Water without borders

Cross-border water management not only benefits water security but it also promotes dialogue, peace and cooperation – even in geopolitically unstable regions, according to IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

The Mekong is the world's 12th longest river, crossing 6 countries along its 4350km course

IUCN’s BRIDGE project (Building River Dialogue and Governance), which aims to improve water management in transboundary river basins in South and Central America and in the Mekong region in Asia, is addressing local water challenges while creating new opportunities for dialogue and cooperation between countries.

“Reducing poverty, achieving economic growth and conserving biodiversity all depend on sustainable water management,” says Mark Smith, Director of IUCN’s Global Water Programme. “Countries sharing waters in transboundary basins need to cooperate. As the project has shown, sharing information or having communities solve local water problems together helps build a way forward. It can also bring benefits that go beyond water management issues.”

Peru and Ecuador – countries that have a history of military conflicts – have come together to agree on maps of the Zarumilla and Catamayo-Chira river basins, which they share bewteen them. Basin maps have also been completed for Lake Titicaca, bordering Peru and Bolivia. This has set a common scientific basis for tackling water management and for broader discussions, such as how to strengthen official cooperation.

In Central America, the project has promoted cross-border cooperation among communities. This has created opportunities for them to solve local disputes and look after their shared resources, while building confidence on a national level that cooperation is the way forward.

In the Mekong region, IUCN is working with the governments of Cambodia and Lao PDR to support new, practical steps in the management of the Sekong river basin. A comprehensive profile of the basin is being prepared with both countries, along with a website for sharing information and developing common solutions to problems. This experience will be used as an example for the rest of the Mekong basin.

With more than 270 transboundary rivers worldwide, and increasing threats such as climate change, there is a growing need to improve water management across the globe.

“Rivers often set boundaries between countries and cultures, giving rise to fears over water conflict,” says Alejandro Iza, Director of the IUCN Environmental Law Centre. “But diplomacy and wise resource management are a source of peace and cooperation. Better collaboration among countries sharing water is vital to improving water security and protecting nature.”

“The BRIDGE project complements high level treaty-type processes by bringing together all those affected on a local level and building consensus across all levels”, says Ganesh Pangare, Head of the IUCN Water Programme in Asia. “Trust is key to all negotiations and decisions regarding shared water resources.”

Transboundary water management will be discussed further at IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in Jeju, Republic of Korea, 5-15 September 2012.

For more information, or to set up interviews, please contact:

• In Switzerland: Ewa Magiera, IUCN Media Relations, m +41 79 856 76 26, e [email protected]
• In Marseille: Brian Thomson, IUCN Media Relations, m +41 79 721 8326, e [email protected]
Claire Warmenbol, IUCN Water Programme Communications Officer: m +41 79 404 1973, e [email protected]

Work area: 
Environmental Law
South America
North America
East and Southern Africa
West and Central Africa
West Asia
Go to top