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



May 9, 2017, Oakland, Calif. – The Pacific Institute, a global water think tank, has released an update to its online assessment of water-related conflicts: The Water Conflict Chronology. This unique database records violence related to access to fresh water, attacks on water systems, the use of water as a weapon, terrorist incidents related to water, and more, going back nearly 5,000 years.

“There is a long, unfortunate history of water conflicts,” says database creator Peter Gleick. “Most concerning, however, is an uptick in the numbers of such incidents in recent years, and especially an increase in both violence related to fundamental access to basic water services and intentional attacks on water infrastructure in conflicts that begin for other reasons, especially in the Middle East.”

Notable examples included in the most recent chronology update include many incidents in India associated with severe drought and protests over inadequate availability of water; persistent attacks on water systems in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen; and perhaps most disturbing, a growing number of assassinations of environmental activists who have been working to expand the voices of local communities in environmental protection around rivers and water resources.

Among the new entries:

In 2016, Berta Cáceres, a prize-winning activist opposing the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Río Gualcarque river in Honduras, was murdered after years of death threats and state persecution linked to her campaign. Two of her colleagues have also been killed. In South Africa, environmental activist Sikhosiphi Radebe was murdered while opposing industrial mining development that threatened community water resources and land.

In early 2016, at least 18 people were killed and 200 injured after the Indian Army intervened to reopen the Munak canal, which supplies New Delhi with three-fifths of its freshwater supply. The canal was shut down by economic protests in Haryana State. Sabotage of the canal left more than 10 million people in India’s capital without water.

Several entries describe repeated attacks on water pipelines, pumping plants, dams, and treatment systems by almost all parties in the Syria and Iraq conflicts. Officials estimate that in Syria there has been a 50 percent reduction in access to safe water in the country since the civil war began.

Water and energy systems have regularly been targeted in the violence between Russia and the Ukraine over the past few years. A long series of attacks have intermittently left nearly three million people without access to reliable water supplies. The attacks included repeated damage to the Donetsk Filtration Plant, the South Donbass water pipeline, energy plants that supply power to water treatment and distribution systems, and the Carbonit Water Pumping Station.

Two new entries in the United States were also added to the chronology, including the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge over water rights and land use, which ended with one death and several arrests, and the violence at the Standing Rock protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline, which Native Americans consider a threat to the region’s water resources, including the Missouri River, and to ancient burial grounds. During the protests, hundreds of people were injured and arrested.

New historical examples have also been added this year, including an entry in India in 1260 AD and one in Hispaniola in 1802, both related to the use of water systems as weapons or targets during conflicts and political uprisings.

“Pressures on water resources around the world continue to grow,” says Peter Gleick. “The growing threat of conflicts over these resources is both disturbing and a call to action. Researchers, water experts, diplomats, and the military need to improve their understanding of the links between water and security and work to reduce the risks of conflict.”

Since its founding in 1987, the Pacific Institute has been a leading research center for work on water conflicts and the Institute will continue to track incidents and trends in this area.

The Water Conflict Chronology

Global interactive map:

Database listing:



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.