ECC Platform Library


Water Shortages and Public Discontent in Yemen

Type of conflict main
Intensity 1.5
Western Asia
Time 2009 ‐ ongoing
Countries Yemen
Resources Water
Conflict Summary As a consequence of severe mismanagement, Yemen’s water availability is declining dramatically. The impacts on the people are unequally distributed, and...
Water Shortages and Public Discontent in Yemen
As a consequence of severe mismanagement, Yemen’s water availability is declining dramatically. The impacts on the people are unequally distributed, and corruption and nepotism are at the core of this imbalance. This has increasingly frustrated the disadvantaged, with water scarcity playing a role in fuelling the political and security crisis in Yemen.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

While precipitation in the region has always been rather low, rainfall has further decreased by 9% on average per decade since 1990, adding to the water stress in the country.

Intermediary Mechanisms

As water scarcity aggravates, many of the rural populations, unable to subsist from their diminishing agricultural production, have migrated to urban areas. The situation has created grievances from rural populations towards urban city dwellers. The distribution of power has also played a role as various sheikhs and political elites have monopolised water rights for their benefit. Diminishing water supply has also led to decreases in food supply in Yemen.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

Water and food scarcity has fueled discontent with the government and its inability to provide livelihood security to the Yemeni population. Water disputes, protests, and riots have been met with repressive violence from state security forces, claiming the lives of over 200 people. Increased pressure on the state has weakened its capacity to deal with other pressing issues. It has been argued that water and food scarcities have been contributing factors to the collapse of the Yemeni state. Additionally, as the state became increasingly unable to deliver basic goods and services to its citizens, it lost its legitimacy and left a vacuum for insurgent militants.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversChanging climate leads to decreased water availability.Demographic changes increase pressures on available water resources.Economic developments place additional strains on water resources.Infrastructure development changes the allocation of water.Freshwater becomes scarce as an essential resource. Reduced availability of/access to natural resources induces migration.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources undermines state capacity.Migration leads to conflicts between migrants and residents.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources provokes discontent with the state.Reduced capacity and/or legitimacy of the state compounds fragility.Reduced capacity and/or legitimacy of the state augments the risk of crime, violence, and extremism.A slow change in climatic conditions, particularly temperature and precipitation.Gradual Change in Temperature and/or PrecipitationAn increase in the scarcity of clean water and/or an increased variability in water supply.Increased Water ScarcityChange in population density, age structure, or ethnic makeup.Demographic ChangeA broad concept to cover economic growth in general but also specific economic changes or changes of incentives.Economic DevelopmentConstruction of major infrastructure, such as dams, canals or roads.Infrastructure DevelopmentReduced availability of essential natural resources, such as land and water.Change in Access / Availability of Natural Resources(In)voluntary long and short-term movements of people within or across state boundaries.Displacements / MigrationReduced capacity of the state to fulfil basic functions deemed necessary by the population and/or reduced public support for state authorities.Reduced State Capacity and/or LegitimacyNon-violent or violent tensions and conflicts between different societal groups.Grievances between Societal GroupsChallenge to the state's legitimacy, ranging from peaceful protest to violent attempts at overthrowing the government.Anti-State GrievancesA reduced ability of the state to fulfil basic functions.Weakened StateThe uptake of activities, such as joining extremist groups or engaging in illicit and violent activities, which increase the overall fragility of a region.Crime / Violence / Extremism
Context Factors
  • Elite Exploitation
  • Water-stressed Area
  • Weak Institutions
  • Food Insecurity
  • High Unemployment
  • Lack of Alternative Livelihoods
  • Low Level of Economic Development
  • Political Marginalization
  • Political Transition
  • Unequal Land Distribution
  • Unresponsive Government
Conflict History

Yemen is one of the water-scarcest countries in the world with currently only 120 m³ water per capita/per year available and is probable to fall even farer below the World Bank’s threshold of “water scarcity”, defined as 1000 m³/capita/year (Wilson Center, 2011). Grievances over poor resource management, (scarcity-related) rising inequality and livelihood losses have translated into growing public protests which, at times, have been met with brutal state force.

