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From talk to action: new paradigm for shared water

About the blog

Hassan Tolba Aboelnga
Dr. Hassan Aboelnga is a renowned professional in issues of water security, climate change and sustainable development. He is Chair of Urban Water Security WG at International Water Resources Association and Vice Chair of Middle East Water Forum.
  • From talk to action: new paradigm for shared water
  • Around 10,000 participants from different parts of the world gathered at the UN 2023 Water Conference to discuss urgent action needed to address the global water crisis and ensure water security for all.
  • Over 700 commitments were generated towards achieving a water-secure world by accelerating progress across all Sustainable Development Goals.
  • The commitments are now part of the Water Action Agenda, and the global community is determined to address water challenges through a more coordinated and results-driven approach, including the appointment of a Special Envoy on Water.

The UN 2023 Water Conference brought together around 10,000 participants to discuss urgent action needed to address the water crisis and ensure water security for all. The conference generated over 700 commitments towards achieving a water-secure world by accelerating progress across all SDGs. UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted key game-changers to achieve this, and commitments generated are now part of the Water Action Agenda. The global community is determined to address water challenges through a more coordinated and results-driven approach, with follow-up steps under consideration, including the appointment of a Special Envoy on Water.

Today, the world is off track to achieve all water-related sustainable development goals, and there is a need for a new paradigm for shared waters to resolve conflicts and address the water crisis. The current system of water management is often fragmented and based on a sectoral approach, which fails to address the interconnections between water, food, energy, and ecosystems. Additionally, the current system often fails to recognize the rights and interests of all stakeholders, including women, youth, indigenous peoples, and marginalized communities.

Conflicts over transboundary waters are a common problem in many parts of the world. These conflicts arise when two or more countries share a water resource, such as a river or an aquifer, and have different interests or needs for that water resource. Conflicts over transboundary waters often arise due to various reasons, including unequal access to shared water resources, drought and water scarcity, large-scale development projects such as dams or irrigation schemes that impact downstream countries, and the exacerbation of water scarcity due to climate change resulting in more frequent and severe droughts and floods.

Today, the world is off track to achieve all water-related sustainable development goals, and there is a need for a new paradigm for shared waters

A new paradigm for water management should prioritize cooperation, equity, and sustainability, and involve recognizing water as a shared resource, adopting an integrated water resources management approach, promoting transboundary cooperation, and adopting conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms based on dialogue, negotiation, and mediation. This includes legal frameworks that recognize the rights and interests of all stakeholders in water management and the development of joint water management mechanisms to facilitate dialogue and cooperation between neighboring countries.

The United Nations Special Envoy on Water can help prevent and resolve conflicts over shared waters by taking several steps. These include recognizing the importance of shared waters for peace and cooperation, promoting international law and principles, encouraging dialogue and cooperation, providing technical and political support, addressing underlying drivers of conflict, developing early warning systems, promoting inclusion of marginalized groups, encouraging regional cooperation, fostering partnerships with non-state actors, monitoring the implementation of agreements, utilizing mediation and dispute resolution mechanisms, supporting capacity building efforts, strengthening monitoring and reporting mechanisms, encouraging transparency and information sharing, developing financing mechanisms, and strengthening international cooperation on water management.

These steps can help create a more favorable negotiating environment, build trust and confidence between conflicting parties, and promote sustainable and equitable management of shared water resources.

The Roadmap for the New Paradigm

Resolving conflicts over shared waters requires a multifaceted and holistic approach that considers the complex social, economic, and environmental factors at play. Such an approach should involve:

