Current geopolitical crises provide evidence of how bio-physical changes, such as water scarcity, climate change impacts and soil degradation increasingly provide a fertile ground for tensions and conflicts within and between countries, especially when combined with socio-economic vulnerability, political exclusion, societal inequalities. While the root causes of conflict can often be found in the bio-physical domain, with food insecurity, job losses and migration as secondary effects, these relationships are not well understood. There is limited access to integrated data for analysis and predictions of potential conflict ‘hot spots.’ Actors that need to be involved (development experts, defense analysts, environmental change experts, and diplomats) have little interaction. Thus, there are critical knowledge and policy gaps on the environmental risk multipliers for human well-being and societal stability.
The World Economic Forum has identified growing water crisis as a top global risk. Clean, reliable water supply are vital for agriculture, energy, manufacturing, cities, households and ecosystems. Yet, the world’s water systems face formidable threats. More than a billion people live in water-scarce regions, and as many as 3.5 billion people could experience water scarcity by 2025. Lack of water can create food insecurities and even partial economic collapse – leading to displacement and migration. Combined with a failure of governments to provide for other basic needs, chronic water shortages make countries more susceptible to extremism, political uprisings, and wide-ranging destabilization. The water crisis is likely to increase over time. Many climate impacts manifest themselves in the hydrological cycle, e.g., changes in precipitation leading to prolonged droughts or flooding, glacier melt, sea level rise and salt intrusion, and higher evapotranspiration. Growing populations and increasing economic prosperity also increases demand for water, and in turn lead to increased quantities of untreated waste water – further reducing the quality of a scarce resource that we tend to take for granted.
Environmental factors are rarely the sole cause of tensions or violent conflicts. However, water risks and related environmental stressors are implicated in all phases of the conflict cycle, from contributing to the outbreak and perpetuation of violence to undermining prospects for peace. In many regions across the globe, the impacts of climate change and growing water stress are likely to increase the potential for tensions and conflict, as people compete for increasingly scarce water resources. Emerging economies are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, ecosystem degradation, and water stress, and these issues are intensifying in many parts of the developing world, especially Africa and the Middle East.
Studies increasingly recognize water-related risks as key contributing factors to disputes and conflicts within and between countries, with potentially significant consequences for international, regional, and national peace and security. In the case of Syria, this link has been convincingly made. Yet despite growing attention to the interlinkages between natural resources, peace, and security, national governments, especially the diplomatic, defense and development sectors, continue to operate in policy silos, without the coordination needed on these issues, and with too little knowledge on the environmental stress factors.
The data revolution, a convergence of information and communication technologies and human networks, provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to tackle the barriers of information availability and accessibility. Through the internet of things, it is now possible for us to monitor the earth in near real time, analyze changes, and immediately distribute the information directly to decision makers, and those who can influence them. This project aims to equip decision-makers with the information needed to better understand, predict, prevent, and mitigate conflicts stemming from water resource over-exploitation and scarcity.
The data sets that would be instrumental to address this issues already exist, but are scattered across different sites and not served up in an integrated, user-friendly, actionable manner. We will draw on data sources from highly regarded, mostly technology-oriented project partners, that have agreed to share their data with us. WRI will be responsible for curating and integrating the data, visualizing, quality assuring, and building a community of users around the platform. The platform will be free, open access, and capable of interoperating with other organizations’ data systems. We will use the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY) as the default, providing open access to users. Likewise, the data architecture will be open source, allowing others to build on our system and resurface the data on their own systems. This open design will ensure that Resource Watch, and the 'Platform for Water, Peace, and Security' that will be powered by it, are a scalable, global public good freely available to all.
Two key factors will assist in ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Platform for Water, Peace, and Security. First, by building on the Resource Watch application programming interface (API) the costs of maintaining and updating the platform will be significantly reduced. The Resource Watch API is a data catalog and connector that simplifies the process of accessing data services across the web to create maps, graphs, and other visualizations. Its use of open source micro-processors make it easy to update and maintain. In addition, the costs of updating and maintaining the API are shared across the various platforms that are powered by it. Second, WRI has formed a Resource Watch Partnership of the world’s leading information and communication technology providers (both private sector and public sector). These partners provide significant pro bono contributions, including data, technology, and expert advice, helping to ensure the platform stays at the cutting edge of technology. Other relevant stakeholders that have committed to this initiative are partners in WRI’s 'Aqueduct' and 'Global Forest Watch' data platform. They will help ensure we continue to have the best available data on the platform. We will continuously work to integrate new data sets into the platform when they become available. Where good data already exists, WRI will seek to partner with the originator and integrate it into Resource Watch and the 'Platform for Water, Peace, and Security', rather than duplicate efforts. We will recognize our data partners’ contributions on the platform and provide them with information on how their data is used on the platform. They can, in turn, use this data to demonstrate to their funders how they are expanding the reach of their data by partnering with us.