Origins of the scarcity
While precipitation in the region has always been rather low, rainfall has further decreased by 9% on average per decade since 1990 (McSweeny, New & Lizcano, 2010). Yet, more importantly, Yemenis’ consumption habits have changed dramatically and the population is growing steeply (CIA, 2015). Not only is more water used in the domestic households, agriculture, responsible for almost 90% of water consumption, demands increasingly more water as more traditional ways of farming are being abandoned (Adra, 2013). In particular, state subsidies have incentivised the growing of cash crops which mostly require large amounts of water. Since the 1970s, these are mainly provided by deep tube wells that draw on deep groundwater resources and, due to their widespread proliferation, cause water tables to fall significantly. The diesel needed to operate them has since been heavily subsidised, which particularly benefitted the proliferation of the extremely popular, though water-intensive, mildly narcotic drug qat. Moreover, a ban on fruit imports in 1983 made it economically viable for Yemeni farmers to grow fruitthemselves (Lichtenthäler, 1999). Consequently, overall groundwater use increased by 41% between 1998 and 2004 alone, while each year on average 0.6% less cereals were grown, despite their centrality to the traditional Yemeni diet. Hence, almost 80% of the domestic demand for cereals could not be satisfied (FAO, 2008).

Structural scarcities: unequal impacts across society
This situation is intensified as water scarcity manifests unevenly across socio-economic segments of society. Most importantly, small farmers are not able to take part in the “race to the bottom of the aquifer” because deep tube wells are quite expensive. They are also less able to purchase water on the open market; in 2009, the market price of water had quadrupled within just four years (Worth, 2009).

Moreover, as a consequence of the high prices of trucked water from private companies, women and children from poor families get especially marginalised. They have to take on long walks, sometimes in the middle of the night, to be able to fetch water for their households from distant wells (World Bank, 2006).

Competition between cities and the countryside has also increased with progressing urbanisation. As water scarcity aggravates, many of the rural populations cannot subsist from their diminishing agricultural production anymore and thus flee their homes towards the larger cities of Yemen; however, scarcity is even worse there (Marslen & Lehane, 2015; UPI, 2009). With the rising demand in the cities, resources are increasingly extracted from the surrounding rural areas.

From the 1950s to the 1990s, the state supported upstream diversion structures which widened the inequality gap by allowing the already wealthier upstream landowners to retain even larger amounts of water for themselves, leaving downstream communities with less spate flow and groundwater available (Ward, 2009). Hence, beneficiaries of the governmental subsidies and water policies were large farmers and the non-poor in general (World Bank, 2006).

What is more, various sheikhs abused their customary legal rights and influential positions to monopolise water rights, as well as did the political elite “on occasion usurp land and water and justify their actions through bribing judges” (Varisco, 1983). Yemen-expert Gerhard Lichtenthäler (1996) therefore observed that in a context of lacking “economic development and alternative livelihoods […] control of water is the basis of income, wealth, power and even life”, wherefore the problem is probably rooted in the distribution of power.

High dependency on agriculture and water
More than half the Yemeni population work in agriculture (Wilson Center, 2011) and the livelihoods of over three quarters of Yemenis depend on it (World Bank, 2002). Concomitantly, they also depend on the availability of water, of which at least 90% is used in the agricultural sector. Diminishing water supply hence also decreases food supply. The country is already the 11th most food insecure one in the world (WFP, 2015). Partially as well due to a change in cultivation types, domestic production cannot satisfy tyhe people’s demand anymore. In turn, around 90% of Yemen’s staple food is imported nowadays, exposing it to the volatility of international markets (Marslen & Lehane, 2015).

