Lund University

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Josepha (Joshka) Wessels

Center for Middle Eastern Studies

Senior Researcher

Area of expertise:

Policy, sustainability, social science, hydropolitics, hydrohegemony, sociohydrology, hydrosolidarity, traditional water management

Research keywords:

Environmental Peacebuilding, Water Rights, Middle Eastern Studies, Jordan River Basin, the use of virtual reality, Agricultural Research in Dry Areas, Rehabilitation of ancient water tunnel systems, Qanats, Water Films.

Research belief/mission:

My research on Qanats traditional water tunnels in the MENA region and hydropolitics in the Jordan River Basin using a human ecosystem approach contributes to a rethinking of the hydrological cycle for a better and more sustainable water future.

Core interest in research field:

Traditional water management, water for peace, hydrosolidarity and diplomacy, hydrosociology

Research passion:

To help secure water for future generations

Feelings about being a researcher:

It's great, I like to learn from the past, talk to people and think about a sustainable future for all. 

Likes/dislikes in research:

I like the fieldwork the most, writing articles and publishing and I dislike administration the most

Biggest challenges/opportunities in research:

Receiving and securing funding and positions

Story to share:

In 1999 I stumbled upon an ancient water technology when I lived in Syria and worked as a JPO (Junior Professional Officer) for the Dutch development agency DGIS. It turned out to be a qanat, a 1500-year old tunnelsystem still bringing water to the desert. This encounter defined my professional life as a human geographer and filmmaker. We renovated three qanat systems in Syria and it was the basis for my PhD in 2008, applying a human ecosystem approach to the hydrological cycle. Since 20 years I have been mesmerized by these qanats, which are a prime example of human ecosystems. Now, I am an UNESCO recognised expert on the rehabilitation and research of qanats. Research on qanats has taken me to many places, from Morocco, to Tunisia, Algeria, Syria, Iran, Iraq, India, and even Japan. This is the film that UNESCO made about my Qanat Expertise

Other things to share:

I finalised my PhD Thesis in 2008, under the supervision of Professor Tony Allan, who was my co-supervisor, main supervisor was Prof. Ton Dietz, at Amsterdam University. Tony Allan won the SIWI water prize in the same year for his work on Virtual Water.  

My film about Little Waterfall, which eventually accompanied my PhD thesis, won the recommendation in 2003, and since then I have made over 10 films about water in the Middle East. Some of which were broadcast at BBC World and Al Jazeera English, also for the Water Channel.  I also worked on water resources management in north Iraq in 2010 (prior to coming to Lund), together with Professor Dale Lightfoot from Oklahoma State University and UNESCO-IHP, on a project to rehabilitate the traditional Karez in Kurdistan. While there, our Iraqi visitor mentioned he had actually heard and read about this work in which the team, which included an Iraqi PhD student who re-discovered over 256 flowing traditional water systems in the north Iraqi region, partly through remote sensing. As you might know, I also made a film for UNESCO-IHP about this research project called ""Karez in Kurdistan".

My profile on qanats and the Middle East are here and here on Water History

For Lund University I made water films as well, among others the film Naitonality Unknown about hydropolitics at the Golan Heights See link here:

I developed the Jordan River Basin Boardgame in 2012, which until now has been successfully used in outreach and education for sustainable development and environment in the Middle East. 

I received funding from FORMAS to start a project together with Vattenhallen Science Center and SydVatten and the Lund University VR-Lab, to use Virtual Reality to raise awareness of water scarcity in Jordan and Sweden.

Interests outside of work:

Sailing and tennis

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