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Water as a weapon

Water as a weapon

August 11, 2023 at 8:00am

It's FIU Research Week on Academic Minute. From Monday, Aug. 7 — Friday, Aug. 11, FIU experts will be talking about their latest work and discoveries on the public radio show and podcast available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify

For decades, Shlomi Dinar — dean and professor of politics and international relations in the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs — has studied the politics of water, and how the very nature of water as a scarce, finite resource means it directly intersects with issues of national security.

But is it a target for terrorists? Dinar explores his latest research, unraveling the number of global terrorist attacks involving water. 

Water is political. As a scarce, finite resource, it directly intersects with issues of national security. It can be used as a target and weapon. In fact, it is.  

My research shows terrorists use water resources to threaten communities and weaken states. For example, at the height of its power in 2013-14, ISIS seized more than land.

They also took over Mosul Dam, Iraq’s largest dam generating hydroelectricity and water for downstream irrigation. More recently, in 2017, the Taliban blew up a dam constructed in Kandahar province in a campaign of violence in the southern provinces of Afghanistan.

I’ve found this battle for water — connecting water and terrorism — is becoming more common across the world. In fact, since 9/11, there has been a rise in global terrorist attacks targeting water resources.

Using the Global Terrorism Database — one of the most comprehensive terrorism databases available—my colleagues and I reviewed records documenting objectives behind hundreds of attacks.

Between 1970 to 2016, we identified 675 incidents of water-related terrorism carried out by 124 terrorist organizations in 71 countries. Most attacks involved water infrastructure, like dams — a primary target because it secures and transports water for human consumption and agricultural purposes. And most were happening in South Asia — mainly due to ongoing conflict in Afghanistan that also spills over the border into Pakistan, as well as the ongoing domestic conflict in India over political ideologies.

These findings are invaluable to decision-makers and government officials who are responsible for evaluating terrorism threats or risks. Future impacts of climate change on freshwater resources may provide terrorist organizations with further opportunities to leverage the precious resource for their ideological and political agendas.

Listen to the episode: