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

Adriana A. Zuniga-Teran, Paula C. Mussetta, America N. Lutz Ley, Rolando E. Díaz-Caravantes, Andrea K. Gerlak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100552
JournalEnvironmental Development
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Adaptation
  • Agro-export
  • Arid lands
  • Equity
  • Green infrastructure
  • Mining
  • Resilience
  • Vulnerability
  • Water policy
  • Water security
  • peri-Urban areas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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