Shared waters: conflict or cooperation?

More than 150 participants from Latin America and Europe joined this virtual seminar, demonstrating that integrated transboundary water resources management is an increasingly important topic on cooperation agendas.

On August 23, the virtual seminar “Aguas compartidas ¿conflicto o cooperación? (Shared Waters: Conflict or Cooperation?)” was held with the aim of sharing success stories to highlight how cooperation can be the key to good governance, particularly in transboundary river basins, as opposed to water conflict, which can be a challenge for regional integration.

Six international speakers, including academics, cooperation project managers, and directors of transboundary river basin organizations, shared their experiences with the audience, in addition to reviewing the theory of the origins of conflicts over shared water in South America.

Among them is Verónica Cors, Doctor(c) in Law from the University of Navarra, who explained the factors that can lead to a conflict over shared waters, which can be related to:

  1. Distribution of quantity and volume,
  2. Water monitoring and quality,
  3. Changes in natural availability,
  4. Uncertainty and lack of validated information about the course of water and its social environment, and
  5. Absence of joint management schemes.

“The emotional and spiritual aspects [of water conflicts] are the closest to the basin’s base, and through them, local regional synergies can be generated. While the physical and mental dimensions are generally developed from central power and, in many cases, disconnected from the reality of the basins, in addition to carrying forward the prior antagonisms of the nation-states.”

Verónica Cors

Martín Guillermo, Secretary-General of the Association of European Border Regions (Asociación de Regiones Fronterizas Europeas, ARFE), shared his experience on the complementarity between international cooperation and the competencies of national and subnational states.  He highlighted the role of cooperation agencies in catalysing proximity relationships (paradiplomacy) through joint projects and cooperation mechanisms in border areas.

José María Cruz, Coordinator of the ARFE Global Initiative, emphasized the role of subnational authorities in environmental, economic, and cultural cooperation processes.  He referred to the importance of complementary governance between different levels of government to then cooperate with other countries.  He also spoke about the importance of generating long-term visions and balanced relationships among the actors, which are reflected in management structures and governance models that support shared interventions for the development of border territories.

In the panel, Daniel Bentancur, Coordinator of the Technical Secretariat of the Committee for the Development of the Uruguay River Basin (Comité para el Desarrollo de la Cuenca del Río Uruguay); Fernando Iñiguez, Executive Director of the Binational Plan for the Development of the Ecuador-Peru Border Region (Plan Binacional de Desarrollo de la Región Fronteriza Ecuador-Peru), Ecuador Chapter; and Juan José Ocola, Executive President of the Binational Authority of Lake Titicaca (Autoridad Binacional del Lago Titicaca, ALT), shared their experiences and governance models in transboundary river basins in our region.

Uruguay

In the Uruguay River, it was possible to transition from bilateral management to transboundary management thanks to the creation of the Committee for the Development of the Basin, a trinational institution that works at the level of Intendencies with a regional integration vision. It has consolidated itself as a relevant and recognized political actor, despite not having legal status. Their interventions are joint and related to the entire basin with shared budgets. Additionally, they coordinate with other organizations that are part of the Río de la Plata System and seek relationships with other European commissions to improve their management.   This initiative emerged in 2010 at the initiative of local and subnational governments in the region following a serious conflict between the countries over the installation of a large pulp mill, the waste from which had the potential to negatively affect the river’s water quality.

“The creation of deep integration among our Latin American peoples cannot and should not ignore proactive participation as a challenge to fully develop border regions in harmony and permanent cooperation.  To do that, it is essential to interact with subnational and local governments, especially in transboundary regions and basins. Only they, from the territory, have the knowledge and transnational vision to solve concrete problems and generate proposals to overcome the inertia and limitations of intergovernmental management by the National States.”

Daniel Betancur

Bolivia

The Binational Authority of Lake Titicaca is a basin organization created by the will of the national governments with the status of law.  Management of the quantity and quality of water in Lake Titicaca is supported by decisions at a higher level of government in the form of joint plans and strategies.  Actions are also implemented with an association of local governments.

Ecuador and Peru

On the border between Ecuador and Peru, the Binational Plan is an international organization created as one of the post-conflict reparations between these countries.   Its mission is to promote development in the border area, including environmental conservation in its five key areas.  The Binational Plan emphasizes the contribution that the private sector and academia can make to joint development projects that improve the quality of life for border residents.

More than 150 participants from Latin America and Europe took part in this virtual seminar, which aimed to be a coordinating hub for cooperation development in the current paradigm of water governance, particularly in transboundary river basins.  This event was organized by the IUCN South America Regional Office, through the BRIDGE project – Building Dialogues for Good Water Governance, in collaboration with the Association of European Border Regions (ARFE).

Source: BRIDGE project – UICN

About BRIDGE

BRIDGE is a global initiative that seeks to strengthen institutions in charge of managing transboundary basins for the sustainable management of shared water and freshwater ecosystems, promote blue peace and regional integration in the long term, and increase water security.  In more than a decade of experience, and thanks to funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, IUCN has developed approaches and tools that enable more equitable sharing of benefits associated with shared water use, while incorporating intersectionality approaches and nature-based solutions.  BRIDGE also offers the possibility to review, strengthen and update legal frameworks and institutions that enable sustainable management of transboundary basins, providing solutions tailored to local geographic contexts and priorities while supporting the urgent call to accelerate transboundary cooperation for integrated water management at a global level (SDG 6.5).

More information:
FS BRIDGE project

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