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Why Does the Need for Water Diplomacy Become Significant?

In today’s times, climate change has grabbed the attention of the world. With climate change, the severity and frequency of extreme events like drought and flood have increased. The water quality has been degraded for example, saltwater seeping into the coastal aquifers, rising sea levels, and the increase of toxin in drying rivers.  However, the water bodies are shared by two or more countries which often leads to conflict. The competition and dispute over the shared waters require diplomacy between countries. Here, we will discuss the need for water diplomacy in shaping world politics. 

What Is Water Diplomacy?

Water diplomacy is the use of diplomatic tools including negotiations, dialogues, collaboration, and cooperation between a variety of stakeholders including states, organizations, and various communities to find solutions to the dispute on shared freshwater resources. Water diplomacy aims to reduce and resolve shared water resource disagreements to promote peace, cooperation, and regional stability. 

70.9% of the earth’s surface is covered by water. It is a source of food and the agriculture is based on water. Water transportation is the optimum way of moving large products through long distances. Cargo is transported by ships via seas, lakes, rivers, and canals. Hydropower is a form of energy that produces low-cost clean electricity and is also dependent upon water. This shows the economic significance of water as an energy source and a natural wealth. So, water becomes a source of dispute among nations. The government needs foreign policy and effective water diplomacy to cooperate over the shared waters and lower the risk of conflict on freshwater between stakeholders. 

Aspects of Water Diplomacy 

There are five key aspects of water diplomacy, The following are; Political, Cooperative, Preventive, Technical, and Integrative. 

1. Political Aspect

The political aspect involves a political process that extends far above water basin boundaries, an integral part of geopolitics, and a wider diplomatic backdrop. This occurs between different stakeholders with various conflicting interests. This includes geopolitics, regional cooperation, hydropolitics, and foreign policy.

2. Cooperative Aspect

This aspect of water diplomacy promotes cooperation, shared benefits of water, and the idea of transboundary water cooperation. It values communication, benefit-sharing approaches, sustainability, international agreements, and the willingness of states to cooperate on the socially just use of shared fresh waters. 

3. Preventive Aspect

The preventive aspect of water diplomacy includes approaches for conflict resolution, peace mediation, mitigation, and conflict prevention between states and other stakeholders over water disputes to promote regional stability and peace. This involves preventive diplomacy and the normative foundation of water diplomacy.

4. Technical Aspect

This aspect provides the basic information on water diplomacy focusing on the physical substance and resources that generate the hydrological cycle. This includes the allocation and use of water, water availability, hydrological model and impact assessments, and water timing, quality, and quantity.

5. Integrative Aspect

The integrative aspect of water diplomacy connects and integrates different levels and types of institutions as well as different types of knowledge. This includes integrative diplomacy, multi-track diplomacy, knowledge Co-production, and Integrated Water Resources Management.

Levels of Water Diplomacy

Water diplomacy is seen by some academicians as the subject of government relations and cooperation among riparian countries. However, the majority of the academicians see water diplomacy operates on multiple levels. They are; the international level, national level, regional level, and the local level. Hence, these different levels are processes in the transboundary water basin. Water diplomacy is not a subject of only governmental relations between states; rather it is the cooperation between the border districts and the local users of water in a transboundary basin. This also includes the local water governance processes and the domestic water conflicts. Some policy papers show the coherence between the sub-state actors and global water diplomacy processes. Also, water diplomacy integrates to different levels including intra-state and local conflict management and resolution.  

According to the scholars from the Tufts Water Diplomacy Program, Water diplomacy is;

“The process of defining and resolving water issues at every level from the design of a small-scale sanitation system in a village, to the development of a contested hydroelectric facility in one region of a country, to formal treaty negotiations among different nations.”

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Water Diplomacy Path Approaches 

Water Diplomacy Path (WDP) is a four-step approach for analyzing the given context of water diplomacy and recognizing significant water diplomacy actions. The approach emphasized both water-related political tensions and issues as well as related mitigative and preventive actions to stimulate thinking and enhance the present transboundary water cooperation actions.  so,  the approach demonstrates particularly close connectivity with the Preventive and Political components of water diplomacy. The following four steps are; 

  • Key Themes and Actors
  • Current State
  • Key Drivers and Scenarios
  • Water Diplomacy Actions

1. Key Themes and Actors

The first step of the water diplomacy path approach is to identify the key themes and actors in the context of water diplomacy. This step is built on facilitating a stakeholder process that uses engagement and identification methods of established stakeholders such as social network analysis and knowledge mapping which would ensure great participation from various actors. However, in some circumstances, given actors for example; the River Basin Organization defined the including and excluding process of the actual actors and themes in the water diplomacy. In such cases, the key theme and actors are based on the existing regional agreements on the shared water.

2. Current State

The second step of the water diplomacy path is to analyze the current state of the given context of water diplomacy building on the actors and themes recognized in the first step. This considers the past trends related to the use of water, infrastructure development of a state, and wider political relations among riparian states. This prior knowledge increases the understanding of the existing circumstances and assists in framing alternative paths for the future. 

