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Research Topics

Health: Lack of clean drinking water, waterborne diseases, water and sanitation and hygiene (WASH)

  • Global Women’s Water Initiative trains women in WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) technologies.
  • Dangerous Waters: This article focuses on the threat posed by people’s diminishing access to freshwater. Infectious pathogens and harmful chemicals, from parasites to poisons, contaminate the world’s freshwater and contribute to the deaths of millions of people worldwide every year. Understanding the effects of those contaminants holds the key to protecting our drinking water. And figuring out how we are exposed to harmful agents is the first order of business in choosing proper water-treatment techniques. Circulating inside, outside, and across the cells, water constitutes as much as 70 percent of the body weight. Furthermore, people use water for the most basic daily activities.
  • A Lion in Our Village - The Unconscionable Tragedy of Cholera in Africa. This rich article discusses the history and challenges of Cholera-a disease of poverty-linking government leadership, sanitation, access to basic healthcare, environmental factors, prevention to the persistence of cholera in Africa.
  • iDE, a tenant at the Posner Center’s, discusses their work in water, sanitation and hygiene.
  • Global WASH Fast Facts - Water, sanitation and hygiene has the potential to prevent at least 9.1% of the global disease burden and 6.3% of all deaths.
  • Five Basic Cholera Prevention Messages - This CDC document details basic WASH steps to prevent the spread of cholera and other diarrheal diseases. It also teaches what do if you and your family are sick with diarrhea.
  • CDC Global Wash Burden
  • Diarrhea: Common Illness, Global Killer - Diarrhea kills 2,195 children every day–more than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined. Diarrheal diseases account to 1 in 9 child deaths worldwide. Most diarrheal deaths are preventable using simple, low-cost interventions. Includes a flow chart of pathways to diarrheal illness.
  • The Hare and the Water, Retold by Gary Port, Morogoro, Tanzania - A folk tale told about the animal community working together to enjoying their clean, fresh water.
  • Training sessions organized by the Water, Sanitation and Health (WASH) project equip women to keep borehole wells and hand pumps working.
  • A conversation with Paul Polak, the founder of iDE, who crowdfunded his new company Spring Health and plans to sell safe drinking water in Eastern India. The company completed its pilot test in 35 villages and now is ready for commercial roll-out. Polak and partners also plan to sell micro solar panels designed for the world’s poorest billion. Here Polak talks more about his plan to clean and deliver water.
  • Water, Sanitation and Hygiene - On July 28, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the human right to water and sanitation. It also acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights.
  • Clean water strengthens Haiti town - Clean water for drinking, agriculture and industry strengthens a town in Haiti.

Drought, desertification and famine and collapse of cultures due to drought: Mesa Verde, Maya, others

  • The DBQ Project’s lesson on the Dustbowl. What caused it?
  • Shifting Sands: Land and Water Management in the Middle East - Desertification and loss of water is causing governments in the Middle East to consider new approaches to land and water management including grazing, desalination, and conservation.
  • No Water, No Peace: Beyond the Ethnic Battle in Darfur - Farmers and nomads in Darfur, Sudan, historically were able to coexist. They are in conflict brought on by decades of drought that have provoked tensions over the control of natural resources. The government sided with the Arab nomads and provided them with arms, while the mostly African farmers began to rebel.
  • See the System Whole: The amount of water on earth is fixed, but everything else is changing fast - A look at the fresh water resources available in the world and how climate change will affect them. The amount of water on Earth is fixed, but everything else is changing fast.
  • Save our soils: Researchers must collaborate to manage one of the planet’s most precious and threatened resources – for food production and much more, says Steve Banwart - Drought, dust and desertification threaten food production. Researchers collaborate on a way to preserve nutrient rich soils.
  • Saving the Serengeti – Masai Mara: Can ecohydrology rescue a key East African ecosystem? - The Masai Mara, a river ecosystem that provides water resources from people, livestock and wildlife in Kenya, is being depleted by drought conditions in East Africa.
  • Rio Report Card: The world has failed to deliver on many of the promises it made 20 years ago at the Earth summit in Brazil - An article from Nature looks at how well kept the edicts of 92’ Earth Summit were 20 years on, including the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.
  • Managing the tragically inevitable - Agriculture in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region is being threatened by desert encroachment causing pockets of famine.


