Water and the Pursuit of Peace

Written in collaboration with Laura Vicini, Associate Board Member, Green Empowerment

World Water Day 2024 invites us to reflect on the intricate relationship between water and peace. Inspired by the United Nations theme for the year, three Green Empowerment staff members share their insights on “water and peace.”

Global Context

According to the UN, more than 3 billion people globally depend on water that crosses national borders. Of 153 countries sharing rivers, lakes, and aquifers, only 24 have cooperation agreements for all shared water. As the effects of climate change intensify and the world’s population continues to expand, it is imperative for collective efforts to safeguard and preserve this invaluable resource.

Green Empowerment’s approach is to build access to clean, safe water through partnerships with local stakeholders, emphasizing the importance of the process in reaching outcomes.

Insights from Green Empowerment Team Members

Sebastián Salgado Troya, Latin America Program Director at Green Empowerment, underscores the transformative potential of community-driven development in fostering both infrastructure and trust. In Ecuador’s Río Cayapas, Zapallo is one of the few local communities with a mix of Indigenous Chachi and Afro-Ecuadorian residents. When Green Empowerment and local partner ALTROPICO started work in Zapallo, the two groups did not think a single water system could serve both groups, even though they lived side by side in the same town.

The community members grew to trust each other by serving on a committee, digging trenches together, attending training sessions, and ultimately building their water system. Today, clean, safe running water reaches everyone in the community. Collective projects can help to cultivate peace, even in communities with deep historical divides.

Learn more in Working Together Across Ethnic Divisions.

Community members in Río Cayapas (left: Zapallo) collaborating on their new water system. Photo Credit: Gustavo Huera Cuases, the Water and Sanitation Lead with ALTROPICO

Paola Moreno Bermúdez, Colombia Program Coordinator, emphasizes that although water may not have been the direct trigger for violence or hostilities in the Colombian armed conflict, it has a role in shaping social struggles and contributing to inequality is significant.

The roots of the conflict in Colombia lie in issues surrounding land ownership, poverty, inequality, and the absence of the State in providing basic services. Violence rates increased in strategic areas for the development of large extractive, agro-industrial, and infrastructure projects. The impacts on water resources directly affect communities that depend on water for their economic, social, cultural, and spiritual activities, forcefully generating major conflicts. The state must protect people’s access to natural resources to strengthen peace.

Green Empowerment participated in a technical exchange in Colombia to address water-related challenges and prevent conflict escalation by collaborating with Ecuadorian partners to improve water systems and engage with local committees. This exchange, facilitated by collaboration with local partners and community engagement, strives to ensure access to and protect water resources, thereby contributing to peace and security efforts.

Sam Schlesinger, WaSH Technical Lead at Green Empowerment, highlights the dual nature of water as both a catalyst for collaboration and a potential source of conflict. Water’s importance extends beyond its basic function; it reflects and exacerbates existing societal issues, such as disparities in access and the commercialization of essential services.

Despite the common belief that water scarcity could lead to conflict, the existing evidence, albeit limited, suggests that high-level water disputes often result in collaboration rather than confrontation, as Sam notes. However, this doesn’t diminish the urgency of addressing unsustainable water consumption patterns. It emphasizes the need for proactive measures to promote efficiency and equitable access to this essential resource.

(Left) Sam reviews designs with ALTROPICO staff and community members in the Río Cayapas. (Right) Sam inspects a treatment plant in the Amazon.

Looking Forward: A Call to Action

As we celebrate World Water Day 2024, acknowledging the profound connection between water, peace, and sustainable development is imperative. Join us in preserving the human right to water, ensuring that the flow of water harmonizes with the pursuit of lasting peace. Water is not just a resource; it is a bridge that can connect communities and transcend differences.

Laura Vicini is an Italian Water Management Engineer with field experience in Peru. She is passionate about her work and focused on water access and social justice. Laura holds a dual Master’s degree from the international curriculum in Environmental Engineering Earth Resources Engineering program, offered jointly by Bologna and Liège Universities.


  1. Arthur William Okero Obare on March 20, 2024 at 7:30 am

    I have been in the water industry since July 1975 working for the public sector in Kenya. I took an early retirement in 1997 largely to test the level of knowledge, skills and competence for adopting the national water policy analysis we had completed on the decentralization of water resources management and development. I have never known peace in working with communities and clients. I am trained in Engineering Hydrology and gained experience working within the comfort of a protected government office. The outside world is a totally different environment marred by vandalism of installed infrastructure. Everyone wants to commodify water. It is a sector where there is significant abuse of people’s right to access water infrastructure and services. I mark the World Water Day 2024 by seeking the support of legal arbitrators to work together in clearing the obstacles which are always on the way for water professionals in delivering infrastructure and services.

    • Natalie Deehan-Clark on March 25, 2024 at 11:30 pm

      Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences in the water industry. It’s clear that you’ve faced significant challenges throughout your career. Your dedication to addressing these issues is commendable. Collaborative efforts like seeking support from legal arbitrators are crucial in overcoming obstacles and improving water infrastructure and services.

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