University of Vermont and State Agricultural College

Securing Clean Water in Conflict Zones Through Environmental Diplomacy

Lead Organization

University of Vermont and State Agricultural College

Burlington, Vermont, United States

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Project Summary

Our world’s freshwater resources are rapidly deteriorating due to complex drivers, including urbanization, deforestation, ecosystem degradation, and climate change. Poor access to clean water intensifies transboundary conflicts that trigger famines, migrations, and water wars. This project deploys a systems approach to implementing environmental diplomacy, watershed monitoring, and governance interventions in 1,000 vulnerable communities in two highly conflicted river basins affecting more than 200 million people: the Indus (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China) and the Jordan (Israel, Palestine, Jordan). To identify shared courses of action for securing clean water, 20 environmental diplomacy meetings among scientists and community networks will be convened in neutral venues. To catalyze community action for mitigating water pollution, water quality monitoring sensors will be deployed in 1,000 vulnerable communities. These communities will be empowered through citizen-science training, environmental education, open-source apps, and engagement with the United Nations to devise global minimum water quality standards.

Problem Statement

Communities in the Indus and Jordan river basins face enormous challenges to water security. Ongoing conflicts in these areas have exposed more than 100 million people to water insecurity, and have generated more than 60 million refugees in the last four decades. Stressed water resources, including a lack of clean water and pollution, fuel health crises and kill more people, especially children, than conflicts do. The political tensions related to water are extremely acute on the Kabul river, a tributary of the Indus river along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, that has experienced tension and conflict since its partition in 1947. The Kashmir region between Pakistan and India in the upper Indus basin has also been in conflict since 1947, and has become a serious water security concern. The Jordan river has been caught up in Israel-Palestine conflict since 1948. These persistent conflicts are compounded by climate change, rapid urbanization, and land use development leading to increasing pollution in thousands of tributaries flowing into the main Indus and Jordan rivers. Governmental negotiations alone have proven ineffective in providing clean water to local populations. We believe the most effective way to address the immediate water security issues and to develop locally-based strategies for building long-term water sustainability, is to work directly with those affected and with experts in the field. By convening citizens and scientists, facilitating intergroup dialogue in transboundary communities, and framing their common interests, we will work together to build systems for water security that can be managed by local communities.

Solution Overview

Our goal is to secure clean water for communities by implementing three parallel yet interacting streams of activities in the Indus and Jordan river basins.Diplomacy: We will hold twenty Track-2 (scientist-scientist) and Track-3 (citizen-citizen) environmental diplomacy workshops over five years: one per year for the Indus, Kabul, and Jordan rivers each, and one per year where Track-2 and Track-3 participants come together from all focal river basins. These workshops will identify consensual courses of action for securing clean water in 1,000 communities, building off projects being implemented under SDG#6. Monitoring: We will implement citizen-science based water quality monitoring networks, establish open source databases to disseminate water quality information in real time with a clear focus on vulnerable populations, and develop mobile/web apps to catalyze community action for mitigating water pollution. Governance: We will strengthen transboundary watershed governance by empowering more than 1,000 communities through citizen-science training, environmental education, and open-source apps. We plan to engage with the United Nations in devising global minimum water quality standards and share this model through an open source website.The project’s progress will be ascertained by evaluating the increase in ecological cooperation in the focal river basins. Changes in water accessibility and quality will be used as quantitative performance indicators to evaluate the success of community based pollution mitigation strategies and technologies. Ultimately, improvements in water accessibility and quality are expected to benefit over 100 million inhabitants of the Indus and Jordan rivers, and to reduce their vulnerability induced by climate change.

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