A geospatial analysis of water-related risk to international security: an assessment of five countries

Abstract

This paper assesses countries with transboundary water resources that are at risk for instability. Water security, a term we use in our work to refer to an individual’s, community’s or state’s access to freshwater resources at the right time, quality, and quantity, is becoming of increasing concern due to rising populations, development, and climate change. Building upon the Basins at Risk project at Oregon State University, we used updated Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database geospatial physical, social, and hydrological data to assess the water-related stability of countries in transboundary freshwater basins. We selected five countries to conduct case studies by assessing three parameters: percentage of territory within a shared basin, number of shared basins, and/or dependency ratio of a country on water resources originating from outside its borders. Given the availability of data and to cover a wider geographic distribution, we selected Afghanistan, China, Iraq, Moldova, and Sudan as our case studies. We created a series of 30 maps at 2 scales to spatially analyze the population density, institutional capacity, and water withdrawals, in addition to assessing each country’s water profile. We developed a resiliency tool to analyze these parameters and scored each country to determine whether a country is at risk for water-related instability. We found that while China has a high water-related resilience, Iraq has a low water-related resilience and Afghanistan, Moldova, and Sudan fall within a low to mid-low resilience range.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    While not utilizing mapping, Bernauer and Böhmelt (2014) build on the Basins at Risk project and partake in more advanced forecasting and prediction techniques to identify rivers basins that are prone to conflict and cooperation. See also Farinosi et al. (2018).

  2. 2.

    There may be additional criteria for determining hydro-political vulnerability that we did not include given the above reasoning. For example, according to Wolf et al. (2003) there may be rapid changes in the physical system that are at the root of water conflict. The proliferation of unilateral development projects is one such example. Climate variability or rapid environmental changes (such as disasters) may be another form of vulnerability complicating existing water management strategies with significant economic, social, environmental, and political consequences (see Adger et al. 2005; Walker et al. 2006; United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) et al. 2009).

  3. 3.

    ‘Power’ is considered to be an important factor in understanding hydro-political dynamics in international river basins (Lowi 1993; Naff 1994; Homer-Dixon 1999; Dinar 2012). Our overall model of vulnerability and resilience does not include ‘power’ in the economic-political sense such as the material capabilities of a given country or its economic strength in comparison to other basin countries. However, spatially- and geographically-speaking, power in our model is proxied via FAO’s dependency ratio, which also considers upstream/downstream dynamics. This is an important factor in assessing physical/geographical vulnerability. In addition, when our model assesses resilience, a country’s relative power is taken into account by considering its level of dependence on the international basin (using various parameters) as well as institutional capacity to deal with potential conflict. Dependence and interdependence are important factors when assessing ‘sensitivity’ and ‘vulnerability’ of countries (Keohane and Nye 1977).

  4. 4.

    Per footnote 3, it is possible to argue that China’s high resilience stems from its upstream and stronger military and economic position compared to its downstream neighbors. However, as our model demonstrates, China’s resilience stems from its reduced level of interdependence, vis-à-vis water, on its neighbors as measured by an extensive number of (alternative) domestic water sources, a relatively low percentage of water withdrawals from internationally shared basins, a relatively small percentage of the country’s population reliant on water from an international basin(s), and at least one international water agreement with a certain level of institutional capacity.

  5. 5.

    Groundwater constitutes another source of water in Moldova but it is not entirely clear if these groundwater resources are part of separate basins beyond the Dniester and Prut/Danube.

  6. 6.

    Groundwater constitutes another source of water for Sudan, but less than 1% of available groundwater is being utilized.

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Acknowledgements

Dr. Aaron Wolf and the Oregon State University Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database as well as Chong Seok Choi, Young Ji Hwang, Christopher Paola, Jessica Ann Picucci, Bojan Savric, Anna Stargel, and Garrett Sullivan.

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Veilleux, J., Dinar, S. A geospatial analysis of water-related risk to international security: an assessment of five countries. GeoJournal 86, 185–238 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-019-10045-x

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Keywords

  • Water
  • Transboundary
  • Risk
  • Security
  • International
  • Geospatial
  • Resilience