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Water Cooperation: A New Agenda for World Water Day This Year

“The World Water Day on March 22nd provides an opportunity for financial institutions to launch new instruments to invest in trans-boundary infrastructure, and for military planners to craft water strategies to counter terrorism,” says Sundeep Waslekar, President of Strategic Foresight Group, an international think tank based in Mumbai.

The Strategic Foresight Group has been associated with the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace which was convened by 15 countries and chaired by Danilo Türk, former President of Slovenia. The Panel proposes measures to use water to reduce the risk of war and contain terrorism, create preferential financial instruments for trans-boundary water infrastructure, and involve top government leaders in advancing water cooperation.

The Global High-Level Panel advocates extending sustainability principles to trans-boundary water management. It proposes Joint Investment Plans and preferential and concessional funding for collaborative projects by multilateral financial organisations. It also recommends a Blue Fund to subsidise interest, insurance premia and administrative costs of cooperative water infrastructure.

Traditional finance supports national infrastructure projects on shared rivers, which often results in disputes with neighbouring countries and cost escalation. It also creates market obstacles. Therefore, the Panel recommends new financial instruments and practices to blend public and private sector finance for cooperative projects such as power plants, irrigation, navigation lines and eco-parks.

These recommendations are supported by the latest research findings in another report of the Strategic Foresight Group. The Water Cooperation Quotient measures the quality of relations in 286 shared river basins from 146 countries. It reveals that active water cooperation between riparian countries reduces the risk of war. The most recent evidence was offered by an agreement between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on March 11, 2018 on the Rogun Dam, which ended twenty years of hostility.

The Water Cooperation Quotient provides a tool for countries sharing water resources to build partnerships in a phased manner. Out of the 286 shared river basins, 91 already enjoy active water cooperation, while 55 are economically insignificant or physically remote. There is much potential to improve trans-boundary cooperation over the remaining 140 rivers. Beginning with technical data exchange, they can gradually expand cooperation to enable political leaders to negotiate trade-offs between water and other public goods. Iraqand Turkey have agreed to build three friendship dams on the Tigris River, in the midst of the violent conflict in the Middle East. This has only been possible because of direct talks between Prime Minister Al Abadi of Iraq and Turkey’s President Erdogan.

Cooperation in managing water can also help contain terrorism. As per reports, last May, the international military coalition took control of Tabqa dam in Syria which was used by the ISIS as a hideout for their leaders and as a prison for high-value hostages. With the loss of this strategic asset, it took only three months for ISIS to surrender. Regional cooperation can make it possible to have water-based ceasefires for protecting dams and other assets in areas affected by violence and terrorism. In order to introduce such measures, the UN Security Council will first need to pass a resolution declaring water as a strategic asset of humanity.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently received reports of the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace , and the Water Cooperation Quotient. He suggested, “Water can link peace and sustainable development.”

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