In the Spring of 2019, I was studying Environmental Policy at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability and looking for ideas to form a thesis around. With a background in international relations, I had come to graduate school to understand conflict and governance from an environmental perspective, but was struggling to settle on a particular research topic. Fortunately, my advisor pointed me to a short video of EcoPeace’s Gidon Bromberg explaining the work the organization is focused on and his goals for the future. At that point, I knew I wanted to learn more.
In a seemingly intractable conflict like the one between Israel and Palestine, could EcoPeace really use environmental peacebuilding to not only protect the environment but also create a foundation for future peace? I quickly contacted the staff at EcoPeace to find out if they would allow me to research the organization and if there was any particular topic that would be helpful and relevant to the organization’s goals. After a few conversations, it was determined that a comparative case study would help inform if and how the Program on Water Security could move forward in a place like Nepal and the Hindu Kush Himalayas. One organization, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), had already connected with EcoPeace to learn more about their methods and how the model could be transferred to the Hindu Kush region, so we brought the research to ICIMOD’s attention as well.
For the specific research plan, I worked with my advisor at the University of Michigan to identify a research question that I could explore qualitatively. We were particularly interested in how each organization functions and how certain factors impact how each organization is able to progress toward its goals. An interview guide was developed that would allow me to explore the organizational, structural, and contextual factors that might influence the success of a potential transfer of EcoPeace’s model to the Hindu Kush Himalayas. The interview guide focused on the perspectives of the staff members at ICIMOD, not necessarily the public statements of the organization as a whole.
To my surprise, ICIMOD offered to host me at their headquarters in Nepal so I would have an opportunity to perform my field work and conduct interviews in person. For five weeks in the Summer of 2019, I stayed near Kathmandu, Nepal as I interviewed staff members at ICIMOD who worked on issues related to transboundary landscape management in the Hindu Kush Himalayas. I had opportunities to learn more about the organization, the environmental issues, and the region as a whole while I was there.
Overall, the research compared 11 factors that could enable or constrain each organizations activities and progress. EcoPeace and ICIMOD are working within very different environmental conflicts and regions, but both organizations still could learn quite a bit from each other. The lessons that EcoPeace has learned in the Middle East could certainly help the Hindu Kush Himalayan region with a number of the existing environmental conflicts. More research is necessary to identify and refine particular points of entry for EcoPeace, but there appears to be a lot of potential for future collaboration.
While in Nepal, I explored the temples and palaces in Kathmandu and Lalitpur. The beautiful landscape of Nepal is only a fraction of the Hindu Kush Himalayas, though ICIMOD works within all eight member countries in the region to create transboundary agreements that will help protect the region’s ecosystems and natural resources. I learned so much from the staff at ICIMOD and was amazed by the incredible work being done. My field work in Nepal was an experience that I will never forget.
Thank you to the staff at EcoPeace Middle East and ICIMOD for allowing me to explore their organizations, as well as my advisor at the University of Michigan, Dr. Julia Wondolleck for guiding me through the process.
Written by: Andrew Light –2020 graduate of University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability –MS in Environmental Policy
EcoPeace’s Program on Water Security offers a model for regional peacebuilding to organizations located in shared water basins. The program builds the capacity of actors to help establish much-needed relationships of cooperation and trust at the community level on issues pertaining to water and the environment.