ENDING CONFLICTS OVER WATER. Solutions to Water and Security Challenges


Recent analysis from the World Resources Institute found that 17 countries, home to a quarter of the world’s population, face extremely high water stress. Billions of people face other growing water challenges as well, including highly polluted water, increasingly erratic rainfall leading to more severe droughts and floods, and lack of access to safe and affordable drinking, water. These water challenges lead to increased insecurity, migration and a growing risk of violent conflict, especially in developing countries that lack the financial, technical and governance capacities to deal with these problems. These challenges—already urgent before the COVID-19 crisis—have been revealed by the crisis to be a matter of life or death for hundreds of millions of people who cannot follow the simple injunction to “wash your hands” because they lack clean, reliable water.

This report explores some of the thorniest water crises taking place across the developing world. In  southern Iraq, severe water quality problems have triggered social unrest and violent protests. Recent droughts in India have prompted an exodus of farmers from the countryside in Maharashtra and dried up the reservoirs serving the city of Chennai. Across the African Sahel, there are violent conflicts between farmers and pastoralists over water and productive land resources. In Yemen, urban water systems have been targets of persistent attacks during the ongoing conflict in the country.

While intensifying water challenges and the threats they pose to security are well documented, relatively few solutions have been presented. In this report, WRI, the Pacific Institute and the Water, Peace and Security (WPS) Partnership offer potential solution sets to water challenges in key water-insecure hotspots around the world. Drawing on the report’s six in-depth case studies—from Iraq, Iran, India, the African Sahel, Central America and Yemen—as well as other recent research, the authors identify strategies to reduce water-related security risks. These solutions are organized into four broad categories: natural resources, science and engineering approaches; political and legal tools; economic and financial tools; and policy and governance strategies.

Most water problems are unique, idiosyncratic and local in nature. Each problem may therefore require solutions that are uniquely suited to local circumstances. For instance, in Iran, declining water availability in rural areas is undermining rural livelihoods and forcing migration to cities. Solutions, such as placing limits on overall water usage in water-scarce agricultural regions while switching to more efficient irrigation technologies, cultivating less water-intensive crops and improving groundwater management, would greatly increase the sustainability of agriculture and improve rural livelihoods. This would, in turn, reduce migration pressures. In contrast, water infrastructure in Yemen has often been a target or casualty of war. Solutions in this case include strengthening and promoting international humanitarian laws and agreements on the protection of water systems and other infrastructure in times of war.

The framework presented in this report provides decision-makers with options for tailoring solution sets to unique water challenges. It is intended for global development, diplomacy, defense and disaster response experts, as well as for national- and river basin-level decision-makers charged with addressing natural resource–based conflict, migration and other forms of insecurity.

This report is research for action. It provides the evidence, examples and solution-oriented analysis that decision-makers need to avert water crises around the world. As the costs of inaction rise, policymakers should work to overcome barriers to implementation by increasing political will and recognizing the benefits of improved water resources management, drought response, flood prevention and access to safe, reliable and affordable water for

Andrew Steer


World Resources Institute

Jason Morrison


Pacific Institute

Susanne Schmeier Manager

Water, Peace, and Security (WPS) Partnership

To read the full report please click on 


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