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Understanding the Dynamics of Water Security and Conflict in Kenya

Water scarcity is now a pervasive feature of Kenya’s social ecology, attributed variously to growing demographic pressures, land use changes, environmental degradation, and the apparent influences of climate change. ‘Understanding the Dynamics of Water Scarcity and Violence in Kenya’ considers how local communities cope with water scarcity: are indigenous systems of water stewardship sufficiently robust to avert violent conflict over access to and control of water sources? Combining methodologies from History and Political Science, the project documents the historical approaches to water stewardship in three Kenyan counties – Narok, Marsabit and Isiolo – and assesses the current dynamics of conflict around water use and access in these arid and semi-arid lands. Assessment of the spatial and temporal relationships between violence and water scarcity will allow policy recommendations to be made regarding conflict avoidance and the sustainable management of Kenya’s fragile hydroscape.

The themes of Heritage and Violence are relevant to this project:

  •  Heritage: The project will map the history of water stewardship, from traditional wells to modern boreholes and pumps, to critically examine the cultural narrative of peaceful co-existence and conflict avoidance against recurrent episodes where water scarcity has provoked dispute and contestation.
  • Violence: The project will assess the empirical basis of the assumption that violence has been increasing around natural resource competition Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands, testing the spatial and temporal relationships between violence and water scarcity to identify the conditions in which communities resort to violence.

Along with Professor David M. Anderson, the Co-Investigator on the project is Professor Kennedy Agade Mkutu, of the United States International University (USIU), Nairobi, and a post-doctoral Research Assistant works on the project based at USIU. The research also involves collaboration with Kenya's National Crime Research Centre, for which policy-relevant briefing papers will be produced on the place of environment conflicts in Kenya’s national conflict and crime strategies.

Details of this project can be found on the British Academy website.