This step includes bringing the existing data together and the comparative analysis of the existing studies. The joint technical experts or working groups carried out this analysis and built the analysis on the joint fact-finding process. So, the impact assessment tests and models based on the given knowledge play an important role in transboundary settings.  

3. Key Drivers and Scenarios

The key drivers and related scenarios in the third step include both positive views which are desired and negative, the undesired views on the future. Based on the differing national interests of states in the context of water diplomacy, this step includes debates on the significant water-relevant tensions. Hence, this stage also entails explicit analysis of undesirable, adverse drivers and associated “conflict scenarios” (stage 3), preceding a series of strategies that might be taken to lessen and avoid such tensions. So, step 3 emphasizes the explorative and predictive scenarios provided by the current state and future drivers and developments. 

4. Water Diplomacy Actions

Step 4 of the water diplomacy path approach is to identify the possible water diplomacy actions recognized from step 3 (key drivers and future scenarios). The actions envisioned mutually beneficial activities, and strengthened and promoted positive relations between states, easing political tensions due to water-related problems. The actions include both the key diplomacy processes and the knowledge-making process related to water. This guarantees water diplomacy and considers political track and technical ways of water diplomacy.

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Regional Transboundary Water Dialogues: Water Diplomacy In Action

Water diplomacy in action allows states and other stakeholders to pay attention to the challenges related to water management at first, then facilitate and promote broad consensus and general agreement to ensure cooperation and collaboration to overcome such difficulties and challenges. The following are some notable efforts at the regional and basin level; 

1) SADC Multi-Stakeholder Water Dialogue 2007

The South African Development Community (SADC) Multi-Stakeholder Water Dialogue region-wide effort was hosted by the SADC Directorate of Infrastructure in 2007. The dialogue brought water policy decision-makers, and practitioners from their respective sectors to develop a debate on the regional development challenges, specifically, the water-food-energy nexus.  Activities performed in the development of dialogue have contributed to starting the SADC framework for nexus investments and governance, fostering a regional strategy for integrated planning, as well as assisting in adopting the SADC Business Plan on Youth Participation and Empowerment for Sustainable Development 2015-2020, through youth participation as a distinct tool for cross-sectoral response.

2) Drin Dialogue 2008

The Drin Dialogue was started in 2008 and formally came into force in 2009 representing a multi-stakeholder process for the development of a common vision for the long-term sustainability of the Drin River basin. This regional water dialogue has made several advancements on the basin level. For instance, the signing of MoUs on Drin basin management between riparian states, enhancement of cooperation and collaboration, several successful nexus evaluations, and adoption of public participation plans (Sava River Basin). These activities led to identifying solutions that could be executed in the regional basins. 

3) Brahmaputra Dialogue 2013

The Brahmaputra Dialogue is a multilateral dialogue started in 2013 by the South Asian Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies (SaciWATERs). It is a basin-broad dialogue, which aims to improve cooperation, neutrality, and transparency over the transboundary Brahmaputra River.  Initially, the dialogue was focused on a bilateral exchange between Bangladesh and  India and has subsequently expanded to the other two riparian Bhutan and China to the Brahmaputra River. This dialogue brought civil society actors from academia and NGOs and has included governments on the national, local, and sub-national levels. 

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The world has been facing crucial water-related problems due to changing weather patterns, water pollution, and the overuse of water. Water is very essential for the socio-economic development of all the states. The shared freshwater creates competition and problems between states, these problems can be related to industry, agriculture, environmental conservation, or urban developers. To resolve these issues, governments require water diplomacy and effective diplomats to resolve disputes between states. Best Diplomats is a leading non-profit international diplomatic organization conducting international diplomatic conferences worldwide to spread knowledge of diplomacy, foreign affairs, and other current international relations. 

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In conclusion, water diplomacy is the type of diplomacy that acknowledges water-related problems and takes into account the transboundary water governance and policies to ensure regional peace., security, and stability. This emphasizes the political and technical process to negotiate, mediate, facilitate, and arbitrate water dialogues between countries and different stakeholders to ensure the water and food security on the shared freshwater among states. Diplomats also create awareness of the implicit and explicit normative assumptions about sustainable and equitable outcomes beyond the water sector. 


What is the concept of water diplomacy? 

Water diplomacy which is also known as hydro diplomacy is a branch of diplomacy and foreign relations that includes the use of diplomatic tools and instruments to promote peace and security on the shared water sources, as well as sound competition and conflict between states on the water-related issues. 

What are the benefits of water diplomacy?

Water diplomacy is beneficial in resolving disputes and competition between states over shared water bodies through peaceful means including the development of dialogues, negotiations, arbitration, cooperation, collaboration, mediations, sharing knowledge, joint agreements, and capacity development. 

What are the causes of the global water crisis?

The major causes of the water crisis are the changing weather patterns, overuse of water, lack of infrastructure, and water pollution. These are the drivers of water scarcity.

What are the global treaties for water?

The unique international treaty for water is The Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention). The treaty aims to guarantee the sustainable use of transboundary water resources through cooperation and collaboration between states.

How does water diplomacy benefit a country?

Water diplomacy is very critical for the socio-economic development, food security, healthy ecosystem, and energy production of a country. 

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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