By Henk van Schaik, UPEACE Centre The Hague
Water is a public good and is a limited cyclical natural resource that if demand exceeds availability (quantity and quality) needs to be fairly allocated and wisely used if conflict is to be avoided. Increasing demand because of population increases and economic development, increasing wastewater flows due to domestic and industrial use and pollution, and hydrological cycle changes due to phenomena like climate change, increases uncertainties in its future availability and quality. On 23rd of July 2013 the Council of European Union declared in a special press communiqué on water that “During the next decade, tensions and conflicts over access to water are likely to become more frequent and could endanger stability and security in many parts of the world”. In this light, the view that “water is mostly a shared resource that can be a catalyst for cooperation if we work together” (Kofi Annan, January 2002) may need revisiting in the coming decades. While this view maintains its aspiration, its realization will require stepping up of the efforts among all stakeholders towards cooperation.
In addition to the availability of water resources, important factors determining water conflicts are the socio-economic conditions and the political context. In practice, water related conflicts are dealt with through informed processes of demand, negotiation, mediation and conciliation. Managing these processes is the field of Water Diplomacy. .
Water diplomacy nowadays is more than official discussions involving high- level political and military leaders, known as Type 1 diplomacy. Other types of diplomacy are: unofficial dialogues and problem-solving activities aimed at building relationships (Type 2); or the buildup of people-to-people relationships at grassroots level undertaken by individuals and private groups. (Type 3). The combination of these three types is known as “Multitrack diplomacy”.
On the 14th and 15th of November 2013, the Water Diplomacy Consortium (The Hague Institute for Global Justice/Clingendael Institute for Foreign Relations, UNESCO-IHE, UPEACE Centre The Hague, and the Water Governance Centre) supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will organize a high level international Working Conference on Water Security and Peace, that will focus on Water Diplomacy. The Conference will be held in the Peace Palace, The Hague, as part of its centennial celebration.
The two day conference on “Water Security and Peace” will bring together water specialists (lawyers, technical experts, water managers, policy makers), politicians and diplomats, with the intention to create a learning moment for Water Diplomacy practitioners at local, regional and global levels. The conference will compile experiences in water diplomacy and launch an international hub of experts in water diplomacy to contribute to resolve water related conflicts through negotiation, mediation and conciliation. The conference outcomes will be published in the The Hague Papers for Water Diplomacy.