Report: The Multi-track Water Diplomacy Framework

To coincide with the Planetary Security Conference, The Hague Institute for Global Justice launches its report “The Multi-track Water Diplomacy Framework: A Legal and Political Economy Analysis for Advancing Cooperation over Shared Waters”.

Water diplomacy will play an increasingly important role in preventing, mitigating and resolving a growing number of water-related conflicts around the world. However, the theory and practice of cooperation over shared waters and the implementation of multi-track water diplomacy are not sufficiently developed. Concepts and approaches such as multi-level water governance, adaptive water governance, the mutual-gains approach and instruments for benefit sharing need to be further developed and operationalized.

The objective of this publication is to specify a conceptual and analytical water diplomacy framework that identifies the key factors that affect water cooperation. Knowledge of the key determinants of cooperation not only contributes to the existing body of academic knowledge, but can also help to bolster cooperation over shared waters. In the foreword, Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova writes,

“The framework is a timely and innovative tool to move [water diplomacy] forward.”

This framework helps to diagnose water problems across sectors and administrative boundaries, and at different levels of governance. To this end, it identifies intervention points, and proposes sustainable solutions that are sensitive to diverse views and values, and can accommodate ambiguity and uncertainty as well as changing and competing needs.

The framework has great potential to build a sound bridge from actual or potential conflict to effective cooperation and practical solutions. Its initial application to the Brahmaputra basin uniquely identifies a zone of possible effective cooperation (ZOPEC), and has already gained strong commitment from delegates representing all riparian countries (including China, India, Bangladesh and Bhutan), to identifying and developing benefit-sharing arrangements across sectors. This case study demonstrates the potential of the framework to facilitate a paradigm shift among key stakeholders in water-related disputes from a zero-sum approach to one of mutual gains.

“Given the growing number of water-related conflicts and the shortcomings of existing concepts and approaches in water governance and negotiation, it is time to launch this multi-track diplomacy framework,” prefaces Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs for the Netherlands and Sherpa to the UN/World Bank High Level Panel on Water.

“It is informative in the academic realm as well as instructive in the policy domain.”

This publication is developed within the context of the research project ‘Water Diplomacy: Making Water Cooperation Work,’ led by The Hague Institute for Global Justice, in collaboration with the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), International Centre for Water Cooperation (ICWC) (under the auspices of UNESCO), International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Uppsala University, University of Otago, University College Cork and Tufts University Water Diplomacy Program.

Further Reading

Past Initiative: Water Diplomacy Consortium

Water management and the fair distribution of water is an issue of growing importance on the international agenda. Building on the internationally renowned Dutch…


Completed: Water Conflicts in Yemen

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Arab region and is faced with political instability. An acute water crisis looms over the…