Water management is conflict management, and has been since time immemorial. And yet models of conflict management of recent times regularly ignore the balance between rationality and spirituality that has prevailed in our thinking for millennia, relying almost entirely on the measurable. While this focus has been helpful, perhaps some part of the answer lies not in the world of rationality at all, but rather in the spiritual, ethical and moral dimensions of water conflict resolution, and that re-acknowledging the balance between the rational and the transcendent offers constructs for understanding and working with process. Acknowledging the balance between the quantifiable and the transcendent allows both for more coherent models of conflict transformation and for direct applications to water negotiations.

This paper begins by setting the context of current understanding of water conflict and cooperation, then by documenting the geography of the ‘Enlightenment Rift’ – the process by which the global West/North has separated the worlds of rationality and spirituality – and the impact of this rift on ideas related to natural resources management. We continue with a discussion of the current clash of world views, and conclude with a section describing how the two world views might gently be interwoven, for example within a fairly universal construct of four worlds of perception, and how this construct might be employed within the framework of more effective water conflict management and transformation.

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