Access to the world’s shared water resources is inextricably linked to socio-political and economic ‘power dynamics’ that impact hugely on people’s lives and livelihoods. This was one of the key messages of Friends of Europe’s 25 March Policy Insight debate “The ripple effect: water as a tool for peace and sustainable development”.
As we prepare for the “changing of the guard” in the EU “we have a topic that’s so essential for world peace that we should keep it high up on the agenda,” said Shada Islam, Friends of Europe’s Director for Europe & Geopolitics.
With 40% of armed conflicts involving a resource-based stress factor, Head of Division for Economic and Global Issues at the European External Action Service (EEAS) Dominic Porter highlighted that there is growing acknowledgement that water is more than just a development issue. “There is a gradually increasing acceptance that these subjects need to be treated at the highest political level. They contribute to, if not cause, threats to international peace and security,” he said.
Naho Mirumachi, Lead of King’s Water research hub and Senior Lecturer at King’s College London, said it was vital to remember that conflict wasn’t necessarily driven by a lack of water resources. Warning practitioners to beware “the binary trap of thinking of water as a tool for peace or a tool for war”, she suggested that they consider the “socioeconomic power dynamics that make it easy for some people to access water and others to have to bear the burden.”
But while competition over this vital resource can generate friction and conflict, water diplomacy can also be used to help broker peace and cooperation and, crucially, should aim to make a tangible difference to ordinary citizens.
President of the India-based Strategic Foresight Group Sundeep Waslekar set out the three factors which define good practice in transboundary water cooperation: “There is a strong institutional mechanism. There is engagement of political leaders at the highest level. And this institutional structure and the engagement of top political leaders are used to make a real difference for the people.”
Therese Noorlander, Sustainability Director for Europe at The Coca-Cola Company, noted that the private sector also has a role to play in taking a people-centred approach to water resource management, saying that while they “cannot fix the politics, by working on a local level and trying to add value for communities… we can help out and make the right investments that really help build those communities.”
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Event recordingThe ripple effect: Water as a tool for peace and sustainable development
This event is part of our Development Policy Forum (DPF), which brings together a number of important development actors, including the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the United Nations and the World Bank. Reflecting the growing role of the private sector in development, the DPF has now welcomed Coca-Cola and Eni to the forum. The DPF contributes to the global and European conversation on inclusive development. Through its activities and publications, the DPF reflects the rapidly-changing global debate on growth and development and seeks to encourage a multi-stakeholdered, fresh, up-to-date thinking on the multiple challenges facing the development community.
PHOTO CREDIT: lensnmatter/Flickr
Rivers and lakes are natural borders, but also generators of friction. Above all, they are vital resources at the core of sustainable development, a fact highlighted by Agenda 2030. Although too often a cause of conflict, both the UN and the EU have recognised that water can be a tool for peace and cross-border cooperation. Promising to enhance its diplomatic engagement on water, the EU last November warned against “the use of water as a weapon of war” and the link between global water-related risks and migration. Many countries have seen the value of transboundary water cooperation: the Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan for example is often cited as an example of how resources can be used to prevent conflict. Will this remain the case? And with water competition worsening tensions in the Middle East, and Ethiopia’s construction of Africa’s largest dam on the Nile causing acrimony with its neighbours, particularly Egypt, is water now more a source of confrontation rather than cooperation?
• Which are the best examples of countries using water as a tool of peace instead of as a weapon of war?
• There are many existing examples of transboundary water cooperation: what works and what doesn’t?
• Is the EU practicing what it preaches on water diplomacy both within and outside of the Union?
Lead of King’s Water research hub and Senior Lecturer in Geography at King's College London
Sustainability Director for Europe at The Coca-Cola Company
Head of Division for Economic and Global Issues at the European External Action Service (EEAS)
President of the Strategic Foresight Group
Moderated by Shada
Director for Europe & Geopolitics at Friends of Europe
An expert on the politics and governance of water resources, Naho Mirumachi leads King’s Water, an interdisciplinary research hub on water, environment and development. She also co-chairs the Water Governance core group of the Sustainable Water Futures Programme of Future Earth and has experience in training policymakers on water security and water cooperation. The author of Transboundary Water Politics in the Developing World and co-author of Understanding Water Conflicts: Analysis for Transformation, Mirumachi served as lead author on freshwater policy for the 2019 UN Environment Global Environment Outlook-6 report.
Therese Noorlander is responsible for driving The Coca-Cola Company’s corporate sustainability agenda in Europe and works together with Coca-Cola’s bottling partners to ensure that her organisation meets the sustainability commitments of the company’s Western European This is Forward strategy. Noorlander has experience in both the public and private sector, having previously worked at Heineken, Nutricia Advanced Medical Nutrition, Pfizer and the Dutch Ministry of Health.
Dominic Porter’s experience in the European institutions goes back over 20 years. During this time he has served in London, Brussels, New York and as Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to the UN and other International Organisations in Geneva. Having started his EU career working on trade policy – including on the negotiation of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) – he went on to work as an advisor and speechwriter to former European Commissioner Chris Patten. Porter later served in the Middle East department where he was responsible for relations with Iran, Iraq, Yemen and the Gulf States.
Sundeep Waslekar leads the Strategic Foresight Group, an India-based think tank that has worked with governments and institutions of 60 countries across four continents to create new policy concepts in conflict resolution, water diplomacy and global foresight. He has been involved in diplomatic exercises to find common ground in the times of crisis and has facilitated dialogue between Indian and Pakistani decision-makers, as well as water authorities in Africa and the Middle East. Waslekar is the creator of the Blue Peace Framework and the Water Cooperation Quotient and is also Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflicts at Oxford University’s Harris Manchester College.
Shada Islam is responsible for policy oversight of Friends of Europe’s initiatives, activities and publications. She has special responsibility for issues related to the Future of Europe, Migration, the Asia Programme and the Development Policy Forum. Shada is Visiting Professor at the College of Europe (Natolin) where she teaches Asia-Europe relations and has been selected as a fellow by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). She has been named as one of twenty most influential women in Brussels by Politico. Shada is the former Europe correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and has previously worked on Asian and Migration issues at the European Policy Centre. She is one of the authors of Friends of Europe’s much-read “Frankly Speaking” commentary and is sought after as a speaker, commentator, columnist and moderator at high-level European and global events. Shada also continues to write on EU foreign and security policy, EU-Asia relations and trade and development issues for leading Asian, European and international publications and academic journals.
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