New Water Conflict Prediction Tool Uses Data from Pacific Institute’s Water Conflict Chronology

December 6, Oakland, California – What if we could predict violent conflicts before they arise and help stop them? A groundbreaking new tool with that goal was launched yesterday by the Water, Peace and Security (WPS) partnership, using data from the Pacific Institute’s Water Conflict Chronology. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool has adopted machine learning techniques coupled with environmental, meteorological, social, and economic data to try to predict the risk of violent conflicts up to 12 months ahead of time and forecast where organized violence is likely to occur. The goal of the project is to enable global development, diplomacy, disaster response and defense experts – together with country governments and local stakeholders – to intervene and help defuse conflicts before blood is shed.

The WPS Global Early Warning Tool offers a forecast of the risk of water-related conflict over the coming 12 months across Africa, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia (and soon globally) by analyzing patterns between violent conflict and more than 80 environmental, economic and social variables going back 20 years, and then compares those patterns to current conditions to pinpoint potential hotspots. The tool has highly granular spatial resolution – at the sub-provincial or district/county level. Early trials suggest an 86% success rate in identifying conflict situations where instances of organized violence lead to more than 10 fatalities. The tool is unique in separating emerging conflicts from ongoing conflicts. Initial findings show that the tool’s water risk indicators are significant in predicting emerging conflict.

Water is certainly not the only driver of conflict, but it is an important – and often overlooked – one. A quarter of the world’s population lives in extremely water stressed areas. While action on water issues can serve as a means of building peace, water risks like drought, scarcity, pollution and floods can also serve as threat multipliers that help trigger conflict or contribute to famine, loss of livelihoods or displacement. Previous early warning tools have only focused on vulnerabilities such as political, economic, social and demographic factors to predict conflict. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool is unique because it combines these factors with environmental variables linked to water – such as rainfall, water scarcity, and crop failures – to understand the full picture.

The Water, Peace and Security partnership is comprised of six organizations who specialize in environment, development and international security: IHE Delft, World Resources Institute, Deltares, The Hague Center for Strategic Studies, International Alert, and Wetlands International. The Pacific Institute, Oregon State University, and New America are affiliated partners.

The Pacific Institute’s Water Conflict Chronology includes all known verified instances where water and water systems (1) trigger conflicts; (2) are used as weapons in conflicts; or (3) are targets or casualties of violence. The Pacific Institute’s work on water and conflict has accelerated efforts worldwide to identify strategies for reducing the threat of violence over water resources.

In addition to the Global Early Warning Tool, WPS is developing country-specific tools and approaches to more deeply analyze local drivers of conflict and underlying issues and to support conflict sensitive interventions that can address or mitigate the threats. This will help national and local stakeholders offer direct interventions that can more quickly avert violence. The tool was released December 5, 2019 at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva. In 2018, an early version of the WPS Global Tool was presented at the United Nations Security Council.

For more information, contact Water Conflict Chronology creator and Pacific Institute President Emeritus Dr. Peter Gleick at pgleick@pacinst.org or 510-251-1600 ext. 105.

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Founded in 1987, the Pacific Institute is a global water think tank that combines science-based thought leadership with active outreach to influence local, national, and international efforts in developing sustainable water policies. Our mission is to create and advance solutions to the world’s most pressing water challenges. From working with Fortune 500 companies to disenfranchised communities, we lead local, national, and international efforts in developing sustainable water policies and delivering meaningful results.