Each year World Water Day (WWD) is celebrated on the 22nd of March, and has become one of the key dates on the UN calendar. The day marks a special focus on global water issues, with this year in particular global attention on water cooperation.
As rivers are rarely confined to just one nation or region, water always needs to be shared - whether among industries, communities, or countries. Managing water in a cooperative way is key for the wellbeing of people, economies and ecosystems. What happens to water use or abstraction upstream, affects water availability or quality downstream.
With 276 transboundary river basins worldwide, the need for good governance and cooperation on water is crucial, not just for the health of ecosystems and economies, but also for peace and conflict resolution. The Danube for example crosses no less than 18 countries. The Nile, the Amazon, or the Mekong, are amongst the world's longest rivers crossing multiple borders and providing water and livelihoods to millions of people. If these rivers are polluted, mismanaged, or over-extracted, millions of people will suffer as a consequence.
Hence the United Nations dedicated 2013 as International Year of Water Cooperation (IYWC). Launched at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, IYWC is intended to raise awareness to increase cooperation on water issues and highlight the challenges facing water resources management in light of the increasing demand for access to water. It will also focus on major issues regarding water security for all, and the sound and effective management of transboundary waters.
IUCN is already very active in water cooperation efforts through the BRIDGE project which stands for 'Building River Dialogue and Governance'. "BRIDGE is a project built on, and achieving success from, water cooperation. Internally within IUCN as a global Membership organisation, the project ties in legal experts from our Environmental Law Centre, IUCN water coordinators from Asia, South and Central America, and IUCN Members and partners working in water resource management. The project builds bridges with local communities as well as national governments to improve water cooperation and help resolve cross-border water issues", said Mark Smith, Director IUCN Global Water Programme.
Last week a BRIDGE workshop took place in Lima, Peru, gathering members of the global BRIDGE team and project partners, to learn and share lessons from regional experiences on water cooperation (see webstory). In South America, good international relations have helped cooperative efforts in river mapping exercises which in turn have supported better hydrological knowledge and strategies. In Mesoamerica for example, “using the right terminology is crucial to progress, institutions and governments need to feel comfortable with the way water cooperation and management of shared water resources is framed”, said Rocío Córdoba, Livelihoods and Climate Change Coordinator for Mesoamerica. In Asia, the BRIDGE team focuses on some of the Mekong's main tributaries where often the biggest improvements can be made.
Throughout 2013, IUCN will support the advocacy efforts of the International Year on Water Cooperation, and share lessons, stories, and key publications coming out of the BRIDGE project. Currently a publication is in development which will be launched during a special event at the Stockholm World Water Week in September.
The BRIDGE project is led by the IUCN Global Water Programme and the IUCN Environmental Law Centre, in collaboration with the IUCN Asia, Mesoamerica, and South America offices. It is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).