  • Amid Drought, Explaining Colorado’s Extreme Floods - Flash floods in Boulder area may also have ties to fires and climate change.
  • Bridges to Prosperity (B2P), a Denver-based nonprofit, builds footbridges to provide isolated communities with access to health care, education and economic opportunities.
  • Ready or not - In response to the floods in Bangladesh, the local community strives to adapt to their rapidly changing environment.
  • Pakistan One Year After the Floods - Post-flood Pakistan faces problems of environment damage and poverty that are worsened by political corruption.
  • Sea-level rise: The view from ground zero - Rising sea level is causing loss of land and human displacement is many countries across the world. The most endangered are the island nations of Kiribati and Tuvalu. For more on the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, see this pdf.
  • The great climate exodus - Flood damage and ecological stress has caused problems for many families in urban Bangladesh. Government estimates for climate-induced displacement are eight million people by 2050, the same as the population of Israel.
  • Floods and Climate Change: Sustainable Development and Other Imaginations - The 2010 flood in Pakistan showed that modern techniques of flood management are not sufficient. Farming may benefit from going back to the practice of perennial flood dependence.
  • Swamped - River deltas are sinking. Flooding in affected deltas all over the world causes a loss of land and damage to the environment.

Water-borne diseases

Conflict over water resources

  • Briefing: The humanitarian cost of South Sudan’s continuing violence – People flee violence in South Sudan. They are living with poor sanitation conditions in several of the sites for people who are internally displaced (IDPs) in the country. Diseases like malaria and diarrhea affect many of the displaced people. The threat of cholera is present in several of the sites.
  • Tajikistan’s Dream - Tajikistan’s plans for a hydroelectric dam cause problems with neighboring Uzbekistan.
  • India and Pakistan at Odds Over Shrinking Indus River - India and Pakistan fight for water to provide for their agricultre and textile industry. Issues of access to fresh water, species endangerment, irrigation and security also come into play.
  • Water Wars: Egyptians Condemn Ethiopia’s Nile Dam Project - Ethiopia’s plans to build dam over the Nile causes worries in Egypt and tensions between the countries over a shared water resource.
  • Troubled Waters - Rising water shortages in central-south Asia intensify conflict between Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as neighboring Uzbekistan and India.
  • Water Wars - Conflict between Afghanistan and neighboring countries over dwindling fresh water resources. Afghanistan cannot carry on with dam building, ignore its desert tribes’ water needs and take greater amounts of shared surface and ground- water resources without addressing the transboundary issues.
  • Running out of water, running out of time - Conflict between Israel and Palestine extends to water resources as unequal distribution of water by government causes tensions to rise.
  • National Geographic Water Crisis News  - This is the National Geographic Daily News water crisis site.
  • Saudi Arabia Stakes a Claim on the Nile - Saudi Arabia stakes a claim on the Nile. After draining four-fifths of its massive underground aquifer for unsustainable agriculture, the Saudi Kingdom turns to verdant Ethiopia.
  • Redressing the emerging governance crisis in peri-urban water access: Evidence from South Asia - Insufficient household access to water resources in the peri-urban areas of low and middle income countries is an increasingly important issue. From the geographical perspective of the watershed, water allocation decisions should be made collaboratively between cities and their outlying areas. For political and socioeconomic reasons, however, co-management is rare.
  • Peacebuilding student resolves issue in India slum - Vivek Digal used a peacebuilding training to resolve a conflict between Christians and Hindus in an India slum over wastewater.
  • Understanding water cooperation and conflict - Water conflicts occur in three spheres: hydrosphere, economic, and political. Problems in one may lead to conflict in another. This article discusses the terms ‘water conflict’ and ‘water cooperation’ in the context of transboundary water governance.
  • Global Figures on Transboundary Waters - According to a UN Water graphic, many countries share water. There are 276 transboundary river basins in the world (64 transboundary river basins in Africa, 60 in Asia, 68 in Europe, 46 in North America and 38 in South America) and 200 transboundary aquifers have also been identified.
  • Water and Urbanization - Urban settlements are also the main source of point-source pollution. Urban wastewater is particularly threatening when combined with untreated industrial waste. In many fast-growing cities (small and medium-sized cities with populations of less than 500,000), wastewater infrastructure is non-existent, inadequate or outdated.

