The new study “The Rise of Hydro-Diplomacy” has been launched and discussed at a side event at the World Water Week 2014 in Stockholm. In this interview, Benjamin Pohl, lead author and senior project manager with adelphi, shares insights to the report and his conclusions of the panel discussion.

You can download the full report here:

Summary: The report calls on foreign policy makers to exert stronger political leadership in water diplomacy and to actively accompany and facilitate the efforts of technical and development experts. It shows that encouraging greater cooperation over transboundary waters offers significant prospects for the resolution of political conflicts and greater regional integration. To this end, the report argues that foreign policy makers should ensure stronger agency at the international level, realize potential synergies between political and technical engagement, and build the necessary capacity at the national, basin and global levels. To manage the coming challenges, driven in part by climate change, foreign policy makers must drive an internationally coordinated, cross-sectoral engagement.

Transcription of the video text:

At the World Water Week 2014, we had the honor to present and discuss our new study “The Rise Of Hydro-Diplomacy”. In this report, we call for more engagement of the international community in order to support conflict prevention and regional integration in transboundary waters. Before giving you a summary of the panel debate, let me answer some questions on the matter:

Q: What makes transboundary river basins crucial for international politics?
A lot of people depend on rivers that cross borders, like the Nile or the Mekong. About 46 percent of the global population lives in such basins. And more than 90 percent of the world’s poulation live in states that share water. So, people and states have to share water that is often scarce. And due to population growth and economic prosperity, the demand for water rises further. Now, climate change will impact on water availability because there will be less water in some regions, and at different times. And that will create tensions. (Moreover, climate change will contribute to more dams being built, for clean energy, and these dams often become points of contention between neighbouring states.) Thus, water becomes a potential source of conflict. But at the same time, water demands cooperation among riparian states. And cooperative planning in a basin offers huge potential benefits in terms of sustainable growth, by maximizing hydropower potential, for example, and by avoiding the costs of tensions and conflict.

Q: What specific role can foreign policy play in this situation?
Transboundary waters are often considered to be only a question of technical and developmental cooperation. But foreign policy can provide crucial political capital to overcome obstacles such as bureaucratic inertia and political uncertainty about the effects of cooperation. In turn, this will benefit foreign policy objectives: investments today in efficient use of water reduce the number of conflicts tomorrow. Now, the most important actors are the riparian states of transboundary basins. But the international community can and should offer its active support.

Q: What should diplomats do in this situation?
In our paper “The Rise of Hydro-diplomacy”, we recommend a three-pronged strategy: (1) exert political leadership in fostering intra-basin cooperation and integration; (2) connect and reinforce appropriate institutional structures for coordinated and cross-sectoral, comprehensive engagement; (3) and strengthen the diplomatic track of transboundary cooperation on water, by investing more in training and capacity-building, by expanding efforts to build confidence in shared basins, and by improving water-related crisis response and conflict resolution mechanisms.
These are shared tasks for the technical, development and foreign policy communities, but we think that foreign policy makers need to play a greater role in mobilizing political will and ensuring coherent action.

Q: What were the reactions of today’s panel?
Well, I think the reactions were largely very positive and I was actually positively surprised that there was quite a bit of optimism when some of the panelist said that basically it’s not so hard to convince people. You only have to tell them what water diplomacy really is about. And then they start getting really interested and all these diplomats come up and say “This is exactly what I want to do!” And I think if we can get this massage out to all of these diplomats we have done a very good job.


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