Academics and practitioners from both the public and private sectors are increasingly exploring the concept of water diplomacy. The Hague Institute is one of the active contributors to the global debate on the conceptual and practical applications of water diplomacy. With great interest The Hague Institute is watching initiatives that share its mission of realizing a more just and secure world through water cooperation. On 12 October MSc students at Wageningen University organized a seminar on the concept and practices of water diplomacy. Mathijs Veenkant, Research Intern at The Hague Institute, attended the event in light of the Institute’s ongoing work on water diplomacy.
The seminar brought together experts from academia, education, business and consulting. Keynote speakers were Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for international water affairs for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Tjitte Nauta, Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) expert and regional manager South and East Asia for Deltares, and Joop de Schutter, senior policy analyst on IWRM and former business director at UNESCO-IHE, a member of the Water Diplomacy Consortium.
As a convening institute, it is encouraging to see that although water diplomacy is still understood in many different ways, its spirit of inclusiveness and wider participation is taking shape.
Participants explored the topic of water diplomacy from a wide range of perspectives. The speakers shared experiences from cases in the Netherlands, Singapore, and Central Asia, and engaged in discussion with staff and students from Wageningen University. Mr. Ovink stated that successful water diplomacy is about broadening perspectives, taking lessons from other cases, bringing new people to the table and connecting the dots in complex systems. Mr. Nauta presented the case of Singapore, one of the global front-runners in urban high-tech water innovation. It was remarked that while Singapore has a unique business approach to water, the oversimplified perception of water issues as purely technical problems is common. Finally, besides an extensive overview of Central Asian history of water cooperation and conflict, Mr. de Schutter explained how in many cases a lack of basic understanding of complex water systems is preventing good decision-making in water cooperation, and advocated shared knowledge creation on transboundary water systems as a crucial starting point for water diplomacy.
The Hague Institute contributes to the theory and practice of water diplomacy through several projects. In particular, its flagship project ‘Water Diplomacy: Making Water Cooperation Work’ aims to identify and operationalize the key factors that contribute to the transformation of conflicts to cooperation over water.
A key element of the institute’s approach to water diplomacy is its multi-track nature, bringing different actors with varied perspectives and across borders to the table. A study on Effectiveness of Multi-stakeholder Dialogues on Water found that such inclusive dialogues can promisingly complement conventional top-down governance. Furthermore, shared knowledge creation, not only on technical but also governance matters, is envisaged as one of the defining elements of making water cooperation work.
The importance of shared understandings of water governance issues is illustrated in the working paper Transboundary Wastewater Governance: Options Based on an Uncertainty Perspective. As a convening institute, it is encouraging to see that although water diplomacy is still understood in many different ways, its spirit of inclusiveness and wider participation is taking shape.
The proceedings from the water diplomacy seminar can be found here.