“Politicians must address water problems”

Over the years, Ashok Swain has met with countless political leaders to emphasise the importance of political solutions regarding transboundary water resources.

Ashok Swain wants to increase political awareness of water problems in the world. With his new appointment as UNESCO Chair on International Water Cooperation, he hopes to have a stronger impact on politicians worldwide.

Water conflict has been the focus of Ashok Swain’s peace and conflict research for 25 years.

“I began studying water conflict because water is a natural resource with an immediate connection to security when moving from territory to territory,” says Ashok Swain.

After his public defence in 1991 in New Delhi, Ashok Swain came as a postdoc to the Department of Peace and Conflict Research, where he has remained ever since.

Over the years, Ashok Swain  has met with countless political leaders to emphasise the importance of political solutions regarding transboundary water resources.

Emphasises international water cooperation

As a UNESCO Chair, Ashok Swain  is expected to emphasise international water cooperation in research, teaching and politics in and beyond Sweden.

“The appointment as a UNESCO Chair entails international acceptance of my work in the field.

I will continue doing what I’ve been doing for 25 years, but the UNESCO Chair appointment will lend more weight to discussions with political leaders about water conflicts and how to solve them.”

45% of the world’s fresh water is from cross-border rivers, and water extraction agreements are often intended for periods of drought, when the need for water is greatest.

These agreements gradually change when water extraction increases due to, among other things, population growth, economic growth and urbanization.

“The major challenge to handle is the sudden change to water access, which is a threat posed by climate change. Countries don’t know what will happen in the future and they are unable to make plans.”

Political solutions are important

The threat posed by climate change of producing rapid changes to water access makes it even more important to have political solutions to water scarcity, according to Ashok Swain.

“The solutions we’re researching here in Uppsala have never been done before.

So far, water issues have primarily been handled by hydrologists, geographers and environmental researchers; politicians are rarely involved. This is due to an ambition to keep water issues simple; the involvement of politicians makes them more complex. But without political solutions, no ideas for solutions from various experts will succeed. We researchers are aiming to get more politicians to see the advantages of political solutions to water scarcity.”

Takes part in public debate

In addition to research and discussions with politicians, Ashok Swain also takes part in public debate.

“India recently threatened to shut off the water to Pakistan. India asserted that they can do this, but I wrote an op-ed article which concluded that they cannot, because it would entail enormous problems. The piece had a huge impact and partly changed the discussion in India.

Those thousand words reached more people than all the books I’ve written in my entire research career,” laughs Ashok Swain.



Ashok Swain is Professor of Peace and Conflict Research at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research, and UNESCO Chair on International Water Cooperation.

UNESCO (the UN body for education, science and culture) appoints researchers as UNESCO Chairs in order to support research and improve education, via networking and knowledge exchange, in UNESCO’s prioritized fields.

Find out more

First UNESCO Chair at Uppsala University


13 November 2017