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Addressing Regional Issues in Central Asia with Scientific Solutions

AAAS Headquarters, Washington DC — On October 1, the Center for Science Diplomacy hosted a luncheon featuring a presentation by Dr. Katherine Himes entitled “Addressing Regional Issues in Central Asia with Scientific Solutions,” built on Dr. Himes’ recent article in Science & Diplomacy, Science and Culture Collide: Living and Working as a Science Diplomat in Central Asia.

Dr. Himes is a AAAS Overseas Fellow and science adviser at the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Mission to Central Asia. The AAAS S&T Overseas Fellowship sends scientists and engineers to U.S. government posts around the globe to use scientific and technical expertise to help foreign policy development and program planning.

In 2013, Dr. Himes began her assignment in Almaty, Kazakhstan, to serve as the first science advisor on behalf of USAID. The USAID Regional Mission to Central Asia covers four countries of the former Soviet Union: Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The mission, which began 20 years ago, has been focused on fostering resilient, growth-oriented and inclusive societies.

“Progress in science and technology seems to have stalled in the region since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Dr. Himes said. Dr. Himes’ work focused primarily on water, conservation, in-country science capacity-building and the mission’s use of science, technology, innovation, and establishing new partnerships.

“Water in Central Asia and Afghanistan is not unlike the current situation in California. Irrigation demands, drought, changing snowpack, and population growth all impact water resources,” Dr. Himes said. The current water governance system reflects that energy-water sharing agreements from the Soviet era still rule. She noted how the countries work on independent, short-term interests instead of long-term goals.

The USAID water strategy in Central Asia is divided in three components: community-level water basin governance programs, a regional research program, and water policy development in coordination with other donors. “To restore needed scientific and technical capacity across Central Asia and Afghanistan, USAID is engaging directly with academic and government water researchers, water engineers, and technical experts at the regional level,” Dr. Himes said.

These efforts will have a lasting effect on the region’s economy and water management.

“Communicating how science is addressing development challenges is essential,” Dr. Himes said.

A highlight during her term was organizing a reception to honor two Afghanistan water researchers. Female scientists still face unique hurdles in their careers, but, as Dr. Himes said, “These courageous women presented their proposed work and impressed the water ministry representative with their project goals.”

Her experience includes speaking on issues from climate change to biodiversity conservation, from university capacity-building to water and air pollution. She has spoken at the Central Asia Model United Nations and the International World Water Forum. She supports U.S. federal agencies in the region and in 2014 she began working with the United States Forest Service on their Central Asia Engagement activities.

Through the efforts of AAAS S&T Overseas Fellows such as Dr. Himes, scientific and diplomatic relations between countries can be formed for the benefit of all involved. Dr. Himes’ work has led to regional collaboration to improve agriculture, health, water management, and conservation.


Jake Rose contributed to this article.