The Role of Water Stress in Instability and Conflict

Tomorrow, the Wilson Center will host the U.S. launch of “The Role of Water Stress in Instability and Conflict,” the latest report from CNA’s Military Advisory Board. Watch live online Tuesday at 9:30 AM EST.

As senior military officers, we see water stress—the lack of adequate fresh water—as a growing factor in the world’s hotspots and conflict areas, many of vital interest to the United States. Our earlier reports have identified a nexus among climate, water, energy, and U.S. national security. We have previously shown how emerging resource scarcity across this nexus can be a threat multiplier and an accelerant of instability. With escalating global population and the impact of a changing climate, we see the challenges of water stress rising with time. It is in this context that we now seek to provide a better understanding of the mechanisms through which water factors into violence and conflict.

The Role of Water Stress in Instability and Conflict examines the role of water across a spectrum from civil unrest and localized violence to terrorism, insurgencies, and civil wars to state-on-state conflict. Focusing on water-stressed areas of the world, it articulates the role water plays not only in diplomacy, violence, and conflict, but also how water can be used as a tool of coercion across the spectrum of conflict. Additionally, the research provides insight into how water stress can empower violent extremist organizations and place stable governments at risk.



Designate an office within the Office of the Secretary of Defense to be responsible for global water stress and to coordinate across the interagency on water-stress issues.

Download the entire report here.

Photo Credit: Cattle herders at Goraye in Ethiopia’s drought-stricken lowland Oromiya region, February 2006, courtesy of Andrew Heavens.