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Global Development and the contradictions of ‘new water’ (GloNeW)

The GloNeW project is a five-year research project, which analyses the extraordinary emergence of unconventional, or ‘new’ water resources, such as desalination and wastewater reuse, as societies seek to address chronic and worsening water challenges.


Water is one of the most pressing and persistent global challenges – over half the world’s population face water scarcity each year and a major UN report in 2023 found that, at the halfway stage of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), progress towards universal access to water has been limited.

Many experts see the transition to unconventional water as one of the most important – and potentially game-changing – responses to water crisis. There is lots of research spending on technological innovation, but the social and political implications of this transition are still fairly poorly understood. The GloNeW project will address this gap.

New water infrastructures

In particular, we know very little about what implications these new water infrastructures will have on development in contexts in the Global South, which often face entrenched water inequalities. Indeed, there is a danger that the idea that simply creating ‘new’ water will solve water challenges and fulfil the SDGs, will lead to the wrong kind of water transitions in complex contexts.

The main objective of the project, therefore is to critically assess how new water resources are being used to address water challenges in the Global South, and in turn, to analyse how they are shaping development opportunities. The project will combine analysis of the global new water industry with in-depth case study research in Kenya, Morocco and South Africa, which although facing very different challenges are turning to new water in the context of multi-year droughts.


  • Analyse how and why unconventional water resources are being used to address water challenges in a range of contexts in the global south.
  • Explore how unconventional water technologies reflect and reinforce economic and political interests.
  • Interrogate how the use of these technologies is affecting access to affordable and reliable water.


The project will be led by Dr Joe Williams in the School of Geography and Planning, and adds to Cardiff University’s existing research expertise in the Water Research Institute.

The project includes a team of two post-doctoral researchers and a PhD student. It will also bring together international partners, including Dr Wangui Kimari (American University, Kenya) and Dr Pierre-Louis Mayaux (CIRAD, France).


This research was made possible through the support of the following organisations: