Shafiqul Islam

Shafik Islam Headshot

Think and Do

Shafiqul Islam

Professor at Tufts University
Civil and Environmental Engineering, School of Engineering
Water Diplomacy, The Fletcher School

Director, D3M@Tufts
Director, Water Diplomacy Program


We THINK and DO. We integrate theory and practice. We synthesize scientific and social facts.

We work on availability, access, and allocation of water within the context of climate challenges, health, data driven decision making, and diplomacy. We seek interdisciplinary approaches to create actionable knowledge by blending science, engineering, policy, and politics in contextually relevant ways using complexity science, systems thinking, principled pragmatism, and negotiation theory.

Shafiqul (Shafik) Islam is a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a professor of water diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Dr. Islam is the Director of the Water Diplomacy Program and Data Driven Decision Making @ Tufts (D3M@Tufts). Professor Islam maintains a diverse network of national and international partnerships and is engaged in several national and international consulting and training practices in the United States, South Asia, Africa, and Middle East. He is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and Editor of Water Resources Research. Professor Islam is the recipient of the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Water Prize for Creativity. He has over one hundred publications and four books on water diplomacy. His first path breaking book on water diplomacy was translated in Chinese by the Science Press of China. His research and practice have been featured in numerous media outlets including the BBC World Service, Voice of America, Boston Globe, The Daily Star, Huffington Post, Nature, and Yale E360. 


Sc.D., Hydrometeorology and Hydroclimatology, MIT
M.S., Environmental Engineering, University of Maine
B.S., Civil Engineering, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology

Professional Experience


Director, Data Driven Decision Making @ Tufts


Director, Water Diplomacy Program


Professor of Water Diplomacy, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy


Associate Dean for Research, Tufts School of Engineering


Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tufts School of Engineering


University of Cincinnati, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

2001-2004: Professor

2000-2004: Director of Graduate Studies

1997-2000: Associate Professor

1995-2004: Founding Director, Cincinnati Earth Systems Science Program

1991-1996: Assistant Professor


Lecturer, Department of Civil Engineering, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology

Selected Honors and Awards

2020: Elected Fellow, American Geophysical Union
2016: Creativity Award, Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water
2004: Bernard M. Gordon Senior Faculty Fellow in Engineering, Tufts University
2004: Distinguished Senior Faculty Research Award, University of Cincinnati College of Engineering
2001: Senior Fulbright Scholar
1984: Commonwealth Scholar in Engineering

Selected Professional Activities

2020-present: Editor, Water Resources Research
2017-present: Advisory Committee, International Science and Engineering, National Science Foundation
2012-present: Founding Editor, Anthem Water Diplomacy Series
1997-2001: Associate Editor, Reviews of Geophysics
1995-2001: Associate Editor, Water Resources Research

Research Themes

Our research group works on availability, access, and allocation of water within the context of climate challenges, water diplomacy, and data driven decision making. We seek interdisciplinary approaches to create actionable knowledge by blending science, engineering, policy, and politics in contextually relevant ways using complexity science, systems thinking, principled pragmatism, and negotiation theory.

“Climate is what you expect and weather is what you get”. This often used quote highlights the dichotomy of our understanding – between expectation and reality; short-time scale and long-time scale; micro and macro processes – and is at the core of our climate related water research. These problems essentially manifest themselves in the range of scales they span and boundaries they cross – from micro scale of cloud particles to impact of climate change at the global scale; from rain drops at your backyard creek to the asymmetric flow in the Ganges; from the warming of the Pacific ocean to creating floods in China; from the drought in Russia to floods in Pakistan – and create the knowledge gap we must address. Selected projects include:

Many of our water problems are complex because they cross physical, disciplinary and jurisdictional boundaries. Water, viewed as a fixed resource, lends itself to conflicts over its division.

Origins of most water problems may be understood as intricate coupling among natural, societal, and political domains where people and problems interact to shape the framing of the problem. The search for scientific bases - without understanding the societal issues and driving values - to address water issues make these problems complex because the underlying policy issues cannot be definitively described or separated from political context. A synthesis of explicit (scientific water information from natural domain) and tacit (contextual water information from societal domain) knowledge of water is needed to transform fixed water quantity into a flexible resource.

Many contemporary and emerging water issues do not have clear solutions. We make a distinction between two types of water issues (water problems that have solutions and water conditions that may only have resolution. Think of a medical analogy: broken leg is a problem and surgery is a solution while diabetes, for now, is a condition that needs management and does not have a solution). Our focus is to address water issues with competing needs through negotiated resolutions and adaptive management.

