Wednesday, September 18, 2013

H20 {R+D} = EU + US: International Collaboration for Water Research and Policy

by Simone Kaiser

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Water, the access to it, and its distribution and management are more than ever important global issues. Being a common and precious good, water and especially transnational aquatic environments require common responsibility and action and international cooperation.

George Czapar, Head and Extension Educator at the University of Illinois Center for Watershed Science, presented in his lecture on the UI campus on September 6th a successful example of close transatlantic cooperation and of exchange between scientists of different disciplines and local agencies and authorities in water research.  The University of Illinois has established fruitful partnerships with the University of Leeds, UK, and the University of Zhejiang, China that includes collaboration in research and education as well as mutual visits. Dr. Czapar underlined the positive impact of multidisciplinary research and collaboration of public, private and scientific actors, enabling expertise drawn from and applied to real life problems.

The European Union counts on regional and global cooperation, not only among member states but also with partners in the whole world. The EU Water Initiative (EUWI), launched in 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, aims to reinforce political commitment, promote water governance, improve water management, strengthen river basin approaches and catalyze financial resources. Based on a multi-stakeholder approach, the EUWI seeks to bring together governments, citizens, and the private sector in order to establish cross-regional partnerships and working groups focusing on particular regions (Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Central Caucasus Area and the Mediterranean).

Special attention is also paid to cooperation in water and sanitation research. The SPLASH Research Network, focusing on Africa and the Mekong River region, targets the coordination between existing programs, and the sharing of knowledge between researchers and practitioners to accelerate the putting into practice of research findings.

An important factor in international cooperation and research is, as George Czapar pointed out, the differences in water policy and legal regulations, especially in terms of drinking water quality. In contrast to the US, the EU’s drinking water legislation is much stricter. Comparing the cases of Ireland and Illinois, no contamination whatsoever must be found in drinking water in Ireland, while Illinois law permits traces of contamination, most notably amounts of herbicides used in corn growing. Dr. Czapar’s comment on this discrepancy was of a rather pragmatic nature: no herbicides in drinking water at all would mean not to farm corn—a risky enterprise in the US Corn Belt. However, this relative contamination tolerance in opposition to the EU’s strict water policy (which, as part of the environment policy, is a shared competence of the EU and its members) underlines the Union’s commitment to environmental issues.

The protection and management of water resources as well as drinking water quality are one of the cornerstones of the EU environment policy, and also an integral part of the Europe 2020 strategy  (although, this chapter won’t necessarily be closed after 2020). In the Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water Resources, the Commission seeks to lift currently existing obstacles and to meet challenges like a better implementation of current water legislation, the consideration of water policy objectives in other policy fields as well as in the Europe 2020 strategy, and the distribution and efficiency of water.

International cooperation on both the European and transatlantic level is key to addressing current and future water policy issues. The EU already holds a leading role, but the potential of international and multi-disciplinary research is certainly not yet fully exhausted. 

Simone Kaiser is a first-year-student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies (MAEUS) program at the University of Illinois. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Transcultural Communication and a Master’s degree in Conference Interpreting from the University of Graz, Austria.

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