Hydro-diplomacy: Bridging the gap between science, policy and action

01 November 2012 | News story

How we use and share water is a complex issue. It involves diverse groups of people such as farmers and fishermen, energy suppliers and developers, all who are competing for a limited and precious resource. Water use issues typically cross natural, social and political boundaries and can be local, national, regional and global in nature.

To address this pressing issue, IUCN gathered leading diplomats, political scientists, economists, and water resources professionals from more than 25 countries in Chiang Rai, Thailand to discuss and debate the complexities and ways forward in hydro-diplomacy, specifically in transboundary river basins. “There was a time when rivers ‘held’ territories, defining their boundaries, giving their people a certain personality and both land and people – a certain ethos. Rivers today have become political entities,” said Ambassador Gopalkrishna Gandhi, former Governor of West Bengal, India. “Water is, let us face it, going to be humanity’s crisis number one.”

As the world develops, economies expand, populations increase, and aspirations for higher standards of living grow. This has resulted in mounting demands for industry, energy supply, agriculture, food production and land use, all of which put pressure on our natural ecosystems. Reaching agreement on sharing of resources is even more complex when two or more countries share a common river basin.

Each riparian country of an international river basin has different water resource management approaches, based on their geographical conditions and administrative systems. Promotion of good governance is, thus, necessary for the establishment of strategies on sustainable management of international river basins. This will contribute to water security and peace for the global population, protection of natural resources and promotion of sustainable economic growth”, said Preecha Rengsomboonsuk, Thailand’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment.

Political good will and trust, both at a local level and between countries, is essential to achieve lasting agreements. There is also a need to engage scientists and technical experts to ensure solutions are efficient, sustainable and practical. Often technical water infrastructure solutions of the past did not fulfil long-term goals. We need new ways to meet the demands of expanding human growth and needs, while ensuring a healthy and sustainable future. “Hydro-diplomacy calls on scientific and technical experts to work hand-in-hand with national and local politicians, decision-makers and stakeholders to reach negotiated agreements for solutions that can be implemented and which will endure,” said Aban Marker Kabraji, Regional Director IUCN Asia.

To conclude the day-long conference, Dr Mark Smith, IUCN Director Global Water Programme, presented a summary of the panels’ key lessons and discussion outcomes. The audience was informed that the hydro-diplomacy tools and messages of the conference would be captured in a publication, to be launched on World Water Day of which the theme in 2013 will be Water Cooperation.

The hydro-diplomacy conference was an initiative of the IUCN Water Programme, held in collaboration with, and supported by IUCN’s ‘Ecosystems for Life: A Bangladesh-India Initiative’, ‘Mekong Water Dialogues’ and ‘Building River Dialogue and Governance’ (BRIDGE) projects.

For more information, please contact water@iucn.org