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As the impacts of climate change worsen water becomes a more prominent source of conflict. Water is playing an increasingly prominent role in civil unrest - sometimes as a target, and often as a catalyst. The Russian military damaged local water treatment plants during the invasion of Ukraine launched in early 2022, and a lack of water has become a major source of social and political risk in Iran - where water cuts in 2021 resulted in deadly protests. On the other hand, the Indus Waters Treaty, which divides the Indus River tributaries between India and Pakistan, is a prominent example of compromise over shared waters (though this type of cooperation is being tested by climate change, population growth, and regional conflict). Relatively dramatic swings in seasonal water supply can threaten stability by affecting agricultural output and spurring migration. The Pacific Institute, a US-based think tank, has long tracked incidents like attacks on water systems and infrastructure, and the use of water as a weapon; it has noted a recent shift in the nature of these conflicts, away from water disputes between nations and towards more sub-national and local violence related to water access. There are glaring links between economic trends, social instability, and unequal access to water. Global income disparities are now wider than they have been in the past century, and this inequality combined with mounting climate stress is reshaping global geopolitics. While the Arab Spring was a remarkable instance of civic participation that resulted in major leadership changes, fractious politics in the Middle East since then have spurred high levels of migration from the region. Amid this shifting socio-economic landscape, water is increasingly a flashpoint or trigger for violent conflict in places like Syria and Yemen. Water was not historically considered a primary driver of global conflict; rather, it was seen as a compounding variable that worsened existing tension. However, as the global climate becomes more erratic, it has become increasingly difficult to accurately forecast freshwater availability at a particular time and location - an increase in uncertainty that places water in a far more prominent role as a source of discord. Only by better understanding the links between water and the traditional metrics of conflict can we more closely predict, understand, and react to water-related friction and upheaval.

Conflict, Security and Water


Clean Water and Sanitation