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  • UConn Co-organizes First International Water Conference in Ethiopia

UConn Co-organizes First International Water Conference in Ethiopia

Unlike Vegas, what happens in Ethiopia doesn’t stay in the land-locked East African nation. Water and weather, for example, overreach Africa in profound ways. The nation’s major rivers, including the mighty Blue Nile originating in the Ethiopian highlands, are transboundary and sustain life in neighboring countries. With the formation of the Nile Basin Initiative in 1999, hope for greater access and water security has risen throughout the impoverished, drought-stricken region.

news photoEthiopia’s weather, which is integral to its water supply, also surpasses its national boundaries. According to Dr. Mekonnen Gebremichael, an assistant professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering who has carried out extensive water studies in Ethiopia, “Latent heat release in deep cumulonimbus clouds in the inter-tropical convergence zone over Africa represents one of the major heat sources on the planet. In addition to the large-scale interactions, we know that a majority of hurricanes that form in the Atlantic originate from weather systems in East Africa.” This connection between Ethiopia’s weather and extreme weather events in North America underpins the U.S. government’s support for water and weather studies within Ethiopia.

In January, the African nation staged its first-ever international conference on water resources. UConn, along with the National Science Foundation and Addis Ababa University (AAU), sponsored the event, which took place at AAU’s Akaki campus and drew more than 150 attendees. The conference theme, sustainable water resource, comprised diverse sub-themes: climate variability and change; water resource variability, use and management; watershed management; water and health; and water policy and socioeconomics. Speakers representing more than 50 institutions — primarily from Ethiopia and the U.S. but also from The Netherlands, Sudan, Kenya, Egypt and Switzerland — delivered talks on diverse subjects.

UConn Dean of Engineering, Dr. Mun Y. Choi, participated in the conference and presented one of the keynote addresses that set the stage for the conference. In recognition of the stature and import of the conference, the Ethiopian government sent a number of its top officials, among them the Minister of Education who delivered introductory remarks. Also addressing the group was the USAID/Ethiopia Mission Director.

Dr. Gebremichael’s hydrology research in Ethiopia is extensive. Besides his long-term studies supported by the National Science Foundation and NASA since 2006, he has led a team that garnered a planning grant in 2009 from the prestigious USAID/Higher Education for Development (HED) organization to support sustainable development and management of water resources in Ethiopia. As a lead partner, UConn is committed to helping Ethiopia build its educational capacity so the nation’s universities may nurture well trained engineering hydrologists and civil engineers who can help Ethiopia manage its water resources for the nation’s future development and prosperity.

According to Dr. Gebremichael, the water resource conference afforded participants an opportunity to network and identify potential research collaborators, strengthen the water resource community within Ethiopia, and — for international participants — better grasp the enormous geopolitical and cultural forces influencing water policy in sub-Saharan Africa. He said plans are underway to publish selected papers from the conference in a special issue of an international water resources journal. Researchers also hope to form a network to initiate joint research programs and submit proposals for funded research and researcher exchanges.

One exciting outcome to emerge from Dr. Choi’s meetings with various officials, including Ethiopia’s Minister of Education, was preliminary plans for UConn to begin offering master’s level courses to Ethiopian universities via videoconferencing or distance learning formats.