Water is fundamental for human life. It is irreplaceable but scarce in many regions. Simultaneously, much of it transcends state borders via shared river and lake basins or groundwater aquifers. The resulting political, economic, social and environmental interdependencies give water resources the crucial potential to either foster cooperation or exacerbate conflict. The significance of access to water is growing as demographic and economic drivers as well as deteriorating water quality interact with climate change that will regionally increase water scarcity and variability.
Transboundary water management is pivotal for stability and growth
More than 90 per cent of the world population live in states that share watercourses, and almost every country with land borders shares some waters with its neighbours. Accounting for approximately 60 per cent of global river flow, transboundary basins are of critical importance for riparian states. Many important shared basins – the Nile, the Indus, the Ganges, the Euphrates-Tigris, the Amu Darya and Syr Darja, and the Mekong – overlap with regions characterized by substantial interstate and intrastate tensions and often a history of armed conflict. Social and economic developments as well as climate change exacerbate water shortages and increase the attendant potential for conflicts.
Yet transboundary basins are not necessarily flashpoints of conflicts. Rather, they have often turned out to be "islands of cooperation" in otherwise conflictive relationships. For example, the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty has survived three wars between India and Pakistan, cooperation on the Mekong persisted throughout the Indochinese wars, and water has served as a crucial means for strengthening cooperation in Southern Africa.
New study calls for a dedicated "water diplomacy"
These risks and opportunities related to transboundary basins raise the question of what the international community should do. What contribution can diplomats and technical experts make to enhance transboundary water cooperation? And how can such cooperation be leveraged to facilitate wider-ranging regional integration? To respond to these questions, adelphi has convened a group of experts whose discussions have resulted in a report on how to strengthen foreign policy for transboundary waters.
On September 3 2014, adelphi presented the new report "The Rise of Hydro-Diplomacy" at the World Water Week. Analysing pivotal river basins around the world, the authors examine how foreign policy can contribute to conflict prevention and how opportunities for cooperation can be exploited more effectively. The conclusions have been discussed with international policymakers and technical experts during an event titled ‘Water Diplomacy: Harnessing Foreign Policy for Conflict Prevention and Regional Integration’. This side event was jointly organised by adelphi and the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI); with the Stimson Center, the Water Diplomacy Consortium and the German Federal Foreign Office as essential co-convenors.
» Complete panel discussion "Water Diplomacy: Harnessing Foreign Policy for Conflict Prevention and Regional Integration" (video)
» Interview with Benjamin Pohl, lead author of "The Rise of Hydro-Diplomacy" (video)
» ThomsonReuters, "Preventing crises over shared water resources requires stronger foreign policy engagement" (article)
» Die ZEIT, "Der Wassermangel hat die Konflikte in Nahost verschärft" (article in German)
» New Security Beat, "Hydro-Diplomacy Can Build Peace Over Shared Waters, But Needs More Support" (article)
adelphi has been working on various aspects of water diplomacy for many years, supporting decision-makers seeking to strengthen transboundary cooperation on water. Our projects combine development and foreign policy perspectives, advising on ways to avoid and solve conflicts over water, strengthen participative approaches, facilitate cooperation processes and to develop comprehensive political solutions jointly with key stakeholders.