Sociohydrology and the global water crisis

Nothing is permanent except change. To express this concept, Heraclitus metaphorically referred to the change in the symbiotic relationship between water and people using the words: “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”. The prescient insight of Heraclitus can equally well serve as a metaphor for the global water crisis humanity is facing. Millions of people around the world are affected by increasing drought severity and flood risk, groundwater depletion, ecological degradation, poor sanitation, water pollution and its impact on human health.

I recently published a paper on this subject by leading an interdisciplinary team of scientists, including my colleagues Maria Rusca, Elena Mondino and Johanna Mård, involved in the (Heraclitus-inspired) global initiative Panta Rhei –Everything Flows of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS). In our paper, we show that water crises are increasingly connected and are growing in complexity. We argue that water management practice is still dominated by technocratic approaches, which emphasize technical solutions that often result in unintended consequences and unjust outcomes. Sociohydrology is developing a generalizable understanding of the phenomena generated by the interplay between natural, technical and social processes, which can improve water management practice. As such, our paper describes how advancing sociohydrology can contribute to address the global water crisis, and meet the water‐related targets defined by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Our article is now published Open Access on Water Resources Research as part of the special collection Grand Challenges in the Earth and Space Sciences celebrating the centennial of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

Full Reference:

Di Baldassarre, G., Sivapalan, M.,Rusca, M., Cudennec, C., Garcia, M., Kreibich, H., Konar, M., Mondino, E., Mård, J., Pande, S., Sanderson, M.R., Tian, F., Viglione, A., Wei, J., Wei, Y., Yu, D.J., Srinivasan, V. and G. Blöschl (2019). Sociohydrology: Scientific challenges in addressing the sustainable development goals. Water Resources Research, 55,

Link to the Open Access Paper


By Giuliano Di Baldassarre

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