Lisa Hilleke

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PhD Student

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PhD Project

Coping with Water Scarcity in Protracted Crises – the Iraq Case

Increasing water scarcity is an urgent global concern. Historically, some regions are more prone to suffer from limited access to water than others. Compared to most other Middle Eastern countries, Iraq was well positioned to access water sources. However, this has changed in recent years. Longer dry seasons with limited rainfall and therefore more frequent droughts, as well as a history of oppression, wars, occupation, and sanctions have led to mismanaged, poorly maintained or destroyed water systems. As a consequence Iraq’s water sources have diminished in the last four decades. Currently, Iraq’s population does not only have to handle the negative effects of oppression and a protracted conflict, but also the deficiency of its most precious natural resource and basic need. Limited access to clean water constitutes a main cause for migration and displacement in Iraq and therefore leads to constant urbanization.
This research project assesses urban Northern Iraq’s challenge of accessing clean water and its population’s coping mechanisms when facing increased water scarcity. It is based on an analysis of the population’s needs and vulnerabilities; their traditional and religious behavior towards water utilization and coping mechanisms; as well as their perception of external assistance. This project develops the theoretical argument that increased access to water can only be achieved effectively and sustainably in Northern Iraq by using an integrated bottom-up approach. Therefore, it geographically extends the combined scientific research on coping mechanisms, access to water, and the role of external assistance to Iraq.
Data studied includes information about access to water, water scarcity and water management in urban settings; traditional and religious water use; vulnerabilities and coping mechanisms; and international responses to water scarcity. A comparative case study of three cities in Northern Iraq facilitated through semi-structured interviews and participant observation will provide primary data for the specific case of Northern Iraq. Further data is collected from secondary documents and archives.

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Dennis Dijkzeul

Teaching and Lecturing Experience

Lectures on Field Research, Intercultural Competences, Standards of Humanitarian Action, and Institution Buildingand Programming


  • Trainee at Amman Refugee Camps
  • Administrative and Field Support Unit (AFSU) Intern at United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Work Experience

  • Project Analyst/ Adviser at Rheinisch-Westfälische Eletrizizätswerk AG (RWE AG)
  • Key Account Manager Executive Institute Ltd. in Cairo, Egypt
  • Associate for Humanitarian Aid Kindernothilfe e.V. (KNH) in Duisburg, Germany
  • Evaluator Development Assistance Research Associates (DARA) in Madrid, Spain/ Jerusalem, oPt/ Israel