Commerce/ trade access by sea or river

Electrical Power

  • The Energy – Water Collision: 10 Things You Should Know - Energy and water are woven into our daily lives and strongly linked to one another. Producing energy uses water, and providing freshwater uses energy. Both these processes face growing limits and problems. 
  • Hydropower Energizes Remote Village - This article presents a case study where USAID installed a renewable energy “mini-grid” in a remote Brazilian community that makes electricity accessible to Amazonian villages. 
  • How it Works: Water for Power Plant Cooling - This article discusses the basics of using water for power plant cooling. Thermoelectric power plants boil water to create steam, which then spins turbines to generate electricity. 
  • Nile Talks Highlight Ethiopian, Egyptian Split - This article talks about a planned meeting between water ministers from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan to try and resolve differences over Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam. Ethiopian officials have tried to bring Sudan and others on board by offering access to future electricity generated by the dam.

Crops/forests/farming, lack of sufficient agricultural water (including aquifer depletion)

  • Water balance of global aquifers revealed by groundwater footprints - Groundwater is a life-sustaining resource that supplies water to billions of people, plays a central part in irrigated agriculture and influences the health of many ecosystems. Most assessments of global water resources have focused on surface water. It remains unclear how the rate of global groundwater depletion compares to the rate of natural renewal and the supply needed to support ecosystems.
  • The Water’s Edge - The article discusses the search for hidden water beneath planet Earth. The author notes that a lack of understanding about Earth’s aquifers has led to water shortages, which have led to water wars in some parts of the world, such as the Nubian Sandstone aquifer in North Africa. An overview of the challenges of determining where the world’s aquifers are located, how much water they contain, and how quickly they can be replenished is presented.
  • Down to the Last Drop: Rainwater Harvesting in India - This paper highlights research in city of Chennai, India, where rainwater harvesting is mandatory. In many areas in India, the water table dropped to levels below the reach of wells. Because Chennai is a coastal city, saltwater intrusion caused much well water to become saline and largely unsuitable for household use. Ultimately, the over pumping, coupled with years of extreme drought and the destruction of most natural water bodies, left Chennai paralyzed by dramatic water shortages. Citizens have been harvesting rain since antiquity. Harvesting is now prevalent at all scales, from rural villages to urban households; citizens use a multitude of techniques to capture and store rainwater and recharge groundwater.
  • Improving West African rice production with agricultural water management strategies - This article considers the impact of alternative water management options and policy interventions on the profitability of rice production in West Africa.
  • Driptech: How affordable irrigation can transform small-plot farms - Affordable irrigation can transform small-plot farms for 600 million farmers. Driptech, a privately held, for-profit social enterprise designs and manufactures low-cost drip irrigation systems for small-plot farmers in the developing world.

Rural-urban division of resources, watersheds and theft

  • U.S. and Mexico Sign a Deal on Sharing the Colorado River – This NY Times article summarizes the US-Mexico agreement to manage the 1,450-mile Colorado River. It is the most significant policy decision that has been made on the Colorado River in recent years and has been hailed as an international model.
  • Water Woes with Shekhar Kapur – Filmmaker and activist Shekhar Kapur mulls over some of the problems and solutions to water scarcity in an interview: “Cities are a good source of votes for governments.  So, the government will do what it needs to bring water to these cities, even if they’re damaging rural areas in the process.”