  • Foster trust and dialogue: Trust is a crucial element in resolving conflicts, and building trust between conflicting parties can help move towards a resolution. This can involve promoting dialogue, building personal relationships between key individuals, and fostering a sense of mutual understanding and respect.
  • Use scientific data: Scientific data and analysis can help provide objective information about the shared water resources, which can be helpful in identifying potential solutions and building consensus around management approaches.
  • Address underlying issues: Sometimes, conflicts over shared waters are symptomatic of deeper political or economic issues. Addressing these underlying issues may be necessary to find a lasting resolution.
  • Involve civil society: Civil society organizations, such as environmental groups, can play an important role in resolving conflicts over shared waters. They can provide a platform for dialogue, advocate for the interests of marginalized groups, and help build public support for solutions.
  • Create a dispute resolution mechanism: Creating a dispute resolution mechanism can provide a structured process for resolving conflicts over shared waters. This mechanism can include processes for mediation, arbitration, and adjudication.
  • Address power imbalances: Power imbalances between the conflicting parties can make it difficult to find a resolution. Addressing these imbalances, such as through development aid or capacity building, can help level the playing field and create a more equitable negotiating environment.
  • Share benefits: Sharing the benefits of the shared waters can create incentives for cooperation and help build trust between the parties. This can include sharing water resources, infrastructure, and economic benefits.
  • Use a phased approach: Resolving a long-standing conflict over shared waters can be a complex and time-consuming process. Using a phased approach that breaks down the process into smaller, more manageable steps can help build momentum and make the process more feasible.
  • Emphasize the long-term benefits: Resolving a conflict over shared waters can have long-term benefits for the parties involved, including improved economic opportunities, increased regional stability, and better environmental outcomes. Emphasizing these long-term benefits can help create buy-in and support for the resolution process.
  • Incorporate local knowledge: Local knowledge and traditional practices can provide important insights into the use and management of shared waters. Incorporating local knowledge into the resolution process can help create more effective and sustainable solutions.
  • Address climate change: Climate change is likely to exacerbate conflicts over shared waters, as changing precipitation patterns and increased water demand can put pressure on water resources. Addressing the impacts of climate change on shared waters can help create more resilient and sustainable management regimes.
  • Use economic incentives: Economic incentives, such as payment for ecosystem services or subsidies for water-efficient technologies, can create incentives for sustainable water use and reduce conflicts over water resources.
  • Establish a monitoring and evaluation system: A monitoring and evaluation system can help track progress towards resolution and identify any areas where adjustments may be needed. This can help ensure that the resolution process remains on track and that any emerging issues are addressed in a timely manner.
  • Involve international organizations: International organizations, such as the United Nations or the World Bank, can provide technical expertise, financial support, and political support to the resolution process. Involving these organizations can help create a more favorable negotiating environment and provide a neutral forum for discussions.
  • Consider alternative dispute resolution: Alternative dispute resolution methods, such as negotiation, mediation, or facilitation, can provide a more collaborative and flexible approach to resolving conflicts over shared waters. These methods can help create a win-win outcome that benefits all parties involved.
  • Build capacity: Building capacity among the conflicting parties, such as through training, education, or technical assistance, can help create a more informed and effective negotiating environment. This can help build trust and confidence in the resolution process and improve the chances of success.
  • Address water-related security risks: In some cases, conflicts over shared waters can pose a security risk, particularly in regions where water resources are scarce. Addressing these security risks, such as through conflict prevention or early warning systems, can help reduce tensions and create a more stable negotiating environment.
  • Involve civil society: Civil society, such as NGOs, community groups, and academics, can provide valuable perspectives on the use and management of shared waters. Involving civil society can help create a more inclusive and participatory resolution process and ensure that the interests of all stakeholders are represented.
  • Use a gender-sensitive approach: Women and men may have different roles, knowledge, and interests when it comes to water management. Using a gender-sensitive approach can help ensure that the needs and perspectives of both women and men are considered in the resolution process.
  • Address historical and cultural factors: Conflicts over shared waters may be rooted in historical or cultural factors, such as colonialism or religious differences. Addressing these underlying factors can help create a more nuanced understanding of the conflict and facilitate a more effective resolution process.
  • Develop a communication strategy: Effective communication is crucial for building trust and understanding between conflicting parties. Developing a communication strategy that includes regular updates, clear messaging, and a range of communication channels can help create a more open and transparent resolution process.

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