Political conflict in the Middle East is a constant source of media attention, but Samer Alatout, a CALS professor of community and environmental sociology, focuses his efforts on a serious but less heralded struggle: how to best manage fresh water in a region that has so little.
Alatout, an expert on environmental policy in the Middle East, received Fulbright funding last year to advance his research on water policy—work that took him back to his hometown of Nablus, in the northern West Bank.
There he taught at An-Najah National University and established a number of research partnerships with Palestinian colleagues. He gathered valuable information about water policy in the region for these new collaborative projects, for his broader research program and for his forthcoming book, Water History and Politics in Historic Palestine: From Empire to Globalization, 1750–2009.
In one of those projects, Alatout is assessing the interplay of administrative units that have jurisdiction over water resources in the Palestinian territories—but that don’t always work together “in the most efficient or equitable way,” notes Alatout. He and his collaborator will analyze conditions on the ground and propose recommendations. “This project is about building better institutional mechanisms to solve administrative overlap among agencies,” Alatout explains.
In another project he looks at policies governing how Palestine and Israel share water resources, including the large mountain aquifer that sits beneath them. The goal is to find alternative ways for sharing the water that are more equitable—and work for all parties.
“It’s about how to negotiate productive solutions for managing trans-boundary water resources,” says Alatout. “In particular, how do you create win-win solutions, so that water access in Palestine can be increased without affecting Israeli communities in a negative way?”
Another big-picture goal arose from Alatout’s Fulbright trip: to help build the institutional relationship between UW–Madison and An-Najah National University, with the long-term objective of helping Palestinians tackle some of the tough environmental and agricultural challenges they face. These include arid climate, pollution and soil erosion.
“Any help that UW experts can provide in terms of research will make a huge difference on the ground in the daily lives of people,” says Alatout. At the same time, true to the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea and the push for internationalization, “Getting involved in an arid region like Palestine can be very productive for CALS researchers,” Alatout notes. “They will benefit greatly from facing fundamentally different issues surrounding agriculture and water policy making.”
This story was originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of Grow magazine.