Goal 6 of the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development reads: ‘Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all‘ by 2030. However, in several countries of the Global South, as well as in many EU-regions, groundwater is not equally available for all. Some actors consume major parts of aquifers while others need to migrate due to dry lands. Some have to fight for pollution-free wells, others have access to high-quality groundwater. Subsequently, groundwater use is a highly contested topic. Being a key resource for basic socio-ecological needs such as drinking water supply, agricultural production or ecosystem functioning, conflicting claims arise. Sometimes such conflicts take place in the formal political arena, sometimes such conflicts lead to radical protests.

Photo: Galit –

Against this background, in focal area ‘Conflicts’ we analyse in detail inequalities, power relations and conflicts around groundwater use. We do so by examining the contested situations in two case studies. These empirical investigations will be driven by questions such as:

  • Which actors are claiming access to groundwater?
  • Who is suffering from current groundwater uses?
  • Which actors are dominating?
  • How do conflicts unfold?
  • How are these conflicts governed?
A farmer checks the condition of the field soil, which has already dried out in April due to the change in climate and the lack of rain. Photo: BIB-Bilder –

To work on these questions, a political ecology perspective is applied. Stemming from critical environmental research, this perspective examines the winners and losers in social-ecological processes. Having in mind the power of language as well as economic dimensions, we apply methods such as interviews, participatory mapping, stakeholder analysis or discourse analysis in order to find answers to the questions above.

By revealing relevant power relations and inequalities in these case studies, we want to contribute to a more sustainable and just groundwater management in the EU.


David Kuhn
ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research /
Trier University

Dr. Fanny Frick-Trzebitzky
ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research

Prof. Dr. Antje Bruns
Trier University