Prince Hassan writes: Water Cooperation for a Secure World

On November 28th, 2013, HRH Prince Hassan will be officially launching the new Strategic Foresight Group report “Water Cooperation for a Secure World” in Amman, Jordan. The following article is a curtain raiser to the launch and discusses key messages from the report:


By El Hassan bin Talal and Sundeep Waslekar

 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has repeatedly emphasised the need to explore the linkage between water, peace and security. Now, new research by Strategic Foresight Group demonstrates that he has been right to do so. Empirical evidence in 148 countries and 205 shared river basins indicates that any two nations that are engaged in active water cooperation do not go to war.

Of the 148 countries covered by the report, Water Cooperation for a Secure World, 37 are at the risk of going to war over issues other than water, including land, religion, history and ideology. These also happen to be precisely the 37 countries which do not engage in active water cooperation with their neighbours.

The good news is that more than 100 of those countries which promote water cooperation in both letter and practice also enjoy peaceful and secure relationships with their neighbouring countries. Water and peace are interdependent.

Nonetheless, and despite the growing international consensus in the international community on the significance of water as an instrument of cooperation (as reflected in the UN’s designation of 2013 as the Year of Water Cooperation), many analysts continue to project water as a source of potential conflict. It is true that lakes, rivers and glaciers around the world are shrinking.  Growing pressures of population, economic growth, urbanisation, climate change and deforestation can further deplete water resources, thus causing social and economic upheavals, but this need not be so.

Active water cooperation can help overcome environmental challenges and usher in a new era of peace, trust and security. Beyond the essential legal agreements, active cooperation also requires sustained institutions of trans-boundary cooperation; joint investment programmes; collective management of water related infrastructure; a system for regularly and jointly monitoring water flows together with a shared vision of the best allocation of water resources between agriculture and other sectors; and, a forum for frequent interaction between top decision makers. An institutional infrastructure should enable political leaders to discuss exchanges between water and other public goods such as transit, national security or large public works.  The underlying emphasis must be placed on harnessing the benefits of a river, rather than on squabbling about the shares of depleting flows.

The new Strategic Foresight Group report introduces the Water Cooperation Quotient (WCQ) which measures the effectiveness and intensity of trans-boundary cooperation in water using the parameters mentioned above. The 37 countries that face the risk of war happen to have a WCQ below 33.33 in value.

Many parts of the world witness active water cooperation between riparian countries. In the Senegal River basin in West Africa, an autonomous body which is independent from any state owns the dams. In Latin America, the waters of Lake Titicaca are considered joint and indivisible by Peru and Bolivia. In the Mekong basin, flow data is harmonised among the lower riparian countries, while the upper riparian countries, China and Myanmar, are dialogue partners. The Rhine, Danube and Sava River basins, as well as Lake Constance in Europe and the Colorado River between the United States and Mexico are all jointly managed on a daily basis. These countries all enjoy peaceful and stable relations.

The benefits of active water cooperation, both in terms of economic growth and in previously unknown levels of peace, as evidenced in both the developed and parts of the developing world such as Central America, West Africa, and Southeast Asia should not be denied to West Asia or other regions. Such cooperation however is premised on an intellectual framework for cooperation, rather than confrontation, or the “Blue Peace way of thinking” where water is seen as an instrument of collaboration rather than a cause of crisis.

We have together developed the Blue Peace approach, in a process supported by the Swiss and Swedish governments over the last three and half years.  It entails the development of a community of political leaders, parliamentarians, government officials, media leaders, and experts from regions facing political discord, to encourage the use of water to promote peace and the protection and enhancement of the human environment. Such a community can pave the way in establishing regional cooperation councils for the sustainable management of trans-boundary waters to facilitate joint monitoring of water flows; to harmonise standards to measure water and climate indicators; to negotiate joint investment plans in water related large projects; and, to discuss exchanges between water and other public goods. This can result in the improvement of the WCQ to a level higher than 33.33 in Asia and Africa. Indeed we urge all countries to use the WCQ to assess their own performance with regards to their cooperation with neighbours and thereby to enhance the prospects of peace and security for themselves.

It is our profound hope that together we can begin the process of implementing the Blue Peace framework across the world by crafting institutional instruments, globally acceptable legal regimes, dialogue mechanisms and a worldwide Blue Peace network.  If we take a few steps in this direction this year, the proclamation of 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation will prove to be meaningful.

HRH Prince Hassan bin Talal is the Chair of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation. Sundeep Waslekar is the President of Strategic Foresight Group.

About bwardam

Mr Batir Wardam is a Jordanian environmentalist with professional experience in disciplines of natural resource management, environmental policies and communication. He has a 15 years working experience with national academic institutions, NGOs, the government of Jordan and international and regional environmental organizations including UNDP, UNEP and IUCN. Mr Wardam is currently working with UNDP as a project manager for the third national communication report on climate change in Jordan.
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2 Responses to Prince Hassan writes: Water Cooperation for a Secure World

  1. Prince Hassan writes: Water Cooperation for a Secure World | Arab Environment Watch mulberry sale

  2. Ahmad Abdel-Fattah

    An improvement in Jordan water stress status- but not because of the prevailing Storm Alexa (Dec 2013), according to a new global water stress level ranking study by WRI.

    In the study that used a scale of five water stress level rankings, 19 countries scored 5 – “the highest water risk” –the first level in the ranking-(Jordan is NOT amongst them…..Good news!!!)

    The top five countries of score 5 (Level One) are the Western Sahara, United Arab Emirates, Trinidad and Tobago, Singapore and San Marino (by chance they are 5 countries !!!).

    But 37 countries scored between 4-5, “extremely high” –the second level of water stress in the ranking, all face extremely high level of water shortage and accompanying stress (unfortunately, Jordan, with a score of 4.6, is one of them, which ranked 28 in the whole list if we use the overall average score ( i.e., as a standalone point rank-. i.e., the score 5 is rank one, the next score, even if 5, is rank 2, etc, then Jordan will be put in rank 28 in order in the whole rankings) – ironically sharing the same score, also 4.6, with Occupied Palestine (labeled as West Bank in the ranking ) which ranked, in order, 27, one order more stressed than Jordan.

    However, if we use the figure “point” score category ranking (i.e., countries of same figure or point score are considered one category regardless of order in the whole list and regardless of the big scale of five level brackets) then Jordan is amongst countries of the Fifth point score category rank.

    1. Jordan is NOT among the countries scored 5 – “the highest water risk” –or the first scale level in the ranking.
    2. Jordan fall among countries scored between 4-5, “extremely high” –or the second level of water stress in the ranking, with a score of 4.6,
    3. Jordan ranked 28 in the whole list if we use the overall average score, ironically sharing the same score, also 4.6, with Occupied Palestine, which ranked 27, in order, one order more water stressed than Jordan.
    4. Jordan fall in the fifth point score category ranking of water stressed countries

    The study link

    WRI creates first-ever global water stress rankings by country

    WASHINGTON — The rankings found that 37 countries face “extremely high” levels of water stress.

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