Upcoming conference takes on water challenges in the Middle East and Africa

Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies Director Yoram Cohen discusses the May 7 conference on water challenges and solutions in two world regions highly impacted by climate change.

UCLA International Institute, April 24, 2018 — On May 7, partners from across campus will host a conference highlighting UCLA’s commitment to sustainability and environmental issues at the global level. Water in the Middle East and Africa: A Nexus of Cooperation and Conflict will be a unique opportunity in Los Angeles to explore the critical water challenges facing the regions today and the cutting-edge policy — and the technology solutions being used and developed to overcome them.

Yoram Cohen, distinguished professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and director of the International Institute's Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, discussed what he and directors of other Institute conference partners — the African Studies Center, the Center for Middle East Development, and the Center for the Study of International Migration — hope the proceedings will accomplish and the importance of hosting the event at UCLA.

What were the motivations for organizing this conference in the first place?

We all know — especially in California — water is the most critical element of life for food production, industrial development and for humans and all living things to be able to exist.

Being part of one of the world’s leading water research institutions, we set a goal to organize a conference that will examine some of the areas of the world that are experiencing severe problems with relation to this fundamental resource — as well as some of the solutions being developed and utilized in those regions to address the severe impacts associated with the current water quality and supply crises.


Drone used to monitor maize crops (Photo: L. Sharma/Marchmont Communications)

By bringing together leading experts from around the country and world who have extensively worked on the important intersection of water, food, health, environment and politics in those regions and beyond, the conference will highlight UCLA’s leadership on water issues — and a number of issues related to water — at the global level.

What do you hope will result from the conference proceedings?

One particular interest in the conference will be how water issues can cause conflicts and conversely, how water can help forge regional and international collaborations. If we better understand how water issues cause conflicts — a problem that has plagued both the Middle East and Africa due to the severity of their water situations — we will be able to understand how to avoid or mitigate those conflicts and bring about improvements in relations between people and countries.

And more generally, we can also learn about how technology — in this case technologies for upgrading water supplies, protecting public health and the environment and for using water efficiently in food production systems — can all be a means for forging better relations between countries.


Drip irrigation in Israel (Photo: Yigal Shargian)

Moreover, there is the global factor. The UCLA International Institute is an important part of this conference. This Institute and the various collaborating UCLA units are leading in many areas and through this conference in particular, we are contributing to the prominence of global studies at UCLA.

We are starting a global conversation focusing on water, but we envision that UCLA’s role promoting dialogue on other important global issues will continue on to other topics, such as energy, communications, healthcare, and beyond.

Why is it important to host this conference at UCLA?

As a leading institution in the area of water technology research, it is most appropriate for UCLA to tackle water issues wherever they may be. However, many of the water problems facing California and issues we address here at UCLA are also present in the Middle East and Africa.


Children filling water in Al-Zaatari Camp (Photo: Mustafa Bader) CC BY-SA 4.0

Water scarcity and quality are important in California, but we also have transboundary issues that have posed particularly difficult challenges for countries in various regions. There are tensions in California over water not only between municipalities, and counties, but also between states. Similar problems that also include severe water scarcity and quality issues exist in Africa and the Middle East and along with regional and transboundary conflicts have led to even more significant international problems.