World Water Day Spotlight: Francesca Greco

In celebration of World Water Day on March 22nd, 2020, King’s Water is excited to highlight the work and experiences of Francesca Greco, who spent her time here as a PhD student working with Professors Daanish Mustafa and Tony Allan!


Hello, my name is Francesca Greco, I’m Italian and I am a PhD candidate here at King’s Geography.

I graduated in International Relations and Diplomacy from Bologna University (Forlì Campus) and obtained my Master in Development Studies at SOAS (University of London). My passion has always been water and in particular water politics: my early research interest was the Middle Eastern Water Question and in particular the transboundary nature of groundwater, especially in arid zones.

I spent my early years as a researcher in Jordan, investigating the Disi/Al Saq aquifer between Jordan and Saudi Arabia. I was lucky enough to spend one year in Ghana as a United Nations Volunteer and from there I was able to explore not only the hydro-political complex of the Volta Lake but also the broader theme of water and sanitation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

After working for WWF in Italy and the FAO  as a consultant, I joined the “UNESCO water family” and served the United Nations World Water Assessment Programme as their “water and gender officer”. The water&gender theme is crucial for the full attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 agenda and I was able to give my contribution in the field of sex-disaggregated water monitoring indicators.

I am now concluding my doctorate in Water and Food Policy at the  Geography Department with Prof. Daanish Mustafa and Prof. Tony Allan. During my PhD I received a fellowship from the COST Action EURO-AGRIWAT to develop my fieldwork in Italy and a summer-scholarship  from CUAHSI at MIT Boston to quantify the widespread transformation of hydrosystems from natural to human-dominated systems. During my PhD journey I also authored and co-edited a book on Virtual Water and Water Footprint which was published in both Italian and English by Springer: “The Water We Eat”. ( L’Acqua Che Mangiamo).


Why King’s College London? I ended up coming to King’s as a natural consequence of being part – from the very beginning – of the London Water Research Group, founded by Prof. Tony Allan and Dr. Naho Mirumachi, among others, who are both currently based here at King’s. Here, I landed as naturally part of “King’s Water” as I was already supervised by Tony Allan during my master’s degree at SOAS. At King’s, I am proudly supervised by Daanish Mustafa, with whom I also share many interests (among which: Jordanian hydropolitics, the interest for the “gender and water” theme, the interest in the analysis of the Sustainable Development Goals monitoring mechanisms, and many more).

My PhD research focuses on the virtual water derived from vulnerable groundwater. Did you know that Italy, despite being the third net virtual water importer on earth, is also the 10th largest exporter of vulnerable groundwater? (Quite amazing, isn’t it?) Despite its wealth of water in the North, Italy has a very arid structure in the South. Its contradictory hydro politics and its national water discourse are extremely interesting.

My research focuses on the Pachino Tomatoes production in Sicily:  My research gave me the opportunity to show how the value of water is not reflected into the price of tomatoes in Italy and how crucial is to recognise that farmers are the primary stewards of water resources. I demonstrated how the shaping of  the destiny of a local water source happens not only locally but also at national and European level and how the theory of Virtual Water Hegemony and Hydro Hegemony are relevant in the construction of the national discourse on water.

My search for the virtual water calculations in Pachino gave birth to an attempt to map who are the winners and losers in the exploitation of a poorly monitored, vulnerable groundwater source, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. An aquifer so tiny and insignificant to satellite mapping and GIS modelers, which, on the contrary,  sustains an entire economy linked to the Italian food-excellence: the Pachino PGI Tomato.

Why King’s? The Department of Geography is famous for its critical approach in water politics and I found my natural home. Moreover, I had to adjust my PhD-time to my international career and family life, and thankfully, the department supported me throughout this process. I had to take some breaks from pregnancies and family issues, but I felt supported and was able to continue my PhD. I owe it to King’s if, at this point in my life, I can proudly tell everyone that I not only have developed my international career in prestigious institutions such as the UN, but am also successfully concluding my PhD as a mother of three boys.

Everyone knows that women in STEM fields are a minority and they have a more challenging life in pursuing their career and their academic aspirations. We are sometimes asked to choose between career and children, or between academia and career. I proudly consider myself a woman in science who made it, thanks to a gender-positive and caring environment at King’s.

Thank you King’s College London!

… and what happens next? Plans for the future? I have just passed my viva and I am still quite busy with my publication plan! My main goal is teaching water policy here in Cyprus where I currently live and in Italy, because I strongly believe that this topic is not explored sufficiently in my country.

If you want to learn more about Francesca’s research, contact her at or King’s Water Research Assistant, Veronica Horvath, at