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No. 20 (236) November 2013


On November 14-15, 2013, in the Hague, the Water Diplomacy Consortium, with support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Holland, organized the High-Level International Conference “Water Security and Peace”.

The Water Diplomacy Consortium, which includes the Hague Institute for Global Justice, Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations, UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, UPEACE Centre The Hague, and the Water Governance Centre, was established by the Netherlands to unite potential in the water diplomacy sphere, including issues of conflict prevention, water governance and management, international water law, and water systems. The Consortium aspires to become a global hub, which offers the following:

  • advisory services to governments and public entities at all levels on improving water governance and management systems;
  • training and capacity building on a broad range of water diplomacy issues;
  • knowledge exchange and partnerships among water diplomacy stakeholders;
  • advice on conflict resolution methods;
  • direct assistance as an honest broker in conflict resolution
  • advice or direct assistance on post-conflict peace building in and through the water sector;
  • research and publications;
  • organization of conferences and other events on water diplomacy.

The conference was aimed to discuss a role of water diplomacy on the basis of specific on-hands examples, with involving experts and practitioners, who are active on international, national, and sub-national levels. The conference was organized as two plenary sessions and parallel sessions of three working groups.

At the opening plenary session, in his report, a keynote speaker, Professor David Grey of Oxford University stated three key notions – sovereignty (water issues touch on sovereignty issues), secrecy (data sharing challenge), and stationarity (climate change undermined the fundamental notion of “stationarity” in hydrology, which envisages that natural systems change within invariable envelope of probabilities). As a response, he proposed to invest in information, institutes, and infrastructure.

Pavel Kabat, Director of International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), delivered a report “Challenges to water security now and in 2050 – A scientific outlook”. In addition to frequently cited challenges related to issues of water, energy, ecosystems and health, he particularly emphasized two “hidden challenges”, to which due attention have not been given while: salinization intrusion and groundwater depletion. As a solution, he proposed to consider water issues as global issues, strengthen inter-sectoral and multi-disciplinary systems thinking in water management, as well as encourage a positive vision of the situation, through demonstrating how water challenges can provide opportunities to develop.

The report by Aaron Wolf, Oregon State University, USA, had two key messages. People matter – implying that decisions are made by a small group of individuals, and actions of each of them can play a key role in changing the dynamics of water relations. The second thesis of the rapporteur was about significance of education (“universities are centers of the Universe”).

The report by Mark Smith, Director - IUCN Global Water Program, urged to pay attention to a system approach to solving water challenges, and how the notion of “system” works in water diplomacy. He noted that IWRM works only when it is examined as a systems change process.

The first working group, which was organized under coordination of the Hague Institute for Global Justice, considered a legal and institutional perspective. In the working group, the session panelists took stock of the existing tools and methods in institutional, legal and diplomatic processes of conflict prevention and resolution, in particular focusing on the international/transboundary level. Among other session outcomes at the final plenary session, as follows:

  • trust building is vividly required for success of all projects;
  • policy without science is confidence trick;
  • a role of policy is understood differently: policy as impediment, policy as solution, policy as the basis;
  • conventions are the basis but, in the politically complex situation, bilateral accords can work;
  • procedure of joint gathering of data and facts is difficult to arrange;
  • transboundary issues are not to consider with detachment from socio-economic and political issues;
  • there are no universal solutions;
  • diplomacy on low level can move processes;
  • it is importance to hold meetings – if not to hold meetings, then cooperation loses a lot.

The following regulations are marked as actions for future:

  • It is required to continue to emphasize benefits of transboundary cooperation for national level.
  • Water diplomacy and regional cooperation function as support for sharing knowledge and information, and for holding open discussions.
  • Focus on new tools as a cooperation platform (e.g., strategic impact assessment).

The second working group organized by UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education (Pieter van der Zaag and Joop de Schutter) together with SIC ICWC Central Asia and Eastern Nile Technical Regional Office (ENTRO) was devoted to a system analytical perspective system analysis. The panelists had the following issue in front of them: “How can system analytical approaches improve the dialogue between politicians, diplomats and systems analysts in a trans-boundary context and lead to fair sharing of international waters?” To answer the question, a kick-off session was organized where rapporteurs presented economic (Erik Ansink, VU Amsterdam), diplomatic (Alexander Verbeek, Ministry FA Netherlands) and mixed (Eugene Stakhiv, USACE, UNESCO-ICIWaRM) perspectives on the problem. Then, examples of using analytical approaches in the Aral Sea basin and the Nile River basin áàññåéíå Íèëà were presented.

