Democratia – Aqua – Technica IV

Focus on Agricultural Water Conflicts

East-West Dialogue: Higher Education Dialogue with Western Countries Balkans 2023


SRH Hochschule Heidelberg & Cooperation partner University of Novi Sad


Prof. Dr. Ulrike Gayh, and Prof. Dr. Maja Turk-Se- kulić

Program Objectives

  • Cross-border exchange and networks in the Western Balkans region as well as between German and foreign universities.
  • Civil society actors are involved
  • Professional knowledge is made available to the public.
  • Academic exchange and professional cooperation.


Democratia – Aqua – Technica initiative on the importance of water as a resource for democracy development and Civil society. The third project of this initiative, “Democratia–Aqua–Technica III:  focus on water conflicts related to water pollution”, has been successfully implemented so far. All the desired goals were achieved by the end of the project in 2022. The project’s launch event took place as an online event as part of International World Water Day. The project jointly developed thematic challenges to dealing with global water conflicts such as micropollutants or resource conservation. An online workshop offered a first opportunity for exchange and served as preparation for the upcoming study. The groups have various digital tools (e.g., MS Teams, Padlet) to organize their joint work independently in the periods between programs.

The participants analyzed their samples in the laboratories of the UNS and discussed them with scientists, continued their group work, and presented their interim results. With Research Week, the project contributed to academic exchange and professional cooperation. Lectures will complement the intellectual exchange by civil society actors to raise participants’ awareness of civil society engagement.

Based on the current project challenge on micropollutants and the results of the water analyses, water pollution in the agricultural sector was identified as one of the most relevant problems. The follow-up project will focus on water use conflicts in the farming sector and develop and compare international case studies.

Water as a resource is fundamental to life on earth and has been a coveted and contested commodity for centuries. However, climatic changes such as increased droughts and increasing water pollution are reducing the supply of water resources, while population growth and industry are simultaneously growing global water demand. Approx. 2.2 billion people have no access to clean drinking water (as of 2021). Not only do people’s health and living standards suffer, but water crises also create massive societal tensions that threaten democratic government and society. The result is an increase in water conflicts worldwide, which increasingly lead to violent clashes: From 2010 to 2019, the Pacific Institute listed 457 conflicts ignited by the supply, access, or control of water resources. Therefore, approaches to resolving water conflicts are urgently needed and can be found in particular in innovations in water technology. For example, in the field of water treatment or freshwater production become parallel to the technological perspective, water partnerships as alliances between state institutions, companies, and civil society actors can also make an essential contribution to conflict reduction and Democracy development.

This is where the interdisciplinary network Democratia -Aqua -Technica, founded in 2019, is initiated by HSHD and US. The focus is on developing innovative technical solution concepts for sustainable water resources management to promote the reduction of regional and local conflicts and the motivation of the “Next Generation” on civil society engagement. Climate change poses enormous challenges for water management and all those using water.

Building on the results of the projects from the years 2020-2022, HSHD and UNS will focus on water use conflicts in the agricultural sector in Germany and the Western Balkans for the follow-up project in 2023. The enormously high-water demand on fields and fields agriculture accounts for 70% of groundwater abstractions worldwide due to a sinking groundwater level, drying rivers, and reduced soil moisture opposite. In particular, the increasing number of heat waves worldwide, such as the current summer of 2022, leads to considerable regional differences in water availability in Germany and Serbia and regional water use conflicts (e.g., agricultural irrigation in competition with drinking water supply). Global crises such as the Ukraine war and the resulting grain shortage further exacerbate the situation and make an adequate water supply of agricultural land only more urgent. At the same time, agriculture also plays a vital role in water pollution, as industrial farms discharge large quantities of pesticides, fertilizers, or salts into the waters, which further fuels the conflicts of use over unpolluted water resources.

The project Democratia -Aqua -Technica IV takes up several of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), focusing on international water use conflicts in the agricultural sector: sustainable agriculture, safe drinking water, intact ecosystems, and global partnership. The project will implement tree-theme-based events to develop solutions for water use conflicts and strengthen international and interdisciplinary cooperation. The sessions include an online workshop, a practical in Germany (Heidelberg), and an online workshop conference as the follow-up project in 2023. With regional case studies and work in international groups, the participants look at water conflicts from different perspectives and expand the professional exchange. In the planned events, the digital tools and platforms already established during the project will be used and developed (e.g., network platform According to a cross-academic approach, the group comprises various academic qualification levels (graduates, doctoral candidates, and scientists) who will work together in international and interdisciplinary groups on a project-based basis. Another focus in 2023 will be on science communication: The results of the project work will be presented to a scientific expert audience at an online conference and made available to the public via a video, an extended escape room, and a science slam.

