Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Nicholas Grieco makes this connection here…

The article entitled, “The Past, Present, and Future of Water Conflict and International Security” was issued by the Universities Council on Water Resources Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education Issue 149 in December 2012. The content of the article relates to both hydrology and hydraulics domains in respect to water resources conflicts. In summary, this article touches on the stress and scarcity of water in communities in the past, present and future. Water has been a source of struggle and clashes between people groups, both ethnically and religiously, to the point of dangerous relations. If we are to progress positively by increasing international security, the article suggests anticipating future regions of conflict, cooperation among users, proper policy and regulatory structures, and infrastructure solutions. With my engineering training my informed opinion is that these claims of water resources significantly influencing the way of life for many people are accurate. Wurbs and James (2002) say that WRE has to face a “staggering challenge in responding to the needs of the developing world” (pg 8). Domestic water supply and sanitation are essential to economic and social development and prevention of diseases like typhoid, fever, cholera, and dysentery. Wurbs and James say that about half of the population (six billion at the time of publication) lacks the minimum 20 to 40 liters per day per person required for cleaning, cooking, sanitation, and drinking. Leahy (2013) supports this with a figure of 1.2 to 1.7 billion face scarcity (as of 2013) an “urgent security issue”, where the United Nations has defined “water security” as “The capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of and acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability.” These concerns and facts are consistent with Kreamer, who also says that “water problems affect about half of humanity and a large number of the world’s ecosystems.” Although the article mentions hydrophilanthropy, it fails to explore its place in the future and whether or not it will increase water security in certain areas, be threatened and driven away by the already present insecurities, or both.

Conflicts over water directly impact global, economic, environmental, and societal context areas due to its interdisciplinary intricacies and relationships.

Hydrologically, society is based on the occurrence, distribution, and movement of water. Hydraulically, it is also limited by the amount and quality of water directly and indirectly delivered to the people for use. Societal considerations are defined by the relationships between authorities and the governed, peace within cultural groups, and all parties dependent on transboundary waters. The economic situation of an individual community is built on the fundamental necessity for proper, consistent supplies of water. If communities cannot maintain strong, clear relations with one another, WRE will be drastically affected, potentially blamed for issues, destroyed in struggles for water rights or power, or halted progress due to dangerous environments.  Rulli et al. (2012) state that societal pressure on freshwater resources is a resultant of increasing food demand from population growth, dietary changes, and enhanced biofuel production (a result of rising oil prices).”Land and water grabbing” refers to the scenario of certain nations acquiring land in other countries for their own security at the expense of the host country, as distributed across the globe in Figure 1. In Pakistan, there is a direct cause and effect consideration for conflicts within WRE. Pakistanis live in fear that India will break treaties and dam the Indus River, making Pakistan dependent on Indian resources, which would be a “water bomb” on the society of Pakistanis and their autonomous economy.

Distribution of grabbed land (A) and water (B) across continents.

Distribution of grabbed land (A) and water (B) across continents.


Leahy S. Water crisis hitting food, energy – and everything else. Global Policy Forum. 2013. http://www.globalpolicy.org/the-dark-side-of-natural-resources-st/water-in-conflict/52367-water-crisis-hitting-food-energy–and-everything-else.html?itemid=id#40395

Kreamer D. The past, present, and future of water conflict and international security. Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education. 2012;Issue 149: 88-96. http://www.ucowr.org/issue-149/the-past-present-and-future-of-water-conflict-and-international-security?highlight=YTozOntpOjA7czo1OiJ3YXRlciI7aToxO3M6ODoiY29uZmxpY3QiO2k6MjtzOjE0OiJ3YXRlciBjb25mbGljdCI7fQ==

Rulli M, Saviori A, D’Odorico P. Global land and water grabbing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2012. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/01/02/1213163110.abstract

Wurbs, R.A., James, W.P. Water Resources Engineering. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2002.