Unesco Water

UNESCO ORGANIZES CONFERENCE ON PREVENTING WATER WARS

On November 20, presentations will focus on the need to develop institutional mechanisms to resolve conflicts like those arising over the Volta River basin, one of the poorest regions in Africa. More than 80% of the basin lies in Burkina Faso and Ghana, which is further downstream. Recurrent water shortages are expected to become even more severe as rainfall decreases and demand increases, especially when Burkina Faso plans to extract more water for irrigation and Ghana prepares to begin another dam project for hydroelectricity. William Cosgrove of the World Water Council will enlarge the discussions along with representatives of the Network for Basin Organizations and the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague before opening the debate to participants from all the world's regions on their experiences sharing international rivers.

On November 21, the first session will highlight the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, Africa's largest civil engineering scheme to divert water from Lesotho's Maloti Mountains to South Africa's industrial Gauteng Province through a series of tunnels and dams. Representatives from the region and the World Bank, which financed the controversial project, beleagured by allegations of corruption and human rights abuse, will engage in a debate on the broader theme of public-private partnership arrangements. The session will also focus on how states along the Danube are trying to manage and protect their river basin.

The second session will take a prospective look at the impacts of climate, social and technological changes by focusing specifically on the Mekong River basin, where recurrent flooding and other problems have led to increased co-operation among states situated on the banks of rivers. A representative of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (Toronto, Canada) will lead the discussions open to the floor.

On November 22, the main theme will be international security agreements for shared basins, like that of the Lempa River, which crosses into Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where demand is rising despite deteriorating water quality due to pollution. Discussions will turn to the Middle East, where water has been cited as a potential cause for war. However, experts like Aaron Wolf, a UNESCO consultant and director of the Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database, will debunk the theory that water scarcity leads to war by reviewing the findings of the database that covers all of the world's 261 international water basins and major water agreements. The one and only water war dates back some 4,500 years to Mesopotamia, according to Wolf. Although water is used as an arm in conflict, experts like Wolf find that it is more often a source of co-operation as in the case of the Jordanian-Israeli peace process.

The new partnership will also benefit the UNESCO Chair for "Integrated Water Resource Management", based in Casablanca, Morocco. This chair has been extremely active throughout North Africa, working closely with non-governmental organizations, university students and journalists to raise public awareness about water governance. The company has also agreed to set up several bursaries for researchers from developing countries in water-related fields.

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