Project Objectives and Description

 Objective 1: Strengthening civil society and promoting the development of democracy to reduce water use conflicts in the agricultural sector

With a focus on agricultural water conflicts, the follow-up project 2023 is dedicated to a highly topical and relevant topic and builds on findings from the previous project year. Through the development of solution strategies, e.g., on pesticide pollution of water bodies, the project provides the technical impetus for reducing water conflicts in the agricultural sector in Germany and the Western Balkans. At the same time, the role of water as a resource in the development of democracy will be examined. Different interests, requirements, and prerequisites will be examined in a panel discussion with representatives of agriculture, politics, and civil society organizations working for water differently.

This strengthens the participants’ awareness of diverse democratic perspectives and opportunities for civil society engagement. In addition, in discussions with those responsible for the municipal water supply, they experience the possibility of citizens’ dialogue in the sense of “democracy lives from participation”.

Objective 2: Academic exchange in teaching and internationalization of engineering courses at Sea

In today’s globalized world, international contextual knowledge, intercultural competence, and interdisciplinary skills are becoming increasingly relevant and are among the most sought-after essential qualifications in professional life. SoEA has realigned the subject-specific profiles of its study programs in recent years: with international perspectives, interdisciplinary cooperation, and a close link between practice and research. For the further development of the offers, the academic exchange with partner universities, as in this project, is elementary. The partner universities also benefit from the international exchange of teaching methods. The project events align with HSHD’s study model, the CORE principle (Competence Oriented Research and Education), which focuses on active and responsible learning.

Objective 3: Intensify cross-border technical cooperation in the region and expand the Democratia — Aqua — Technica network

Under the umbrella of the network Democratia – Aqua -Technica, three events are planned for 2023, which will intensify the professional and methodological exchange between the partner universities and expand the initiative’s network. The joint project work offers an ideal framework for intercultural dialogue at eye level and a discussion of personal experience with civil society commitment. By studying water technology, young people can get involved in the environment and water protection while at the same time being economically successful. Opening the events to participants from Serbia, Romania, Turkey, Slovenia, and Hungary will expand the geographical coverage of the initiative and strengthen the network. The project initiative also offers the opportunity to deepen joint research interests.

Objective 4: Promoting mobility between partner universities

Mobility between partner universities will increase. A total of ten students/doctoral candidates and scientists from the UNS from Serbia will participate in the practical in Germany. In addition, eight places for students/doctoral candidates and two places for researchers from partner universities in Turkey, Slovenia, Romania, and Hungary are offered. Other participants from UNS and HSHD and the partner universities in the Western Balkans will attend the final digital conference. The academic exchange will provide the basis for intensifying international cooperation and consolidating mobility. In addition, HSHD pursues, among other things: the long-term goal of establishing cooperative doctoral procedures with their global partner universities to offer their Master’s graduates a scientific follow-up perspective.

Preparation and coordination of the project

The project team will establish monthly coordination meetings from the beginning of the funding period to prepare and coordinate the content. The Meetings will take place digitally via the MS Teams platform, and the Moodle platform will be set up for the project. Prof. Ulrike Gayh as project manager of HSHD, and Prof. Maja Turk-Sek ulić of UNS, as well as the scientific project assistant, will participate in the voting meetings. Depending on requirements, further representatives of HSHD (e.g. International Office, IT Services) and partner universities will be invited to the meetings. In continuous exchange, the kick-off event and the public relations work and public relations will be held at the beginning of the project. In the further course of the project, the project activities will be monitored. To implement the measure, the requested personnel costs of the research assistant and funds for advertising materials.


As part of a one-day workshop, which will be held as an online event (MS Teams via the network platform), the participants will receive an in-depth introduction to the main topic of the project and content input for their group work.   The online workshop promotes creative thoughts and innovative approaches in an informal atmosphere. The project groups jointly develop initial ideas for their case studies and receive technical support from the lecturers of the partner universities.

Practical in Germany

In July 2023, a one-week practical will take place in Heidelberg. In the beginning, the participants present the current status of their group work, get to know the campus and the water laboratory of HSHD, and explore with the help of an Expo- rear App water highlights in Heidelberg. In the further course, they work on their group projects and receive technical input and insights into the practice of water treatment in workshops and lectures during a visit to the Heidelberg sewage treatment plant. During an excursion to the Achenbach in the agricultural environment of Heidelberg, the participants take water samples and analyze them. Based on the results of the water analyses and the case studies, they develop concrete measures, among other things: to improve water quality, which can be implemented in Germany and the Western Balkans. Equipped with water analysis sets, the international participants will examine waters in their home countries later. Different interests and perspectives on water use will also be discussed in a panel discussion with agriculture representatives, Heidelberg local politics, and civil society organizations (see preliminary program). The panel discussion will also be accessible to the interested public via video stream and strengthen the participants’ awareness of civil society engagement with water as a resource.