Water Conflict and Cooperation/Public Participation

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This article is based on Water security and peace - A synthesis of studies prepared under the PCCP-Water for Peace process, compiled by William J. Cosgrove, as part of a UNESCO-IHP, PCCP Series Publication (2003).

Within the high politics of international water negotiations, the concerns of local people and the need to involve the public in the process of arriving at basin management strategies and agreements are often overlooked. The achievement of cooperation and resolution of conflicts over the world’s international basins would bring major benefits, including stability and security, the strengthening of democracy and human rights, reduction of environmental degradation, and improving access to drinking water and sanitation. But without the participation of citizens and the involvement of civil society partners at all levels, none of these benefits will be secured on the ground. It is increasingly clear, and demonstrated in the examples presented in this chapter, that unless stakeholders are involved and feel a sense of ownership in the political process, it is difficult to implement the recommendations or achieve tangible results at the community level.

Citizen Participation Should Not be Overlooked

Conflicts related to water resources tend to be at their most intense at the local level, between different sectors and stakeholders in direct competition over inadequate water supplies. Actions are already being taken across the world to bring water decisions closer to the stakeholders, to link water issues with other fundamental human and environmental needs, and to resolve conflicts which prevent efficient and sustainable and equitable use of water and provision of water and sanitation services. All these efforts to make water management more cooperative and participative at the local level strengthen peace, stability, governance, and the rule of law, and make people more aware of their position within a wider regional water system.

In many cases, the public first needs to be made aware that they live in a river basin, which, for billions of people will mean a river basin that crosses national borders. At the same time, river basin and state water managers need to be aware of the very real effects their water management decisions have on ordinary people, many living thousands of kilometers from the state capitals where decisions are reached. Civil society groups can fulfill both these functions, raising awareness and building capacity on the ground, and bringing the voices of the people – and of the natural environment – to the attention of decision makers. This exchange must take place at all levels, with NGOs and other groups bringing the concerns of local people to the table at every forum, from the WSSD and international trade negotiations, to national parliaments and ministries, to village and regional councils. Whether the decisions in question concern international development strategies, potential for privatization, large dam construction, or where to position a standpipe, affected communities should be active participants in the process, and environmental and social considerations always taken into account. Water issues are naturally linked to many of the central concerns of civil society groups, including poverty, environment, disease, gender, and peace. The all-encompassing nature of water thus lends itself to partnerships between sectors of society.

The role of civil society in water management, as in all matters of environmental and social affairs, has changed dramatically in the last few decades.[1] Previously completely closed governmental and inter-governmental processes have slowly, and to various extents, opened up to a wider range of stakeholders. In many new areas of the world, notably Eastern Europe and Latin America, decision making has become more transparent and accountable to the public and civil society organizations have been permitted far more freedom to engage in the political process. The growing acceptance of the logic of public participation in environmental decision making, the benefits of decentralized management and the subsidiarity principle, and the resurgent interest in traditional and indigenous management practices, has led governments and intergovernmental organizations to look to NGOs to help reach the grass-roots level. [2] Reaching down to the smallest units of water management – to the citizen and local councils – is essential to achieving the efficiency and equality necessary for water security.

At the same time, NGOs have gained in experience, professionalism, and credibility, and have established stronger relations with the stakeholders they seek to represent. The strengthening of inter-NGO cooperation through networking bodies, joint campaigns and projects, and the use of internet communication has also helped make civil society a stronger force in international relations, and in specific regions and states. This strengthening of civil society institutions has occurred simultaneously with, and been mutually supported by, the increased awareness and interest of local people across the world in the natural resources issues which affect their lives. Increased literacy rates, wider access to information, awareness of global interdependencies generated through globalization, urbanization and the empowerment of women have all supported this process – as have the increasingly visible effects of mismanagement, environmental degradation and climate change, and disillusionment with governmental and international failures to meet development targets.

