Overcoming challenges to water cooperation

06 September 2011 | News story

With more than 270 transboundary rivers worldwide, and threats such as climate change, the need for improved capacity in managing water resources sustainably and equitably has never been greater.

In this light, IUCN recently organized 'Strengthening Water Diplomacy in Transboundary Basins', a seminar at Stockholm Water Week focused on the importance of shared waters and the role of sovereignty. The water discourse on transboundary rivers, stresses the concept of sustainable development of transboundary basins based on benefit sharing.

In many regions however, sovereignty remains the main concern of national governments’ agendas for international waters, despite legal (for example, the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention) and technical tools. Unfolding this paradigm – between sovereignty objections of Ministries of Foreign Affairs and sharing objectives of water technocrats – was one of the main goals of the seminar.

To embark the seminar, a key note speech was given by His Excellency CM. Shafi Sami, former Bangladesh Ambassador to India, followed by case stories from the Nile and Mekong basins. The two studies gave examples in which the two paradigms had balanced out in favour of the water users from the different riparian countries. After the ensuing discussion, a panel led by Prof. McIntyre from the University College Cork, argued legal frameworks were necessary at all water governance levels, irrespective of the process type and arrangements desired.

The second part of the session was dedicated to the multi-level governance aspect of transboundary waters. Anton Earle from the Swedish International Water Institute presented different tools for water diplomacy, and ways to strengthen it.

Examples followed that illustrated local governance such as in the Sixaola River Basin (a BRIDGE project site) shared between Costa Rica and Panama, up to the international level, with a presentation on the Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses (also known as the 1997 Convention).

This set up the basis for a discussion panel, where Ivan Zavadsky from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), together with Johan Gely of the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), expanded on the benefits of having a robust multi-level framework that reinforces itself through complementary instruments in pursuit of better compliance with the principles of good water governance.

The seminar concluded with the complementarity of different mechanisms and how all are relevant to strike a balance in the context of a global to local framework for governance of transboundary river basins.

With this conclusion, Dr. Alejandro Iza, Director of the IUCN Environmental Law Centre, said that “understanding this balance will help identify strategies needed in different contexts to overcome constraints and build cooperation. Based on lessons learned from different approaches, the seminar participants were able to identify priority actions for strengthening water diplomacy and enabling cooperation in management and development of transboundary basins.”

Key messages from the seminar will continue to be a part of the strengthening capacities component of the IUCN Building River Dialogue and Governance (BRIDGE) project.

The seminar was led by the IUCN Environmental Law Centre and IUCN Water Programme, as part of a joint effort which brought together the University of Dundee, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Global Water Partnership (GWP), UNESCO and the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC).

For more information, please contact Juancarlos.sanchez@iucn.org