Transboundary water expert speaks on water security

By Amy Uyen Truong

Dr. Aaron Wolf from Oregon State University recently discussed conflict and cooperation over transboundary water resources Sept. 18 at part of a new lecture series at Texas A&M University — Water Security Speaker Series — that aims to bring water scholars across the campus and the world to speak on water security.

Wolf is a professor of geography in the College of Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences and director of the Program in Water Conflict Management and Transformation (PWCMT) at Oregon State University. Wolf’s research focuses on dispute resolution to efficiently manage transboundary water resources.

Wolf founded the Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database to conduct research on the treaties, water conflict and/or cooperation and related maps to understand transboundary processes. There are more than 310 transboundary international basins and at least 600 transboundary aquifer basins in the world. Transboundary waters cross physical and political boundaries and can result in conflict.

With a multitude of countries with differing ideals and interests, these basins had acute cases of conflict but after years of research, the Oregon State University dispute team encountered something more, cooperation amongst entities. Dr. Wolf emphasized that through his work in mediation and conflict resolution, his team found that despite conflicting characters, there are always at least three things people can agree upon. Wolf and his team found more instances of cooperation rather than conflict through discussions, group engagement, and historical research.

“If we are not managing water cooperatively, we are not managing it efficiently,” he said.

Those interested in transboundary water research can access the PWCMT’s open-source database for GIS layers on population, water accessibility, population, and scarcity. Researchers can also access datasets, publications, images and maps related to transboundary processes.

This data is important to connect technical and policy groups when dealing with transboundary water management. Current research includes looking at indigenous approaches to water to understanding potential collaboration from global businesses such as Coca-Cola, Starbucks, and Pepsi. This spectrum shows there is a large community to collaborate with when facing issues such as water pollution and drought.

In addition to research in conflict and cooperation, Dr. Wolf highlighted a new field of interest: faith-based discussions on water use and management. He said the need for faith-based cultural and cross-border discussions would be useful to identify uses and rights beyond conventional uses such as hydropower, irrigation, and domestic needs. He is interested in looking at models that detail faith communities to facilitate dialogues and to maximize benefits within a community.

For those wanting to learn more about faith-based dialogues for water management, check out Dr. Wolf’s new book, “The Spirit of Dialogue.

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