50 Years of Water Diplomacy in the Americas
The Organization of American States (OAS) is the oldest regional institution in the world. Created
in 1948 after the signing of the Charter of the OAS (hereinafter “the Charter”), its origins
go back to the First International Conference of American States, which took place between
1889 and 1890, in Washington, D.C., when it was agreed to promote the creation of the International
Union of American Republics, which subsequently constituted the Inter-American
The OAS groups the Western Hemisphere States that comprise the Americas, to strengthen
cooperation ties and safeguard their common interest. In fact, as it is established under the
first article of the Charter, the Organization was founded to ensure that its Member States
“achieve an order of peace and justice, to promote their solidarity, to strengthen their collaboration,
and to defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, and their independence.” (OAS,
One of the central themes in the structuring process of the cooperation ties and in the construction
of common interests amongst the Organization Member States is sustainable management
of water resources. Within this framework of action, water constitutes an opportunity to propel
Pan-American union and solidarity which leads to consider that the strengthening of democracy
and cooperation is fundamental to guarantee the human right to water.
The geographical layout of water resources in the Americas is integrating, since it provides the
conditions needed to promote solidarity and cooperation. As an example of this, is the fact that
can be mentioned is that twenty-four countries in the region share sixty-eight transboundary2
aquifer systems (UNESCO-OAS, 2007, 2008). Taking into account that water is also a promoter
of development, its availability in the American continent is favorable for its stimulation as about
45% of the fresh water worldwide is located in the region.3
In spite of the development possibilities that water resources offer, in the Americas there is many
challenges that persist related to such as access to water of optimal quality and sufficient quantity,
water resources conflicts, and use of transboundary4 waters, among other issues related to
sustainable water management.
It is for the reason of a sufficient and complex vicissitudes range, that the OAS assumed 50
years ago the water resources concerns of the Member States as an important item in its agenda.
This led the Organization to undergo a series of changes in its institutional structure and in
its normative and conceptual frameworks to respond to water management challenges in the
Americas and the growing visibility of water resources concerns in government agendas.
Throughout this time, the Organization was able to promote a process through which water became
an articulating element of peace, integration and sustainable development in the Americas.
For this purpose, through Integrated Water Resources Management, which has been the
approach promoted from the OAS Department of Sustainable Development (DSD), debates,
counseling services, exchanges of experience and good practices have been fostered, as well
as cooperation projects with different governments and cooperation agencies to foster water
governance and governability, a dialogue culture in the Americas, the sustainable use of water
resources, the human dimension of water and its management as well as transboundary water
resources system management, among other issues.
The lessons learnings during over fifty years of water resources management at the OAS have
been multiple. Direct work in different countries and in regional and local areas have modeled the
experiences and the approaches of the Organization, allowing the formulation of proposals that
are pertinent (in line with real needs), timely (actions planned at the right moment), professional
(based on international and national standards for water and environmental management), respectful
(based on respect for national sovereignty), equitable (based on the fair distribution to
satisfy all the water use demands) and people-centered (rights approach).
The accumulated experience of the OAS through its DSD, led to view that it was imperative that
water resources management should be integral. Based on this, it was assumed that strengthening
of democracy, and governance and governability, are vital to guaranteeing the human right
to water, social inclusion and sustainable development.
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50 years of water diplomacy in the Americas.