‘Duty to Cooperate’ for Water Security

Posted: 2012-10-03

GWP at UN Round-table on Water Security

GWP participated in the UN High Level Round-table Discussion on Water, Peace and Security on Tuesday, 25 September 2012, at the UN Headquarters in New York. The round-table was a side event during the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly, and was hosted by the European Union, the United States, and UN-Water.

GWP was represented by GWP Technical Committee Member Patricia Wouters, Professor of International Water Law at Dundee University and the Xiamen University Law School.

A range of speakers addressed the round-table including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said in her speech, “I think water should be a priority in every nation’s foreign policy and domestic agenda, and we need to work together to advance cooperation on shared waters.”

The round-table identified the importance of water in national and international security. U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civil Security, Democracy and Human Rights Maria Otero summarised the outcomes of the discussion:

  • cooperation and collaboration is essential to advancing work in this area and to finding responses to water security challenges at local, regional and global levels; (most speakers referred to the 1992 and 1997 UN conventions and several called for the entry into force of the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention);
  • the broad range of institutions required to deal with water and the need to build bridges across these;
  • prioritising water at national and international levels; to stop talking and to start doing;
  • the need for more teaching, training, capacity enhancement at the country and regional level and a more coordinated engagement of the public and private sectors.

Professor Wouters also participated in the UN Expert Panel on Water, Peace and Security, held after the round-table. The objective of the panel, hosted by UN Water, USAID and the Skoll Foundation, was:

  • to place the political dialogues in the context of the state of knowledge and contemporary perspectives on water security issues – a broad spectrum that includes peace and security issues;
  • to identify international development issues that correlate directly with water security concerns;
  • to discuss areas or regions of concern where water security is, or may soon become, a major concern; and
  • to agree on the themes and areas for which work at the UN can make a significant impact – essentially outlining ideas and issues to be incorporated into the UN-Water Analytical Brief. 

Professor Wouters covered the basic concepts of water security and covered key legal issues with a focus on conflicts-of-use over transboundary water and competing/conflicting demands across the water/food/energy nexus. She focussed on how to move beyond barriers of state sovereignty to explore what the ‘duty to cooperate’ means in transboundary water resources management. She introduced GWP’s work in this area especially through its extensive network of partners. “GWP is a vehicle for expanding on the meaning and application of water security”, she said.

The following issues were raised and discussed:

  1. Transboundary issues – how to change the adversarial approach to water security? There is a need to build local and regional political constituencies and for stronger UN leadership on water.
  2. What role can the UN Security Council play? Could water security be classified as a threat to peace?
  3. There is a need to better brand and communicate the water security issue – other sectors, like energy or renewables seem to have better sound-bites and attract more funding.
  4. What does the ‘duty to cooperate’ mean in a world of sovereign states – what role does international law have in unpacking the water security discourse?

Professor Wouters urged GWP to continue close communication with the UN on this topic, demonstrating GWP’s value-added through both its conceptual approach and its on the ground network.


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