Untangling the complexity of local water management during armed conflict: Comparative case studies from the Middle East

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research UT, graduation UT

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Maintaining access to water in areas of ongoing armed conflict is a complex undertaking, particularly in times of increasingly protracted conflicts and rapidly progressing climate change. While the overall scale of water management challenges in such settings is generally known, particularly among humanitarian organizations, there is still little scientific research on the dynamics that cause much of the complexity. Aiming to address this gap, this dissertation advances the conceptual understanding and empirical evidence on water management in armed conflicts by systematically analyzing conflict impacts on local water systems and water governance arrangements, as well as local coping strategies to uphold water management. The research focuses on the Middle East, incorporating twelve cases of local water management during conflict across Iraq, Palestine, Syria and Yemen.
Following a comprehensive literature review, the dissertation presents three comparative case studies. First, a systematic mapping of direct and indirect conflict impacts on water management, utilizing the social-ecological systems framework, shows the breath of relevant dynamics and potential feedback loops and reveals patterns of conflict-affected water management across different countries and types of conflicts. Second, the research zooms in on urban water services and infrastructure resilience during conflict, to analyze conflict impacts and ad-hoc decentralization of water supply as a coping strategy in five cities. Third, an actor-based analysis investigates key water governance processes in territories under the control of non-state armed groups, shedding light on role of state, non-state and international actors in local water service provision, infrastructure development and policy-making.
The results emphasize that in order to understand the complexity of water management during armed conflict, we need to look beyond the immediate, easily visible conflict impacts and consider reverberating effects that can undermine the functionality and sustainability of a water system long after the conflict subsided. The insights won from this research can support humanitarian programming and policy-making at multiple levels and be an entry point to strengthen the humanitarian-development-peacebuilding nexus. They also have important implications for the application of international humanitarian law and for ongoing efforts to strengthen the climate resilience of conflict-affected communities.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Twente
  • Heldeweg, Michiel A., Supervisor
  • Özerol, Gül, Co-Supervisor
Award date14 Jun 2024
Place of PublicationEnschede
Print ISBNs978-90-365-6120-4
Electronic ISBNs978-90-365-6121-1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2024


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