The rise in public participation and the influence of civil society is still an emerging rather than established trend. It has yet to take hold at all in some regions of the world and still faces many obstacles and restrictions. But it is already possible to identify certain fields of activity where the contribution to water management is strongest. Generally, NGOs aim at empowering local communities rather than the implementation of large-scale projects or works. In the water sector, NGOs are involved in mobilizing communities to improve their own water supply and management by strengthening local capacities, providing technical training and expertise, and promoting local democracy and sustainable livelihoods. Part of this task often involves the resolution of conflicts between sectors of society, or between stakeholders and government authorities. In transboundary basins, as some of the examples cited below indicate, this conflict resolution can extend to addressing crossborder and inter-ethnic tensions.

NGOs act as catalytic agencies for local initiatives; as facilitators in forging alliances and exchanging information; as mediators among the state, local communities, and external support agencies to encourage public participation and promote the interests of disenfranchised populations. They also act as the educators and stimulators of civil society toward the sustainable and equitable use of water. Activities include everything from action-oriented projects focused on small water supply and sanitation operations close to target populations, to international campaigns on issues of global relevance such as large dams and privatization.

Examples of Stakeholder and Civil Society Involvement in Water Security

International NGOs and Networks Promoting Sustainable, Cooperative Water Management

Internationally active environmental NGOs and networks are increasingly focusing their work on the promotion of dialogue, partnerships, and cooperation processes, rather than individual short-term projects. This reflects the realization that reaching the goal of integrated water resources management is a highly complex political process, requiring that the long-term social, economic, and ecological benefits of healthy freshwater ecosystems and sustainable patterns of water use be given priority over short-term financial or political gain. Initiatives aimed at promoting IWRM must engage decision makers and stakeholders across a basin. This frequently entails transboundary cooperation between countries, sometimes spanning geographic, cultural, political, and economic divides, and calls for conflict prevention, mediation, and resolution strategies to be incorporated into project plans. NGOs are also drawing attention to the effects of long-term changes in rainfall, river flow, and underground water supplies due to climate change and to the benefits that new technologies and decision-support tools can have in pre-empting conflicts that could result from these changes if they are not properly understood. In this way, global NGOs with the capacity to reach both the highest levels of government and the representatives of communities and grass-roots initiatives, are playing an important role in many basins towards bringing all sides together to generate better understanding and cooperation.

The Water and Nature Initiative of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a partnership for action aimed at maintaining healthy ecosystems through improved management and thereby helping to alleviate poverty and contribute to solving the looming water crisis. The Initiative is active in forty countries, creating partnerships between organizations from the global to the local level, working with governments, stakeholders, and the private sector to demonstrate the benefits of ecosystem approaches, good governance, and public participation.

Within the framework of the Water and Nature Initiative, in September 2002, during the World Summit on Sustainable Development, agreements were signed between IUCN and the governments of Botswana, El Salvador, and Vietnam. They will work together on the management of (respectively) the Okavango Delta, the Perfume River, and the Barra de Santiago–El Imposible Basin, to identify water management strategies that ensure healthy ecosystems while improving livelihoods for the poor. In the Barra de Santiago–El Imposible basin in El Salvador, the project partners provide direct support for the stakeholders of the basin, such as women’s associations, governmental organizations and the private sector. This is being done through a “round table” approach that includes the identification of incentives for cooperation and will provide tools for conflict resolution within local communities.

The World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Living Waters program states that: “Positive change is possible if it is recognized that sustainable water management begins with conserving and restoring the springs, rivers, lakes and marshes that are natural regulators of water quality and quantity.” It also fully realizes the importance of cooperation between stakeholders and government authorities. The program is active in raising awareness of the need to implement sustainable and participative alternatives to the destructive “quick fix” development projects of the past. This applies especially to the construction of large dams and channeling of riverbeds in many important [Transboundary Water Basins| international river basins]], such as the Danube, the Mekong, and the Niger. WWF champions the protection and management of freshwater wetlands, promotes activities to restore river basins crucial to both wildlife and people, and seeks to influence private sector practices and government policies to safeguard freshwater resources.

Green Cross International’s Water for Peace project has as its principal objective the prevention and resolution of water-related conflicts. Green Cross International is the only international NGO that specifically works to address conflicts caused by environmental degradation, mismanagement, and injustice, with a strong focus on international waters. Working in six international river basins, the Water for Peace project focuses on addressing the following questions. What is preventing the political will, active public participation, empowered institutions and investments needed to avoid conflicts and achieve cooperative basin management? How can these obstacles and conflicts be overcome? Each basin project is managed by regional partners and shaped to suit the particular problems and political situation of the basin, with an overall focus on building partnerships and enhancing the role of civil society and local authorities in conflict resolution and the process towards cooperation.

