Water security in times of climate change and intractability: Reconciling conflict by transforming security concerns into equity concerns

Neil Powell*, Rasmus Kløcker Larsen, Annemarieke de Bruin, Stina Powell, Carmen Elrick-Barr

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper considers how to achieve equitable water governance and the flow-on effects it has in terms of supporting sustainable development, drawing on case studies from the international climate change adaptation and governance project (CADWAGO). Water governance, like many other global issues, is becoming increasingly intractable (wicked) with climate change and is, by the international community, being linked to instances of threats to human security, thewar in the Sudanese Darfur and more recently the acts of terrorism perpetuated by ISIS. In this paper, we ask the question: how can situations characterized by water controversy (exacerbated by the uncertainties posed by climate change) be reconciled? The main argument is based on a critique of the way the water security discourse appropriates expert (normal) claims about human-biophysical relationships. When water challenges become increasingly securitized by the climate change discourse it becomes permissible to enact processes that legitimately transgress normative positions through post-normal actions. In contrast, the water equity discourse offers an alternative reading of wicked and post-normal water governance situations. We contend that by infusing norm critical considerations into the process of securitization, new sub-national constellations of agents will be empowered to enact changes; thereby bypassing vicious cycles of power brokering that characterize contemporary processes intended to address controversies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number934
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Climate change
  • Governance
  • Securitization
  • Water conflict
  • Water equity
  • Wicked problems

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