Water at the crossroads of higher education + international development

From August 26th to 31st, the World Water Week Conference was held in Stockholm. Here is a short summary of some of the big issues and warnings. We need to start collecting and reusing the water we have now. We need to reduce our dietary reliance on livestock and other animals. Droughts, like the recent ones across the Sahel and in the central United States, are increasing the price of food and reducing its availability. Meanwhile, 40% percent of the world’s food goes to waste before its consumed.

The fact is that the world’s population is growing and the planet is running out of water. This nexus is often included in some of the food security discussion – namely, how difficult it is to provide a secure environment when food isn’t available to feed the people who live there. Simply put: without water, local food production dries up.

I estimate that water will be a hot topic in international development and that higher education will increasingly be involved in finding solutions. Knowing very little about the study of water, I sought out academic programs that have an international development focus. Most had strong national or regional programs, highlighting engineering and water quality improvement. Very few seemed to have an international focus, but here are a few:

  • UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, located in the Netherlands, conducts research, provides education, and builds capacity in fields of water, environment, and infrastructure. Research areas include water security, urbanization, and water management and governance. The Institute offers PhD and Masters degrees, as well as online courses and short courses. (Take a look. They’re pretty cool.)
  • Water: Systems, Science and Society is an interdisciplinary graduate research and education program at Tufts University in Massachusetts; it combines resources from 6 different colleges and has an international focus. The program does not give a degree, but it provides a certificate to accompany another Tufts graduate program.
  • water@leeds is an interdisciplinary center at the University of Leeds that brings together faculty from at least six science departments to examine issues of water quality, management, processes, and ecosystems; liberal arts and social science research is also welcomed. Masters, PhD, and short courses are offered in collaboration with the Center. Faculty conduct (limited) international water research.
  • Center for Water Research is a multidisciplinary program of engineers and scientists at the University of Texas-San Antonio. The Center has a history of partnerships with Honduras, including providing water for rural communities and improving the teaching quality and resources at the Escuela Agricola Panamericana El Zamorano.

This is only a sample of the academic programs that focus on global water issues, and it does not include single scientific departments who have faculty and students working on the topic. However, it seems to me that international higher education lacks enough capacity to train future leaders and thinkers – especially in the developing world – on an interdisciplinary approach to global water supply, quality, and policy.

I leave you with the link to Is Clean Water the New Oil? from Tufts’s Water: Systems, Science and Society website. Relevant to this post, WSSS Chair Richard Vogel states:

This is probably the most profound and lasting change of the WSSS program: creation of future leaders in water planning and management that are fluent in the language of inter-disciplinary work.

There are all these wonderful water initiatives all around the world…  But I wish that they could come to Tufts and listen to what we do. We could train the populations to obtain their own water resources, manage their own water resources in a sustainable fashion and to educate future generations to do the same.

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