Cooperation and Conflict amid Water Scarcity

Abstract: Over two billion people remain without safe drinking water and more than four billion lack basic access to sanitation. Safely managing water is key for livelihoods, food security, energy production, and overall socio-economic development. This dissertation analyzes how scarce water resources affect cooperation and conflict. First, I study water scarcity in relation to communal violence. Second, I consider how water scarcity can be a source of cooperative behavior, a key ingredient to peace.This dissertation contributes to research on peace and conflict issues and across other disciplines, studying the consequences of water scarcity. Essay I shows how lacking groundwater access increases incidences of communal violence. This is the first study on armed conflict that combines data on groundwater, surface water, and precipitation. Essay II analyzes spatial spillover processes of conflict-inducing factors. The study introduces a theoretical framework explaining spillover dynamics of communal conflict. Furthermore, the analysis shows that drought explains violence not locally but through wider neighborhood exposure. Essay III suggests drought-prone regions could be harbingers for water cooperation even in places with a history of violence. This research is also the first to analyze water cooperation at the sub-national level, thereby providing more detailed insights into peaceful hydropolitics. Essay IV shifts to the individual level. Studying the effect of exposure to water scarcity on altruism, the essay contributes to our understanding of microdynamics in conflict and adds to social psychological research on altruism.In sum, the dissertation makes four broader contributions. First, the findings suggest we need to look beyond resource scarcity as a cause for conflict. Instead we ought to study the potential of peaceful resource sharing and cooperation. Second, the dissertation addresses political actions by both individuals and groups, while also considering those in relation to government action. Addressing different group levels is key because conflict or cooperation dynamics address different spheres of action (individual, group, state).  Third, the dissertation covers Africa, the Southern Mediterranean, and parts of the Middle East, thereby showing relevant findings for a larger geographic area than many previous studies. Lastly,  the dissertation contributes to research on water issues by focusing on access to groundwater, which has been largely neglected in previous research. The findings can provide insights into our understanding of sustainable water management and environmental peacebuilding. Climate change challenges how we engage with water and, therefore, we must find more sustainable ways to use this resource.