WaterPower draws on insights from political ecology, environmental justice and governance research in order to illuminate the relationship between bio-physical and socio-political processes in an era of global change. We carry out in-depth research, including mapping and modelling of urban expansion and settlements, analyze infrastructure regimes, governance mechanisms and (discourses about) socio-spatial conditions of urban water security, while also exploring the dynamics between urbanization and aquatic ecosystem services and disservices.

Key Research Questions

  • How will a collision of multiple crises – such as urbanisation, climate change and weak governance capacities – affect freshwater security in a city of the global south?
  • How does the cumulative interplay between human and non-human factors trigger the collapse or sustainability of urban water dynamics and how can this interplay be analysed and explained?
  • When are sustainability problems – such as the water crisis – too big to manage and what are the related tipping points for societies or vulnerable groups?
  • What kind of science do we need in order to be able to address these societal sustainability challenges?

Water as an analytical lens

Water is central to both human and environmental systems. It is therefore an ideal research subject for studying the linkages within society-nature relations, as well as the flow of water and questions of access to resources.

Using Accra as an illustrative example, we will examine the various human and non-human factors that jointly drive the often mentioned but poorly understood urban water problems that are embedded in multi-scalar dynamics.


Complex socio-environmental challenges call for the integration of knowledge from both science and society to explore new strategies and opportunities towards sustainability transformations. Transdisciplinary research in sustainability science sets the basis for such collaboration and co-production of knowledge that is relevant to society.

“a reflexive research approach that addresses societal problems by means of interdisciplinary collaboration as well as the collaboration between researchers and extra-scientific actors”
- Jahn  et al. (2012)

Within WaterPower, we apply an inter- and transdisciplinary approach through (a) the creation of an interdisciplinary team and collaborative problem framing that includes the perspective of local stakeholders, (b) the co-production of knowledge that is solution-oriented and (c) the re-integration of new knowledge in both science and society.

Our transdisciplinarity includes many activities:

  • Weekly interdisciplinary colloquia within the research team and academic experts
  • Early stakeholder involvement and continuous interaction through yearly workshops and long-term stays in Ghana
  • In-depth interdisciplinary research by the PhD researchers employing various methods but drawing on a shared conceptual frame
  • Participatory research methods in Accra - such as family portraits and scenario workshops
  • On-going dialogue and a reflexive approach towards research methods and collaboration processes in transdisciplinary research
  • Development of web-based tools, videos, handbooks, digital maps, policy briefs, newsletters and the organization of “world café” events both in Trier and Accra

Project Structure

WaterPower focuses on multiple dimensions of urban water systems including infrastructure, governance processes, socio-economic and spatial inequalities related to water availability and access, flood risks and (peri)urban land use change.

Our flyer and material with general information about the project.

Flyer WaterPower (1)
Flyer WaterPower (2)
Poster WaterPower