Picture: Panel of participants during the BRIDGE side event at the 7th World Water Forum in Daegu, South Korea
Yesterday was our third day in Daegu, and the World Water Forum is now in full swing. I’m happy to be here to immerse myself in the incredible opportunities to learn and to share what every day provides.
While trying to build a summary of my day for the blog I soon realised that a lot of the talks here actually go way beyond water-related topics. The topics are so diverse, so cross-cutting, that on occasion I’ve almost forgotten that I’m at a forum about water and not at one of the big meetings on climate change, food production, energy, international diplomacy, the economy or biodiversity conservation. The attendee list is just as varied as the topics covered, with participants stemming from various backgrounds, including ministries of environment, foreign affairs, energy and agriculture. In addition, there are numerous representatives from international and local NGOs and the private sector.
Don’t get me wrong, the forum is targeted, professional and there is an ocean of water-related knowledge to absorb, but I think the real magic here is how water topics have the capacity to overcome boundaries, to traverse levels and to embrace environmental, political, economic and societal issues as a whole.
Throughout my career I have always been fascinated by rivers especially for this reason, for their capacity to federate, to gather and merge interests, and to connect countries, communities and other stakeholders. This week I’ve had the opportunity to introduce the BRIDGE (Building River Dialogue and Governance) project facilitated by IUCN, and again this goes way further than talking only about water. This project develops a very innovative approach to transboundary water governance in various basins of the world by downscaling the concepts and principles of international treaties and regulations on water to a very local level. The project uses training packages and role playing, and builds technical forums to collectively think about what good transboundary water governance means for our target basins and how it can be concretely implemented while adapting to local rules and specificities.
This process has a name: hydro-diplomacy. This may be a big word to explain an often complex process, but the hydrodiplomacy I have in mind is concrete, based on fact and experience, ground proofed and is probably what makes the specificity of the BRIDGE project. I feel like a humble ambassador of all our partners in what are known as the ‘3S river basins’, our BRIDGE pilot basins in Southeast Asia shared by Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia. As I speak about the project here at the World Water Forum in South Korea, faces and voices come flooding back to my mind: a senior official from the Cambodian National Mekong Committee sharing his views about transboundary governance; young staff from the Diplomatic Academy of Viet Nam willing to learn how their country can be a ‘good neighbour’ through the implementation of the newly ratified UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC); and the concerns of local governments of southern Lao provinces on how to strengthen their own institutional mechanisms through a River Basin Organisation, to play a major role in the regional dialogue surrounding the 3S basins.
Throughout all the presentations I have attended here so far, it is clear that one of the main concerns of the 7th World Water Forum is to move from identifying solutions to implementing them. Through the BRIDGE project I really feel that IUCN and its partners are bringing concrete solutions and implementation techniques to one of the key challenges of water management: the cooperation amongst countries which can establish strong partnership mechanisms applicable to all sectors and stakeholders. This project is one more example of how water-related dialogue actually serves various broader purposes, in this case strengthening international cooperation.
As the day ended and I attended a final event on the two global conventions on transboundary water cooperation, I heard once again one of the Ministers talking from the stage: “Water cooperation is key to solve diplomatic, economic and social issues for our country”. More than water, I tell you!