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Water Diplomacy and Sharing Resources

Watch Dr. Patterson and Dr. Grigg discuss examples of success stories in water diplomacy among neighboring countries that share water resources.
In the video by Leo Heller, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, he mentioned that the codification of this right in international law provided a strong basis for bilateral and multilateral diplomacy to negotiate international agreements that recognize this right for citizens in both or all countries involved in the negotiations. Dr. Grigg, are you aware of some examples of how diplomatic negotiations have recognized and helped to protect this right for their citizens as well as their neighbors?
One of the reasons they’re so helpful is that many countries around the world are really kind of at a basic level of even understanding the concept of human rights, much less the equity of water sharing among themselves. So just to take a couple of examples. In the Middle East, which is politically volatile, under the Oslo Accord, there’s an interim agreement, which includes recognition by Israel of the water rights of the Palestinian people. Now, many people wouldn’t know about that, because there’s so much publicity about the other aspects of that conflict. But it does recognize that Israel is seeing a need that the Palestinian people have for these basic water rights, and they have recognized that.
Another example would be over in Central Asia. They have a lot of rivers that cross between different countries there. And after the Soviet Union broke up, they had to come up with an interstate commission on water coordination that would recognize the rights of citizens in those regions and different countries to share the water resources. When we think about these large-scale agreements like that, we have to remember that there’s different levels of managing water. And if you take a level of managing water such as in Central Asia, you can see that from one country to another, you’re not really talking about the direct delivery to individual citizens.
You’re talking about delivery of surface water and in some cases ground water from one country to another. So that’s just the beginning of an adequate water supply, which eventually will lead to enough water that can be used by the communities and the cities to provide the water for their citizens that are normally thought of under human rights. Another aspect of human rights related to water that’s not as recognized is the right of people to irrigation water supplies. We have to remember, around the world, there are a lot of people who would fall into the category of what we would call smallholders. They have small farms that might be one hectare.
It may be that they can only do subsistence agriculture there for their own family. It might be that they grow a few surplus crops that they can market and improve the conditions for their families and communities. Well, if they’re cut off from just basic supplies of irrigation water, such as when one country would take it all and not deliver enough to another country, they’re going to be really hurting to cash in on their human rights like that. It can even be a matter of water quality when it comes to irrigation. I have one case study that I use.
It’s in Latin America, where the people in the city are not treating the waste water from the city, and so the only water which is available for the smallholders is polluted sewage water, which leads to great levels of disease for them. And it’s just a really terrible situation. So an agreement needs to be negotiated– in this case, it was just between the city and countryside– to solve that problem. And like in every other case like that, it involves some give and take. In that case, the city had to spend more money to treat their waste water and not just dump it on the local farmers.
When the resolution of that case came down, was it a matter of a court deciding that the city had to pay more, or was it government negotiation or the two parties negotiating? How did that resolution come about? Well, it’s a good question, and it illustrates some of the different dimensions of what we call integrated water resources management. It would be great if there were some government that would come in and recognize that problem and put out a mandate for what needed to be done. That would be the case in the United States, where we have good, well-functioning governance, for the most part.
In this case, which was in Peru, this governance and regulation were not in place, and it took the intervention of a third party, which in this case was a donor, who came in and began to negotiate among the parties. And eventually brought some money to the table to sort of start up the resolution of this. And then the city had to agree to put in some of the money and to undertake some actions, too. And then the farmers, who were really the victims, they didn’t have to agree to come up with any money, but they did have to agree to undertake some management practices to manage the irrigation water better. Well, that was an interesting way that conflict got handled.
Thank you very much.

Thoughtful diplomacy between and among nations is crucial for the establishment of agreements for sharing water resources that cross international boundaries.

Are you aware of other examples of how diplomatic negotiations have recognized and helped to protect the right safe drinking water for a country’s citizens as well as their neighbors? Post your thoughts in the comments and take a moment to see what other learners are saying and respond to any other comments that resonate with you.

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Water for the People: Gender, Human Rights, and Diplomacy

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