The Meuse and the Scheldt river basins are shared by France, Belgium and The Netherlands. The major issues include accidental pollution, water shortages in summer (the Meuse) and maritime access to the Belgian port of Antwerp (Scheldt).
In 1967, the Belgian government proposed two projects to improve maritime access to the port of Antwerp. These would involve activities in The Netherlands, the downstream country. The Netherlands agreed to discuss these projects, but insisted on the inclusion of other issues - water pollution and water allocation – in the discussions.
A draft agreement was reached, but this was not accepted within Belgium because the Flemish region would be the main beneficiary, while the costs would fall mostly on the Walloon region. After some negotiation and restructuring of the proposals, agreement was reached on all issues in 1993/ 1994.
As part of the agreement, international river basin commissions with a co-ordination task were established. These commissions have prepared a first action plan on protecting the Meuse and the Scheldt respectively.
- If the “right” issues are linked, issue linkage can result in a package deal that is attractive for all parties involved (win-win solution). In this way, upstream-downstream conflicts can be overcome and international co-operation on the receiving seas, can play an important role.
- A cross sectoral approach that looks beyond the water sector is often instrumental in developing attractive package deals.
- River basin commissions with a purely co-ordination task (without decision-making powers) can offer an effective framework for international co-operation. In addition, other international fora, such as regional economic organisations and international co-operation on the receiving seas, can play an important role.
Importance of the case for IWRM
The case presents an approach for solving a central problem in river basinmanagement: upstream-downstream conflicts of interests. Moreover, it offers anexample of an institutional framework for international river basin managementthat can further promote international co-operation.
Photo credit: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier