Water has long been a resource taken for granted. As its flow and presence seemed endless, neighboring states sharing access to rivers and lakes often chose to approach water in a utilitarian and competing manner.
But as the deterioration of ecosystems and the effects of climate change increasingly became apparent on this resource thought to be immutable, the realization that water needed to be managed sustainably slowly took hold.
While the UN (Transboundary and International) Water Convention adopted in Helsinki in 1992 currently only gathers 47 countries, its acceptance by the global community ought to be accelerated. Additional to the Convention, and in the age of coalitions, is the need for a Blueprint for “Shared River Basins Peace” through the promotion of sustainable management, tools, and institutions for shared rivers, or, in other words, a renewed and enlarged practice of Hydro-Diplomacy.
Concerning international river basins management, rivalry over access to the resource is the basis of international law. However the very sustainability of the resource implies cooperation across actors, which is paradoxically often domestically implemented within countries that externally fight each other.
Water, and more specifically international rivers and their management should no longer be limited to the single dimension of the quantity of water needed by a country, but addressed in a more holistic way by taking into account the whole river basin in terms of territory, actors and activities from upstream to downstream – something that some river basin organizations are already doing well, a fact that is seldom showcased.
The Senegal River Development Organization (OMVS – Organisation de Mise en Valeur du Fleuve Sénégal), an international organization which has for decades worked towards the peace of river basins across Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, offers as an apt illustration of hydrodiplomacy put in practice.
Read our full Policy Brief here.