Orinco basin

One example of WWF’s activities is in the river basin , shared by Venezuela and Colombia, one f the world’s most pristine rivers but currently threatened by plans to re-channel the river to facilitate transport. WWF and partners are encouraging the governments to consider the long-term costs and benefits of such schemes, and to search for alternative means of increasing transport capacity and accelerating regional development. Important tools in this process are hydrologic models that can simulate the basin-scale impacts of development and provide decision makers with a tool to compare different outcomes. Many approaches and technologies for integrating biodiversity conservation with plans for economic development are being made available to help communities in the Orinoco River basin to protect their unique natural heritage at the same time as improving their standard of living. The pristine nature of the basin offers great potential to use these new technologies and approaches to avoid many of the negative impacts of development that have already damaged many of the world’s transboundary basins.

Danube basin

In the Danube basin, activities have included a survey of and research into the roles and challenges of local and regional authorities, public participation, and the privatization process. Working with the Council of Europe, Green Cross’s activities in the Danube basin have been stimulated by the direct engagement and support of several local authorities from different regions of east and west Europe. They held a regional conference to analyze the findings of the Green Cross work in Romania in April 2003. In the Jordan basin, Green Cross and partners have analyzed and developed strategies to enhance levels of public awareness about water conflicts and the need for cooperation, and have investigated the potential of new sources of water, in particular through joint projects such as the Red Sea–Dead Sea project. Green Cross has been active as a mediator between parties in the Jordan River Basin for several years, and proposes to help facilitate the strong interstate cooperation needed for joint water projects.

Okavango basin

In the Okavango basin, the Green Cross project is lending support to the river basin organization, aiming to enhance the existing cooperation process by linking OKACOM with the scientific, expert, and civil society communities to help develop the integrated basin plan. A workshop held in September 2002 brought OKACOM together for the first time outside of an official OKACOM meeting. This increased the level of trust between the representatives from the riparian states, laying the foundation for greater long-term integration. A hydropolitical model has been developed that maps the fundamental drivers of potential conflict. This was discussed with OKACOM and other stakeholders at the Water for Peace workshop in February 2003. The purpose of this hydropolitical model is to start the process of consensus building between the governments of the three riparian states so that a negotiating climate can be created where trade-offs can be developed. See also Environmental protection and sustainable management of the Okavango River Basin

La Plata basin

The La Plata basin project responds to water problems affecting citizens, and works with the governments to facilitate the involvement of stakeholders in future infrastructure projects. Work has begun in the important sub-basin of the Upper Paraná river, shared by Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay, where Green Cross’ South American affiliates are stressing that proper water management must be framed within the broader territorial and human development strategy of the basin as a basis for sustainability.

Volga basin

Pilot conflict resolution initiatives were also launched in the Volga River basin among citizens of the Russian Federation, along with campaigns to raise public awareness and the promotion of new basin management legislation. The objective was the creation of the legal, institutional, and social conditions to resolve existing and prevent future water-related conflicts in the Volga basin, where the current absence of cooperation and compensation mechanisms fuels disputes between upstream and downstream regions.

Volta basin

Finally, in the Volta basin in West Africa, Green Cross provided a forum for the involvement of civil society in the elaboration of a basin agreement and integrated management plan. This project was focused on civil society capacity building and held a regional stakeholder consultation process and conference to elaborate and approve a Volta Basin Declaration and Communication Strategy.

NGOs Linking Water to Other Security and Development Issues

The nature of water has led NGO groups active in different areas of development and security to be more and more concerned and vocal about the links between water quality and access and issues of peace, human rights, and all aspects of development. The recognition of the potential for humanitarian and environmental disasters caused by the military targeting of pumping stations, sewage treatment plants, dams, electricity infrastructure, and heavy industries alongside watercourses, is increasing, and can now also be associated with terrorism as well as conventional military attacks. An example is a letter sent to the British government in September 2002 by Save the Children and other charity groups. It drew attention to the links between war and water, specifically warning of the humanitarian crisis that would be caused by damage to water supply and sanitation infrastructure in the event of further hostilities in Iraq. [3] In 1999, Green Cross similarly alerted international attention to the risks of contamination that the bombings in Kosovo posed to transboundary water resources in the region, notably to tributaries of the Danube River.