Economic development remains low. Unemployment rates of 40% (and 60% among the youth) are rising in the context of losses of rural livelihoods and leave already more than half the population below the poverty line (Ahmed, 2015). As a consequence, many Yemenis cannot afford to buy enough food, especially since prices have risen starkly (e.g. for wheat by 200% between 2000 and 2008 (ibid.)). Many have come to chew qat as part of their diets since it is often cheaper than food but creates a similar feeling of fullness (Pai, 2012). Though lacking nutritiousness, about half of the water used in the agricultural sector is still being used for its production (Caton, 2010). Qat takes a central role in the people’s lives – households spend on average 30% of their income on the drug – and it contributes between 6% (World Bank, 2007) and 30% (Ward and Gatter, 2000) to the GDP (estimates vary but are more likely to be in the lower band). Cutting its production is therefore an economic risk but most of all could lead to public discontent. Yet, “even in relatively wealthy communities, however, small landholders who only cultivate qat and depend on the market for food, are cash poor between qat harvests and suffer from hunger during these periods” (Adra, 2013).

Grievances and unrest
A vicious circle that “led to a society that is highly distrustful of the central government” (Stratfor, 2014) emerged: water scarcity and power struggles have exacerbated food insecurity and slowed down the economy; because of low economic development food insecurity is exacerbated. In fact, it has been argued that in this manner water and food scarcities have been contributing factors to the collapse of the Yemeni state (Ahmed, 2015). Due to the importance of water and the severe consequences of its scarcity for the Yemeni population, the latter has grown increasingly discontent with the government which is more and more unable to provide for its citizens’ livelihood security. Erstwhile Minister for Water and the Environment, Abdul-Rahman Al-Eryani, has pointed out “that 70 percent of unofficial roadblocks stood up by angry citizens are due to water shortages […] He reported that small riots take place nearly every day in neighborhoods in the Old City of Sana'a because of lack of water” (Wikileaks, 2009b). Water protests have also taken place in several other governorates (Wikileaks, 2009a).

Particularly corruption, as well as power imbalances and political exclusions of the civil society, were main issues in the past protests that are said to have brought down the government of former president Saleh in 2011 (Freedom House, 2014; Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2014). Yemen ranks 161 out of 174 countries in Transparency Internationals 2014 Corruption Perception Index, and corruption is also well spread in the water sector. Especially the fact that top officials are among the main perpetrators of illegal well drillings has led demonstrators to denounce corruption (Friedman, 2012), which significantly contributes to rising inequalities destabilising politics and society (Robinson et al., 2006). Other water-related grievances include those of rural populations towards the political elites from the cities whose policies are increasingly designed to exploit resources of rural areas. Thus, urban-rural tensions have intensified and experienced occasional violent outbreaks already (UPI, 2009).

Water disputes and riots increase the pressure on the state and have weakened its capacity to deal with other pressing issues (Al Arabiya, 2010). The already weakened state became increasingly unable to deliver basic goods and services to its people, thereby losing its legitimacy and leaving a vacuum to the benefit of insurgent militants (Ahmed, 2015).

Resolution Efforts

Rather than effectively resolving the conflict, the main response of the Yemeni Government under former president Ali Abdullah Saleh was to step up state security and attempt to quell protests. The (not exclusively water-related) demonstrations in 2011 against his government were met with brutal violence from state security forces and are said to have led to the deaths of over 200 people and injuries of over 1000 (Amnesty International & Abdullah, 2012). Nevertheless, Saleh was forced to step down at the end of that year anyway when external criticism of his actions was growing and pressure had mounted significantly (Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2014).

Grievances over water scarcity in general, or of rural populations towards urban city dwellers, however, cannot be stopped through state force. Discontent persists as long as livelihoods are being destroyed, corruption continues and inequalities widen. In order to decouple water scarcity from the security of Yemeni livelihoods, the economy should be diversified and reliance on agriculture decreased. In fact, other countries in the region experience even greater water scarcities but have been much more able to find solutions because of higher economic and political stability (Fitch, 2015). What is more, ubiquitous corruption and the judicial system in Yemen practically put the poor and those without political connections at a disadvantage and weaken their voice (World Bank, 2006). Hence, taking to the street might turn out a logical consequence for them.

