InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Water Science and Society > Section 3: Social Science of Water > Module 9: Water and Politics
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Module 9: Water and Politics

Michael Arthur and Demian Saffer, Pennsylvania State University
Initial Publication Date: March 31, 2017 | Reviewed: January 20, 2015

Summary

In this module, we will entertain several examples of international "water wars," referring to conflicts that occur within or between countries as the result of failed treaties and agreements, water supply interruptions, climate- or population-growth-induced water shortages, and related issues.

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Learning Goals

Module 9, Water and Politics, builds upon material in Module 8 (Modules 8.1: Cities in Peril; and Module 8.2: Future Climate Change, Population Growth, and Water Issues), with a focus on water conflicts and sharing where rivers or groundwater systems span borders. The topical coverage, by its nature, incorporates current and recent events that extend from the technical to the political realm, and therefore represent a current, visible, and socially relevant aspect of water resource management. The module readings include examples of failed treaties and agreements, water supply interruptions, climate- or population growth-induced water shortages, and other issues that have led to historical and ongoing conflicts. After completing the module, students will be able to:
  • analyze the political problems that arise when water supplies must be shared across borders.

Context for Use

Overall, this one-week module is intended for use as a stand-alone lesson or as part of an online or blended general education or introductory-level course that would satisfy a science distribution requirement. The module would be appropriate for non-majors and undeclared students looking for a major. There are two formats: (1) blended where the students meet at least once to perform the activities in teams; and (2) 100% online. As a general guideline, the delivery of content and assessment of learning goals/objectives have been designed to accommodate the logistics of large class sizes where students are expected to work approximately three hours per week covering lecture content with an additional six hours per week of additional reading and work on assessments. Note that some students will require more or less time to meet the goals and objectives of the module.

Description and Teaching Materials

All materials for students are available online using the Student Materials link below. These can be implemented entirely in the context of distance learning, with students completing any discussion questions in the form of a blog or discussion group. In a traditional or blended classroom setting, students can complete the online unit as homework, using class time to address the discussion questions and for the Summative Assessment.

Teachers can find documentation of the activities as well as rubrics for students at this location. Rubrics for teachers are compiled under Assessment on this site. Suggestions for teaching and a list of the assessments are found below.

Teaching Notes and Tips

What works best for the module?

In general, students had little difficulty engaging with the material, and they successfully completed both the formative and summative assessments. The use of distinct examples that address different aspects of water management or conflict across borders (e.g., Nile, India-Bangladesh) works well to focus students in analysis of specific issues; other possible examples could include the Mekong or the Colorado River. Chapters 5, 9 and 10 in The Big Thirst are highly complementary to the module content insofar as they provide more detailed descriptions of the issues, but the module can be completed without those readings. Instructors may want to search for other recent news stories that discuss issues related to the module content, as such issues frequently emerge in one part of the world or another.

The summative assessment should be completed in class following discussion of the module and formative assessments.

What students found difficult

As noted above, students generally grasped the material, as reflected in their performance on the formative assessments. In some cases, students' responses belied a cursory approach to the reading or to thinking about the issues—hence devoting adequate time for in-class discussion of the formative assessments, and in advance of the summative assessment, is key. In fully online classes, this can be accomplished in an online discussion, which could be required prior to submitting the Formative Assessment.

Reflections

Module 9 is designed to build directly from Module 8, which focuses on technical, climactic, and historical aspects of water scarcity. Given the nature of the material, Module 9 will be most effective if accompanied by in-class discussion of water conflicts, the formative assessments, and where possible, drawing upon current events or the Pacific Institute's online water conflicts calendar (http://worldwater.org/water-conflict/).


Assessment

Formative Assessments

Summative Assessement

  • The summative assessment for this module involves writing a paper in Water Sharing

References and Resources

Student readings:

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »