New WPS tools estimate where water-related conflict risks may increase in future

Published: 5 December 2019

What if we could predict water-related conflicts before they arise and help stop them? A groundbreaking new tool, launched today by the Water, Peace and Security (WPS) partnership, can predict the water-related risk violent conflicts up to 12 months ahead of time. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool uses machine learning coupled with environmental, meteorological, social and economic data to forecast exactly where organized violence is likely to occur. This tool will enable global development, diplomacy, disaster response and defense experts – together with country governments and local stakeholders – to intervene and help defuse conflicts.

 Cooperation for Water

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. There are three affiliated partners, including the Pacific Institute, Oregon State University, and New America. After two years of development the combined validated knowledge, skills and the access to various networks, the  website including the tool was launched today.

The WPS Global Early Warning Tool

This tool predicts the risk of conflict over the coming 12 months across Africa, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia 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 ten fatalities.

The research undertaken by the WPS partnership does not only fill an important gap in academic research, but also effectively bridges the science-policy gap by providing information-based advice and guidance for those working on preventing and mitigating water-related disputes.

Professor Eddy Moors, Rector, IHE Delft

Water management

Water is certainly not the only driver of conflict, but it is an important – and often overlooked – one. 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 role of water

Why considering water? In Syria, unsustainable use of water to irrigate agriculture together with a record five-year drought from 2006-2011 forced up to 1.5 million farmers and their families to migrate to urban centers and likely contributed to destabilizing an already very fragile situation. In Somalia, drought and conflict have converged, causing a quarter of a million people to flee from their homes. In India in 2016, riots over water turned deadly when the Supreme Court ordered the state of Karnataka to provide water to relieve drought-stricken farmers in neighboring Tamil Nadu. The ability to predict where possible water-related tensions are rising and help local actors provide targeted interventions is essential.

Water-related dialogue – and learn workshop in Mali. Source IHE/Deltares

Local call to action

Therefore, in addition to the Global Early Warning Tool, WPS is developing country-specific tools and approaches to more deeply analyze local drivers of conflict including underlying issues and to support conflict sensitive interventions. This will help national and local stakeholders offer direct interventions that can more quickly avert violence. In these so-called local dashboards, hydrological models are linked to integrated water management models enriched with local knowledge. This provides an overview of the hydrological dimension of the water and security situation at the local level so that appropriate interventions can be developed to mitigate or prevent the conflict.

In the regions in which we work we aim to develop, together with local researchers, policy makers and NGOs’, a better understanding of how people respond to situations of water shortage, in combination with all other social, economic and institutional factors that influence these responses. This understanding is pertinent to assess the possible consequences of water shortage and, what is even more important, to implement effective interventions to prevent these consequences.

Dr Karen Meijer, senior researcher water scarcity Deltares, Delft

Launch of the Tool

The Global Early Warning Tool was released today at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva by Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands just ahead of the 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

The launch of the WPS tools and methodes by Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands. Source: Rolien Sasse

Explore the tool at waterpeacesecurity.org and follow our developments on Twitter: @WaterPeaceSec.