By Susanne Schmeier.
Water insecurity is rising worldwide. This affects people’s, communities’ and entire countries’ livelihoods, food and energy security as well as overall economic development. Moreover, it challenges relations between people, communities or entire countries as they compete over perceived scarce water resources.
Media as well as international organizations, including the United Nations and the World Economic Forum, have already warned of water-related threats escalating and possibly affecting stability and peace in entire countries or regions. Examples from Syria to Central Asia and from the Horn of Africa to Iraq demonstrate this.
The Water, Peace and Security (WPS) partnership was established in 2018 to address these challenges. Funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it brings together a group of renowned organizations from the water, security and peacebuilding sectors, led by IHE Delft Institute for Water Education. Together, they are developing innovative tools and approaches to prevent, mitigate and resolve water-related insecurity and tensions before they turn into full-fledged security threats.
In this context, WPS has developed a global early warning tool which tracks places around the world that are at risk of emerging or intensifying water-related insecurity and conflict. It does so on the basis of artificial intelligence, using a machine learning model to digest numerous indicators determining such risks – such as drought onsets, decreasing crop productivity, sudden population growth or existing instability. The tool will help to raise awareness among high-level policy makers of the urgency to act on water-related conflict risks. It has already been presented to the UN Security Council, other UN actors, as well as various national governments.
Acknowledging that solutions for water related risks can only be found on site, WPS has also developed a set of local tools that allow decision-makers to understand the current and future water resources situation and the impacts of development plans (such as new dams or irrigation schemes) as well as the human responses to those, possibly ranging from migration and displacement to local people deprived of their livelihoods joining illicit or terrorist groups.
In combination with intensive capacity development and dialogue support, WPS and its partners hope to turn vicious cycles of water insecurity and conflict into virtuous cycles of climate and conflict sensitive water management and cooperation.
About the author:
Susanne Schmeier is an Associate Professor in Water Law and Diplomacy at IHE Delft Institute for Water Education