Wildlife/ecosystems/endangered species/wildlife corridors

  • One woman’s quest to save our oceans the simple way: protect them - Oceanographer Sylvia Earle wants to protect the oceans, in particular the Sargasso Sea. Marine sanctuaries, or marine protected areas (MPA) should be created. Pollution caused by humans and over-fishing are some of the problems in the oceans.
  • Laos recently announced they are building a new hydropower dam, but hadn’t consulted other countries bordering the Mekong through the Mekong Commission. In a TEDxWWF Talk Stuart Chapman discusses how plans for 11 hydropower dams change the ecology of the Mekong River Delta across four countries. In his presentation, Stuart argues that the “natural capital” provided by the river needs to be considered alongside the economic returns of hydropower.
  • Restoring Rivers: The Lifeblood of Communities - This article talks about the importance of rivers and their tributaries because they pump freshwater to wetlands, lakes, and out to sea. However, over the course of human history, waterways have been manipulated for irrigation, urban development, navigation, and energy.
  • Rare river dolphin ‘now extinct’ - This article discusses how a freshwater dolphin found only in China is now “likely to be extinct” due to unregulated fishing. 
  • Coral Reef Fish - This article provides a brief overview of coral reefs and the many fish species that inhabit them. It introduces the key threats to coral reefs and how they are not always managed in a sustainable way.
  • Ancient mariners threatened with extinction - This article describes seven marine turtle species and how they are an integral part of coastal and marine ecosystems. In addition, it presents the main problems they face to survival including the effects of global warming and climate change that dramatically affects both turtle habitats and biology.
  • Soft Corals “Melting” Due to Warming Seas, Expert Says - This article talks about how soft coral communities in tropical waters may literally be melting away because of bleaching events, which have been dramatically accelerated by global warming. If bleaching continues to intensify, entire soft coral species may go extinct before they are even discovered.

Gender and water-lifting by women and girls

  • Why Mainstream a Gender Perspective in Agriculture Water Management? - This article discusses how women in developing countries do not have equal access to the resources and opportunities they need to be more productive in the agricultural sector.  Securing water is important to achieving food security and improving livelihoods. 
  • WaterWheel aims to lighten the load for women in developing nations - This article presents a prototype for a pushable high-quality plastic container dubbed the WaterWheel to improve the efficiency of water transport and storage in developing countries.
  • Gender, Water, and Energy - This article looks at the intersection of gender, water and energy. Specifically, it looks at how energy in the water sector affects health, economic opportunities, empowerment and security, for both women and men, within the framework of poverty alleviation and sustainable development. 
  • Water, women and marital violence in a Bangladesh village - This paper explores a study measuring the effect of water access on women and their experience of marital violence in a Bangladesh village. The study estimated that, on average, a woman spent 7 hours and 25 minutes daily on domestic water-related work, but a man spent only 19.2 minutes.
  • Water and Gender - Water scarcity has detrimental impacts on women and girls. Indeed, water is central to the full range of domestic ‘unpaid’ activities, which many cultures still view traditionally as “women domain”: food preparation, care of animals, crop irrigation, personal hygiene of the entire household, care of the sick, cleaning, washing and waste disposal. We need to view women and men as equal partners.
  • Water and Gender - Involving both men and women in the design and implementation of interventions leads to effective new solutions to water problems. The crisis of scarcity, deteriorating water quality, and the linkages between water and food security have some of the most significant impact on women’s access to and control over water resources.

Climate destabilization – glaciers, rising sea levels, oceanic temperatures and hurricanes

  • Climate Change: Basic Info - This article reviews the basic facts about climate change including its main causes and how it affects populations. It discusses how small changes in the average temperature of the planet can translate to large and potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather. 
  • Climate Impacts on Water Resources - This article discusses the climate change impacts on the water cycle, water supply and demand, water quality, and water resources. The impact of climate change on water availability and water quality will affect many sectors, including energy production, infrastructure, human health, agriculture, and ecosystems.
  • Peru’s farmers fight climate change using modern and Inca techniques - This article talks about how climate change is not some distant threat but a very real problem with which indigenous communities, among the poorest in the world, are struggling to cope with. In Peru, shepherds use a mix of meteorological data and ancient water management methods to save pastures from erratic rainfall. 
  • Climate change could spawn more frequent El Niños - A new study reveals that some of the worst El Niños, the infamous climate patterns that shake up weather around the world, could double in frequency in upcoming decades due to global warming. 
  • Sea Level Rise: Ocean Levels Are Getting Higher – Can We Do Anything About It? - This article presents the three primary factors linked to rising sea levels: thermal expansion, melting of glaciers and polar ice caps, and ice loss from Greenland and West Antarctica. Over the past century, the burning of fossil fuels and other human and natural activities has released enormous amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere with oceans absorbing about 80 percent of this additional heat.
  • Water and Climate Change - Higher temperatures and changes in extreme weather conditions are projected to affect availability and distribution of rainfall, snowmelt, river flows and groundwater, and further deteriorate water quality. The poor, who are the most vulnerable, are likely to be adversely affected.
  • Climate Change - There is evidence that the global climate is changing, and water is the primary medium through which climate change impacts the earth’s ecosystem and people.