At a more grass-roots level, there are many examples of water issues becoming entangled in conflicts and struggles over other resources shared between different communities and sectors. One case is the conflict between the Maasai community living close to Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park and miners and prospectors in the region. [4] The lives of the Maasai people, numbering over 200,000 in this region, have been severely disrupted in the last few decades by mining activities that leave vast areas of their land unsuitable for human settlement or grazing cattle. The Maasai argue that the miners have consistently violated their basic rights to water access, use of community-owned pastoral land, and cultural heritage and practices. The conflict has encouraged the establishment of the Olkenerei Pastoralists Survival Program, which promotes sensitization on land and water rights and lobbies for changes in government policies that violate indigenous human rights.

The creation of civil society forums to represent the voices of traditionally unempowered communities and take their concerns to national governments and the international community is an important development, and one which is often stimulated by the need to resolve conflicts over natural resources such as freshwater.

National and Local NGOs as Mediators

The role of international NGOs as potential conflict mediators and facilitators of cooperation has already been mentioned, but there are also cases of local-level civil society groups being active in water conflict resolution. These “insider-facilitator” initiatives can either emerge as a result of civil society impatience with the lack of government action to resolve lingering conflicts which hinder development, or come about through government invitations to NGOs to use their neutral status to act as mediators between different stakeholders and authorities.

In 2000, Green Cross Argentina was invited to contribute to the resolution of the longstanding environmental and social conflict created by the construction of the Yacyreta Dam between Argentina and Paraguay. By acting as a mediator between the different parties, they made it possible to earn back the trust of the affected communities through genuine efforts to understand and meet their most pressing needs. The construction of the Yacyreta Dam between Argentina and Paraguay began in the 1970s, and has seriously damaged the environment and disrupted the lives of some 80,000 people. For decades the project was fraught with corruption, delays, and lack of consideration for the people and ecosystems affected. Total lack of trust and serious conflicts between the governments, dam contractors, investors, and affected persons resulted in a virtual stand-off, and failure to compensate for losses caused by the dam. The Green Cross project has seen the resettlement into more suitable housing of thousands of people, development of sources of employment and recreation, and the establishment of consultation centers where problems can be aired and resolved in a spirit of true partnership. The affected people now have opportunities to rebuild their lives, find jobs, and begin new enterprises.

The PCCP Series volume on Civil Society and the Resolution of Water Conflicts has compiled a unique collection of case studies regarding the role of NGOs and other civil groups in this issue, clearly displaying their increasing importance. [5]. One example comes from the indigenous Berber communities in the high Atlas mountains of Morocco, where each village selects an “a’alam” to work on the equitable resolution of conflicts, including disputes over water between villages, using traditional mediation techniques. Several interesting transboundary examples are also cited in this PCCP paper. One describes a joint study on regional cooperation over the waters of the eastern Himalayas, prepared by three NGOs from Bangladesh, India and Nepal. This joint NGO work, unusual in a region where India and Bangladesh currently have no common water programmes, resulting in much waste and serious environmental problems, proposed an integrated approach to transboundary water as the only way to avoid conflicts. The study encouraged the government of Bangladesh to resurrect a plan for the waters of the shared Ganges–Brahmaputra river basin.

Village communities in Senegal are often faced with disputes over rights to grazing land and water points. [6]. Responding, they have developed a system of mediation. It can begin with one person who is close to both parties. If unsuccessful, that person may bring in two or three more persons who discuss with both sides. The process consists first of listening to each party’s view of the facts, then visiting possible witnesses. Then they obtain the permission of both parties for mediation. They carefully prepare a mediation meeting, inviting the persons to be heard and their order of speaking. The meeting opens with prayers. Followed presentation of the facts and statements by witnesses and other respected individuals, solutions are proposed and negotiated. When agreement is reached it is recorded and the meeting closes with prayers. If all else fails, the matter may be referred to community arbitration in a meeting attended by all in the community.

