Finite Flow, Infinite Impact – Uniting Borders for Peaceful Cooperation

Every year 22 March is marked as World Water Day, an international day to put water in the spotlight. For good or for bad. The good is, as we all know, water is still the most valuable resource in the world. Water sustains life, ecosystems, and economies. The bad, water is increasingly polluted with chemicals and microplastics, over-used and under-funded in terms of agricultural and industrial practices, and with climate change the tendency is for more extremes, either too much (flooding) or too little (droughts). As such the theme for World Water Day 2024 being ‘Water for Peace’ is a welcome focus, as with so many challenges versus so many needs, the risk for more conflict is real, yet the chance for restoration, peace and collaboration is fully attainable.

James Dalton, Head, Water and Land Management Team and Alejandro Iza, Head, Environmental Law Centre

In our experience, World Water Day with a focus on peace should be celebrated. Focusing on water peace underscores the significance of cooperation and conflict resolution in managing water resources, especially in regions where water scarcity or disputes over water access can lead to tensions or even conflicts. We can acknowledge the many efforts made towards ensuring equitable access, promoting cooperation, and implementing sustainable water management practices. It is an opportunity to highlight success stories, initiatives, solutions and innovations aimed at resolving water-related conflicts and fostering peaceful co-existence.

Yes, we need to recognize that challenges related to water scarcity, pollution, and access persist in many parts of the world. Over 3 billion people worldwide rely on water that flows over or under international boundaries. However, of the 153 countries sharing rivers, lakes, and aquifers with neighbouring nations, only 24 have documented cooperation agreements encompassing all shared water resources. Therefore, while celebrating achievements, it is also essential to use World Water Day as a platform to raise awareness about ongoing issues and advocate for continued efforts towards sustainable water management and peacebuilding.

In discussions surrounding water sustainability a recurrent theme has always been the use of water as a catalyst for peace and prosperity. This concept aligns with the objectives of IUCN’s BRIDGE programme which focuses on fostering dialogue and governance among nations and regions sharing transboundary rivers. By recognizing water as a common denominator rather than a source of conflict, the theme of water for peace resonates profoundly with our work.

In the Mekong River Basin, IUCN has played a pivotal role in bringing together stakeholders from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam to discuss equitable water distribution and sustainable management practices. Through sustained dialogue and collaborative decision-making processes, we have helped to build trust and foster goodwill, contributing to regional stability and peace.

In Lake Titicaca, where we have worked for over twelve years, we have focused on empowering women in local communities and equip them with tools and financing to improve the governance of water shared between Bolivia and Peru. Once worshipped by the Incas who proclaimed its deep blue waters were the birthplace of the sun, Lake Titicaca suffers from pollution due to untreated sewage, dumping from mining sites and solid waste, agricultural and industrial run-off.  BRIDGE has been instrumental in establishing frameworks and mechanisms for water cooperation within transboundary river basins in Peru. Providing a platform for joint problem-solving and resource-sharing supports countries in the prevention of tension over water resources, and promotes regional stability through peaceful cooperation.

Our work under the Shared Waters Cooperation Facility exemplifies the practical application of the water for peace theme through its efforts in facilitating dialogue and cooperation among nations sharing river basins.  We have focussed on mobilizing financial resources for the implementation of benefit-sharing practices within transboundary river basins. In the Buzi-Pungwe-Save basins, we have supported countries to secure funding from the GEF and others for joint projects aimed at improving water quality, enhancing ecosystem services, and promoting sustainable development among riparian nations. By demonstrating the economic benefits of cooperation and collective action, the project has enhanced capacity for improved water cooperation between Zimbabwe and Mozambique, supporting long-term peace and prosperity in the region.

With over fifteen years of experience, our work on transboundary cooperation serves as a prime example of how the theme of water for peace can be translated into tangible actions and outcomes. Through its efforts in facilitating dialogue, establishing cooperative frameworks, and mobilizing financial resources, we support countries and stakeholders to make significant strides in promoting water cooperation and stability in transboundary river basins, ultimately contributing to regional peace and sustainable development.

IUCN (2020). Sharing the benefits from river basin management. From theory to practice. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN
BRIDGE 5 Flyer

Visual Stories:
The IUCN BRIDGE programme
Enhancing capacity for improved water cooperation between Zimbabwe and Mozambique
Supporting water cooperation between Kenya and Uganda: The Sio-Malaba-Malakisi Basin
Lake Titicaca: Empowering women and improving water governance



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La Agencia Suiza para el Desarrollo y la Cooperación (COSUDE) es la entidad encargada de la cooperación internacional dentro del Departamento Federal de Asuntos Exteriores (DFAE). Con otras oficinas de la Confederación, la COSUDE es responsable de la coordinación general de la cooperación para el desarrollo y de la cooperación con los Países del Este, así como de los programas de ayuda humanitaria suizos.