Water and Terrorism

Published: August 14, 2006
Author: Peter Gleick
Pages: 23

Water and Terrorism


The importance of freshwater and water infrastructure to human and ecosystem health and to the smooth functioning of a commercial and industrial economy makes water and water systems targets for terrorism. The chance that terrorists will strike at water systems is real; indeed, there is a long history of such attacks. Water infrastructure can be targeted directly or water can be contaminated through the introduction of poison or diseasecausing agents. The damage is done by hurting people, rendering water unusable, or destroying purification and supply infrastructure. More uncertain, however, is how significant such threats are today, compared with other targets that may be subject to terrorist attack, or how effective such attacks would actually be. Analysis and historical evidence suggest that massive casualties from attacking water systems are difficult to produce, although there may be some significant exceptions. At the same time, the risk of societal disruptions, disarray, and even overreaction on the part of governments and the public from any attack, may be high. This paper reviews the history of past attacks on water systems and the most pressing vulnerabilities and risks facing modern water systems. Suggestions of ways to reduce those risks are also presented.


Water is a fundamental resource for human and economic welfare and modern society depends on complex, interconnected water infrastructure to provide reliable safe water supplies and to remove and treat wastewater. This infrastructure is vital for human welfare and economic development and it is vulnerable to intentional disruption from war, intrastate violence and, of more recent concern, terrorism. [...]

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