Article | 02 Déc, 2019

Water cooperation: diplomacy from source to sea

Managing transboundary rivers and lakes requires cooperation and diplomacy between States, yet region-specific differences can hamper these efforts. A recent Water Diplomacy workshop looked at best practices from established river commissions to help inspire and share lessons to overcome challenges. 

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Photo: ©OSCE

The objective of the meeting was to discuss transboundary river management and bring together basin commission representatives, governmental agencies, international organizations and stakeholders supporting transboundary water cooperation in Central Asia, the South Caucasus, and South and Eastern Europe. It was led by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in collaboration with the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine (CCNR). 

IUCN presented the BRIDGE programme during a session moderated by the Geneva Water Hub and shared successes and key lessons learned from its work in fourteen basins worldwide. The key focus of BRIDGE is to promote water governance across multiple levels, involving local stakeholders just as much as national governments in cooperation mechanisms. Without an inclusive approach, water governance risks remaining a theory rather than practice.

As Alejandro Iza, Director of the IUCN Environmental Law Centre states "for transboundary governance to be effective on the ground, government needs agreement from water users. Water diplomacy is a process that operates under the authority of States, but which requires buy-in from multiple stakeholders, including at the level of provinces and municipalities". IUCN plays a key role in brokering this cooperation.

Claire Warmenbol presents the BRIDGE project at OSCE meeting, Strasbourg, November 2019Photo: ©OSCE


Globally, over 310 lake and river basins stretch across national borders. Around 60% of international river basins lack any type of cooperative management frameworkIn the OSCE area there are more than 150 river and lake basins shared by two or more States. OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger addressed the workshop via video message, highlighting the importance of water diplomacy and transboundary water cooperation in the OSCE region.

Bruno Georges, Secretary General of the CCNR, reflected on the historical legacy of the work that led to the establishment of the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine and its importance for building trust and dialogue.Its authority comes from agreements made at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The member States are Germany, Belgium, France, The Netherlands, and Switzerland. The CCNR ensures security and addresses all issues concerning inland navigation. It is the world's oldest international organization and will celebrate 100 years at its headquarters in the Palais du Rhin in Strasbourg in 2020. 

The meeting representatives took part in discussions showcasing best practices and exchanging lessons learned in the common use of transboundary water resources in their respective countries. Future areas of co-operation were explored and potential partnerships discussed. 

Developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Blue Peace Index was introduced, a research tool which measures how well countries manage transboundary water resources. It is a tool for understanding challenges and opportunities for improving transboundary water cooperation and management of shared water resources (Report: Blue Peace Index 2019). 

Vuk Žugić, coordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities noted that "Water diplomacy is an effective tool to achieve a comprehensive approach to security and stability”. In Central Asia, IUCN is also working on fostering dialogue between riparian countries around the Water-Energy-Food Security Nexus, an approach enabling integrated solutions across borders. 

The event was organized with financial support of the Governments of Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Water Diplomacy Workshop, OSCE, Strasbourg Nov 2019       Photo: ©OSCE


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