UNESCO-HELP World Conference: Iowa Reflections

On November 21st-25th members of the Iowa-Cedar UNESCO-HELP basin joined those from all over the world to share their experiences, success and lessons learned at the UNESCO-HELP world conference in Panama. The conference was well attended, by numerous Latin American basins as well as basins in Europe, China, Philippines, Malaysia and others.

Iowa-Cedar UNESCO-HELP Basin Coordinator, Marian Muste and Iowa-Cedar Watershed Interagency Coordination Team Study Manager, Jason Smith jointly conducted a presentation during day two of the conference that was very well received by those in attendance. A couple of the attendees, namely representatives from the Tweed Basin (Scotland) and Brasilia Basin (Brazil) expressed interest in the potential for “twinning” to learn from each other and share ideas. In addition, a USDA Forest Service partner who manages a basin in Puerto Rico thought there was a great opportunity between Federal Agencies to Collaborate on public engagement processes and how to effectively communicate technical information (data and models).

This conference was filled with numerous short conversations where representatives learned about agriculturally based work being done by a research group CATIE in numerous Latin American basins as well as the hydroinformatics work being done in Asian countries such as China and Malaysia. One of the great examples of how powerful a grassroots effort can be in building credibility and a unified vision was in the Philippines where there is a general lack of resources but a great need and so people have started to align in grassroots type working relationships to communicate their needs and strategize their actions in concert with the UNESCO-HELP Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) framework.

After listening to many of the conference participants it was apparent that an IWRM approach is difficult to stomach. Either because of lack of funding OR lack of political will to take action OR apathy of people to look to their future resource needs. After many presentations and discussions around a host of issues representatives believe that the work that is underway in the IA-Cedar basin is the most aggressive effort of all of the basins. Many of the basins included Public Engagement OR Policy Evaluation OR Technical Modeling and Climate Change but none of the basins sought to look at them all together in an integrative approach such as is being done in the Iowa-Cedar basin.

This brings pride in knowing that the difficulties we have faced internally in the IA-Cedar basin are justified and may also present some fear that we have taken too big of a bite of the apple, but it is with a strong focus that representatives returned from Panama, understanding that the work done here is the practical culmination of the hypothetical IWRM processes that many seek to understand.

This is said, not to toot our horns, but to stress the importance of active participation in international partnerships like UNESCO-HELP. Although the US is having to restructure how it funds efforts there is little question that basins in the US have one of the greatest capabilities to combine social engagement tools with technical tools in order to help people understand the trade-offs that occur with various future scenarios and to have a mechanism to convey their desires to the decision makers that determine laws and policies.

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