Managing the politics of water
extended to cover every shared river basin in the world by the SDGs’ target year, 2030.
For poor people in the developing world, such transboundary cooperation generates significant dividends. When countries agree on the construction and management of critical infrastructure, there are no delays. Costs are saved. Benefits are shared in an optimum way. If all developing countries with shared river basins embraced transboundary cooperation, their GDP growth easily could rise by a percentage point.
The international community should encourage countries to embrace such cooperation by creating financial instruments that make concessional and preferential funds available. A global Marshall Plan for shared river basins might at first seem like an expensive proposition; but the cost of inaction – consider the threat to Europe alone posed by massive refugee inflows – easily could be several orders of magnitude higher.
Likewise, the international community should act promptly to save critical water infrastructure from acts of violence and terrorism. Many rivers, including the Tigris and the Euphrates, have been and continue to be cradles of human civilisation. The UN should consider creating special peacekeeping forces to protect them.
Finally, international law should be designed to prevent, not just resolve, conflicts. In particular, a robust global treaty is needed to regulate emissions into bodies of water. Today, most disagreements over water concern the quantity parties are to receive. In the future, conflicts will increasingly be about water quality, as irrigation practices, industrialisation, and urbanisation contribute to rising pollution levels.
World Water Day is the ideal occasion to launch a new agenda for water wisdom. But every day must be a day when we work together to manage one of the planet’s most important resources.