Water & Conflict

Water & Conflict

Freshwater scarcity

Water availability and violent conflict

Many areas in the world already face water shortages today – situations in which the demand for water is higher than its availability. The UN 2016 World Water Development Report states that demand will exceed availability by 40% in 2030. A growing world population - to 9 billion in 2050 - with higher consumption levels due to overall increases in wealth, leads to higher water demands: up to 55% higher, according to the 2030 World Resources Group. At the same time, the IPCC expects climate change will lead to reduced water availability or longer dry periods in various regions of the world.

In the US Presidential Memorandum on Climate Change and National Security of September 2016, President Obama states “Climate change poses a significant and growing threat to national security, both at home and abroad. Climate change and its associated impacts affect economic prosperity, public health and safety, and international stability.”

The impact of future changes in global population, urbanisation, economic growth, climate change, energy and food production influence societal and (geo) political relations, both within and between countries... Knowledge of the system processes and dynamics governing water are key to explore actionable measures and potentially decrease the impact of changes in water availability on violent conflict risk. As Deltares we have this integrated system knowledge of water and therefore answer to the call of this important societal topic.

To position our water knowledge best, we collaborate with Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, and study the causal mechanisms through which changes in water availability, either during droughts or as a long-term change, potentially affect the risk of violent conflict. Changes in water availability is a never a sole cause of conflict, but can act as a threat multiplier. Together with PBL, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, we study the global impact of future environmental changes on water availability and conflict.

In 2016, we focused on the unravelling of these causal mechanisms and their interrelationship with climate, climate change and water availability towards violent conflict. We applied interactive dynamic visualisations for this purpose. Our initial findings have been presented at the Adaptation Futures Conference in May 2016. During the Planetary Security Conference in December 2016, PBL and Deltares jointly convened a session on the climate, water and conflict and how future changes require rethinking their interrelationship. In 2017 we will publish the results of this session in a policy brief.

Water & Conflict
We aim at understanding the various different causal pathways through which changes in water availability can lead to violent conflicts, in order to use this information to identify potential future areas at risks and assess the effectiveness of possible interventions.
Dr. Karen Meijer
Deltares Expert Environmental flows
Through the cooperation with Deltares, we can jointly work on connecting knowledge of the physical system with knowledge of the social and political system.
Dr. Louise van Schaik
Hoofd Duurzaamheid van Instituut Clingendael

For this project Deltares has collaborated with the following partners:

  • Clingendael - Netherlands Institue of International Relations
  • Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving

Want to know more about this project?

Karen Meijer
Deltares Expert Environmental flows
  • +31 (0)88 335 85 37