Conflicts Over Water Continue to Expand: New Updates to the Pacific Institute Water Conflict Chronology

May 31, 2018, Oakland, Calif. – The Pacific Institute today released a major update and revision to the Water Conflict Chronology, the most comprehensive open-source database on violence related to global water resources. The data reveals growing tensions over access to water in sub-Saharan Africa and India, where control of water has been a trigger for conflict historically and in the past few years. The data also show a major upsurge in attacks on civilian water infrastructure in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, where water systems have been casualties of the ongoing violence in the region. It also shows recent violence over water and land rights in North America.

“We are seeing an increase in violence related to fundamental access to basic water services as well as intentional attacks on civilian water systems in conflicts that begin for other reasons, especially in the Middle East,” says database creator Peter Gleick.

While Cape Town leads in the news about water shortages in South Africa, the database identified a growing number of other cases of violence over access and control of water in South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa more generally, India, and elsewhere.

The use of water and water systems as weapons in the Middle East and Western Asia region appears to be on the rise, revealing the different forms weaponizing water can take. For example, in 2015 the Islamic State (IS) shut off and redirected the flows of the Euphrates River below the Ramadi Dam, harming downstream communities that depended on that water. Water has also been used to attack communities: in response to the advance of the Syrian Arab Army, IS flooded villages east of Aleppo, Syria, with water pumped from Lake Assad in 2017. Water can also be used as a weapon in conflict: in 2017 in Somalia, drinking wells were poisoned, killing 32 civilians, in what is thought to have been an attempt by a militant group affiliated with Al-Qaeda to prevent the Somali National Armed Forces from using the source.

The database also reminds us of the presence of conflict over water in other regions of the world. For example, in the U.S. in 2016, police used violent crowd control tactics against peaceful protestors led by indigenous U.S. citizens defending water and land from oil pipeline construction. In another incident that year, a stand-off involving armed ranchers occurred over water and land use at a federal wildlife preserve in the State of Oregon.

The update to the Water Conflict Chronology adds to the total number of entries by more than 35%, integrating information from other conflict databases, news reports, and field observations from around the world. The Chronology now includes over 550 instances of violence over water from 3000 B.C. to the present day, categorized into three groups: the use of water or water systems as “weapons” of conflict, water as a “trigger” of conflicts, and water resources as “casualties” of violence.

The updated Water Conflict Chronology also includes a new mapping and data visualization system, permitting the user to look at conflicts sorted by region, time, and type of conflict, with full citations and references for journalists, researchers, or the public interested in looking more deeply into instances of violence over freshwater resources.

View the Water Conflict Chronology here.



The Pacific Institute is a global water think tank that creates and advances solutions to some of the world’s most pressing water challenges through interdisciplinary research and by partnering with a variety of stakeholders. Founded in 1987 and based in Oakland, California, the Pacific Institute envisions a world in which society, the economy, and the environment have the water they need to thrive now and in the future.