See also Cebu Uniting for Sustainable Water (CUSW)

National and Regional Civil Society Networks and Capacity Building

Examples of civil society groups acting as lead mediators remain relatively rare, but the role of NGOs in water management in general is growing consistently stronger, even in regions where civil society is not encouraged to engage in decision making.

Community participation in water and sanitation in Nepal has become much more widespread in the last decade, partly as a result of Nepal Water for Health (NEWAH), an NGO which works all across the rural areas of the country to provide safe drinking water, sanitation, and health education. Since its establishment in 1992, NEWAH has helped to improve the standard of living of the rural poor by assisting hundreds of NGOs, small farmers’ associations and women’s groups to implement thousands of community water supply and sanitation projects. It also provides training to its project partners and community representatives in hygiene, project management, and how to maintain the new facilities. This is a good example of capacity building aimed at creating community level partnerships to improve water access and encourage people to learn the necessary skills and take ownership of their water facilities in order to ensure the self-sufficiency of projects. Enabling the rural poor to realize the potential for improving their lives is arguably the only way that development goals will be reached; such initiatives may be aimed specifically at water and sanitation, but they encourage other poverty-alleviation and sustainable development grass-roots action to be taken.

Hydrosolidarity in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, which has suffered decades of horrific ethnic conflict, civil society activities emerged to reinstate water as a symbol of peace in peoples’ minds, in order for it to become an element in preserving a state of peace on the island. A project aimed at “Hydrosolidarity and Ethnic Solidarity through Youth Water Awareness in the Pinga Oya Watershed” was implemented by NetWwater and other partners, which promotes inter-ethnic cooperation in activities to address the serious pollution and degradation of a watershed.[7]

The environmental degradation can be largely traced to the negative attitude of the community towards the stream: once respected as the source of life it is now treated as a waste depository by the people and neglected by the regulatory authorities. Re-emergence of ethnic tensions between Muslim and Sinhala communities in 2001 led NetWwater and partners to launch a project to mobilize high school students in the Pinga Oya catchment. They became catalysts changing the attitudes and behavior of the Sinhala and Muslim communities towards river abuse and water conservation. By involving fifty-five Muslim and Sinhala schools, as well as local authorities, mosques, and community leaders, and addressing the role of women in water management and environmental education, this project also contributed to inter-community cooperation and the realization of the need for common solutions to shared problems.

Community Empowerment in Response to Conflicts

Conflicts and problems related to water management can themselves lead to the strengthening of civil society involvement. This can arise purely as a result of stakeholders organizing and mobilizing themselves to take action to resolve conflicts and ensure fair distribution of resources, or be deliberately nurtured as a means of enhancing stability in a region. An example of the latter situation can be found in Central Asia, where USAID is prioritizing civil society involvement in decision making as part of its strategy to promote peace and good governance in the geopolitically important region. The aim is to help communities to solve their problems by increasing citizen participation in decision making, using traditional methods for conflict resolution, and encouraging cooperation within and between communities, and between NGOs and local governments.

Building a strong civil society is seen as essential to the objectives of stability and sustainable development. Assistance strategies are therefore placing increased emphasis on the local level, targeting individuals, communities, and traditional institutions. Some projects are aimed specifically at reducing inter-ethnic tensions over water through negotiation and dialogue, especially in border areas, where there are many examples of tensions over water shared by villages and farmers in different states. Engaging the public in environmental management, while providing the necessary legal and technical tools, is regarded as a vital step to promoting peace and democracy in the region.

In other cases, no external encouragement or support is needed in order for communities to take action to assert their rights to water. In the Andean region of Peru, clashes between local, often ritualized, systems of water distribution and the centralized monetary model adopted by the state led to cases of direct “peasant resistance” by indigenous communities in the highlands. They disputed the state’s control over their water and refused to alter traditional irrigation practices. One case occurred in response to the construction of the Majes Canal, a major internationally financed development project built in the late 1970s, which channels water from the highlands to the desert and coastal areas, and which was constructed on land inhabited by thousands of people. The community of Cabanaconde originally tolerated the disruption caused by the project because they had been promised an off-take of water from the canal and subsequently an increase in irrigated land. When these promises repeatedly failed to materialize despite consistent imploring of the local authorities, the community took matters into their own hands and drilled an unauthorized hole in the canal. They collectively stood their ground and in the end were officially granted an off-take from the canal.

