Water, Peace and Security: Tackling water and conflict risks

The Water, Peace and Security partnership helps to identify, understand and address water-related security risks.

Water insecurity is a growing threat in many parts of the world. It is estimated that half of the world’s population could soon be facing water scarcity. Inequality, poor governance and water insecurity contribute to conflict at all levels – between countries as well as between and within communities.

People fishing in Djenne, Mali. Photo: Ousmane Makaveli Traore/International Alert.

Water insecurity is caused by a variety of factors like pollution and poor water management. This can include restricting access for vulnerable groups and allowing overexploitation by industry, the energy sector and agriculture. Climate change also affects water resources, contributing for example to the drying up of wetlands and changes in rainfall patterns.

Prolonged drought and extreme weather events like floods pose immense challenges for communities, governments and humanitarian responders. They exacerbate existing vulnerabilities, expose a lack of preparedness and therefore jeopardise peace and stability. The many pressures and stress on water resources threaten livelihoods, and can aggravate existing divisions and create new water-related conflicts.

In northern Kenya, for example, years of drought have forced pastoralist communities to travel even longer distances for grazing land and water points for their cattle, while fishing communities are facing severely depleted stocks. With the area experiencing displacement and migration from people within Kenya and neighbouring Ethiopia and South Sudan, increased competition for scarce water and dysfunctional mechanisms and structures to deal with it have led to ongoing and often violent intercommunal conflict.

In Mali, the ecosystems of the Inner Niger Delta support large farming, fishing and cattle-raising communities. Changing and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns contribute to grievances and conflicts over access to water, which have been exploited by politicised armed groups. Central Mali faces the interplay of water scarcity, poor natural resource governance and political instability, providing a breeding ground for armed violence.

While the effects of the climate crisis differ in local contexts, water insecurity is a global challenge, requiring global cooperation and solutions. In response to these cycles of water scarcity, poor governance and escalating conflict, the Water, Peace and Security (WPS) partnership was launched in 2018 to help identify, understand and address water-related conflict risks. By understanding the specific vulnerabilities of different groups, local and international policymakers, communities and other stakeholders can respond more effectively to prevent and manage water-related conflicts.

The Global Early Warning Tool, developed by the Water, Peace and Security consortium, uses big data and machine learning to forecast water-related conflict hotspots over a rolling 12-month period. Building on this analysis, the WPS partnership works to build trust between local stakeholders and supports dialogue mechanisms to mitigate conflict in affected countries including Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya and Mali.

Through the support of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the partnership of Deltares, The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, IHE Delft, Wetlands International, World Resources Institute and International Alert, the WPS project is at the forefront of analysis and action on water-related conflict risks.

See below for the latest stories from our work with the Water, Peace and Security partnership or visit www.waterpeacesecurity.org to find out more.

Hear the experiences of people affected by climate change and conflict in Kenya and Mali

The Water, Peace and Security (WPS) partnership

WPS brings together knowledge, capacities and activities directed at speeding up and scaling up preventative action in the context of water stress–induced conflict, migration or other forms of social destabilisation, supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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