OSU This Week: Volume 41, Number 32, May 23, 2002
New consortium to address global water conflicts
Oregon State University is coordinating an effort with nine other
universities across five continents to direct the expertise, educational
and technical potential of academia towards conflicts and environmental
degradation in the worlds shared river basins. Representatives
of this new group, which will be called the Universities Partnership
for Transboundary Waters, met on campus last week in hopes of drafting
work plans and creating a curriculum for graduate instruction in
transboundary water resources management. The long-term goal of
the partnership is to bring the capabilities of some leading institutions
of higher education to bear on water issues and conflicts all over
"About 60 percent of the renewable fresh water in the world
has its origin in 261 international basins," said OSUs
Marcia Macomber, the director of program development for the partnership.
"This means most of the worlds water is shared water."
Shared water, Macomber said, sets the stage for conflict between
countries and between user groups within countries. That conflict
can interfere with progress in managing water resources sustainably
and equitably, she said. There are three billion people in the world
without access to sanitation and more than a billion people without
safe drinking water. Land degradation and rapid urbanization add
increasing urgency to these problems, and social and political tensions
are becoming more the rule than the exception. As the global population
increases, the potential for conflicts will only become more intense,
requiring a better understanding of the dynamics of shared, or transboundary
water resources, Macomber said.
Familiar examples of water disputes, Macomber said, include the
Klamath Basin of Oregon, tensions between India and Pakistan in
the Indus Basin, between the U.S. and Mexico over Colorado River
and Rio Grande water, and between Israel and her neighbors over
water in the arid Jordan River Basin. OSU, however, has for years
been a leader in the area of water conflict analysis and dispute
resolution through the work of Aaron Wolf, an associate professor
of geosciences and creator of the "Transboundary Freshwater
Dispute Database," which can be found on the web at www.transboundarywaters.orst.edu
and represents a working compilation of water conflicts that date
back 5,000 years.
The university is taking a lead role in organizing the new consortium.
This universities partnership, officials say, will help expand traditional
training for water resource professionals. It will provide an interdisciplinary
understanding of water conflicts and promote creative approaches
to avert and resolve conflicts before they become costly and counterproductive.
Academic representatives in the partnership have expertise in science,
engineering and the social sciences, and activities will include
collaborative research, professional and graduate education, and
information technology programs. The graduate training, a key program
of the new partnership, will aim to help 20 students every two years,
from OSU and other partnership universities, to attain certification
in transboundary water resources management. This should eventually
form a cadre of well-trained professionals to help resolve conflicts
at local, regional and international levels.
"Its clear that global demands on limited water resources
will cause increased ecological problems along with social and political
tensions in the coming decades," Macomber said. "What
were trying to do here is make sure we have professionals
in place to help the technicians, decision makers, diplomats and
leaders resolve these conflicts peacefully."
This weeks meetings included a field trip to the Columbia
River gorge, working sessions, and an afternoon seminar on local
and international water conflicts. The nations participating in
the group include the U.S., South Africa, Zimbabwe, Thailand, China,
Sweden, the United Kingdom, Argentina and Costa Rica. Funding to
organize the new consortium is being provided by the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, and
the U.S. Geological Survey.