Bottled water and plastic

  • Bottled Water Isn’t Healthier Than Tap, Report Reveals - This article argues that people’s thirst for bottled water is producing unnecessary garbage and consuming vast quantities of energy, even in areas where perfectly good drinking water is available on tap.
  • Drinking Water: Bottled or From the Tap? - This article presents some basic pros and cons of buying bottled water. The advantages are that it is convenient and some people think it is safer to drink. However, its disadvantages are that it is harmful to the environment and uses up mass amounts of crude oil and energy.
  • Bottled Water: Pouring Resources Down the Drain - This article talks about how the global consumption of bottled water has increased but is often no healthier than tap water. It can cost up to 10,000 times more and transporting bottled water long distances involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels.
  • Is bottled water tapped out? - This article discusses how bottled water can in fact contain more bacteria than tap water. A city’s tap water often has to pass rigorous purity standards and more tests for chemical contaminants.
  • Energy implications of bottled water - This paper estimates the energy footprint required for various phases of bottled water production, transportation, and use. A key concern is how much energy is required to produce and use bottled water.
  • Take back the tap - This report argues why choosing tap water over bottled water is better for your health, your pocketbook, and the environment.
  • 2011 Bottled Water Scorecard - When you shell out for bottled water, which costs up to 1,900 times more than tap water, you have a right to know what exactly is inside that pricey plastic bottle. Most bottled makers don’t agree.


  • For decades, almost every man-made development had ravaged the wild salmon. Billy Frank Jr. was thrown in jail more than 50 times, even shot at by game wardens as he fought for the American Indians’ fair share of the devastated salmon catch. Today, 70 percent of the Nisqually corridor is permanently protected. Salmon are on the rebound.
  • Redesigning aquaculture for the poor, two organization pilots innovative and environmentally-responsible open-ocean aquaculture in Mexico and Madagascar for farm shrimp and sea cucumbers.
  • Working for sustainable fishing - The WWF’s Global Marine Programme aims to increase conservation and to achieve sustainable exploitation of natural resources by balancing the social and economic needs of human communities with the maintenance of healthy ecosystems. They work to improve fisheries management, reduce the impacts of fishing, and promote sustainably caught seafood.

Water pollution and its point sources

  • River Revival: Can The Jordan River Roll Again? by Rabbi Michael Schwartz. The Jordan River, shared by Israel, Palestine and Jordan had been reduced to a trickle of sewage and pollutants. Friend’s of the Earth Middle East, the only joint Palestinian-Israeli-Jordanian nongovernmental organization in existence, is working through a Jordan river council to restore some of the flow of the Jordan River.
  • Muddy Waters:  Billions of people suffer because of a lack of clean water. Map details improved water sources by country.
  • An Indian court ruling closes leather tanneries that pollute three holy rivers in India with heavy metals. Read about the plan to clean up the Ganges and other rivers.
  • The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil release posed the the challenges of two types of spills: a traditional surface dispersion or a subsurface retention of dispersed oil. Existing governmental programs and policies had not anticipated new impacts and the implication on spill response, on the assessment of natural resource damages, on the preparation for litigation to achieve compensation for public trust losses, and on restoration.
  • Poisoned Waters: The Startling New Contaminants – An 8-minute video talks about new chemicals from everyday products have been detected in drinking water sources. Testing of treated has shows chemicals are present in “finished” water that is delivered to the tap. Scientists believe these chemicals – referred to as “endocrine disruptors” – has caused genetic mutations in fish. There also aren’t any established safety standards to regulate these chemicals. One million people get their drinking water from this river system.
  • Poisoned Waters: How Can We Save Habitat for Endangered Species? – Twenty six page guide from Frontline for looking at water pollution in 10 conversations, grades 6-13+. Site includes Billy Frank Jr. battle for Native American rights fishing rights. was thrown in jail more than 50 times, even shot at by game wardens as he fought for the American Indians’ fair share of the devastated salmon catch. Today, 70 percent of the Nisqually corridor is permanently protected. Salmon are on the rebound.
  • If You Think China’s Air Is Bad … - This article presents China’s water problem which includes contaminated lakes and reservoirs, lax environmental controls, and a lack of access to drinking water. It argues that major changes must come for how China manages these scarce resources. 
  • Xstrata’s killing fields - Copper mining by an international company in Peru affects water resources. The pollution impacts local community’s health and livelihood.