After this, other affected communities that had been excluded from the process and denied benefits used the case as a precedent and were also granted water. This example clearly demonstrates the advantage of involving, and compensating, all affected stakeholders in the development of water projects, and shows that the vital nature of water can lead to communities taking extreme measures to secure it. The engagement of civil society from the beginning of an initiative greatly reduces the risk of disruptive conflicts developing later on.

Awareness-Raising Initiatives

There is an awareness-raising element to most of the work done by civil society groups, whether at the global or local level, as without information it is impossible for stakeholders to identify their needs and concerns and promote themselves as full partners in decision making. However, some organizations and initiatives consider awareness raising as their main objective, and specifically concentrate on informing the public about either the potential for conflicts over water or about the action being taken to avert them in a particular basin.

The Green Cross Water for Peace project also has a strong awareness-raising and communication focus. At the international level, Green Cross is one of the very few organizations that consistently draws attention in the media and other forums to the risks of conflicts developing over shared watercourses, and promotes international agreements to cooperate over their management. The failure of states to ratify the 1997 UN Convention on the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses and the lack of political will to address the challenge of transboundary basins clearly indicate the need to keep lobbying this issue within the international community and at the highest political levels. In the Volta basin, the Water for Peace team has engaged stakeholders from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, and Benin in developing a “Basin Declaration” and a capacity-building strategy for information, communication and sensitization of the public in the basin states on the need for water conflict prevention.

The objective is not only to generate understanding among people within the basins of the risks of conflicts over shared water, but also to encourage people to see their water from a new and wider perspective: as a vehicle for peace and development across their entire region. For many people the concept of a basin is not clear, and there is limited understanding of the fact that water is a shared resource. By both targeting the highest political levels, and reaching and responding to local people and local authorities, the Water for Peace initiative is facilitating the process towards cooperative basin management and resolution of conflicts.

See also Raising awareness of the fishermen and farmers to prevent excess contamination of sea resources and shared aquifer in border area with Egypt, Palestinian Authority

Legal Context

The rights related to the access to information, participation in decision making, and access to justice have been enshrined in the Aarhus Convention. The provisions of the Aarhus Convention have been partly anticipated by the provisions on the information and participation of the public in earlier ECE conventions. The Protocol on Water and Health also refers to “access to information and public participation in decision making concerning water and health.”

Not surprisingly, the public in general, and interest groups in particular, played an important role in the development of water-related agreements. The Rhine River basin is a good example, as the interest groups played an important role in the creation of the Rhine River regime. In the Dutch context, the drinking water companies, the Clean Water Foundation (Stichting Reinwater, a non-governmental organization) and the City of Rotterdam influenced the viewpoints of the Dutch government. Internationally, they used their networks to influence the governments of the riparian states upstream. The drinking water companies have since the 1930s warned the Dutch government of the effects of the increased dumping of waste from potassium mines on the salinity level. The Rhine Commission of the Drinking Water Companies (RIWA) started several lawsuits against the French potassium mines in the early 1980s. The Clean Water Foundation started a lawsuit with the financial backing of the Dutch government, and joined forces with several horticulturists who had suffered damage from the high salt load. The option to claim compensation through legal procedures was boosted in 1976 by a court ruling that within the EU, the courts at both the locations where the damage was incurred and where it originated had jurisdiction over the matter.

The role of the stakeholders in the negotiations of water-related instruments has been increasing at the ECE regional level. Whereas the three water-related conventions, adopted in the early 1990s were still negotiated exclusively by government delegations, the subsequent follow-up instruments are negotiated in the presence of numerous stakeholders who could freely participate in the discussions. One may conclude that the negotiations of water-related instruments are entering a new era of interaction and communication involving key actors in that field.

Lessons Learned

The cases highlighted in this chapter are just a small selection of the thousands of initiatives being carried out across the world. They indicate the wide range of methods of civil society involvement , as well as the different positive and negative developments that can spark public engagement in water management in a region. Although the importance of stakeholder participation is increasingly recognized, there remain many obstacles to attaining truly participatory, equitable, and sustainable water management. Some of these obstacles are specific to regions or states, the primary problem being political and cultural systems that do not permit or welcome the involvement of civil actors. Others are fairly universal, such as the constant struggle to finance civil society initiatives and make them self-sufficient in the long term.

