On September 18, 2017, Dr. Aaron Wolf was a featured guest speaker for Texas A&M University’s Water Security Initiative. Dr. Wolf, a renowned water expert, also serves as department chair and professor within the University of Oregon’s Department of Geosciences. Dr.Wolf’s lecture, entitled “Conflict and Cooperation over Shared Waters,” described the state of water conflict today.
In early 2001, Nobel Peace Laureate and Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, infamously stated “Fierce competition for fresh water may well become a source of conflict and wars in the future." [i] His comment sparked a broader conversation about water and the likelihood of “water wars”. For Dr. Wolf, the future is much brighter.
Dr. Wolf expressed his disbelief in the idea of future “water wars,” asserting that by and large, the future of water management was moving in a positive direction, in comparison to speculations of violence and potentially even wars over water in the future. In Dr. Wolf’s research on conflict and cooperation, he has found that in basins where water is particularly sparse, there has actually been a trend of increasing cooperation and reduced conflict in these basins. Often, when we think of water conflict, we assume that areas with limited water quantities and narrow accessibility would be subject to the greatest conflicts and disputes over water. Interestingly enough, Dr. Wolf asserted, when we study these basins such as the Jordan, Indus, and Nile, that are characterized by water insecurity, they are the basins where the most cooperation is occurring. It is almost a type of oxymoron to think the areas most threatened with the potential of running out of water are the areas where there is the least amount of conflict and greatest amount of cooperation.
How do we address and manage this conflict in areas where there is limited cooperation though? Dr. Wolf has some different approaches in areas where he sees limited cooperation between countries with shared water challenges. In his new book, The Spirit of Dialogue, published last month, Dr. Wolf proposes a different approach to conflict management and cooperation. In his book, he states that incorporating community faith traditions into discussions on water management helps to bring a sense of unity and collaboration between groups in conflict over water. Dr. Wolf emphasizes the need to engage local community leaders in areas communities are disputing the sharing and management of common waters. He suggests that while involving community leaders is a must, engaging leaders from the faith based and spiritual communities will have the greatest impact in bringing about a resolution. He cites the recent example of the involvement of the Coptic Church in helping settle the Egyptian-Ethiopian dam dispute. Bishop Beeman, coordinator of Ethiopian and Egyptian Coptic church relations, is currently working with both the Egyptian and Ethiopian governments to resolve the Renaissance Dam Crisis.[ii] Beeman believes the church’s role as a “soft power,” trusted and respected by both nations, can help bring a sense of reassurance to Ethiopia as Egypt proposes solutions to the dispute.
Conflict resolution and cooperation are essential components necessary to move our world towards a state of water security. Dr. Wolf offers a new, unique approach to improving collaboration between different communities by encouraging the engagement of the spiritual community. In a world facing serious challenges in guaranteeing sustainable, equitable access to water. creative solutions are welcomed.
[i] (United Nations University, 2011)
[ii] (Mikhail, 2016)
Mikhail, G. (2016, March 15). Can Coptic Church help solve Egyptian-Ethiopian dam dispute? . Retrieved from Al-Monitor: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/03/egypt-bishop-ethiopia-renaissance-dam-crisis-interview.html.
United Nations University. (2011, March 20). Former National Leaders: Water a Global Security Issue. Retrieved from United Nations University: https://unu.edu/media-relations/releases/water-called-a-global-security-issue.html.
Wolf, D. A. (2017, September 18). "Conflict and Cooperation Over Shared Waters". Texas A&M University, College Station , TX, USA.