What is “water insecurity”: A conversation with Dr. Louis Lebel

In the ongoing phase of work SUMERNET is focusing on “reducing water insecurity” in the Mekong Region. What does this mean and who will benefit? We asked Dr. Louis Lebel, our senior advisor and SUMERNET Steering Committee member for his perspectives.

Leonie Pearson By Leonie Pearson - Mar 22, 2020

SUMERNET, with its long running strong research network across the Mekong has a strategic focus now on “reducing water insecurity” in the Mekong Region. We asked Dr. Louis Lebel, from Chiang Mai University, our senior advisor and SUMERNET Steering Committee member to provide his perspectives on “water insecurity”.

Q: What is water insecurity?

A: Water insecurity in the Mekong Region is defined by SUMERNET as “not having the rights or access to sufficient water of adequate quality or being made increasingly vulnerable to unacceptable levels of water-related risks.” Water insecurities arise from too little and too much water.

Q: Why did SUMERNET focus on water?

A: As a network, we all had different ideas about what was THE most important issue in the Mekong until 2025, but on discussion across the whole steering committee it became clear that almost everything came back to water and how it is used or governed.

Q: Why the focus on "insecurity" rather than "security"? 

A: We chose to focus on ‘water insecurity’ rather than water security for two reasons. First, because perfect ‘security’ is an unattainable goal, whereas insecurity can almost always be reduced. Second, because it keeps the focus on the insecure - marginalized and vulnerable groups.

Q: Can you give me an example of what water insecurity research looks like in practice?

A: In northern Thailand rainfall is highly seasonal. Households involved in agricultural activities deal with extreme shortages in April and four months later with floods and landslides. In the lowlands, water storage infrastructure can be managed to reduce risks in some areas, while in the uplands such options are very limited and depend more on maintaining forest cover and protecting soils. In both zones who you are (ethnicity & gender) and where your plot sits (head or tail of a canal) influences access to sufficient water and safe places to plant.

Thanks, Louis, for sharing the why’s and what’s of water insecurity in SUMERNET. We look forward to hearing more as the projects and program develops in the next few years. It’s important to know that this work really builds on previous SUMERNET work. 



Watch a short film of our SUMERNET researchers explain their work on addressing water insecurity: 


Read some of our stories of change.


If you want to get more involved in SUMERNET’s work around water insecurity keep an eye on our website or join the network where you will be updated on latest fellowship opportunities, grants and events, or email us: info@sumernet.org.

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