Water, Security, and Conflict

Water, Security, and Conflict

Published: August 2018

Authors: Peter Gleick and Charles Iceland

Pages: 16

Water, Security, and Conflict


This issue brief summarizes the current understanding of water and security threats and their links to conflict, migration, and food insecurity. The authors review the key drivers behind growing water risk, describe and illustrate water and security pathways, and present approaches for reducing water related risks to global security.

The brief is the result of a joint project between the Pacific Institute and the World Resources Institute and part of the Pacific Institute’s ongoing work on water and conflict. It aims to provide professionals in the defense, diplomacy, and development fields with knowledge to inform proactive policies and action that can be enacted before crises erupt.

Key Findings

Key findings include:

  • A wide range of water-related risks undermine human well-being and can contribute to political instability, violent conflict, human displacement and migration, and acute food insecurity, which in turn can undermine national, regional, and even global security.
  • Political instability and conflicts are rarely caused by any single factor, such as a water crisis. Instead, water crises should be seen as contributing factors to instability.
  • While water risks have threatened human civilizations over millennia, today’s global population growth and economic expansion—together with threats from climate change—create a new urgency around an old problem.
  • Water risk is not only a function of hazards, such as extreme droughts and floods, it is also a function of a community’s governance capacity and resilience in the face of natural hazards.
  • No single strategy is sufficient to reduce water risk. Instead, multifaceted approaches will be needed.


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