Non-state armed groups with territorial control as emergent actors of wartime water governance

Juliane Schillinger*, Gül Özerol

*Corresponding author for this work

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In discussions of water management during conflict, non-state armed groups (NSAGs) primarily feature in relation to the strategic use of water resources to gain military or political advantage, but not as actors of civil governance within territories under their control. Given the humanitarian importance of water services, we study the role of NSAGs in wartime water governance and their interactions with other actors, based on empirical data from three cases in the Middle East: (1) the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, (2) the Houthi-controlled north of Yemen, and (3) Northeastern Syria under the control of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria and its Syrian Democratic Forces. Our theoretical framework builds on previous studies on rebel governance to analyze NSAG involvement in local water service provision, water infrastructure development, and institutional processes related to policy-making and long-term planning. We find differences between the three cases regarding the access to external funds and the local expectations toward public water services, and identify financial interests and local legitimacy as main motivations for NSAG’s involvement in water governance. Our results also show several examples of water service provision in NSAG-controlled areas being “outsourced” to other actors, including state authorities, private providers and international organizations.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages24
JournalEnvironment and Security
Issue number3-4
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print/First online - 17 Nov 2023


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