Geology for Global Development

Building Peace and Cooperation Through Science and Academia

STRENGTHENING KABUL UNIVERSITY WORKSHOP: LEICESTER 2011 Credit: University of Leicester, used with permission.

Strengthening Kabul University Workshop: Leicester 2011
Credit: University of Leicester, used with permission.

In today’s blog post we discuss the role that both science and academia have in successfully bringing together stakeholders in areas where co-operation is essential, but challenging.

In December 2011 I was fortunate to attend a workshop in Leicester in which academics and researchers from Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan gathered with others from the UK to talk about strengthening the teaching of geoscience in Universities there. Much of the conversation was about the positive role that academia can play in rebuilding a conflict-torn country.

As I wrote about at the time, It has a huge role to play in nation building, with the potential to drive significant social and economic development. Universities generate knowledge through research, which can bring enormous benefits to various aspects of society. A university can also act as a peace builder – bringing together different ethnic groups and backgrounds and fostering dialogue, collaboration and peace. Graduates from the university go on to positions within government departments and politics itself, and thus universities can also develop and encourage good leadership.

Over the weekend I was reading further into this topic – focusing on water diplomacy in the Himalayan region. The Strategic Foresight Group have published a number of helpful documents on this topic. including The Himalayan Challenge (Strategic Foresight Group, 2010) and The Indus Equation (Strategic Foresight Group, 2011). As stated in the former:

“Cooperation [between multiple countries] on the water issue should be looked upon as a means to a peaceful co-existence. Joint water management offers the scope for people-to-people and/or expert-to-expert connections, thus creating a channel for peaceful dialogue irrespective of political and military developments.”  

Successful dialogue over issues such as water (but also hazard management, energy supply, environmental change) can serve as a gateway to address wider security issues. The Indus Equation (Strategic Foresight Group, 2011)  notes that ‘as India and Pakistan stand at the threshold of yet another attempt to further cooperation, ‘water’ – as was the case in 1951 – can provide an impetus to tackle larger issues like Kashmir.’

In addition to dialogue between scientists and academia enabling dialogue for wider purposes – it is also essential in itself. The Himalayan Challenge (Strategic Foresight Group, 2010) notes that water availability is estimated to decline (per capita) in India (as well as other countries along the Himalayas). This water scarcity is noted to have an impact on food availability, livelihoods in rural areas, desertification, soil erosion and population displacement/migration. Unless these challenges are addressed through multi-national cooperation there is a potential for conflict. Water flow, hazards and natural resources rarely stay within national boundaries – and so solutions must require dialogue, cooperation and collaborative research.

As many of you will know we are currently involved in a conference in the Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir (see Sustainable Resource Development in the Himalayas Conference is being held in Leh (June 2014) and will bring together academics, policy makers and others – from multiple countries (including India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh). With key topics of water resources, global environmental change, natural hazards and sustainable tourism – this event will serve as an important forum to share research and encourage further collaborative opportunities. Crucially it will facilitate the people-to-people and expert-to-expert connections that can encourage peaceful dialogue, building on previous cooperation by universities in the region.

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Photo Credit: Rosalie Tostevin

Joel is the Founder/Director of Geology for Global Development (@Geo_Dev) an organisation working to support geologists to make a sustainable contribution to the fight against global poverty. He is an interdisciplinary researcher, with a PhD in geography (natural hazards), and research interests in multi-hazard frameworks, disaster risk reduction, rural water projects, and sustainable development. This work has taken him to Chile, China, Guatemala, India, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. Joel is currently based at the British Geological Survey, and tweets at @JoelCGill.

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