The Water Sharing Project

Anthropologists have long described humans as a sharing and cooperative species. We have lots of research on food sharing, which seems a fundamental way that humans help each other when times are tough. Humans also seem to share food when times are good, such as during special events and celebrations. But water sharing is even more important to human survival, and we know almost nothing about it. The Water Sharing Project is a collaborative effort to identify how common water sharing is, who does it and why, and whether water sharing is a fundamental strategy for coping with water insecurity.

  Project Details

The Water Sharing Project is closely aligned with our work with the Household Water Insecurity Experiences (HWISE) collaboration. In partnership with an array of collaborators working in 27 different global sites, we have been testing basic comparative hypotheses about who shares water, where and when, and what the implications are for coping using survey data from a really wide array of sites. That analysis is showing that water sharing is truly widespread globally, and is mostly charitable. It seems to fill needs left by failing infrastructure, lack of government support, climate challenges, and so on. But it is also beginning to suggest water sharing systems tends to pull hardest on those with least, meaning it also can have some downsides.

We are also conducting analyses of detailed water sharing social network data we collected in Puerto Rico in 2017, examining how water sharing systems emerge in the wake of disaster.

Partners: Household Water Insecurity Experiences - Research Network.

  Research Team


Household Water Insecurity Experiences-Research Coordination Network (HWISE-RCN, NSF-BCS 1759972).


Wutich, A., J. Budds, W. Jepson, L. Harris, E. Adams, A. Brewis, L. Cronk, C. DeMyers, K. Maes, T. Marley, J. Miller, A. Pearson, A. Rosinger, R. Schuster, J. Stoler, C. Staddon, P. Wiessner, C. Workman, SL. Young. 2018. Household water sharing: A review of water gifts, exchanges, and transfers across cultures. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews – Water. DOI: 10.1002/wat2.1309.

Brewis, A., A. Rosinger, A. Wutich, E. Adams, L. Cronk, A. Pearson, C. Workman, S. Young, and the HWISE Consortium. 2019. Water Sharing, reciprocity, and need: A comparative study of inter-household water transfers in Sub-Saharan Africa. Economic Anthropology.