Nature and Biodiversity

The importance of water cooperation

Magda Mis
Production Editor, Thomson Reuters Foundation
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Governments in water ‘hotspots’ need to scale up cooperation over shared water resources to avoid ‘drastic’ consequences such as international conflicts, the United Nations University (UNU) said on Friday.

The importance of water cooperation in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East, where hundreds of millions of people depend on shared resources, is growing as climate change increasingly affects water availability, UNU said in a report.

“Water challenges are going to increase as a result of climate change and increasing population, so cooperation remains critical,” Zafar Adeel, director of the Institute for Water, Environment and Health (INWEH) at UNU, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview from Hamilton, Canada.

More than half the world’s population depends for drinking water on rivers that flow from the Himalayan glaciers, which are melting at an accelerating pace, the UNU-INWEH report on water cooperation said.

Faster-melting glaciers cause increased flooding, dry spells are more unpredictable, and cooperation is vital between countries affected by these changes, the report said.

Adeel said there would be “quite drastic” consequences if neighbouring countries did not cooperate more closely over shared water resources and give a higher priority to water issues in general.

“Part of the problem is that many of the ‘hotspots’ don’t even have agreements,” Adeel said.

Although more than 200 water treaties have been negotiated between countries over the past 50 years, there are no agreements on how to manage 60 percent of the world’s 276 transboundary rivers, the report said.

Adeel said he was optimistic about governments understanding it was better for all to cooperate over water rather than fight over it.

“I think the political leadership and governments see the economic and political benefits in cooperation,” he said.

The new set of targets adopted by the United Nations last week, the Sustainable Development Goals, which include ending poverty, combating climate change and improving water management, offer a good starting point for future international negotiations, Adeel said.

The U.N. climate summit in Paris, starting on Nov. 30, should make water a central point in a new deal to curb global warming because adaptation to climate change largely means adapting to worsening floods and droughts, Adeel said.

“For the society, what really is important is what happens to our water,” he said. “We must consider water as part of the whole climate change adaptation agenda.”

This article is published in collaboration with Thomson Reuters Foundation trust.org. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Magda Mis is a Thomson Reuters Foundation correspondent.

Image: A drought-related cactus installation. REUTERS/Nacho Doce.

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