World Bank Headquarters
A new World Bank report has called for greater international cooperation on the 80 per cent of the world’s rivers that cross national boundaries.
The call was made against a backdrop of increased volatility in international food prices and energy supply, due in part to water availability.
The new report, released at the recent World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden, said overcoming barriers to international cooperation on river basins was critical for future food, energy and water security.
With water scarcity increasing in many parts of the world, it said governments must find ways to maximise the use of water for multiple, often competing uses: growing populations requiring food security; rapid urbanisation increasing domestic and industrial demand; the ever-increasing need for clean electricity; tourism and recreation; and environmental management.
“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’ reviewed 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 per cent of the world's population lives in international basins which account for 80 per cent 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, the report noted.
“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.
These include capacity and knowledge; accountability and voice; sovereignty and autonomy; equity and access; and lastly stability and support, which deals with longevity potential of agreement; in-country support of agreement, including likelihood of ratification.
The report also added 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; and long-term time commitment is needed to build cooperation”, it added.
“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.”
The World Bank and partners have recognised the value of supporting countries’ desires for cooperative action in shared international waters, beginning with the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty. Interest and involvement in international waters has only grown since.
There were 123 World Bank-funded projects with activities related to international waterways between 1997 and 2007, 40 of which were financed by Global Environment Facility (GEF) grants.
The amounts committed to transboundary projects were $6.2 billion in mostly IDA and IBRD funding and $273.5 million in GEF grants. The tradition of support has extended over the years - from engagement in the Indus to Mekong, the Baltic Sea and Danube, the Aral Sea, the Guarani Aquifer, and to the Senegal, Niger and the Nile.