  • A Lion in Our Village — The Unconscionable Tragedy of Cholera in Africa. This rich article discusses the history and challenges of Cholera-a disease of poverty-linking government leadership, sanitation, access to basic healthcare, environmental factors, prevention to the persistence of cholera in Africa.
  • The Business Solution to Poverty – The founder of iDE and D-Rev talks about business solutions to poverty. He wants to profitably sell clean water to the world’s poorest billion.
  • Ethiopian Dam Threatens to Destroy Indigenous Livelihoods and the World’s Largest Desert Lake - An Ethiopian dam threatens to destroy indigenous livelihoods. Another big dam under construction – on the Omo River in Ethiopia – threatens not only the ancient ways of living of some 500,000 tribal peoples in Ethiopia and Kenya, but also Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake.
  • Grabbing Water From Future Generations - Grabbing land—and water—from poor people, desperate governments, and future generations threatens global food security, environmental sustainability, and local cultures. Some small farmers now sell water drawn from aquifers instead of crops. Many of the world’s aquifers are being pumped dry to support unsustainable agriculture.

Conservation, awareness, the Commons, water as a human right

  • Water – The Solvable Crisis – A TEDxWWF talk with Stuart Orr, Manager of Global Freshwater for WWF, discussing how governments, business and consumers can create solutions to save the stuff of life.“In China they say that twelve dragons manage water. Twelve different ministries have some role to play in the management of water and they don’t really talk to each other very well. Amazing! NGOs at the drive single issues on water perhaps. We don’t talk to people in the social NGOs. We don’t talk to people in the health NGOs and sometimes we go head to head with each other.”
  • Water Wars in the Digital and Real World - The makers of Farmville raise money for
  • Clean water for the poor? Making the Human Right to Water a Reality - This article discusses the inability of people to access water for their basic needs and how the right to water ensures that all people have access to safe water.
  • Water as a Human Right - This four-page excerpt from a World Health Organization (WHO) document defines water as a human right. It talks about the importance of accessible and safe water for populations. It argues that access to a regular supply of safe water is a basic human right which constitutes a prominent step towards making it a reality for everyone. For the full 44-page document, please click here.
  • Restoring Rivers: The Lifeblood of Communities - This article talks about the importance of rivers and their tributaries because they pump freshwater to wetlands, lakes, and out to sea. However, over the course of human history, waterways have been manipulated for irrigation, urban development, navigation, and energy. 
  • If You Think China’s Air Is Bad … - This article presents China’s water problem which includes contaminated lakes and reservoirs, lax environmental controls, and a lack of access to drinking water. It argues that major changes must come for how China manages these scarce resources. 

Fracking, fracturing and ground aquifers

Water Scarcity

  • The coming water scarcity in Africa - According to the UNDP, “an area is experiencing water stress when annual water supplies drop below 1700 m³ per person. When annual water supplies drop below 1000 m³ per person, the population faces water scarcity.” It is predicted that by 2025, most countries of Africa and West Asia will face severe water scarcity due to increasing population and demands on water. This graphic shows the grim reality of water scarcity in Africa.
  • Leaking Earth could run dry - Japanese scientists suspect the earth’s surface will look like Mars in a billion years, because more water leaks into the earth than returns to the surface. They estimate we are slowly losing surface water.

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