New study co-authored by Greenleaf Water Lead highlights gaps in water research in Latin America

A new, peer-reviewed article co-authored by Greenleaf Communities’ Climate and Water Lead, Francine van den Brandeler, together with colleagues at UC-Davis, uses machine learning to explore bright spots and blind spots of water research in Latin America and the Caribbean. The region – home to more than 650 million people – is extremely vulnerable to a range of water-related stresses, from hurricanes to landslides to droughts. These stresses are made worse by climate change as well as economic and political factors. Building resilience and a safe water future for the region requires context-relevant solutions based on sound science. The study aims to assess the region’s water research through an unprecedented, automated literature review of over 20,000 research articles in English, Spanish and Portuguese, a survey of water researchers, and socio-hydrologic country descriptors. This allowed the researchers to identify topics and locations that had received more or less attention in peer-reviewed scientific publications.

Composition of water research in LAC according to study location and top 25 % of studied research topics.

The study revealed water research in the region grew exponentially over the last twenty years but was unevenly distributed and dominated by Brazil. The Caribbean and Central American nations remain understudied, which has important implications for developing responses at the frontlines of climate change. Droughts and storms in Central America, and resulting crop failures, devastation, and food insecurity, have pushed many to leave home and migrate north. Rising sea levels and more frequent extreme weather events make the Caribbean the most vulnerable sub-region of the Americas.

In addition, relatively few publications were from the social sciences, which are important to better understand and address the social, economic, and political drivers of water-related stresses.  More surprisingly, specific topics like reservoirs, which play a key role in water supply to cities and communities and bear significant environmental impacts, have also received less attention. In terms of methods, risk assessment tools appear underused, despite being critical in a context where climate change acts as a risk multiplier. Overall, research efforts appeared as fragmented and many expressed a desire for more regional and interdisciplinary research.

Full results from this study will soon be available through a free, multilingual, and interactive platform so that researchers – as well as policymakers and the broader public – can examine specific countries and topics of interest. The objective is to make existing knowledge gaps more easily identifiable and enable greater knowledge sharing. The platform will facilitate interactions and collaborations between researchers across the Latin American and Caribbean region. This endeavor could be expanded to other regions and potentially to the global scale, connecting researchers with interests in water resources and climate change across disciplines and countries. Addressing knowledge gaps and bridging researchers working on similar water-related challenges will be key to ensure resilience in an increasingly uncertain world.

Read the full article (open-access) at:

Bright and blind spots of water research in Latin America and the Caribbean

Posted in water.