Human securitization of water? A case study of the Indus Basin Waters

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Burgess, J. Peter; Owen Taylor & Uttam Sinha (2013) Human securitization of water? A case study of the Indus Basin Waters, Cambridge Review of International Affairs. DOI: 10.1080/09557571.2013.7997391–26.

​In the large and growing literature on hydropolitics, insecurity generated through water-related conflicts is most often conceptualized under a model of economic resource scarcity. Conflict is generally reduced to the question of who has water, who needs water and thus what cost, in economic, political or military terms, is appropriate to acquiring access to water. This article argues that while such analyses effectively chart the central resource-strategic relations involved in the geopolitics of water, they nonetheless disregard the deeper biological and cultural (that is social, ethnic, religious) significance of water in any water conflict. Such analyses, it claims, are too strongly linked to the traditional (as opposed to human) security discourse and therefore run the risk of misdiagnosing the complexity of the water resource challenge. To respond to this challenge the article will develop a human security ‘metrics’ for analysing water-based conflicts in human security terms. It will then compare an analysis of the Indus Waters Treaty based upon the human security approach with an analysis based on a ‘traditional’ security assessment of the treaty in order to assess the viability of the two approaches. Finally, the article will link the comparative assessments back to the water wars literature, drawing conclusions about its strengths and weaknesses and the possibility of a synthesis of traditional and human security in the analysis of water conflict.

Available online


J. Peter Burgess

J. Peter Burgess

Research Professor & Editor of Security Dialogue