Environment & energy, Government and governance, International relations, Food & water | Asia, Southeast Asia, The World

11 October 2019

Water is crucial for all nations, but climate change is having an increasing impact on our ability to access it. Transboundary collaboration, like that set out by Asia-Europe Meeting’s most recent Sustainable Development Dialogue, can provide a way forward, Kaveri Mishra writes.

The impacts of climate change are becoming evident in every sphere of human life. Erratic weather patterns are resulting in untimely rainfall, floods, drought, rising sea levels, and coastal erosion – just to name a few, and causing significant economic and social upheaval.

It is in this context that the 8th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Sustainable Development Dialogue was held in Siem Reap, Cambodia starting 19 September. With the theme of ‘Enhancing Water Partnership towards Sustainable Development and Inclusive Growth’, it brought out various challenges in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The deliberations highlighted the significance of transboundary cooperation from local to global experience. It spanned from discussing India’s water security to a Finland-Russia transboundary project, and to the success of Hungarian Danube Basin.

An important highlight of the Dialogue was its focus on the water challenges India faces, and the impact they are having on female education and the health of women.

More on this: Systemic risks and fragmented responses

India appears to be taking its water woes seriously, setting up a new ministry known as ‘Jal Shakti’ which literally means ‘water power’.

The development and management of water play a vital role in agriculture production in India with more 80 per cent of India’s water being used by this sector.

Integrated water management has been proposed as a vital move for poverty reduction, environmental sustenance and sustainable economic development.

With a population of over 1.3 billion people consuming more water than the US and China combined, India’s National Water Policy envisages its water resources as developed and managed in an integrated manner to tackle potential water crises.

Another positive to come from the Dialogue was multiple successful development and planning negotiations between the countries that span the Mekong river basin.

Water has huge potential for triggering economic and social development, especially through hydro projects. The success of hydro projects in the Mekong River Commission (MRC)’s member countries – Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam – demonstrates this for example.

Another example of the power of transboundary co-operation is The International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR). The ICPDR is an international organisation that has 14 co-operating states that span the Danube River Basin, and it has become the heart of river basin management expertise.

The ICPDR has built an holistic approach towards the Danube River Basin that includes its tributaries and groundwater resources, and the experience and expertise these nations have gained in this process has been a guiding force towards effective water management across Europe and Asia.

More on this: The poverty of simple answers on Mekong hydropower

The third case discussed at the Dialogue was Finnish-Russian transboundary water management. This care for water flow and the structural measures that exist across the two countries provides effective management of water issues like floods and water scarcity.

Climate change is causing an unprecedented trail of natural disasters which have the effect of deteriorating water quality and the decline of ecosystems, but the effect of this can be reduced, and states can mitigate risk, with appropriate coordination.

This has to occur both among countries in the region and outside of Asia, like with those ICPDR member states, whose expertise can be harnessed to solve regional problems.

The collaboration of MRC member countries can facilitate economic growth, and tackle poverty, by providing good management of water resources.

The final example of effective water management that policymakers can take from the Dialogue is the DroughtWatch system that is been implemented in Mongolia.

DroughtWatch-Mongolia was implemented with the aim of strengthening the capacity to warn policymakers of potential drought. It proved to be highly effective and will be implemented in three other countries, namely Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar this year.

More on this: Disasters beyond borders

Since the impact of climate change is affecting the severity of drought in Southeast Asia, some droughts may be inevitable. However, the severity of their impact and suffering can be reduced with timely interventions, which are enabled by a DroughtWatch policy.

21 Asian and 30 European countries proposing effective collaboration and exchanging their best ideas, strategies, and expertise is very promising.

This Dialogue and its various policy outcomes can strengthen interregional cooperation and capacity building. In turn, this can help to reduce the risk and impact of climate change.

Water plays a vital role in social and economic development. Water security and management are a key factor in achieving the SDGs, and this problem demands an integrated and comprehensive approach that can be fostered through public and private partnership among countries across the world.

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