The report “Presentation Aral Sea Basin: evolution and use of the Aral Sea Basin management model and database as an integrated modelling framework for planning and communication of transboundary water management in the Aral Sea Basin” was delivered by Joop de Schutter, UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, and Ziganshina D.R, SIC ICWC Central Asia. The report mentioned work on development of cooperation tools under ICWC, including activities on information sharing, capacity building, research, regional pilot projects, and creating of a modelling complex to analyze future development scenarios. The panelists from Kazakhstan (Ibatullin S.R.), Kyrgyzstan (Dyayloobaev A.Sh.) and Uzbekistan (Nurimbetov R.) delivered their comments and shared experiences in the issue under investigation. The rapporteurs noted that it is required to continue activities on development of the existing models and creation of new ones, increase in credibility and accuracy of available data, particularly in the context of climate change. As there cannot be ideal universal models, in addition to the ASBmm presented, the rapporteurs mentioned advantages of the Basin Economic Allocation Model (BEAM) developed by the group consisting of experts from DHI, COWI and Global Water Partnership Caucasus and Central Asia. The scenario approach to assessment of the water situation can be useful as well. During the discussion, the issues of need for increased efficiency of ICWC activities and activation of implementing activities under ASBP-3 Program were raised. It was mentioned that the reality is more complicated than capacities of any models, specially taking into account geopolitical aspects in the regional water sector. Just recently, diplomats have commenced to participate in talks and discussions on water-related issues in Central Asia, therefore, trainings for diplomats to deeply familiarize with water-related issues would be desirable.

The Ambassador of Afghanistan for Holland participated in the session. With his comments, he noted that trust building in mutual relations among countries is important. Afghanistan does not intend to take actions, which may damage, but hopes on fairness in utilization of water within the basin.

During the second session, the working group considered development of a model base in the Nile River basin. The reports covered the role of models in negotiations over the Eastern Nile, provided the example of modelling the Nile River basin from an integrated perspective, and introduced to the audience from a political science perspective and a perspective NGO as well. Judging by the reports delivered, development of the modelling the Nile basin is on the initial stage, especially in terms of provisioning of data bases.

In conclusion of the session of the working group on a system analytical perspective, interactive sharing of opinions was organized where every panellist answered on two questions: 1) What are critical knowledge gaps? 2) What are opportunities for action?

The most frequent answers on the first questions may be summarized as follows:

  • Risks and uncertainty: definition, assessment, and communication;
  • Elaboration of new indicators for politicians: peace, security, well-being;
  • Transition from subjective knowledge to “collective” or “shared” knowledge.

The answers on the second question included:

  • openness: open access to data and models;
  • interaction between science and policy to strengthen a dialogue between analysts and politicians;
  • pay more attention to the role of civil society and mass media;
  • need for capacity building and education improving;
  • using and strengthening institutional grounds, including international conventions, where technical specialists, diplomats and decision-makers could work together.

The third working group discussed possibilities of creating the links for development of multi-level water diplomacy, including with involving of civil society. The working group addressed the following questions:

  • Can best practices of decentralised water governance arrangements be translated and implemented in different physical, socio-economic and political contexts (session 1)?
  • How do international NGOs succeed in connecting the grassroots level and national decision-makers? What lessons can be learned from them (session 2)?
  • Donors can support development programmes based on their own agenda, which allows them to target the interests of social groups that are not targeted by the recipient government. Do these donors link the activities at the grassroots level they finance with local government and how (session 3)?
  • What can we learn from grassroots practitioners, who - confronted with conflicting interests - establish the connection and create the trust for cooperation (session 4a)?

Those questions were discussed on the basis of examples of activities in South Africa, Ethiopia, Mali, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and Central America.

At the final plenary, H.E. Rob Swartbol, Director-General for International Cooperation, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs delivered concluding remarks, and the coordinators of the three working groups presented summarized outcomes of the sessions and discussions hold.

Dr. D.R. Ziganshina,
Deputy Director of SIC ICWC