Water Resources, Institutional Capacity and Civil Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa

Thumbnail Image


Publication or External Link






Case studies where both scarcity and conflict are present have dominated research on the nexus between environmental scarcity and conflict. This dissertation offers a quantitative analysis of the effect changes in water resources have on domestic conflict in 42 Sub-Saharan African nations which differ across the dependent variable, domestic conflict, and which vary across the explanatory environmental variables. This research advances the discussion of the causal effects of environmental scarcity and degradation on domestic conflict in four ways. It grounds the domestic conflict-environmental degradation discussion in the civil and social conflict literature; research on environmental security concludes that environmental change is most likely to play a role in domestic conflicts but research on domestic conflict typically does not include environmental variables. This quantitative study addresses a methodological shortcoming of earlier research, limited variation across the variable measuring water resource availability, by testing an alternative means of operationalizing water resources using annual precipitation data weighted by land area and population and weighted by land area and gross national product. This study introduces additional variation on the dependent variable and compares the results of a dichotomous variable with the results of a dependent variable with categorical coding based on the States in Armed Conflict Database. This research extends the scope of explanatory variables to include indicators for political institutions and their capacity to manage the water resources within their national boundaries.

The findings support and extend previous conclusions that water resources contribute to civil conflict and demonstrate that the use of precipitation data weighted by land area and population, a variable with variation, is a correlate for water resource availability, a static variable; and thereby providing results that are more reliable.  This correlate advances the environment-conflict discourse by more directly linking the data that describes the natural world to the social changes to which those natural phenomenon are purported to relate.  This study also finds that institutional capacity to manage water resources creates opportunities for rent-seeking but that open political institutions mediate between water resources and conflict.