The Global Water Grabbing Syndrome

7 September 2017

In a recently published paper, environmental social scientist Jampel Dell'Angelo (IVM-VU) and colleagues review the phenomenon of 'water grabbing'. They explore the biophysical and ethical implications of 'blue' water grabbing, and examine to what extent it is an inherent part of large-scale land acquisitions associated with trans-national investments in agriculture.

Authors Dell’Angelo, Rulli and D’Odorico start by giving a review of the concept of ‘water grabbing’. In particular they focus on the debate that considers water grabbing as the hydrological component of large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs).

ccording to this debate water grabbing happens when foreign companies consume water in target countries through foreign investments for commercial agriculture. The authors question the intrinsic assumption that every LSLAs represents a water grab a priori and provide an operational definition of the concept based on a biophysical criteria and a normative one. 

Blue water availability

They also distinguish between appropriation of blue and green water and propose a formal definition of blue water grabbing based on the biophysical conditions (water scarcity) and ethical implications (human right to food) of the countries that are targeted by LSLAs. Following this analytical definition, blue water grabs are then the appropriations of irrigation water in regions affected by undernourishment where agricultural production is constrained by blue water availability.

Applying this framework, the authors finally provide a global assessment of the likelihood that LSLAs produce blue water grabbing in the different countries that are targeted by these transnational investments.

Publication details

Dell'Angelo, Jampel, Maria Cristina Rulli, and Paolo D'Odorico. The Global Water Grabbing Syndrome. Ecological Economics 143 (2018): 276-285.

Jampel Dell’Angelo is Assistant Professor of Water Governance in the Department of Environmental Policy Analysis at the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He is an environmental social scientist interested in the political economy of natural resources, in particular water. Jampel Dell'Angelo is part of Amsterdam Water Science.

Published by  IBED Water