Water Security Starts with Clear Information

It’s essential that we do a better job protecting the minute fraction of drinkable water on planet earth and begin focusing on water renewal (See this 5-minute video: Are We Running Out of Water?). Regardless of which region, we need as accurate a view as possible of where the freshwater is, what its properties are, and what obstacles may be blocking access to it. Vorosmarty et al. (2018) observed that current environmental surveillance systems are “fragmentary” and require “guesswork” (p. 318, Box 1. “A vision for water security”).
Map of Global Freshwater

Total renewable freshwater resources of the world, in mm/yr ( 1 mm is equivalent to 1 l of water per m²) (long-term average for the years 1961-1990). Resolution is 0.5° longitude x 0.5° latitude (equivalent to 55 km x 55 km at the equator). Computed by the global freshwater model WaterGAP. Petra Döll – uploaded by Hpdoell [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

What information is needed to make the picture of global water resources more complete? OSU researchers are making breakthroughs on environmental sensing via satellites, for example, but there must be other pieces of the puzzle. The authors of this vision also suggest that “a skilled practitioner workforce. . . which can rapidly assimilate new knowledge from the water sciences and convert it into practical solutions” is also necessary.
These two perspectives on water knowledge: bird’s eye (or, rather, satellite’s eye), and on-the-ground contextual, are what we seek to bridge during our water research forum on February 8th. Join us! Register here.

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.

Realism and Hope: Integrating local perspectives into conversations on how to solve the water crisis

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.


Global Map of Biomes

Image credit: GRIDA, authors, Philippe Rekacewicz assisted by Cecile Marin, Agnes Stienne, Guilio Frigieri, Riccardo Pravettoni, Laura Margueritte and Marion Lecoquierre.

Could the Middle East hold the answers to the global water crisis?

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).

Ancient Dam of Marib, Yemen (University_of_Calgery, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

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:

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.


image of Mosul Dam

Water pours from a water way at the Mosul hydro-electric Dam water levels are higher than usual due to snow melting on May 14., 2003. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brendan Stephens) (Released)

Image of an Oasis in Israeli Desert

Blueprint Negev trees in the Israeli desert. by David Shankbone, CC.2.0 Source: Flickr

Image of Water Fall

Kayseri Falls, Turkey, By Doron CC-BY-SA-3.0 from Wikimedia Commons


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

Research on Global Water Contexts – Join the Forum on February 8th

We are seeking to build a research community which will draw upon multiple perspectives on water resource management issues and the role of culture.   So far we have faculty from School of Environment and Natural Resources, Anthropology, the Library, and others, registered for the forum on February 8th.  A paradigm shift is needed if we are to solve the most pernicious water issues of our time, as well as prevent the impending disasters resulting from climate change, desertification and pollution. Ensuring justice for all communities affected by water issues is also a key to solving these issues, as industry often turns a blind eye where profit is concerned.  The new paradigm we are proposing is human-centered, and taps into local funds of knowledge for practical and technological solutions. Solutions could draw from local traditions for water conservation in addition to the latest break-through technologies. Please contact us if you would like any further information.
Image of Topkapi tile

Topkapi Tile

The forum will familiarize you with current research interests at OSU and will entail a facilitated discussion session in order to spark projects and identify avenues for support and funding. We will also provide lunch to those who register. We are currently seeking an exciting keynote, as well, and could use your input. We will pose the following question to spark thinking at the forum:
  • What if the Middle East had the capacity to solve the global water crisis?
Please complete this survey to let us know what you are hoping to get out of the forum.  We would also like your input on our goals and and insight you might have from your students as to potential interest in courses and their desire for real-world relevance in their studies.
We would like to thank our partners: the Discovery Themes, the Global Water Institute, the Office of Research, the Mershon Center for International Security Studies, International Programs in Agriculture, and the Middle East Studies Library.

Conversations on Water Research at OSU to Continue

We will convene a water research forum on February 8, 2019 to gather faculty input and facilitate networking between faculty in numerous disciplines focused on water. Please RSVP.

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.

Image of Water Fall

Kayseri Falls, Turkey, By Doron CC-BY-SA-3.0 from Wikimedia Commons

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.