We pursue interdisciplinary water scholarship by thinking across boundaries, emphasizing integration of explicit and tacit knowledge, and linking knowledge and action from multiple perspectives to help resolve water issues. More information on water diplomacy related projects and initiatives are here:

Water Diplomacy: Key Ideas and Framework

Foundations of Water Diplomacy

Water Diplomacy: Practice and Perspectives

Water Diplomacy Workshop

Water Diplomacy Initiatives and Activities

Water Diplomacy Framework: A Video Abstract

“No one ever made a decision because of a number. They need a story,” explained Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman. Telling stories, while remaining true to the data, is a defining challenge of this century. Narratives are persuasive but not objective; numbers are often objective but not persuasive. For science to provide the broadest beneficial impact to society, its findings need to be communicated with both scientific integrity and authentic empathy.

D3M@Tufts — sponsored by the US National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) award — educates two types of Data Professionals. Policy-Savvy Data Experts from STEM discipline and Data-Proficient Decision Makers from non-STEM discipline who synthesize numbers and narratives to design and implement data-driven solutions that are technically efficient and contextually appropriate. Two academic pathways are shown on how students from the D3M@Tufts program become Data Professionals receiving their disciplinary degree and a D3M@Tufts Certificate without prolonging their time for graduation with a focus on three overarching ideas: Connecting Numbers and Narratives; Learning How to Learn; and Embracing Complexity. - up-to-date information on all of the D3M@Tufts initiatives


Selected publications are listed below. For a full list of publications, visit the Publications page.

Addressing Complex Challenges Through Principled Pragmatism

Frontiers in Water 2021

Flood Forecasting in South Asia

Journal of Hydrology 2020

Water Diplomacy Books

2012, 2017, 2018, and 2019

Water Diplomacy: a new framework for addressing water access, allocation, and use


Interdisciplinary Collaboration for Water Diplomacy: A Principled and Pragmatic Approach


Making Distinctions: The Importance of Recognizing Complexity in Coupled Natural and Human Systems


REQSIM: A simple but accurate approach to forecast floods in South Asia - A Video Abstract


In the news

Water diplomacy can ease down conflicts by widening the scope of parties involved

15 November 2013 | Dutch Water Sector

By looking at a watershed as a whole - beyond national borders - water diplomacy can be a game changer in water-related conflicts. Knowledge about the often complex hydrology of a whole river basin in combination with mediation, can lead to a better understanding of water as a resource and the often...

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Tufts professor receives U.N. award for cholera outbreak prediction methods

29 November 2016 | Tufts Daily

Shafiqul Islam, director of Tufts’ Water Diplomacy Program, received the Creativity Award in the seventh Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water (PSIPW) from the United Nations (U.N.) on Nov. 2 for his work in cholera outbreak prevention.


Islam, who is also a professor in both the Tufts Department...

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New insight into predicting cholera epidemics in the Bengal Delta

16 November 2009 | ScienceDaily

Cholera, an acute diarrheal disease caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, has reemerged as a global killer. Outbreaks typically occur once a year in Africa and Latin America. But in Bangladesh the epidemics occur twice a year -- in the spring and again in the fall.


Scientists have tried, without much...

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Time to develop a reliable flood forecasting model

The Daily Star | 28 August 2020 | OpEd

Most of Bangladesh is located within the floodplains of three large river systems: the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna (GBM), with over 90 percent of the basin area outside Bangladesh. Flood is thus a natural phenomenon here, and people have been living with floods for centuries. Yet, not all floods are...

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What Bangladesh can do to fight the coronavirus

OpEd | The Daily Star | 23 April 2020

We did not even know this invisible enemy few months ago. Yet, it has travelled over 180 countries; met over 2.25 millions of us and killed over 154,000 of us globally. Current number of Covid-19 cases (most likely underestimated) in Bangladesh is around 1,800 on 18 April. Even if we...

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Addressing water scarcity

OpEd | The Daily Star | 26 February 2017

Is Bangladesh water scarce?


Is Bangladesh water secure?


Is Bangladesh water sustainable?


For an issue advocate, an activist or an opportunist, answers to these questions may range from an overwhelming yes to an emphatic no. A pragmatist will most likely suggest: it depends!


Of course, it depends. But, it depends...

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Students and Collaborators

Our research group integrates “theory and practice” and “think and do” to create actionable knowledge. We work with a diverse group of talented students, post-doctoral fellows, and a network of national and international partners to conduct interdisciplinary collaborative research for a wide range of problems focusing on water, health, and climate. We maintain an active national and international consulting with a diverse group of collaborators and institutions.

Contact and Collaborate

We are looking for creative minds who think like philosophers and act like problem solvers. To initiate a conversation, please send a brief description of your interests, and discuss how your interests and expertise are aligned with or complementary to the problems we are pursuing to develop actionable outcomes.

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