World Water Day 2013: International Water Cooperation

Today is World Water Day, and this year the celebration focuses on The Year of International Water Cooperation. UN Water reminds us that rivers often flow through multiple countries, and actions by one country or community can affect their neighbors’ ability to meet their water needs. Consuming too much water, or polluting a shared body of water, can make it hard for others to have enough for drinking, hygiene, agriculture, ecosystem health, and other needs. The World Water Day website sounds this call for cooperation:

In designating 2013 as the UN International Year of Water Cooperation, the UNGA recognizes that cooperation is essential to strike a balance between the different needs and priorities and share this precious resource equitably, using water as an instrument of peace. Promoting water cooperation implies an interdisciplinary approach bringing in cultural, educational and scientific factors, as well as religious, ethical, social, political, legal, institutional and economic dimensions.

At the Wilson Center’s New Security Beat blog, Kate Diamond highlights some good news from a report in the latest issue of A World of Science, the quarterly journal from UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). She notes that while we might expect the combination of climate-change-stressed water supplies and growing global water demands to increase international conflict, the trend is actually toward greater cooperation. But we can’t assume cooperation will continue in the face of mounting challenges. Diamond writes:

Climate change is hitting hardest in regions of the world already struggling with water stress and insecurity. Populations are growing rapidly in already-crowded river basins. Links between water, food security, and energy are rising in prominence at the same time that climate change, population growth, and rising consumption are putting unprecedented pressure on them, and yet the institutions and systems set up to manage water remain segmented in bureaucratic silos that hamper their effectiveness.

In their article for A World of Science, authors Annika Kramer, Aaron T. Wolfe, Alexander Carius, and Geoffrey D. Dabelko describe factors that contribute to cooperative water solutions. Strong institutions must have sufficient authority and reliable information whose legitimacy is accepted by all stakeholders. To avoid conflicts, these institutions must allocate water equitably, ensure that stakeholders get relevant information in a timely way, and make decisions transparently. At the local level (where water issues can often be handled successfully by traditional community-based mechanisms) and at the international level, investing in stakeholders’ conflict-resolution and negotiating skills can help avert conflicts and promote cooperative solutions. As global water challenges intensify, investing in cooperation is more important than ever.

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