Analyzing water policy impacts on vulnerability: Cases across the rural-urban continuum in the arid Americas

Publicado en Environmental Development, V. 38:100552

Zuniga-Teran, A.A.,  Mussetta, P.C., Lutz Ley, A.N., Díaz-Caravantes, R.E., Gerlak, A.K.

Año de publicación 2021
School of Landscape Architecture and Planning, Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, University of Arizona, USA
INCIHUSA-CONICET and Facultad Ciencias Agrarias-Universidad Nacional del Cuyo, Argentina
Centro de Estudios del Desarrollo, El Colegio de Sonora, Mexico
Centro de Estudios en Salud y Sociedad, El Colegio de Sonora, Mexico
School of Geography and Development, Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, University of Arizona, USA


This work was funded by the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) CRN3056, which is supported by the National Science Foundation [GEO-1128040]. We also received support from the International Water Security Network funded by Lloyd's Register Foundation, a charitable foundation helping to protect life and property by supporting engineering-related education, public engagement, and the application of research. The research for this article was conducted within the project &ldquoSustainable Water for Arid Communities,&rdquo funded by the National Science Foundation Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Grant Number 1518376, and also funded by the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice and the College of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture at the University of Arizona.

Proyecto CRN3056


- Understanding vulnerability in arid lands must consider the effects of water policies on the livelihoods disadvantaged groups.
- Neoliberal policies are effective sources of vulnerability in groups that do not benefit from the production of commodities.
- Coordination between natural resource policies is needed to provide coherence and avoid enhanced vulnerabilities.
- Reliable data on water use and environmental health must be collected systematically and be available to the public.
- Policies must support wellbeing understood as a multidimensional state directly linked to environmental health.


Climate change is posing emerging threats to people and the environment, particularly in arid regions. However, some groups are more vulnerable than others, depending on their levels of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity, which are determined by climatic and non-climatic factors. In water-scarce environments, water policies become key non-climatic factors that affect vulnerability yet enable modifications if their impacts unintentionally exacerbate vulnerability. Therefore, it is necessary to analyze the impacts of water policies on vulnerability, particularly for disadvantaged groups. In this paper, we analyze four cases in the arid Americas that illustrate an array of challenges at different scales and across the rural-urban continuum: (1) irrigated oases in Mendoza, Argentina, where groundwater and surface water management are disconnected (2) rural communities in central Sonora, Mexico, where local water rights have been transferred to large scale mining (3) peri-urban marginalized neighborhoods in Hermosillo, Mexico, where competition for water is driving changes in land use and (4) underserved communities in Tucson, Arizona, USA who are left behind in a rainwater harvesting movement. Our analysis shows that water policies in arid regions interact with land and neoliberal policies between sectors across different scales, exacerbating vulnerabilities disproportionately in less privileged groups and enhancing disparities. Here, we offer recommendations for more inclusive policymaking processes that can build capacity, protect the livelihoods of disadvantaged groups, and reduce their vulnerability to climate change.