Mey Alsayegh – Stockholm
December 2 2016
When Natasha Carmi, an engineer, and policy advisor on Water and Environment joined Palestinian Negotiations Support Project in 2010, it was often assumed in male dominated sector related meetings, that she was present as a “secretary”.
Carmi explained during The ICWC International Symposium on Water Diplomacy held in Stockholm on November 16 and 17 , that she has been working with water resources and environmental challenges in the Middle East for the past 20 years, and she succeeded in enhancing her position as an advisor on water issues, mainly in a field usually dominated by men, and participated in water related negotiations in various settings.
The International Symposium was hosted by The International Centre for Water Cooperation (ICWC) , UNESCO Category II Centre at Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), in collaboration with the International Centre for Water Resources and Global Change, Koblenz, Germany.
The goal of the ICWC Symposium is to bridge knowledge and encourage collaboration between researchers, diplomats, decision-makers, thought-leaders and practitioners to discuss the process of Water Diplomacy ,as an approach that contributes to conflict transformation, peace building and regional security.
Participants discussed multi-track diplomacy, regional dimensions, environmental peacebuilding and grassroots diplomacy, as well as the role of women in promoting and sustaining cooperation around shared water resources, in an attempt to unpack the different layers of actors and change agents, organizational and institutional frameworks, perspectives and approaches, as well as incentive structures and behavioural change.
There is no doubt that we are witnessing a new global era in diplomacy and political dynamics. In recent years, diplomacy has evolved to be more inclusive, open and transparent, involving different actors, in order to better tackle complex global challenges such as water scarcity and climate change.
Torgny Holmgren, the executive director of SIWI gave an example, how in Marrakech Climate Change Conference – November 2016 , municipalities were part of the discussions, highlighting on the importance of connecting actors, not only between countries but within countries.
He added: “Cooperation over internationally shared water resources can become a security issue – Water Diplomacy is key to ensuring that conflict preventive measures are understood and implemented”. Sweden will serve on the United Nations Security Council from 2017-2018. SIWI will support Security Council discussions from a water perspective.
In turn, Therese Sjömander Magnusson , Director of Transboundary Water Management at SIWI , pointed out that the process of water diplomacy is also receiving growing interest from the diplomatic community and security analysists.
She said:” We are entering a new era of diplomacy, as a result of water scarcity and climate change. Water Diplomacy is a dynamic and evolving process. We need to seize the opportunities for cooperation when they surface, and train the next generation of decision-makers on Water Diplomacy”.
But How can we define Water Diplomacy?
Thomas Meister, who has been working in Federal Foreign office in Germany for more than 30 years pointed out, that even though water has traditionally been a priority of German development cooperation and humanitarian aid, Water Diplomacy is relatively new field for German Foreign policy.
He identified some main areas of action of water diplomacy ,that included mediation, negotiation forums, diplomatic statements , shuttle diplomacy, conflict prevention, confidence building, initiation of joint studies and joint risk assessments and public diplomacy.
In terms of Cooperation architecture , Meister, the head of Division of Climate and Environmental foreign policy,
highlighted on initiation of international water treaties , establishment of river basin organizations , technical cooperation such as notification mechanisms, joint management plans and joint monitoring.
He said that since 2006,Water diplomacy presented a new concept different from water cooperation, adding that
Water Diplomacy is relevant to water conflicts to transboundary basins, while Shuttle Diplomacy is to focus on institutions, and capacity building and that what Germany has been doing on Central Asia.
Lenka Thamae, executive secretary at Orange Senqu River Commission ORASECOM , considered that water Diplomacy might be one of the ingredients of water cooperation, and enlarging the actors in achieving water cooperation.
He added:”Water Diplomacy might be considered a bridge to regional common good and national interest, how to stretch the resource to satisfy the demands”.
In parallel, Aaron Wolf , a professor at Oregon State University and a water expert tackled the spiritual understandings of conflict and transformation and their contribution to water dialogue.
The various spiritual tools Wolf inspired form the Jewish Kabbalah balance between justice and mercy, the Buddhist understanding of self and other, the Islamic processes for institutionalizing mercy and compassion in social interaction.
For his part, Seifeldin Abdalla, former Minister of Water in Sudan, highlighted on cultural diplomacy and the guidelines of Water Cooperation should be seen , through different lenses, so no one no one size fits all, he concluded.
Power and Politics
Professor Fredrik Söderbaum at Gothenburg university in Sweden stressed that Power and Politics matter in Regional water Diplomacy ,and national interests and sovereignty may prevent regional cooperation and implementation.
He said:”If we have taken decisions at regional level , we have to implement at national level, we do not have the capacities to deal with the issue”.
In his opinion, a regional approach to water involves winners and losers, so win-win and positive -sum solutions is difficult in practice, because benefits are often asymmetric and uneven. He advised not to idealise Water Diplomacy and cooperation and regional organizations, and not to ignore the dark forces of regional cooperation and integration , powerful actors instrumentalize Regional Organizations ROs and River Basin Organizations RBOs and other actors.
In turn, Susanne Schmeier, a coordinator of Transboundary Water Management at Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GIZ said that Water Diplomacy is highly recommended, due to water wars between countries, that could be just around the corners .
Schmeier warned of conflict over Mekong dams, and the race for hydropower development among Mekong countries ,that could lead to conflicts or even war over water, as regional security experts and U.S intelligence say.
The discussions continued and participants move to Multi-track diplomacy , that merge between track one (official, governmental action) and track two (unofficial, non governmental action).
