Stockholm – Mey Al Sayegh
Starting January 1, 2019, the Istanbul-based Turkish Water Institute (SUEN)will serve as a coordination office for a period of two years of the Blue Peace Initiative, which was launched in 2009by the India-based think tank, Strategic Foresight Group (SFG) and supported by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
Blue Peace High Level group was chaired by HRH Prince Al Hassan Bin Talal, and built around transforming water from an instrument of conflict into one of cooperation between Turkey ,Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Iran(joined recently). In addition to organizing conferences and workshops, issuing reports and recommendations, it included learning journeys for Blue Peace community members to Transboundary Rivers like The Rhine, The Mekong, The Senegal and The Nile to inspire from successful regional cooperation experiences in shared basins.
It laid the soft infrastructure dialogue between Middle East countries who share transboundary water resources as SFG President Sundeep Waslekar stated, and its members aspire to adoption of its recommendations by decision makers in the six respective countries.
Swiss Ambassador to Sweden Christian Schoenenberger praised the effort of Blue peace community in trying to bridge technical experience with political sphere, and noted that expanding water diplomacy needs data base and political will that should be the homework of the region, and his country is ready to fund studies that promotes Trans boundary water infrastructure.
But now the time has come to transfer the management leadership from SFG to regional institutions as agreed upon in Zurich on 21-22 August, 2017 and announced during the latest meeting of Blue Peace held in Stockholm on August 29-30.
The new structure would include a Coordination Office, Thematic Activity Centers, Managing Committee and a Policy Advisory Committee. The nomination process for the Policy Advisory started up while 2 members from each country delegation was chosen for the managing committee during the two-day meeting held in the Swedish capital and was attended by senior regional and international officials and experts on water, journalists and academics.
The first key area of focus of this body will be “water use efficiency in agriculture” as agreed in the Planning meeting on Blue Peace in the Middle East in Istanbul in February 26-27, 2018.
And as 80% of water in the Middle East goes towards agriculture and it is essential for food security, therefore, any improvement in water for irrigation can lead to reduction in demand and reduction in conflict. Work can be done on issues such as changing cropping patterns, introducing more efficient irrigation techniques and recycling wastewater for agriculture.
Since the ownership of the problems and solutions belong to the countries in the region, so it is a natural decision to bring this process to which countries research institutions and policy making to take the lead”, Danilo Turk , former president of Slovenia stated.
He hoped that this new setting will allow comparing good practices and seeing where in the region things started to work well.
But would this step create any reluctance between regional countries since SUEN, operates under the authority of the Turkish Ministry of Forest and Water Affairs?
Turkey is given the leadership now because it is in a better position in comparison to the other countries, Turk Said , adding that it is an upper riparian country, and has enjoyed peace for a long time and has the technical capacity and knowledge while Syria for instance is still in war , so the experience is on the side of Turkey”.
He stated :”I am not underestimating the current water problems between Iraq ,Syria, Turkey and Iran and I am aware that this cooperation has never been easy, the building of dams on Tigris and Euphrates rivers has caused problems in the past, but this platform will help in raising this question at high level”.
Turk who acts as the Chairman of Global High level Panel on Water and Peace clarifies that the report entitled ” A matter of survival” issued by the panel does not suggest creating any additional institution body but what is needed strengthening quality of networking and cooperation among the existing actors.
Turk recommended to start thinking about peace in Syria. He said “no war goes on forever, reconstruction obviously would be a difficult job and refugees who will return will need degree of normalcy, and normalcy cannot be established without water, and water arrangements cannot be established without a degree of water cooperation between Syria and Iraq and Turkey”.