When creating policy on water resources and agricultural management, it is important that decision-makers consider the social implications, especially since certain populations are more vulnerable to the risks of water and food insecurity based on sex, ethnicity, income, race, or other characteristics. This is where social analyses comes in. A social analysis is a process designed to identify social dimensions of development projects by analyzing stakeholder perspectives.

Social analyses should:

  • Identify vulnerable groups
  • Assess and engage with vulnerable groups to determine how they may be directly and indirectly impacted by proposed activities
  • Ensure participation and inclusivity of vulnerable groups in decision-making
  • Obtain free, prior, and informed consent from impacted groups
  • Ensure security of livelihoods and/or residential accommodation for impacted groups
  • Ensure that vulnerable groups’ legal or customary rights on land, water, and food remain intact
  • Account for vulnerable and/or impacted groups’ cultural perceptions or beliefs around land, water, and food

Conducting a thorough social analysis of the potential outcomes from water resource management and food security decisions will help ensure results that are socially equitable, identify unavoidable trade-offs so social safety nets may be prepared in advance, and build broad support for proposed activities.

It is up to Aqueduct Food users to use the tool in the most effective and socially inclusive way, keeping in mind that their actions can impact the social landscape of the regions in which they work. Ideally, all proposed activities would be developmental in nature, producing measurable and positive benefits to all parts of society at large.

Consider this:

Scenario 1: Women in Malawi

Collecting water for domestic purposes is often primarily the responsibility of women and girls, creating an unequal burden and unpaid work of managing water, food, and energy. When water supply is scarce or contaminated, women spend even more time collecting water, walking long distances, and queuing at water points.

For example, women in the Mitawa village of Malawi had to travel farther to collect water or resort to using poorer-quality sources when boreholes in the village stopped providing adequate water in the dry seasons, according to a study conducted by ODI. Water insecurity intensifies seasonally in drought years and affects poorer women and households particularly hard, since their options for sourcing or transporting water are limited.

Scenario 2: Pastoralists in the Sahel

Pastoralists are the most politically marginalized group in the Horn of Africa and East Africa. Due to the nomadic nature of their livelihoods, pastoralists face barriers to accessing land, resources, and other basic needs. In the Sahel, pastoralists and agriculturalists maintain a traditional system of negotiated access to water and land. However, with increasing pressure on both land and water resources due to climate change and government models of agricultural expansion, these traditional systems are threatened. Pastoral livelihoods also become increasingly vulnerable with the disappearance of fallows and declining pastures, and may in turn result in social conflicts between agriculturalists and pastoralists.

In light of inherent vulnerabilities among certain populations, decision-makers should ensure their actions:

  • Contribute to advancing the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Mitigate potential negative social impacts, particularly for vulnerable groups
  • Reduce gender and social disparities

Below, we provide a variety of examples and resources to help decision-makers conduct social analyses.


Resources to develop an analysis suited to specific project needs

Datasets providing high-level pictures of socioeconomic conditions, gaps and disparities as well as starting points for deeper social analysis

Important Questions to Consider When Conducting Social Analyses

Who is likely to benefit from this decision?

Example: Development projects that aim to advance agricultural production and food security may primarily help those who have enough land that can produce food fiber, vegetables, and fruits for consumption and the market. Projects that particularly focus on information, communication, and technology for agriculture may favor groups who are literate and have access to Internet and mobile phones. Even when these projects produce net positive outcomes, their implementation may widen gaps between community members if they provide limited benefits to marginal landholders and landless farmers.

Who may be adversely impacted? Why and in what ways?

Example: Cases from Bangladesh and Pakistan reveal that in an effort to improve irrigation systems for food production, sources of domestic water use, like groundwater, may be diverted toward farms. This adversely impacts women in these communities, who are responsible for collecting water for household use from the same groundwater source. This results in them spending more hours and traveling farther distances to find alternate sources of water.

What impact will this decision/development project have on social, economic, and political dynamics?

Example: Introducing new projects or policies to facilitate improved productivity and efficiency in agricultural and water management systems may disrupt traditional institutions and the economic livelihoods. Many irrigation projects involving construction of dams and reservoirs have led to large-scale displacement of communities near the project sites. India’s UKP dam, built in the 1960s to tackle prevailing drought conditions, led to the displacement of around 300,000 people, resulting in a loss of their livelihoods. This could also lead to political upheaval as communities mobilize to protest perceived threats to their socioeconomic status.

Do you use Aqueduct Food and social analyses? Submit a User Story.