Educating next generation of professionals to resolve complex water problems
MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. – A new $4.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation will enable Tufts University to create an integrative doctoral program to address the complexities of managing an increasingly scarce, but vital, natural resource: water.
Water issues are complex because they cross multiple boundaries—physical, jurisdictional, geographic, and political—and involve many stakeholders with competing needs. The planned graduate program in “water diplomacy” aims to educate a new generation of professionals who can resolve complex water problems through negotiated solutions.
“We recognize that science alone will not solve major water problems nor will policies operating in a vacuum without input from science,” says Shafiqul Islam, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Tufts School of Engineering, professor of water diplomacy at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the principal investigator on the grant.
The winning proposal to NSF’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) grant program was submitted by a team that included 17 faculty members from Tufts School of Engineering, School of Arts & Sciences, and The Fletcher School; and partners in the United States and abroad.
Today, more than a billion people lack access to clean water.
“Population growth, uneven distribution of water, rapid urbanization, ecosystem degradation, biodiversity losses, and global climate change all affect access to this precious resource,” says Michael Reed, a an expert in conservation-related research programs and a biology professor in Tufts School of Arts and Sciences. Consequently, a major transition is taking place in water resources development, management, and use on local, regional, and global scales.
“Water is scarce in many regions of the world leading to recurring conflicts. New diplomatic approaches to resolving water conflicts are needed which account for the varied social, economic, religious and other intrinsic values associated with water,” says Richard Vogel, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Tufts’ new “water diplomacy” program will break new ground among other graduate degrees and will strengthen our existing graduate certificate program in Water: Systems, Science and Society. It focuses on blending knowledge from natural, societal and political domains with explicit recognition of interdependencies among these disciplines. While traditionally, science-based management has been the dominant driver in designing graduate water-related programs, the Tufts program will emphasize diplomacy and negotiation as a means of resolving water conflicts among stakeholders’ conflicting and competing needs.
“This program closes that critical gap between negotiating stakeholder interests and implementing feasible scientific or engineering solutions,” says William Moomaw, Professor of International Environmental Policy and Director of the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at The Fletcher School. “Particularly when water crosses political boundaries, it is essential to negotiate effective and acceptable treaties to resolve conflicting national economic and political interests, and to resolve inconsistent regulatory measures despite a lack of a universal international water treaty regime or even consistent U.S. domestic water law.”
Kent Portney, a Professor political science and expert in the creation of sustainable cities, says the new doctoral program will build upon Tufts’ strengths in water research and diplomacy but will be unique its focus on interdisciplinary, real-world opportunities offered by the program.
The proposed program will initially focus on water problems in United States and South Asia. “We chose these regions because of their wide range of historical and emerging water problems,” Islam notes. “Our regional focus will allow us to study the origin and nature of water disputes as well as their resolution in the context of both a developed and a developing country.”
The program will enroll 25 doctoral students over five years. In addition to classroom instruction, the students will identify locations of current water conflicts for on-site field work with guidance from real-world partner organizations and faculty of the program. There, they will use their training as water diplomats to engage in dialogue with stakeholders to develop negotiated solutions to these complex water problems.
“The goal is to prepare students to address real-world water issues before they are handed a diploma,” says Islam. “We’re looking to create a new breed of water diplomats, be they engineers, advisors, or policy makers, who can create ‘actionable knowledge’—solutions they can implement in the real world in the midst of conflicting demands, not in a classroom.”
Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university’s schools is widely encouraged.