Careers in International Water Resources
Water resources is a dynamic profession worldwide. Every country must deal with water quantity and quality issues, and water affects every individual life on Earth. While international careers in this field are not well documented or studied, an exploration of available opportunities illustrates that career paths, employers, and jobs are quite varied. Furthermore, careers in this field can be rewarding, given the overwhelming international needs for water services and effective water management.
Professionals working in international water resources represent a variety of disciplines: engineering, sciences, social sciences, humanities, law, and management. Many professionals work within a particular field of specialization, such as economics or hydrogeology. Increasingly, these specialists are required to work on interdisciplinary teams and need to have a basic understanding of areas outside their discipline.
Because water-related work is so broad and diverse, opportunities can be found in many industries and sectors throughout the world. Employment opportunities include working with water utilities, data collection and analysis, water resources planning, water quality management, drought and flood planning, watershed management, groundwater management, and research and teaching. Nearly any water-related employment opportunity found in the United States also can be found in other geographical regions. Water professionals from the United States may work temporarily on water projects abroad, or may be based in foreign countries through federal agencies, private consulting firms, and nongovernmental organizations.
International Water Management Profession
Developing countries have particular needs that governmental and nongovernmental agencies and private companies try to address. International organizations and governments fund many of these efforts, although private sector involvement is increasing. Water-related issues include water supply, irrigation, watershed management, flood and drought planning, and sewage disposal. The magnitude of needs is clear: more than 1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water; over 3 billion live without access to adequate sanitation systems; and it is estimated that 20,000 die each day from water-related diseases.
The major international governing bodies have programs dealing with water resources management. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) deals with fresh water, engineering, oceans, coasts and small islands, earth sciences, and science policy. It also manages the International Hydrologic Programme, the World Water Assessment Programme, and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.
The World Bank has a Water Resources Management Group that deals with water policy and strategies, water projects in various regions and issues such as dams, groundwater, transboundary water management, and water supply and sanitation. The regional development banks (e.g., the Asian Development Bank and Inter-American Development Bank) also have
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programs that are heavily involved in financing and evaluating water-supply and irrigation projects in their regions.
Increasingly these bodies work with an array of private and nonprofit partners. Multi-sector teams often are employed on water projects and research efforts. Thus, water professionals working internationally can find employment within international agencies, national governments, consulting firms, nongovernmental organizations, nonprofits, and universities. Many professional organizations serve to connect this wide variety of professionals located around the world. Two of the most prominent are the International Water Resources Association (IWRA) and the International Water Association (IWA). Many U.S.-focused associations also have international committees, such as the American Water Resources Association (AWRA).
Educational and Skill Backgrounds
Awareness of environmental issues is increasing around the world and with this awareness comes an increased appreciation of the need for effective water management. The demand for water professionals will multiply in response to this need. Some jobs require no more than a high school diploma and specialized on-the-job training, while others require a Ph.D. in a very specialized area.
In general, students entering the international water resources field need to be well rounded in their knowledge of water resources issues and also develop an area of specialization. Typically a graduate degree, either a Master's or a Ph.D. is required. Each individual must decide which aspect of water resources best suits their interests and skills. Specializations and requirements vary. The Universities Council on Water Resources maintains an online list of available graduate water programs at U.S. universities that can help students research fields of specialization and schools offering those programs (http://www.uwin.siu.edu/ucowr/grad/ ).
Additional career aids include the following:
Any water resources professional working internationally needs to have good written and oral communication skills, an interest in international development and concern for people and the environment, an appreciation for differences in cultures, and solid computer skills. The Internet is a valuable tool for international water management activities, and some teams work "virtually" from different geographical locations. Having a foreign language skill is also an invaluable asset, and sometimes a prerequisite to getting a particular job.
These career options in international water management can be expected to multiply as the international community is setting concrete goals to overcome existing water problems. Careers in the international sector are demanding yet rewarding to those interested in making a difference for the environment and the people who need water to live.