World Bank Calls for Cooperation on 80% of World’s Rivers Crossing National Boundaries

August 31, 2012 /

Against a backdrop of increased volatility in international food prices and energy supply, due in part to water availability, a new World Bank report calls for greater international cooperation on the 80% of the world’s rivers that cross national boundaries.

Overcoming barriers to international cooperation on river basins is critical for future food, energy and water security says the new report released this week at World Water Week in Stockholm.

With water scarcity increasing in many parts of the world, governments must find ways to maximize the use of water for multiple, often competing uses:  growing populations requiring food security; rapid urbanization increasing domestic and industrial demand; the ever-increasing need for clean electricity; tourism and recreation; and environmental management, the report says.

“Within a nation, any two of these multiple interests can be at odds,” said World Bank Vice President for Middle East and North Africa Inger Andersen.  “Add international boundaries and the complexity grows substantially.  The key challenge – and opportunity – for riparian nations is to manage perceptions of risk, and benefit from lessons of experience where cooperation has worked demonstrably, benefiting countries and supporting their efforts to reduce poverty and protect the environment.”

The new World Bank report, Reaching Across the Waters: Facing the Risks of Cooperation in International Waters reviews the experience of cooperation in five international river basins (Eastern Nile, Ganges, Niger, Syr Darya, and Zambezi), focusing on the perceptions of risks and opportunities by decision makers as they consider prospects for cooperation on international waters.

Today, 40% of the world’s population lives in international basins which account for 80% of global river flow.  Despite this and the proven benefits of cooperation, such as reduced chances of conflict, improved river sustainability, and access to external markets, 166 of the world’s 276 international basins have no treaty provisions covering them.  Moreover, many multilateral basins are subject to bilateral treaties that preclude participation by other riparian countries.

“It’s well known that cooperation on international waters brings economic, environmental, and social benefits,” said World Bank Water Anchor Manager Julia Bucknall. “Less known are the reasons for which countries that know this still do not cooperate. This report offers a first step in understanding and therefore overcoming some of these reasons, which have much to do with perceptions of risk.”

If a country cannot find a way to compensate for or control risk, the report says, it may choose not to enter into a cooperative agreement. There are five general categories of risk perceived by decision makers:

  • Capacity and Knowledge:  Confidence in ability to negotiate a fair deal; having enough and the correct information and knowledge to do so.
  • Accountability and Voice:  Deliverability of benefits by the regional entity and co-riparians, often related to trust; having a say in decision-making in the governing structures of the regional entity.
  • Sovereignty and Autonomy:  Ability to act in the best interest of the country without constraints; making decisions independently.
  • Equity and Access:  Fairness of (relative) benefits to country, including timing of benefits and costs and obtaining/ retaining fair access to river.
  • Stability and Support:  Longevity potential of agreement; in-country support of agreement, including likelihood of ratification.

The report also adds lessons for partners working on international cooperation on rivers:

  • There is no one-size fits all approach especially in matters of regional programs, institutional arrangements, and agreements.
  • Managing any one given perceived risk will likely require a diversity of interventions.
  • Long-term time commitment is needed to build cooperation.

“By 2025, it’s estimated that nearly two-thirds of countries will be water-stressed,” said Bucknall.  “We don’t yet feel it, but the stress is coming.  If we don’t start managing our water better, we will soon find ourselves facing even greater fluctuations in food and energy availability.”

 

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