Water Diplomacy: Between Conflict and Cooperation

World Water Week Session Led by Hague Institute Expert

Each year, experts, decision makers and innovators gather in Stockholm for World Water Week to discuss issues of water governance, economics, climate change, and the water-energy-food nexus. This year the event took place between the 28th of August and the 2nd of September. The Hague Institute was represented by Dr. Yumiko Yasuda from the Water Diplomacy Project, collaboration between The Hague Institute and the International Centre for Water Cooperation. Dr. Yasuda coordinated a closed meeting titled ’Good’ Conflict ‘Bad’ Cooperation? Opening Pandora’s Box on Water from the Local to the Global, which emphasized the complex nature of transboundary water cooperation.

One of four researchers to present different projects in the field of water cooperation, Dr. Yasuda elaborated on the Water Diplomacy Project in front of peers and external experts, arguing for interdisciplinary thinking about water problems. One of the tenets of the Water Diplomacy Project is that solutions should be multifaceted because the problems are interrelated across different sectors. “If you look only at the water sector, your options are limited,” Dr. Yasuda said. “Our goal is to identify the key factors that influence water cooperation, and to fine-tune these results based on field studies.” Preliminary findings from the case study of the Brahmaputra River showed that water cooperation can benefit from cooperation in other sectors. Transcending the sectoral approach will foster cooperation in many different areas, leading to greater benefits.

“If you look only at the water sector, your options are limited. Our goal is to identify the key factors that influence water cooperation, and to fine-tune these results based on field studies.”

During the session, Dr. Yasuda invited feedback from both the audience and the panel. One of the panelists’ comments related to the terminology – ‘water diplomacy’ versus ‘water cooperation’ – and the implications of politicizing cooperation that, sometimes, is purely technical. According to Dr. Yasuda, this is indicative of a wider debate, but “transboundary water cooperation always requires diplomatic effort.” Diplomacy and comparable tools are currently applied by a variety of state and non-state actors to facilitate such cooperation. To improve the effectiveness of diplomacy, it is essential to identify the factors that influence water cooperation.

World Water Week Yumiko Yasuda

Translating the theoretical arguments for broader cooperation into convincing recommendations for decision makers was flagged as another issue that requires consideration, as was the feedback mechanism between science and policy. The Water Diplomacy Project is set up in such a way that it incorporates stakeholder input through workshops, conversations and interaction with policy makers based on the implementation process. This feedback mechanism benefits researchers as well as practitioners in the field of water cooperation, says Dr. Yasuda. “Stepping out of the water box” helps research to be more policy-relevant and more effective.

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