Georgetown Qatar’s Water Security Conference Identifies Regional Solutions And Concerns Ahead Of COP28 Conference
Outcomes from Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q)’s “Sustaining the Oasis” Hiwaraat conference are poised to be a catalyst for shaping new dialogues, collaboration, and research partnerships around water security and climate change, both within the region and around the globe.
Held from November 12-13, the conference was a collaboration between GU-Q and the Earth Commons Institute at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.
Connecting policy with science, and new technology with circular and nature-based solutions, discussions shed light on the role of water as a force to achieve greater regional cooperation and stability, while driving climate change adaptation and mitigation.
“One of the greatest values of dialogues like Hiwaraat isto kickstart important agendas for the future, to bring together people who care about common issues,” said the dean of GU-Q, Dr. Safwan Masri in his closing remarks.
“This [conference] is just the beginning of a conversation between [our campuses] and how we build an environmental presence here, in an area that is just so critical,” noted Dr. Peter Marra, dean of the Earth Commons Institute.
Keynote by Malcolm Gladwell
In a keynote that resonated over the two days, Malcolm Gladwell, New York Times bestselling author and journalist, stressed the need for urgency and taking greater social risks. Speakers from more than 35 organizations, including the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, echoed this outlook, exploring how to accelerate inclusive, sustainable solutions as climate stressors, freshwater scarcity, and regional conflicts compound water challenges.
Focus on Water Strategy in Qatar and the Region
Qatar’s water strategy was the focus of a high-level panel with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and representatives from Qatar Foundation’s environmental research centers. The country’s efforts to honor its international commitments have seen challenges evolve into opportunities for the region, speakers noted, making solutions and technologies more accessible and affordable. Dr. Jenny Lawler, Senior Research Director, QEERI Water Center, highlighted the value of research collaboration to advance technologies that solve shared global challenges.
The role of Gulf countries in defining a water-secure world was the focus of another panel. Speakers pointed to achievements driven by the region’s high adaptability, investments in non-conventional water sources, and wastewater reuse.
And although open access to water in the region has helped to drive development in the Gulf region, more sustainable consumption is needed. According to Roula Majdalani, Senior Climate Change Advisor, International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), “the agriculture sector is where you can achieve better demand management [as] more countries in the region oscillate towards food sovereignty.’’ She then outlined promising water-wisesolutions in agriculture, including circularity, technology, precision agriculture, and heat-tolerant crops.
The Impact of Water on Food Security
Regional disparities arising from conflicts, tensions with neighbors, and weak internal governance were recurring issues. During a panel addressing the food-water nexus, speakers observed that global food disruptions and conflict have compelled countries to rethink the concept of food security. However, varied strategies have strained natural resources, particularly water. Dr. Logan Cochrane, Associate Professor, Hamad Bin Khalifa University, outlined Qatar’s strategy to establish a national food reserve, strategically increase domestic production, develop the domestic market, and diversify imports.
Raising Water on the Global Climate Agenda
Bridging regional water needs and global climate goals, a high-level panel discussed actionable strategies to position water in the climate agenda at COP28.
“As the negotiations become more and more complex, we focus on solutions,” said Henk Ovink, former Dutch Special Envoy for International Water Affairs. “Water, with its interlinkages with food security, energy security, and biodiversity, will play a key role in showing that, if we want to change course in the context of climate change, water is the best driver,” he added.
“With COP28 just weeks away, [ours] is an incredibly timely dialogue and the high-level findings from this conference will be shared with the COP28 Presidency team in support of water-related efforts,” noted Dr. Raha Hakimdavar, Senior Advisor to the Dean of GU-Q and the Dean of the Earth Commons.
Innovation and Youth Engagement Key to Securing Future of Water
Foregrounding innovation, sessions emphasized the need to integrate data from satellites and other sources into policy development and considered ways to integrate nature-based solutions to regenerate and restore fragile ecosystems, as well as looking to traditional knowledge.
The conference concluded with an inspirational performance by students that highlighted the universal nature of water challenges and the importance of mobilizing youth voices in water governance.
Exclusive Interview with Dr. Raha Hakimdavar (Senior Advisor to the Dean of Earth Commons and the Dean of Georgetown University in Qatar) :
The Gulf region is certainly facing a lot of challenges when it comes to water security. That of climate change is probably the biggest because it is leading to more water scarcity. It’s pressuring our resources such as groundwater that are largely being used for agricultural purposes.
But there are a lot of interconnected challenges when it comes to water. I mentioned one a bit, but the food water nexus, the energy water nexus and the pressures that agriculture and food security put on water security are really significant.
As is the relationship between energy and water in particular in the region when it comes to producing more water. Although there is a lot of diversity between the countries in the region, some have freshwater, some have rivers and lakes and others don’t.
And so they have to rely on either groundwater pumping or desalination. There are places that are facing floods, many places. Increasingly our cities are facing extreme weather that we have not experienced in the past.
And so now some of the solutions. I think that in a sense the first thing that we think about is technology. But in some ways we already have that. I think of the innovative practices that we are developing.
I think about the growing focus on things like natural systems, nature -based solutions and what that means in the Gulf context, what that means in an arid region context. I think about the adaptation measures and I think in that sense innovative financing as well in terms of how we do public -private partnerships in that as well.
There’s a lot of opportunity for innovation moving forward in all the ways, not just technical ways, but in the way that we think, in the way that we conserve, in the way that we, our relationship with water.
I think if that changes and we are more connected to water where it comes from, the consequences of creating more water and moving it from place to place, I really think we have many of the answers already in the region with the great minds.
And so I’m excited for the future, but we’re definitely facing many challenges.
To view the conference highlights, please visit the website at https://hiwaraat.qatar.georgetown.edu/oasis/ and for more information on the Hiwaraat Conference Series, which continues with “Global Energy Cultures: How Energy Shapes Our Everyday Lives” on December 9–10, visit the series website at https://hiwaraat.qatar.georgetown.edu