Great Lakes, Middle East leaders gather for water summit

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Government officials, organization leaders and environmental experts from the U.S., Canada and the Middle East will convene April 23-24 for a University of Illinois at Chicago summit addressing water issues in the Great Lakes and Jordan River Valley.

“Water After Borders: Global Stakes, Local Politics,” at UIC’s Student Center East, 750 S. Halsted St., Room 605, will feature panels and working groups that focus on strategies for sharing water across political, geographical and cultural boundaries.

Among the featured participants are Susan Hedman, Environmental Protection Agency region 5 administrator; Michael Goffin, regional director of Environment Canada; and Lana Pollack, U.S. chair of the International Joint Commission.

Mayors and leading officials from Jordan, Palestine and Israel and cities around the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River will come together at the summit for “Water and the City,” a panel about the importance of water in cities and shared strategies for protecting, restoring and distributing water equitably across borders. A complete list of participating panelists is online.

Residents and community leaders from both regions have much to learn from one another, says conference organizer Rachel Havrelock, founder of The Freshwater Lab, a new UIC-based think tank on water issues, and author of “River Jordan: The Mythology of a Dividing Line.”

“Residents of the Jordan Valley can learn from the long-standing treaties and binational cooperation of the U.S. and Canada,” said Havrelock, who is associate professor of Jewish studies and English at UIC.

“The example of cross-border water planning in the Middle East can inspire the Great Lakes region to connect cultural communities and empower diverse groups to manage shared waters.”

Panels and workgroups will address a variety of topics, including how the U.S. and Canada negotiate water issues and outline recommendations to face current challenges such as algae blooms, oil spills and pressures to export water from the region.

Various academic, government and community organizations represented include EcoPeace Middle East, an Israeli/Jordanian/Palestinian trilateral organization dedicated to environmental peacebuilding, and the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a coalition aimed at protecting and restoring the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

Attendance is free and open the public. Advance registration is encouraged. Details on registration, panels, participants and organizations represented are online.

The summit, sponsored by the UIC Institute for the Humanities and the Institute for Environmental Science and Policy, is funded through the first Global Midwest competition from Humanities Without Walls, a 15-member consortium based at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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