Dealing with water scarcity
Since, inter alia, water scarcity is at the start of the vicious circle threatening economy and livelihoods, it also represents a possible entry point for conflict resolution. The technical potential for efficiency improvement in general public water infrastructure as well as in the agricultural sector is tremendous; in 2004 only 0.1% of irrigation in Yemen was localised (e.g. using drip irrigation) (FAO, 2008) and Sandra Postel (1999) posits that, for instance, by using drip irrigation methods and less water intensive crops, water for agriculture can generally be used up to 95% more efficiently. On the other hand, the country heavily depends on foreign aid and investments in order to manage the related high costs of an estimated $12.7 billion for such infrastructural improvements (Stratfor, 2014). Furthermore, supported by the World Bank and other external actors, institutions like the RUAF Foundation have addressed the cities’ dependency on rural areas in food productions and are trying to bolster urban gardening.

The Yemeni government’s ability for effective action is relatively low. A licensing system that limits and controls the numbers of wells in the country could check groundwater extractions and hold it at a sustainable level. However, despite its (late) introduction in 2003 it has not been properly implemented to date (Stratfor, 2014). Its effectiveness is mainly hindered by the fact that many of the unlicensed illegal wells belong to members of the military, economic and political elite (Ward, 2009). Hence, while ostensibly fighting them, the latter actually contribute to the overexploitation and exacerbate it by blocking related law enforcement.

The weakness of the government is also evident in relation to numerous unsuccessful attempts at increasing diesel prices. While these measures could contain a further proliferation of unlicensed deep tube wells, they have regularly been responded to with strong popular opposition in form of demonstrations, road blocks, and street riots - resulting in strong political reluctance towards their employment.

Ultimately, as a mere suppression of protests is not going to do away with the public grievances, addressing the main root causes of the water scarcity in Yemen will be crucial. The unregulated overexploitation of groundwater aquifers has to be stopped, more efficient irrigation methods be employed and less water-intensive, yet nutritious, crops to be grown (Ward, 2009). However, in order for measures to be successfully implemented, first and foremost corruption has to be tackled and stable economic and political conditions be established (Fitch, 2015). Otherwise, international donors will turn away from the country and leave the country struggling for bettering (Robinson et al., 2006).

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Manifest Crisis
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation National
Resolution Success
Reduction in geographical scope There has been no reduction in geographical scope.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future There is no increased capacity to address grievances in the future.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been completely ignored.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity There has been no reduction in intensity
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political

Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Government of Yemen
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Civil Society of Yemen
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
1 Strengthening legislation and law enforcement In order to control the unregulated overexploitation of groundwater aquifers, a licensing system that limits and controls the numbers of wells in the country was implemented in 2003. However, the system has not been properly implemented to date.
1 Reducing dependence on specific supplies The diversification of the Yemeni economy can decrease its reliance on agriculture. Institutions like the RUAF Foundation have addressed the cities’ dependency on rural areas in food productions and are trying to bolster urban gardening.
0 Improving resource efficiency Several options exist to improve water-use efficiency, such as the use of more efficient irrigation methods, the farming of less water-intensive crops, and the general improvement of public water infrastructure.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Common-pool resource: No one can be excluded from use but the good is depleted.
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Asymmetric: The power to affect the environmental resource is unequal.
Broad conflict characterization Resource Capture is strongly present.
Ecological Marginalization is strongly present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse
Conflict References References with URL

References without URL
Lichtenthäler, G. (1996). Tribes and trends: changing perceptions of the value of water in Yemen. In: Perceptions of the Values of Water and Water Environments: Proceedings of the 1996 European Seminar on Water Geography. Middlesex: SOAS Water Issues Group, Department of Geography, SOAS University of London, pp. 121-125.
Lichtenthaeler, G., & Turton, A. (1999). Water demand management, natural resource reconstruction and traditional value systems: a case study from Yemen. School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London.
Lichtenthäler, G. (1999). Water Management and Community Participation in the Sa’adah Basin of Yemen. Sana’a: World Bank.


Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.


Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.


The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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