The consensus on the need to protect water resources and installations in conflict zones is clear. What is less clear is how to do it. Unlike medicines and food packets, water cannot be airdropped into conflict zones. And UN Peacekeeping Forces are badly overstretched.
The International Committee of the Red Cross does negotiate safe passage for technicians to inspect and repair damage to water pipes and storage systems in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine; but each passage needs to be negotiated with governments in conflict and rebel commanders – a long and cumbersome process. A better approach would be for great powers, with their considerable influence, to negotiate short-term ceasefires in areas experiencing protracted conflict, specifically to repair and restore water systems.
To pave the way for such an approach, however, the UN Security Council will have to declare water a “strategic resource of humanity” and adopt a resolution to protect water resources and installations, similar to Resolution 2286, adopted last May to protect medical facilities in armed conflicts.
In the longer term, countries that share riparian systems will need to establish regional security arrangements to preserve and protect their resources. With collaborative management underpinning collective protection, water, often a source of competition and conflict, could become a facilitator of peace and cooperation.
Denis Sassou-Nguesso, President of the Republic of the Congo, is at the forefront of this movement, by leading a group of eight governments toward the establishment of the Blue Fund for the Congo Basin. If successful, the Fund will help to mitigate climate change, create new avenues of river-based employment, and promote collective security in an unstable region. The Africa Action Summit in Marrakesh two months ago described the Fund as one of the four key ideas that can transform the continent.
Last March, on World Water Day, Jordan’s Prince Hassan bin Talal and I called for the establishment of a Marshall Fund for the world’s shared river basins. The Blue Fund for the Congo Basin is a step in that direction. Now, we need similar funds to emerge to protect all of the world’s 263 shared river basins and lakes. It is a huge challenge; but, given the power of water to sow conflict and support peace, we must confront it head-on.
Sundeep Waslekar is President of Strategic Foresight Group.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2017.