Defining a safe operating space for water resources in a changing climate and society

SOS-Water Logo ©



The SOS-Water Project endeavors to establish the boundaries within which the Earth’s capacity to provide life-support systems for humanity is not endangered, and humanity’s capacity to adapt to environmental changes is not exceeded.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from eleven institutions across nine countries will develop a multidimensional SOS for water.


Crossing such thresholds or tipping points in the complex Earth system could result in abrupt and irreversible ecological change.

To safeguard a reliable and sufficient water supply for humans and ecosystems in the future, it is therefore essential to define an SOS for global water resources under changing conditions.

By advancing and linking water system models with models from sectors such as agriculture and energy, biodiversity, or sediment transport, the SOS-Water Project will lay the foundations for a holistic assessment framework of water resources across spatial scales.

The framework will enable the assessment of feedback loops and trade-offs between different dimensions of the water system and help address pressing global, regional, and local challenges.

SOS Water Project Graphic © SOS Water EU

The project focuses on five river basins:

  • Jucar River Basin - Spain
  • Upper Danube - region
  • Danube River deltas
  • Rhine River deltas
  • The Mekong River Basin

In addition to going beyond state-of-the-art water systems modeling, the project will develop a comprehensive set of indicators to assess and monitor the environmental, social, and economic performance of water systems.

A strong emphasis will also be put on participatory research and inclusive stakeholder engagement.

The participating researchers will collaborate with regional and local authorities, water user representatives, non-governmental organizations, and citizens to co-create future scenarios and water management pathways.

By streamlining water planning at different levels, it can be ensured that water allocation among societies, economies, and ecosystems will be economically efficient, socially fair, and resilient to shocks.


IIASA Project Team

Taher Kahil profile picture

Taher Kahil

Research Group Leader and Senior Research Scholar (WAT)

Mikhail Smilovic profile picture

Mikhail Smilovic

Research Scholar (WAT)

Peter Burek profile picture

Peter Burek

Senior Research Scholar (WAT)

Sylvia Tramberend profile picture

Sylvia Tramberend

Senior Research Scholar (WAT)


SOS-Water Project Team

The Water Security research group at IIASA is the coordinator of the project consortium.

The consortium consists of the following partners:


SOS-Water Project Team @ IIASA October 2022 © IIASA

IIASA models being used in this project


This project is funded by the Horizon program.


Fish life transition 2

31 January 2023

SOS Water Project featured in Die Presse

IIASA's Water Security Group Leader Dr Taher Kahil interviewed for Die Press
Hands catching clean water from a natural source

03 October 2022

Towards a safe operating space for water resources in a changing climate and society

The SOS-Water Project, funded under the Horizon Europe scheme and coordinated by IIASA, will create a holistic and participatory assessment framework of a Safe Operating Space (SOS) for the entire water resources system to inform global and regional water management policies and pathways.  


IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria

SOS Water Project kicked-off!