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Living with Water

Dr Jonathan Clarke

Module Leader

Option - First year only for GSD single honours
Term 2
10 weeks
10 x 1 hour lectures
10 x 1 hour seminars

Available to students outside GSD on application

Principal Aims

This interdisciplinary module will stimulate students to engage with a variety of contemporary issues surrounding sustainable management of water resources, explored through international case studies that extends conventional conceptions of social, environmental and economic sustainability. This lens also provides opportunities for further examination of the history, geo-politics, culture and governance frameworks that relate to water and sustainable development, as well as reflecting, evaluating and envisioning adaption strategies connecting to water and future climate change. In doing so, it draws from the University of Warwick’s wider expertise in this area and establishes a foundation of knowledge and analytical skills for other GSD modules.

Challenges around water represent many of the most urgent concerns for promoting global sustainable development. Clean water is a basic requirement for life; according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 844 million people lack basic access to clean drinking water and at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces. It is anticipated that by 2030 global water demand will exceed current supply by 40 percent. Elsewhere, an excess of water is the primary concern; UN-HABITAT estimate that there are currently 1 billion people living on land vulnerable to flooding, and this is expected to rise to 2 billion by 2050. Recent years have also seen a dramatic increase in hydro-meteorological catastrophes, such as floods, storms and drought, which have increased exponentially between 1900 and 2005. The module will explore how these emerging concerns are exacerbated by a rising global population, development trends and a changing environment, before reflecting upon how we can formulate holistic solutions and pathways to a more sustainable future for living with water.

Such an approach is advanced through a varied programme of lectures, featuring guest speakers from diverse backgrounds and problem-based seminars that explore the emerging challenges through international case studies. An initial group project seeks to engage students in producing a collaborative ‘manifesto’ for addressing a global water problem, which in turn informs an individual research report that explores a global challenge and articulates a more sustainable future water policy.

Principal Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this module, students will be able to:

• Describe the key global sustainable development challenges relating to water, from a variety of perspectives;

• Critically appraise existing methods of water management, based upon evidence;

• Research, analyse and evaluate emerging approaches to sustainable water management;

• Demonstrate an understanding of water issues relating to the wider global challenges of sustainable development, such as health, inequality and survival;

• Articulate a sustainable policy pathway for addressing the key global water challenges in the future.


The syllabus follows 10 themes, which correspond to the weekly lecture and seminar activity. See below for examples of theme content.

Week 1 - Civilisation – Water, Agriculture and the City
• Introduces topic thorough the history of water, settlement and cities,
• Industry, pollution and sanitation,
• Drought, salinization and ‘water stress’,
• Flooding, climate change, water policy and adaption.
• CASE STUDIES: Sumeria and London

Week 2 - The Water Cycle, Environment and Habitats
• Ocean acidification and marine habitats,
• Decline of critical wetland habitats,
• Drought, depletion of ground water reserves and rising salinity,
• The case for re-wilding, green infrastructure and ecosystem services.
• CASE STUDIES: New Orleans and Harbin

Week 3 - Water Quality, Contamination and Sanitation

Week 4 - Living without Water – Drought and Survival

Week 5 - Water and Culture

Week 6 - Water Politics, Security and Migration

Week 7 - The Water, Energy, Food Nexus (WEF)

Week 8 - A Flooded Future
• Flooding is the most significant climate change related risk (includes sea-level rise, storms fluvial and pluvial flooding),
• Implications of widespread flood risk to global populations,
• Interdependent, cascading and fracture-critical nature of water-related risks.
• CASE STUDY: New York

Week 9 - Infrastructure, Climate Change and the Anthropocene
• Explore how climate change is changing the relationship between water, people and development,
• Highlighting the climate change ‘hot-spots’ of African and Asian deltas, semi-arid regions and snowmelt-fed rivers,
• The need for change in development strategies and adaption,
• CASE STUDIES: Dhaka and Rotterdam

Week 10 - Climate Adaption Strategies
• Dynamic adaptive pathways approach,
• Access to water can improve living standards or address climate change effects – more holistic approaches,
• Imagining a new relationship between water, people and development,
• Overcoming path dependence and lock-in.
• CASE STUDIES: Rotterdam


Seminar Participation (10%)

Group Presentation (25%)

Individual Assessment Report (1000 words) (15%)

Individual Research Report (2500 words) (50%)