CORVALLIS, Ore. – The increasing need for access to fresh water for drinking, agriculture, fisheries and other uses is at the root of a growing number of geopolitical conflicts around the world, yet there are few resource managers in charge who have training in both water science and diplomacy.
A new cooperative international education program aims to address that shortfall.
Oregon State University, the University for Peace in Costa Rica, and the UNESCO-IHE Water Education Center in The Netherlands are creating an international joint education program aimed at addressing water conflicts in a more professional manner. The program will launch this fall with about 10 students enrolled to earn master’s degrees, eventually growing to 30 students from around the world.
“There is a real need for people trained in the art of ‘hydro-diplomacy,’” said Aaron Wolf, an Oregon State University geographer and internationally recognized expert on water conflict. “The problem is really rather simple – there just isn’t enough water to go around for every need. So if you manage water, you have to know how to manage conflict and that’s where the training has been lacking.
“The good news is that water gives you the opportunity to get certain people into the room that wouldn’t ordinarily sit across from each other,” Wolf added. “And it gives them a common language.”
Students in the new program will study at each of the three sites, ending up at Oregon State where they will be required to conduct a collaborative, applied research project somewhere in the United States where water management issues are in play, according to Mary Santelmann, director of Oregon State’s Water Resources Graduate Program, which will coordinate the new degree in the U.S.
The venture builds on a certificate program OSU offers in water conflict management, and utilizes the expertise of each institution.
“Oregon State has some 90 faculty members who are involved in some aspect of water science and another 20 faculty members who focus on some aspect of public policy and conflict resolution,” Santelmann said. “That expertise, along with OSU’s work with a variety of federal agencies, made the university uniquely positioned to play a lead role in the new educational venture.”
The University for Peace in Costa Rica is a United Nations-mandated institution established in 1980 as a treaty organization by the UN General Assembly. Scholars there have a great deal of experience at high-level diplomacy, as well as conflict theory and geopolitical expertise with developing countries.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Water Education is the largest international graduate water education facility in the world, and has researchers with extensive experience in working on water resource issues in Europe and elsewhere.
“There is no single institution that could offer an entire curriculum and suite of experiences necessary to train a generation of students in hydro-diplomacy,” said Wolf, who is a 2015 recipient of the prestigious Heinz Award for public policy. “It had to be collaborative, international and experiential.”
The issues students will deal with are vast. In Oregon, for example, there has been a major conflict over water rights in the Klamath River basin, where agricultural interests compete with fisheries management and tribal rights.
These kinds of issues are not unusual in the United States, Wolf pointed out, and can become even more contentious when an international component is added.
“Ethiopia has been constructing a major dam and Egypt is so concerned about the impact on its water that it has discussed going to war over it,” Wolf said. “There are many countries in central and Southeast Asia where similar border tensions have arisen over water that flows across multiple jurisdictions.”
Water management is conflict management, Santelmann pointed out. The collaborative new program will focus on guiding students to gain skills in a variety of areas through field work, working with experts from different disciplines, and gaining a broad understanding of varying points of view, resolution processes, and water management science.
“Regardless of the scale, there is a demand for people who can ensure that the needs of the people and the ecosystem that rely on this critical resource will be met,” Santelmann said.
Santelmann and Wolf are in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.