“Awareness on the principle and laws governing use of international waters is the key to resolve conflict and strengthen cooperation in shared river basins”
The above quote from Dr Alejandro Iza (Head, IUCN Environmental Law Programme, in Bonn, Germany) could summarize the objective of the two days hydro-diplomacy training workshop held at Siem Reap, Cambodia on 27-28 April 2015. The event was Co-organized by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and the CNMC (Cambodian National Mekong Committee) under the BRIDGE Project (financially supported by SDC).
The training introduced participants to the basic principles governing the use of shared waters globally. This workshop adopted a focus on understanding provisions of the 1997, UNWC (United Nations Watercourses Convention). The UNWC is considered as one of the treaties governing shared freshwater resource which has universal applicability.
The event also highlighted a new BRIDGE publication, authored by H.E. Mr. Botkosal Watt, the Deputy Secretary General, Cambodia National Mekong Committee Secretariat. Titled “Strategic Priorities for Transboundary Water Cooperation in 3S Basins, Sekong, Sesan and Srepok”, the paper evaluates the needs and opportunities for trans-boundary water cooperation in the 3S Basins based on available data and information.
During his opening speech, HE Mr TE Navuth (Secretary General, Cambodia National Mekong Committee Secretariat) said “twenty years have passed since the signing of 1995 Mekong agreement, however, the understanding of basic principles and laws governing management of shared waters is still at infancy in the 3S region. This training Workshop could be considered as starting point of National Hydro-diplomacy efforts through the BRIDGE project in Cambodia.” This highlighted the need and significance of this hydro-diplomacy training workshop.
The workshop was attended by 20 participants, which included high level officials from CNMC and participants from relevant departments from the Ministries involved in management of shared water resources in Cambodia, such as, the Ministry of environment, the Ministry of water resources, Ministry of foreign affairs, the Ministry of mines and energy and the Ministry of planning.
The discussions identified important areas where the UNWC can complement the Mekong Agreement, such as the conflict resolution mechanisms. For example, it was noted by a participant from CNMC, that the mediation and dispute settlement mechanisms are available under MRC agreement, however, they are complex and elongated compared to 1997, UNWC provisions.
It was also highlighted that UNWC is an attempt to codify customary water laws that already existed and that the signing of UNWC by a state doesn’t affect their obligation emanating from other treaties that they are party to.
Participants found that training was very helpful in understanding the principles and mechanism that can be applied for negotiating water issues in a transboundary context. The capacity of staff enhanced through this training workshop will ultimately contribute to the identification of strategic priorities for shared river basin management at national level in Cambodia.
H.E. Mr. Botkosal Watt (Deputy Secretary General, Cambodia National Mekong Committee Secretariat) closed the workshop by stating that “UNWC is not in conflict with the Mekong Agreement, the two actually complement each other and thus it is desirable and important for Cambodia to fully assess and understand the benefits of the ratification of the UNWC ”.