In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Water Security

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Water and Security
  • Water Security as a Contextual Concept
  • Water Security and Related Concepts
  • The Water-Food-Energy Nexus
  • Water Security and Risk Management

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Environmental Science Water Security
Farhad Mukhtarov, Aleh Cherp
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 September 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0020


In the post–Cold War era, the concept of water security referred to the potential dangers of conflict over water resources and safety of drinking water infrastructure from attacks by military enemies or terrorists. By the 1990s, water security increasingly became discussed together with human security and such concerns as economic security, environmental security, energy security, and food security. The use of security jargon in the field of water resources signaled the importance of this resource for the survival of nations. Definitions of water security prominent in the 1990s focused on the quantity and quality of water supply for human welfare and economic development. More recently, an additional requirement for water management emerged, namely, the functioning of the biosphere as the basis for human well-being. The most recent definitions of water security embrace both human and ecosystem access to water, most often in the form of the so-called water-food-energy nexus with the emphasis on the links between these resources. However defined, the use of the “water security” concept is clearly on the rise in the circles of academics, government officials, and policymakers. However, it is not without its critics who challenge “water security” as failing to add value to the discussions of water governance. Indeed, the pre-eminence of intricate links between water, food, energy, and eco- and social systems has already been widely marked within the integrated water resources management (IWRM) discourse. The proponents of “water security,” in turn, argue for the complementarity of these two concepts. Another major debate running throughout the emerging “water security” literature is on whether it should be defined and operationalized in a broad sense as a framework for water management at multiple levels, or in a narrow sense, as a quantifiable index or a set of indicators.

General Overviews

Cook and Bakker 2012 provides the bibliographical data on the use of the term “water security,” other terms associated with it, and the governance scales at which it is discussed. This article argues for compatibility of water security with other concepts in the global water discourse, such as IWRM. The Science paper Bakker 2012 presents the major challenge of water security as managing linkages between land-use change, hydrological systems, ecosystems, and human health on the one hand, and political and scientific aspects of water management on the other. Bakker 2012 and Zeitoun 2011 emphasize the broad approach to water security according to which water resources should be treated together with food, climate, or energy security of individuals, communities, and states. At the same time, both reviews (Bakker 2012, Zeitoun 2011) note the profound importance of an interdisciplinary analysis, and cross-sectoral application in policy. Bogardi, et al. 2012 discusses water security as synonymous with good governance in the context of global water resources and challenges. Lautze and Manthrithilake 2012 critically discusses the added value of “water security” as a policy concept and argues for the need to be specific about its definition and meaning. The authors’ concern is that “water security” is defined so broadly as to mean nothing in particular; nevertheless they acknowledge the policy attractiveness of such vaguely defined concepts. At the international level, UN-Water 2013 provides a summary of water security literature from the perspective of international organizations and emphasizes the common platform for communication it provides between various United Nations agencies. At the national level, Grey and Sadoff 2007 discusses hydrological, economic, and institutional structures of individual countries which experience water insecurity. This article also articulates an often-cited definition of “water security” centered on water availability. Finally, the twenty-one chapters of Lankford, et al. 2013 cover various aspects of water security from definitional aspects to politics, operationalization, and scale; it is the most complete and recent collection on the subject.

  • Bakker, Karen. 2012. Water security: Research challenges and opportunities. Science 337.6097: 914–915.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.1226337

    An introductory text, which covers various definitions of water security, its relationship to other concepts in water governance, and major challenges in achieving water security.

  • Bogardi, Janos J., David Dudgeon, Richard Lawford, et al. 2012. Water security for a planet under pressure: Interconnected challenges of a changing world call for sustainable solutions. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 4.1: 35–43.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.cosust.2011.12.002

    Provides an overview of global water problems and the necessary actions to resolve them; treats water security as synonymous with good water governance.

  • Cook, Christina, and Karen Bakker. 2012. Water security: Debating an emerging paradigm. Global Environmental Change 22.1: 94–102.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2011.10.011

    An excellent review of emerging academic and policy literature on water security with statistics on the occurrence of the term, associated terms, and the governance scales at which water security is discussed.

  • Grey, David, and Claudia W. Sadoff. 2007. Sink or swim? Water security for growth and development. Water Policy 9.6: 545.

    DOI: 10.2166/wp.2007.021

    Reviews the relationship between economic growth and water security providing a comparative analysis of water-secure and water-insecure countries.

  • Lankford, Bruce, Karen Bakker, Mark Zeitoun, and Declan Conway. 2013. Water security: Principles, perspectives and practices. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

    An edited volume with the most recent and comprehensive discussion of water security issues, such as definitions, conceptualizations, and relations to other policy concepts. Chapters 1 and 21 provide good summaries of the current debates.

  • Lautze, Jonathan, and Herath Manthrithilake. 2012. Water security: Old concepts, new package, what value? Natural Resources Forum 36.2: 76–87.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1477-8947.2012.01448.x

    A review of water security as an emerging paradigm; devises an index of water security and applies it to Asia-Pacific countries. It provides a strong critique of water security as a broad concept and advocates for its operationalization.

  • UN-Water. 2013. Water security and the global water agenda: A UN-water analytical brief. Hamilton, ON: United Nations Univ.

    The basis for a new and better functioning platform for cooperation between various UN agencies involved with water resources.

  • Zeitoun, Mark. 2011. The global web of national water security. Global Policy 2.3: 286–296.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1758-5899.2011.00097.x

    Focuses on the necessity to look at water resources as linked to other resources and socioeconomic systems. It argues for the need to build upon complementarities of water security and other policy concepts.

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