water tap Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

Science and International Development Policy

Mark Green, who was recently nominated to head the US Agency for International Development, has been hailed by advocates of aid and diplomacy. To advance his goals, Green would do well to increase the role of science and technology in development practice, building on the work of Barack Obama’s administration.

WASHINGTON, DC – On the surface, the village at the foot of the Tian Shan Mountains looks similar to its neighbors. Men stand near the canal wearing traditional kalpak hats, children play in the river, and women bake naan, the round flaky Kyrgyz bread. But unlike other communities along the Aspara River, this village is addressing the water security challenges they face, rather than ignoring them.

Supported by a science-based international development program, the newly created local water management council now meets with a similar council across the international border in Kazakhstan. Together, the councils solved a decades-old problem that affected the ability to feed children, threatened regional security, and prevented enforcement of a 1948 treaty determining how much water each village may use to grow crops.

Applying local solutions to development challenges, these Kyrgyz water management councils built diversion canals and installed a simple meter to monitor the amount of water used by each village. Constructed from material available in the villages, the new canals connect to the meter and computers, allowing real-time water-flow data to be shared in each village. Though the development assistance has concluded, these international water managers now are mitigating the impact of increasing water flow from glacial melt, while intensifying regional agriculture demand by co-designing water-use forecasts and planting drought-tolerant crops.

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