We will leverage our partnership with data suppliers and users to help us conduct an in-depth user assessment of the platform after its first year. One year after launch, we will convene partners from the user community to assess how they are utilizing the system and what improvements can be made to enhance their user experience. We will also seek input to this process from a broader network of local NGO, government, and business users that we will build over the duration of the project. To assist with this, we will keep a database of key users identified in the first year to follow up with via interview or survey periodically. And for those users who sign up for alerts, we will be requiring a few fields to be filled in to facilitate identification of users. We will supplement these direct feedback processes with information from Google Analytics and related tools that quantify and monitor use of the 'Platform for Water, Peace, and Security.’
WRI will use feedback from our partnership with target users, together with information from the platform monitoring indicators, to inform the design of the user interface and types of data surfaced. This feedback will also inform how we prioritize direct outreach and engagement to users. We will develop an operational beta prototype platform that will be tested with users ahead of the launch. We have extensive experience executing user-testing protocols for data platforms. This includes reviewing wireframes and demonstrating initial functionality of the platform ahead of the launch. We view platform development as a continuous learning process, monitoring feedback throughout the project development and roll-out phases, and adapting the system to best meet the needs of target users.
Grassroots organizations are a core target user of the 'Platform for Water, Peace, and Security.' They will provide much needed information to local communities in their efforts to advocate for and promote positive change. Local communities often do not have access to timely, high quality monitoring and contextual information about their natural resources. Information flow will be two-way. Local communities will be able to provide information to the 'Platform for Water, Peace, and Security' via its easy-to-use uploading and sharing functionalities. WRI has a vast network of partnerships with local NGOs around the planet that can directly use the site and help us to link to others in their own networks. For example, the WRI-convened Access Initiative is the world’s largest network of civil society organizations dedicated to ensuring that people have access to information about resources. The Initiative operates in 50 countries and has over 250 civil society organizations in its network. We will work to expand our network of grassroots organizations, monitor their use of the platform and continuously improve it according to their needs, enabling organizations conducting innovative work at the local or regional level to gain a wider reach to scale up their impact.
WRI and its partners will develop an outreach and communication strategy at the outset of the project to ensure target audiences are engaged in the design of the platform. We will form a partnership of data providers and target users, including and especially grassroots groups that will meet regularly throughout the life of the project to provide guidance on the design and use of the platform. In addition, the platform itself will be designed to actively push data out to users and not just cater to those who visit the platform. For example, the platform will incorporate an alert system whereby users can sign up for up for alerts on hot spot issues or emerging trends in their geographic interest areas. We will also push out a regular rolling series of 'insights' (data driven stories), highlight major issues at the nexus of natural resources, climate change, and human security to media and journalists. These ‘insights’ will be designed to educate and inspire target users. Our goal is to build a media community that gets in the habit of checking the water, peace and security 'Insight of the Week.' Finally, we will reach out to target users in the security and disaster response community through presenting at events which they regularly attend. We have already identified an opportunity to put water security on the agenda of the UN Security Council in 2018, by leveraging our long-standing partnership with the governments of Sweden and the Netherlands, which are each chairing the Security Council for one month in 2018. They have reached out to WRI for assistance in making the case to UN Security for the need to reframe national security to also include water and climate risk. Other relevant events that we have identified include:
- Global security conferences (e.g., the Munich Security Conference);
- Global water conferences (e.g., the Stockholm Water Week annual conference);
- Diplomats and security experts (e.g., EU, EEAS, NATO, US Departments of Defense and State, US Army War College, US and European think tanks);
- Global development organizations (e.g., USAID, bilateral donors in Europe, World Bank);
- Global investors, insurance companies, and multinationals; and
- The NGO community on disaster and conflict response (e.g., Care, Red Cross, Oxfam).