Tineke Roholl, from Ministry of Foreign affairs in the Netherlands said :”We need to understand who are the different actors and bringing them together”.
she added :”Media can frame scientific data and to communicate science to policy makers to help politicians to reach to decision”.
For his part, Kerry Schneider, from SIWI focused on the necessity to bridge academics and Science with policies.
Grass Roots Diplomacy
Jumping to Grass roots diplomacy, we noticed that Track 1 diplomacy provide framework where for instance grassroots in South Africa were a channel of communication to local communities to express their will, the main challenge is how to make them relevant in the decision process, Thamae concluded.
But what is Grass roots diplomacy?
Grass roots are the foundation of society run by common people like the feet on the ground ,that can easily mobilize people ,and identify the roots of the problem.
Nazareth Porras, a project officer at International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) explained that Grass roots diplomacy is a water diplomacy ,that include central governments with high level dialogues and local stakeholders ,and many types of arrangements and peace building mechanisms.
She highlighted on Grassroots Diplomacy in GOASCORAN (Honduras and Salvador), and stated that challenges that
include Political will for transboundary cooperation,
legal and institutional water set ups like facilitation of process empowerment (local stakeholders ) and active participation and sustainability mechanisms.
Porras concluded that Grassroots owners makes cooperation possible and with no grassroots participation, there will be neither water diplomacy nor peace.
But Do track III grassroots efforts need to be linked or influence Track I decision making process, in order to be considered successful, or can these efforts stand alone in making a difference in terms of building the enabling environment needed for broader cooperation?
Participants considered that Grassroots play the role of watchdogs ,and can effectively provide advice , but it can effective without being directly linked.
But how can we guarantee the freedom of civil society and media? And at the same time, We should not neglect that grassroots may have their own agenda ,and they can politicize process.
What women can do in terms of Water Diplomacy?
Margareta Wahlström , former UN Secretary General’s Special Representative, and Head of the UN’s Office for Disaster Reduction, talked about the model of Swedish Women Mediator Network , created by Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA) in 2015, and supported by the Swedish government to launch a network for women, that within two years will be prepared to contribute to peace processes around the world.
Studies show that only two percent of the chief mediators in international peace processes between 1992 and 2001 were women, a fact that affects how peace agreements are designed and influences the sustainability of peace.
This fact triggers Minister for Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström in 2014 to launch Sweden’s feminist foreign policy , and highlight on the need of the presence of women at the negotiating table in peace talks.
Sweden’s feminist foreign policy aims at ensuring women’s rights and participation in central decision-making processes, including in peace building efforts and peace negotiations.
On the other hand, Lesha Witmer, a member of Women for Water Partnership, and an expert on water governance and gender, reminded of Dublin principles 1992, that reveals that women play a central role in the supply , management and safeguarding of water , a place at the decision making table and key role in water management.
Witmer said:”Female ambassadors tend to focus on underlying factors of larger problems, bringing issues such as poverty health care and safe drinking water into discussions”, adding that “women are willing to consider options more carefully for a longer period of time than men, until the right route for action is found”.
She concluded that finding other solutions to the root cause of many insecurity and inequality makes women effective diplomats.
Based on that, How can women for instance in Lebanon be inclusive in Water sector that is managed by Ministry of Energy and Water at national level ,and 4 autonomous water establishments at regional level and dominated by men?
If we look at the situation in Central Asia, we notice that in Kyrgyzstan for instance, more than half of the country’s 633 water institutions have a gender balanced board.
Mostly women in Kyrgyzstan collect water for house hold use, and since men migrate in rural areas to work abroad, due to this fact women have also taken over farming responsibilities, and now they have influence on major decisions on how this precious source is governed at local, national and regional level.
But this achievement was an outcome of support of international NGOS ,that train those ladies about importance of applying gender perspective in water management, and be effective in a field usually was dominated by men. Such model in Central Asia is inspiring indeed ,and there are lots of lessons that Lebanese women can learn.
Juan Carlos Paez Zamora, lead environmental and social officer at and Governance division at Inter-American Investment Corporation, said:”There is a difficulty in finding a success story of a woman negotiator at high level ,because you can rarely find women in senior water positions”.
So the key according to the participants is education that can make a difference , if women want to be engaged in Water sector , they can do it.
Women have to be present in Water Diplomacy because they have the right ,not because they are better than men in negotiations, and young women to turn their focus to water issues.
What is next?
Participants taken a step in trying to understand the concept of water diplomacy , bearing in their mind that diplomacy looks different than before, and nowadays it focuses on migration ,trade, climate change, it is not more about arms race .
They stressed on the importance of understanding different types of diplomacy, preventive , mediation, reactive, participatory , implementary, and the necessity of engaging certain actors in diplomacy , and addressing the incentives and challenges.
Participants concluded that governance structure is important with proper mandate, since weak governance will not help regional intuitions in being effective and to invite
people from trade, investors and security analysts to the discussion ,and to attract more women to the water sector.
SIWI ambition to put a proposal for WORLD WATER WEEK, to have a follow up meeting next year ,and it is counting on Sweden presence in Security Council in pushing for implementation of Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs), noting that Sweden ranked 5 in terms of its implementation.
On January 1 2017 Sweden will have a seat on the Security Council ,and there is a lot of hope that a global policy for sustainable peace and development pays off. Let’s keep our eye on New York ,and see how the Swedish Government is going to boost the status of Water Diplomacy and Gender Equality on the global agenda.