Climate: unimportant until it matters

March 13, 2017

A review of Shared Borders, Shared Waters: Israeli-Palestinian and Colorado River Basin Water Challenges. Edited by Sharon B. Medal, Robert G. Varady, and Susanna Eden (CRC Press/Balkema, 2013).

The Colorado River system in the American Southwest and the Jordan River system in the Middle East are much alike. They flow through arid, hot regions with populations that are greater than these rivers can support. Serious efforts are being made in both regions to increase the use of these climatically limited river systems by reclaiming water for repeated use and by desalinization, but with limited success.

Because these river systems are located in regions where highly charged political systems exist side by side, continuing negotiation is needed to resolve conflicts. Challenges now faced by the Middle East and the American Southwest are case studies of what happens when people run out of water. They point to structural, political, and economic changes that should be considered even in regions that now have enough fresh water to meet needs.

Shared Borders, Shared Waters is based on the Arizona, Israeli, and Palestinian Water Management and Policy Workshop that took place at the University of Arizona, Tucson, in 2009. Sponsors included UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme and three centers at the University: the Water Resources Research Center, the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Financial support came from several sources.

The book contains seventeen chapters arranged into five sections: (1) Water development: Infrastructure and institutions; (2) Political and economic perspectives on water; (3) Learning from comparison; (4) Challenges, new and old; Climate change and wastewater; (5) Expanding water supplies: Promising strategies and technologies.

Thirty contributors from around the world are listed as authors (eight chapters with single writers and nine with two or more). Nine contributors were located at the University of Arizona, Fourteen were based at other universities in the United States, Israel, and elsewhere. Contributors came from all of the territories discussed in the book and represented several scientific disciplines, political jurisdictions, and management responsibilities.

They reached differing conclusions about the issues discussed. Most of the chapters contain charts, graphs, and photos, many in color. All were written in serious, academic prose, and several chapters challenge readers who are unfamiliar with the technical language that their authors use. Other authors wrote in styles that are more easily understood by general readers.

The book contains 276 pages of exposition, with notes and bibliographical information at the end of each chapter. In the final two pages, the editors offer five insights or “take-away messages.” First, “It is essential to find solutions that meet the needs of neighboring societies.” Second, scientific research and analysis “contribute to a better understanding of the implications of alternative approaches to problem-solving.” They provide the basis for dialogue that can lead to solutions.

Third, the scarcity of water resources is necessarily leading to innovation and “the adoption of emerging technologies.” Fourth, “factors such as geographical setting and scale, climatic conditions, history, social and cultural values, demography, political systems, economic incentives, institutional capacity, legal structure, and civil society” determine “whether a particular technology can succeed” and therefore have to be taken into consideration. Fifth, a multi-disciplinary approach must be taken if we are to resolve the challenges facing us.

The editors chose to offer blandly stated, methodological conclusions, but the book, despite its abstract and technical language, is much more interesting and challenging than these conclusions indicate. My alternative list offers five insights that focus primarily on issues discussed in these chapters and their implications for people everywhere. Read more: Shared Borders-Review


Cycling, science diplomacy, and the fresh water crisis

April 12, 2013

Shared Borders Shared Waters: Israeli-Palestinian and Colorado River Basin Water Challenges by Sharon B. Megdal, Robert G. Varady, and Susanna Eden (CRC Press, 2013)

Shared BordersOf course, I gave my permission when Susanna Eden, PhD, asked if she could use my photo of the San Pedro River as cover art on a new book entitled Shared Borders Shared Waters. I had taken the picture from the bridge on Arizona Highway 82 near Tombstone, while bicycling through the region on PAC Tour’s desert camp. Later, I had used it on blogs about roads and rivers in Southern Arizona.

Eden and two colleagues at the University of Arizona were editing a forthcoming book on Israeli-Palestinian and Colorado River Basin Water Challenges. My photo would be paired with one of the Jordan River. My photo, by the way, is the one on the lower right corner of the book.

Since I have always thought of myself as a writer rather than a photographer, I was surprised by the request and therefore all the readier to give my consent.

Furthermore, the topic of their book interests me greatly. While living in Arizona for several post-retirement years, and as I continue cycling there during the winters, I have become increasingly aware of the history of crises because of water in the arid Southwest. My one tour of Israel and Palestine (West Bank and Gaza) alerted me to the impending ecological, political, and human crisis that is forming in that region because of the limited supply of fresh water.

Eden and her colleagues show the similarity of the Arizona-Mexico and Israel-Palestine ecosystems and the resultant issues over fresh water. Cycling through places like Arizona and West Texas, where the pressures are mounting quickly gives me a heightened awareness of the challenges facing human society everywhere. In a land with little precipitation, limited aquifers, and rapidly growing population, something has to give.

The book is based on the Arizona, Israeli, and Palestinian Water Management and Policy Workshop that too place at the University of Arizona in Tucson in 2009. Sponsors included UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme and three centers at the University: the Water Resources Research Center, the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Financial support came from several sources.

Since my copy of Shared Borders Shared Waters has just arrived, I have had time to read only a few pages. Clearly, it is a substantial book, with chapters by thirty contributors from around the world. At some point in the future, I will write more about the ideas, issues, and conclusions in the book.

It is a substantial volume, replete with charts, graphs, and photos, many in color. The “normal price” is $99.95, but if you order it before May 15, 2013, you can buy it for $79.00, with free shipping. Ordering information appears on the advertising card below.

One aspect of the book, which the editors call “science diplomacy,” is especially interesting to me. Here’ how they describe it:

“Across the world, the history of contentious water issues confirms that the resolution of such issues can engender collaboration rather than divisiveness. Experience has shown that researchers who are sensitive to sociopolitical conditions often can help avoid or resolve conflict by serving as neutral experts, offering assistance through reasoned, independent analysis” (p. xii).

This kind of science we need. And more diplomacy like this, too!

Shared Borders