more than two countries have to be shared between these countries,” he said at the forum, whose slogan is “sharing water.”

“Water war is a myth. A war is very expensive. It is much easier to cooperate.”

Examples include agreements in South America involving Amazonian rivers and the River Plate, as well as a deal for the Nile that supplies water to 11 countries in Africa, he said.

Outside the gathering, hundreds of people attending the Alternative World Water Forum protested against water privatization.

“This water offensive comes at a time of crisis. Capitalists want to turn water into a big business, like they did with energy,” said Gilberto Cervinski of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB), an advocacy group.

The protesters included land activists, indigenous people, small farmers and descendants of runaway slaves, known as quilombolas.

Water is under pressure globally as the planet warms and as demand grows along with populations, according to a United Nations report launched this past week at the forum.

Global demand is expected to increase by nearly one-third by 2050, when 5 billion people could be left with poor access to water, the World Water Development Report warned.

To avoid that, the U.N. proposed “nature-based solutions” that use or mimic natural processes to boost water availability.

Water issues are much more complex in urban areas, especially in the developed northern hemisphere and in informal settlements in underdeveloped countries, Braga said.

The consequences of climate change — bringing both longer rainy seasons and dry seasons — means governments should invest in aspects such as better water storage to mitigate those effects, he said.

In Brazil’s case, he added, a project to divert water from the Sao Francisco River to the northeastern region would help to alleviate a seven-year drought.

Braga said the WWC was also working to have access to water and sanitation regarded as a fundamental human right. One in nine people worldwide have no access to basic drinking water, while one in three lack access to a toilet.

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