In the fall of this year, students and faculty in the Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program will be visiting Egypt. This is our program’s first Global Study in the country, and everyone is excited to learn why and how Egypt has become such an important player in global sustainability.

A key location for environmentalists and historians alike, Egypt is a global icon known for its roots in trade, agriculture, and travel. “Egypt presents an amazing classroom for looking at sustainability issues,” says Faculty Lead Holly Wise. “Students will get to learn the importance of it and its geopolitical role. As we travel along the Nile from Luxor to Aswan on our learning voyage, we will experience the river, archeological sites, agriculture, trade, rural livelihoods, energy issues and the juxtapositioning of modern and traditional societies.”

Among the current issues in sustainability, climate change in recent years has most severely impacted the trade and agriculture industries. Climate extremes have caused Nile water levels to fluctuate and thus threaten the irrigation systems in place for farmers. As Dr. Michael Mortimer, Founding Director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability, puts it, “The region is projected to be one of the global hotspots for water scarcity in the coming decades. Climate change will affect the availability and regularity of the Nile’s flow. And the potential for transboundary conflicts around the use of the Nile’s precious water is likewise projected to increase. These transboundary issues have given rise to political tensions.”

“Conflict with access to waterways is something which has been managed over time,” Wise explains. “But it looms as the populations in Egypt and Sudan grow. There isn’t one standing body with authority to govern the Nile. Cases such as these require a consortium of groups whose goals are to ease these tensions.”

Alongside learning about Egypt as a geopolitical and environmental symbol, students will also get to interact with the rich culture and the diverse population. From Coptic groups on the outskirts of the city to urban communities, the cohort will get to learn about how communities throughout the region live and thus gain exposure to sustainability topics specific not only to the region but also within these particular communities.

Students are excited to experience the region and get insight into how it has become so pivotal in the sphere of environmental decision making. “The students will do prep work leading up to the trip,” Wise explains, “and then they will have the opportunity to apply their studies to the immersion. They will get to experience firsthand Egypt’s unique environmental position: it’s where water, agriculture, and climate change all come together, and all of those factors play a part in policy making.”

Dr. David Robertson, Founding Director of the XMNR Program, agrees that this International Residency is one of a kind. “As a location for the XMNR Global Study, Egypt and the Nile River will provide a stark contrast between past and present, urban and rural, water and desert. Climate is particularly salient in Egypt, and students will learn how climate is intimately linked with energy, transportation, urbanization, food, and agriculture systems to support life in the Nile River Basin.”

In doing so, the cohort will gain the cultural competencies needed for taking part in global discussions on sustainability policy. The students will visit and engage with their professional peers in non-governmental and corporate organizations to learn about efforts already in place for addressing sustainable development in the region. Dr. Mortimer continues, “More than 480 million people already reside in the Nile basin. By 2050, that number is expected to jump to more than 850 million. Because the Nile passes through eleven countries, it presents a fantastic example for our students to examine how collaboration and cooperation will be essential to solving the transboundary environmental challenges of the Anthropocene.”

“Students most look forward to the conversations they will get to be a part of,” Wise says. “This is an invaluable opportunity to learn about and approach issues in sustainability from a single country’s perspective, and its applications go far beyond the Egyptian borders.”