Adelphi Research produced this publication funded by the German Federal Foreign Office: The Rise of Hydro-Diplomacy: Strengthening Foreign Policy for Transboundary Waters.
Read more about water diplomacy from the Adelphi website.
One thing I find troubling is the Lake Chad discussion on page 5. The desiccation of Lake Chad is not necessarily due solely to increased water use by riparians. The lake has periodically undergone desiccation and expansion due to natural processes (see this reference as well), likely exacerbated by global warming. There is no mention of this in the discussion; it needs to be there.
Water is a fundamental precondition for human life. No substitute for freshwater exists, and it is 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.
Competition over shared waters should warrant strong interest from foreign policy makers. Foreign policy can help improve transboundary water governance, and transboundary water gov- ernance can give foreign policy makers a toehold for making progress on crucial foreign policy interests. Thus, encouraging greater cooperation over transboundary waters offers significant prospects for the resolution of political conflicts and greater regional integration. Transboundary waters constitute a promising entry point for diplomats aiming for high peace dividends.
This paper argues that foreign policy makers can and should do more to realise these dividends. It calls on diplomats to accompany and facilitate the efforts of technical and development experts in transboundary basins. In particular, foreign policy makers must:
Transboundary basin management is frequently eclipsed by intra-basin politics, which in turn is often compounded by power asymmetries. In this context, a focus on technical solutions for shared basins is often not enough; it needs to be complemented by political engagement. For- eign policy makers can provide crucial support in this respect, even if their engagement also entails risks by inserting (perceived) outside agendas.
exert political leadership in fostering intra-basin cooperation and integration;
connect and reinforce appropriate institutional structures for coordinated and cross-sectoral, comprehensive engagement; and
strengthen the diplomatic track of transboundary cooperation on water by investing more in training and capacity-building, expanding efforts to build confidence in shared basins, and improving water-related crisis response and conflict resolution mechanisms.
There are several foreign policy objectives connected to transboundary water governance: facilitating the containment and resolution of conflicts in the short term; managing resources so that conflicts are avoided in the longer term; and harnessing water cooperation mechanisms to promote regional integration. Yet for all three purposes, there is a lack of agency at the international level. As a result, the international community faces huge challenges when it comes to systematically taking early action to both respond to emerging crises and reinforce cooperation.
Foreign policy makers should therefore help to strengthen and connect existing international and transnational institutions for coordination so as to allow for concerted foreign policy approaches. The end game of solving conflicts over water is to build the appropriate institutions to safeguard and extend cooperation. This quest for closer cooperation should simultaneously seek to enhance the cross-sectoral synergies between ‘high’ and ‘low’ politics such that water-related technical and economic opportunities are used (or better used) to strengthen political efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts and vice versa. Technical efforts that improve local and national water man- agement can significantly contribute to safeguarding international security, just as foreign policy efforts can significantly contribute to the development and well-being of riparian people by helping them avoid conflict and harness the opportunities that closer cooperation brings about.
To underpin such greater political and diplomatic engagement and translate it into action, this paper suggests a three-pronged strategy of support regarding institutions, capacity and funding. Preventing conflict over water requires better understanding among the water, climate and foreign policy communities, as does using water as an instrument for greater overall cooperation.
Training the respective communities to this effect is a necessary first step. More capable national institutions can directly contribute to more sustainable water management; they can also en- courage national governments to ‘risk cooperation’, as policy makers will feel reassured about their ability to estimate its effects. Climate change is predicted to bring about an increase in the variability of water, adding urgency to the task of building trust and a shared understanding of the challenges in transboundary basins. Building capacity and supporting institutions that are conducive to intra-basin cooperation will require funding. The amounts necessary, however, pale in comparison to the costs of the physical water infrastructure – as well as to the hypothetical cost of the conflicts that they can help to prevent.
This report thus proposes a number of specific instruments of engagement. Yet, as useful as all these instruments could individually be, they depend on an internationally coordinated, cross-sectoral engagement on transboundary water issues – engagement that must be driven by foreign policy makers. In the end, strengthening the governance of transboundary waters hinges on strengthening and connecting the international institutions that can channel political will into coherent action.
Good stuff! Suggestion: for the next publication on hydro-diplomacy, focus on groundwater basins. All the case studies deal with river basins.
"The limited historic evidence for ‘water wars’ should not lead to complacency." - from the publication, page 3