The diversity of types of NGOs, and the wide variety of methods and approaches to encouraging cooperation and participation over water, reflect the equally rich diversity between different regions and situations. The growth of civil society institutions around the world is a major positive development in international relations of the past few decades. While this diversity is necessary and inspiring, it also makes it more difficult for civil society to coordinate its efforts. Although increasing, civil society action is far from fully systematized, and can in certain cases be found wanting in transparency, expertise, representation, and willingness to cooperate with other partners. Not surprisingly, there are wide divisions between civil society actors, which makes it difficult to present a united position in international negotiations. Differences of opinion are inevitable when dealing with such critical and complex issues as privatization and dams. What is more important is that there be consensus through public participation on the method of implementing water projects while avoiding permanent damage to the environment.

Another problem is the lack of unity and communication between groups active at local, national, and global levels. There is still a long way to go before NGO participation in the negotiation and implementation of water-related elements of global environmental conventions and agreements is systematized. More consistent exchanges of information and experience sharing between NGOs of the North, South, and East on water and civil society are needed to enhance progress on common problems.

Civil society should work towards greater consistency in intervention between local, national, regional, and global levels in the promotion of water equity, stakeholder participation, local sustainability, and regional cooperation. Just as strong institutions and legal instruments at the national and basin level can encourage good management at the local level, widespread active participation of and cooperation between stakeholders at the local level can have a “trickle-up” effect in enhancing security throughout a river basin.


  • Samson, P. and Charrier, B. 1997. International Freshwater Conflict: Issues and Prevention Strategies.
  • Turton, A. Hydrosolidarity in Southern Africa. Morley, D. (ed.) 2000. Perspectives on Freshwater: Issues and Recommendations of NGOs, post-2nd World Water Forum, United Nations Environment and Development Forum, UK.
  • Ong’wen, O. (Policy Analyst and Researcher, Bank Monitoring Unit, Africa Water Network, Nairobi, Kenya.) n.d. NGO Experience, Intervention, and Challenges in Water Strain,
  • Demand, and Supply Management in Africa Athukorala, K. (President of NetWwater.) 2002. Hydrosolidarity and Ethnic Solidarity through Youth Water Awareness in the Pinga Oya Watershed, presentation at the UNESCO–Green Cross International conference From Conflict to Cooperation in International Water Resources Management, at IHE Delft November 20–22 2002.


  1. For the purposes of this chapter, “civil society” is not taken to include the private sector, also a key non-governmental actor in water management, which is dealt with specifically in other chapters. This chapter concentrates on activities aimed at increasing public participation.
  2. The subsidiarity principle states that decisions and actions should be taken at the lowest level capable of carrying them out, as close as possible to the citizen. It has recently been accepted, for example, as one of the underlying principles of the European Water Framework Directive.
  3. Joint NGO Statement on Iraq, 26 Sep 2002, signed by: Save the Children UK, CARE International UK, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Tearfund, Help Age International, Islamic Relief and 4Rs.
  4. Maasai Pay the Price of the Gem Rush, Mercy Wambui, Programme Officer with the Nairobi-based NGO Econews.
  5. Philippe Barret (GEYSER) and Alfonso Gonzales (GEA), UNESCO-IHP technical document, PCCP series volume Société Civile et Résolution des Conflits Hydriques
  6. Philippe Barret (GEYSER) and Alfonso Gonzales (GEA), UNESCO-IHP technical document, PCCP series volume Société Civile et Résolution des Conflits Hydriques
  7. Hydrosolidarity and Ethnic Solidarity through Youth Water Awareness in the Pinga Oya Watershed, project document, NetWwater, 2002; presentation of Ms Kusum Athukorala, President of NetWwater, at the UNESCO–Green Cross International conference From Conflict to Cooperation in International Water Resources Management at IHE Delft November 20–22 2002. NetWwater is the Network of Women Water Professionals, a group of professionals who are dedicated to the promotion of the Dublin–Rio principles and creating an awareness of the relevance of gender in water resources management.

See also

External Resources


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