Sociohydrology: Scientific Challenges in Addressing the Sustainable Development Goals

Water Resour Res. 2019 Aug;55(8):6327-6355. doi: 10.1029/2018WR023901. Epub 2019 Aug 16.


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations Agenda 2030 represent an ambitious blueprint to reduce inequalities globally and achieve a sustainable future for all mankind. Meeting the SDGs for water requires an integrated approach to managing and allocating water resources, by involving all actors and stakeholders, and considering how water resources link different sectors of society. To date, water management practice is dominated by technocratic, scenario-based approaches that may work well in the short term but can result in unintended consequences in the long term due to limited accounting of dynamic feedbacks between the natural, technical, and social dimensions of human-water systems. The discipline of sociohydrology has an important role to play in informing policy by developing a generalizable understanding of phenomena that arise from interactions between water and human systems. To explain these phenomena, sociohydrology must address several scientific challenges to strengthen the field and broaden its scope. These include engagement with social scientists to accommodate social heterogeneity, power relations, trust, cultural beliefs, and cognitive biases, which strongly influence the way in which people alter, and adapt to, changing hydrological regimes. It also requires development of new methods to formulate and test alternative hypotheses for the explanation of emergent phenomena generated by feedbacks between water and society. Advancing sociohydrology in these ways therefore represents a major contribution toward meeting the targets set by the SDGs, the societal grand challenge of our time.

Keywords: Sustainable Development Goals; legacy effects; precautionary principle; sociohydrology; water crises.