Research projects

ESR1: Multi-level assessment of water stress and institutional dynamics in the water-climate-conflict nexus

Early Stage Researcher: Stewart Motta 
Host institution: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Principal supervisor: Prof. Philipp Pattberg
Co-supervisor: Dr. Johanna Koehler
Co-supervisor: Prof. Aaron Wolf
NEWAVE supervisor: Dr. Jampel Dell’Angelo


Hydro-climatic stress represents a strong threat to global and local water security. In many countries in the Global South water conflicts are on the rise. Different social actors compete over limited freshwater resources. These socio-hydrological challenges produce conflict dynamics in certain instances while cooperative responses in others. A country that is particularly affected by hydro-climatic stress and is very prone to water conflicts in Myanmar. Very little research has been conducted on water conflicts and institutional adaptation in Myanmar, which is a country with a strong need for policy interventions and development of water governance best practices. Policy research will be conducted on multiple levels, from local to national to transboundary while specific cases of water conflicts in the country will be studied from a socio-hydrological perspective. This research has a strong potential for both novel academic publications and for actionable outcomes and policy impact.

This research project will:

  1. Identify which institutional conditions promote cooperative water stress mitigation;
  2. Study how national and international institutional dynamics enable or impede local or national responses to water stress;
  3. Investigate potential mismatches between hydrological conditions and institutional and governance responses in water-stressed contexts (main focus on Myanmar);
  4. Identify inconsistencies across different nested action arena, from the global to the local level, in terms of water conflict resolution mechanism development and implementation;
  5. Reconsider the role of cooperation and conflict based on socio-hydrological indicators that highlight issues of environmental distributional injustice.

Expected results:

  1. Develop a robust understanding of how institutions interact at multiple levels to address socio-hydrological stress;
  2. Provide insights and characterization of the rising water conflict socio-environmental dynamics in Myanmar, both locally and regionally (transboundary level);
  3. Create a new set of socio-hydrological indicators to evaluate water stress impacts based on principles of environmental justice that consider the dynamics of unequal distribution of burdens and responsibilities;
  4. Feedback and policy recommendations to international and transboundary river organizations involved in water stress mitigation and water conflict resolution mechanisms.

About Stewart Motta

Stew is based at the IVM Institute for Environmental Studies conducting research on hydropolitics in the Mekong Region. The ESR1 research focuses on shared and contested river systems and how human and non-human interventions impact these hydrosocial landscapes. Stew worked in the region for over a decade supporting research initiatives through the CGIAR's Water, Land, and Ecosystems (WLE) Greater Mekong Program and the Mekong Region Futures Initiative. Stew has an MSc in Water Science Policy and Management from the University of Oxford, a Bachelors in Chinese Studies from The Colorado College, and studied Mandarin at the Beijing Institute of Education. Stew is excited for the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. and hopes the NEWAVE experience enables him to support and contribute to knowledge production on water governance in Myanmar.

 LinkedIn profile: Stew Motta


Stewart Motta
NEWAVE Early Stage Researcher, Ph.D. Candidate
Institute of Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Prof. Philipp Pattberg
Professor of Transnational Environmental Governance and Policy
Head of Department, Environmental Policy Analysis
Institute of Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Dr. Johanna Koehler
Assistant Professor of Environmental Risk Governance
Public Administration and Policy Group, Wageningen University and Research, The Netherlands

Prof. Aaron Wolf
Professor, Geography in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences
Oregon State University, United States

Dr. Jampel Dell’Angelo
Associate Professor of Water Governance & NEWAVE Principal Investigator
Institute of Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands