Outcomes from the most recent instalment of the Hiwaraat Conference Series at Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q), Sustaining the Oasis, are poised to be a catalyst for shaping new dialogues, collaboration and research partnerships around water security and climate change within the region and around the globe.

Held on 12-13 November, 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.

Dr Safwan Masri
Dr Safwan Masri

In his closing remarks, GU-Q Dean Dr Safwan Masri said that one of the greatest values of dialogues – like Hiwaraat – is to kickstart important agendas for the future and to bring together people who care about common issues.

Earth Commons Institute Dean, Dr Peter Marra, meanwhile, said that the conference was just the beginning of a conversation between their campuses and how they will build an environmental presence here, in an area that is just so critical.

In a keynote that resonated over two days, New York Times bestselling author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell stressed the need for urgency and taking greater social risks.

Speakers from over 35 organisations, 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.

Water strategy in Qatar, Gulf 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 centres.

The country’s efforts to honour its international commitments have seen challenges evolve into opportunities for the region, making solutions and technologies more accessible and affordable. QEERI Water Center Senior Research Director Dr Jenny Lawler highlighted the value of research collaboration to advance technologies that solve shared global challenges.

GU-Q conference Water security

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.

Although open access to water in the region helped drive development in the Gulf region, more sustainable consumption is needed. According to Roula Majdalani, Senior Climate Change Advisor at the 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 the promising water-wise solutions in agriculture including circularity, technology, precision agriculture, and heat-tolerant crops.

Water and food security

Regional disparities arising from conflicts, tensions with neighbours 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.

Hamad Bin Khalifa University Associate Professor Dr Logan Cochrane outlined Qatar’s strategy to establish a national food reserve, strategically increase domestic production, develop the domestic market, and diversify imports.

Water and the Global Climate Agenda

Dr Raha
Dr Raha Hakimdavar

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. He said that 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.

With COP28 just weeks away, Dr Raha Hakimdavar, Senior Advisor to the Dean of GU-Q and the Dean of the Earth Commons noted that the event is a timely dialogue and the high-level findings from the conference will be shared with the COP28 Presidency team in support of water-related efforts,

Securing the future of water

Foregrounding innovation, the sessions in the two-day gathering emphasised the need to integrate data from satellites and other sources into policy development and consider ways to integrate nature-based solutions to regenerate and restore fragile ecosystems, as well as look to traditional knowledge.

The conference concluded with an inspirational performance by students that highlighted the universal nature of water challenges and the importance of mobilising youth voices in water governance.

To view the conference highlights, visit hiwaraat.qatar.georgetown.edu. You can also check out more information about the Hiwaraat Conference Series here. The next discussion on 9-10 December will focus on Global Energy Cultures: How Energy Shapes Our Everyday Lives. 

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