Research Abroad: Water Security in India
Ethen Whattam is an undergraduate senior in Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. He is currently learning Hindi and studying transboundary water management in India on a Boren Scholarship. His research analyzes differences in river regulation between nations sharing water resources and asks how water is used as a bargaining chip in international negotiations.
What drew you to India?
I am currently in Jaipur, India. I originally came to Jaipur as a recipient of the Boren Scholarship and have decided to stay because of the diversity of culture in Rajasthan, the centrality of its location in India, and its accessibility to rivers.
Why is your research important?
Like many other people drawn to India, I am fascinated by sociopolitical complexities in the country that are exciting to explore and learn about. For me, this has come in the shape of understanding how India manages their transboundary rivers with bordering countries. India shares over 80 rivers with its neighbors, but less than 20% have water sharing treaties. Within this landscape, I am interested in studying how these rivers are protected by the different governments and discovering how they are viewed and are being used, by the respective national government, in international negotiations. A recent example of this occurred between Pakistan and India, where over a dispute of water sharing in the Indus Valley, the Pakistani Government banned Indian TV shows from being accessed in Pakistan. These and other stories are becoming increasingly common across the globe which means work needs to be done to understand the role of rivers in international relations.
What made you want to do this research?
Growing up I have always been interested in two major subjects, the environment and international relations. My time in India has allowed me to combine both of my main interests into one project. Additionally, I feel that water issues are one of the main problems affecting communities across the globe. As time progresses, these issues will continue to grow in scope. So by studying water now, I hope to be prepared to help combat and solve water issues in the future.
How do residents of India respond to your work?
Rivers in India hold a holy place in society. Hindus in India believe that the Ganga River is the Mother of Life. With rivers held in such high esteem it makes studying rivers here a very unique experience. Many people are curious about what you are studying and why you are studying their rivers.
“Water issues are one of the main problems affecting communities across the globe. As time progresses, these issues will continue to grow in scope. So by studying water now, I hope to be prepared to help combat and solve water issues in the future.”
How can others get involved in this type of research?
For me, I was very fortunate to win the Boren Scholarship that funds intensive language study for one-year in a foreign country of your choice. If you enjoy learning a language for 4-5 hours a day and want to work for the government after graduating university, I highly recommend you apply. If you have any questions about the scholarship, feel free to send me an email!
What has been the best part of your abroad experience so far?
The best part of my abroad experience is the amount of new experiences each day brings. Since being here, no two days are the same and each day brings its own challenges that you have to navigate. From learning how to cross the road, weaving in between cows, autorickshaws, and cars, to exploring cities that are thousands of years old, India has shown me a different way to live and think about the world.
What is a challenge you faced doing research abroad rather than in the U.S.?
One of the major challenges of doing research abroad is the lack of resources available at some institutions. At the University of Washington, we are fortunate to have world-class laboratories with the latest equipment to perform our experiments, while some places in India the scientists have to be more resourceful.. One of my favorite laboratories that I visited was in a small village in Rajasthan, where local women took water testing into their own hands. With the help of a local NGO, they created a water testing laboratory to ensure that the water they are serving to their family is free of chemicals.