The central focus of the forum is a Water Security Vision for the future which entails: “The ever accelerating environmental and societal challenges of the rapidly developing world, particularly in the water sector, are today routinely met with novel solutions that have moved beyond the typical and unitary focus on engineering-based approaches of the past to embrace blended grey-green approaches to water management.” Vorosmarty et al (2018, p. 318). These approaches will require skilled workforces and knowledge sharing for local water management practices around the world.
According to Vorosmarty et al. (2010), “nearly 80% of the world’s population is exposed to high levels of threat to water security.” I learned from Danny Wright, CEO of Gravity Water, however, that more people are affected by water cleanliness issues than water scarcity issues because more of the world’s population lives in tropical climates (global map below) with plenty of precipitation. By integrating local perspectives into conversations on how to solve the water crisis, perhaps a more realistic direction may be found for overcoming the global water crisis.
Looking at water through the lens of war (Klare, 2002), the Middle East is the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” for water resource conflict with numerous cross-border tensions surrounding the Nile River and Euphrates Tigris river basins. Yet, at the same time, extraordinary cross-border cooperation in the region makes the Middle East a source for hope.
Our goal is to provide a framework for these conversations which will draw in multiple scientific, scholarly, and regional perspectives. You can see the diversity of regional water circumstances from the map below – each region bring different knowledge-bases based on their environmental circumstance which could inform cultural and/or technological solutions.
The Marib Dam in Yemen is case study in the complicated relationships between engineering, civilization, and tradition. The original dam was “built in about 115BC irrigated thousands of acres of agricultural land and made Marib rich agriculturally. . . In the 1980s, Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s Founding Father, offered to fund a new dam” (1). The new dam encountered unintended consequences (2), such as posing a drowning hazard for locals (2), permanently damaging traditional irrigation structures (2), and becoming both a casualty (2) and an instrument of war (1).
Yemen’s traditional means for water-efficient agriculture was a system of irrigation which would maximize the monsoon rains. Channels would be dug to capture some of the torrential waters flowing in the wadis. The water pressure would cause the water to penetrate deep into the soil and avoid excessive evaporation and desalinization.
Tiered systems of irrigation are another traditional means of irrigation in Yemen which can be traced back to the Queen of Sheba’s dam pictured above. Unfortunately the roads and other construction necessary to build the new Marib dam permanently damaged these delicate, hand-made structures (2).
We posit the Middle East may hold important keys for addressing the world’s water resource management issues. These are the main reasons:
- multiple climatic conditions, from the world’s largest deserts to water-rich areas which feed the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
- break-throughs in desalinization as Israel now produces drinking water from the sea
- cross-border cooperation in tense political climate
- case studies on ancient and modern water resource management
- multiple dams and water engineering projects of regional and global significance
We will explore these topics in future posts. We will also explore this question at our faculty research forum on water contexts of the Middle East and the rest of the world. Please join us on Feb. 8th.
Source 1: https://www.thenational.ae/world/the-dam-that-sheikh-zayed-built-1.128295
Source 2: Hehmeyer, 2015. “Hydraulic engineering and water management under harsh conditions: Past and present, lessons from Yemen“
- What if the Middle East had the capacity to solve the global water crisis?
There is a water crisis of global proportions, with 1.1 billion people lack access to clean water world-wide. Six thousand children are dying per day due to that, and 80% of disease can be attributed to a lack of clean water (Water Ambassadors, Canada). At OSU, the Middle East Studies Center, the Mershon Center, International Programs in Agriculture, and the Office of Research in the College of Arts and Sciences, have facilitated conversations between faculty of many different departments focusing on water. We will continue these activities by hosting annual forums on water research with a focus on topics such as transboundary conflict/cooperation.
With over 250 scholars researching water resource issues at OSU, including 4 of our Middle East faculty (Lal, Marquaire, McCorriston, Ranjbar), OSU has the potential to produce knowledge which could make an impact on various local water issues around the world. The cross-sections of social justice movements, environmental activism and water resource management issues make this a particularly salient topic for the Middle East. We have therefore made it a priority to facilitate cross-disciplinary research connections at OSU on this topic, and to curate water research.
We propose activities to draw new faculty from the sciences, technology, engineering and math, to focus on our world area, and partner with faculty from other departments for a multi-disciplinary approach. This is in line with our university’s efforts to develop knowledge relate to broad themes such as sustainability, health, and food, via “Discovery Themes,” the curricular rubric at OSU for promoting multidisciplinary research relevant to global issues. The Office of Research will facilitate a charrette in the first year to gather stakeholder input. We will design subsequent forums based on faculty needs and interests and publish proceedings.