Water Conflicts and Water Diplomacy

The impact of water insecurity on conflicts around the world is a growing problem. In countries like Syria and Yemen, the repercussions of years of drought have exacerbated conflicts in previously volatile situations. Dr. Patrick Huntjens, leading the water diplomacy team at The Hague Institute, spoke at length to H2O Magazine about water conflicts and consequent threats to international peace and stability.

“In Yemen, water is often literally a battle for life and death. Conflicts over wells, irrigation or theft of scarce water supplies cause thousands of deaths annually. Estimates suggest nearly two-thirds of all conflicts in Yemen concern water.”

Dr. Huntjens outlines the difficulty of improving water management in conflict areas. No progress can be made if opposing parties refuse to enter into dialogue. In rural areas where legislation on water distribution and usage, enforcement of rights and judicial recourse are unclear, disputes escalate. Resolution attempts often only apply criminal law, ignoring the underlying factors that lead to conflict.

The Water Diplomacy team at The Hague Institute has undertaken research and mediation efforts for various national and international organizations and governments. Dr. Huntjens recently facilitated dialogue between independent representatives from Israel and Palestine within the context of the Geneva Initiative, resulting in a blueprint for a regional peace agreement on water.

Additionally, the Water Diplomacy team developed the concept of Mobile Water Courts (MWC). The MWCs, consisting of legal and technical professionals, including hydrologists, policymakers and engineers, assess disputes and investigate which formal or traditional legislation is applicable. Subsequently, the WMCs pass judgment that takes into account the interests of all involved parties.

“The Netherlands should play a more active role in water diplomacy. In the Netherlands, we have excellent engineering firms, we are leaders in water management and we have substantial expertise in judicial and diplomatic affairs.”

Encouraging multidisciplinary cooperation between engineers, judges, hydrologists and policymakers is crucial to effective water diplomacy. Dr. Huntjens’ team recently presented a report highlighting The Hague’s potential to become an international lodestar for water diplomacy.

Read the full article [in Dutch] here.

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