Stockholm World Water Week: Water can catalyse cooperation in conflict situations
A bulletin released by the Water, Peace and Security (WPS) partnership during the Stockholm World Water Week, reports the possible outbreak of cholera in refugee camps in Sudan because of water shortages and lack of sanitation services. The issue of water and peace is always high on the agenda of the Stockholm World Water Week. This year’s edition again had several sessions, including a high-level panel. Joint water interests can bring conflicting parties together.
Setting the stage at the high-level panel was Fatou Jeng, climate advisor to the UN secretary-general. “I come from Gambia in a region that is the hardest hit by climate change. As a farmer’s daughter, I saw how the main source of his income declined because of drought and many other issues”, she told her audience in Stockholm. “Last year during the rainy seasons people lost their lives. Others were displaced. This is really sad. In the whole of Africa, there is an increase in violence and displacement because of water insecurity. I see water as a key stabilizing force in peace and global security”, Jeng stated. On the question of what could help the hardest hit regions, she advocated to include the most vulnerable, the women, the children, and the poor. “They are often left out of projects. Give them ownership.”
Tensions over water
The session underlined that floods and droughts are normal events but due to global warming, they are not only more severe but also more frequent. The impacts are bigger and longer lasting. The disturbance of the water system has a high social impact brings instability and can be a root cause of discontent and even conflicts. It was mentioned that good water management can take away discontent and ease tensions. This goes for disputes between countries upstream and downstream of transboundary rivers, as well as disputes over water sources during droughts causing failed harvests and starving cattle. Severe floods can lead to displacements and violence.
Prediction of conflicts
The Water Peace and Security (WPS) partnership developed a tool that indicates the likelihood of conflict up to a year in advance. In their most recent quarterly report, issued during the Stockholm World Water Week, the focus is on East Africa. It notes that this year’s good rainy season, from March to May, could not reverse the cumulative impact of the long drought that has plagued the East Africa region, and that food insecurity has reached unprecedented levels. In Sudan, already suffering from four months of conflict, there are fears that water shortages and a lack of sanitation services could lead to a cholera outbreak, in particular in refugee camps at the Sudan-Chad border.
The WPS partnership started in 2018 and, since March this year, is one of the 832 commitments on the UN-Water Action Agenda. The partnership wants to extend its work in countries where the tensions on the sharing of scarce water are high. In Mali, Iraq, Kenya, and Ethiopia, the partnership organizes dialogues and tries to reverse the vicious cycle of water conflicts, into a virtuous cycle of cooperation and mutual benefits. Based on the innovative approach of Understand, Mobilize, Learn, Dialogue, the partnership will continue to organize local dialogues, contributing to the UN Water Action Agenda.
Actively involved in these dialogues is Ibrahima Sado Fofana, advocacy officer at Wetlands International Sahel Office, one of the WPS partners. He is based in Mali and works in close cooperation with Deltares, the Dutch research institute on water and subsurface. Fofana joined the event in Stockholm online and explained his daily work, seeking ways to overcome water-related disputes in a country that has been at war with rebellions since 2012.
It is no easy job, Fofana admits as the armed conflict is always in the background, causing distrust. Much of WPS’s work situates in the inner Niger Delta and the conflicting use of the river water for fishery, cattle herders, and farmers. “It is comme ci comme ça, as they say in French. Sometimes the tensions are high, and sometimes they are low. We try to develop a strategy to make the delta more climate resilient and bring together the local committees representing the interest of different water users”.
Independent hydrological data
Organizing dialogues, he closely collaborates with Deltares and other partners such as International Alert to develop innovative tools and methodologies that facilitate the dialogue. “Working with internationals empowers me to bridge the different views of the water users, such as fishermen, cattle herders, farmers, municipalities, and technical services for the national government. All have their agendas to converge towards peace, security, and community resilience”. Fofane is convinced that the dialogues on water help to stabilize local conflicts in his country. He mentioned the recent example of the conflict between exploiters of river sand and the cattle herders. “Mining the sand, the exploiters deepen the river. Together we found a way for the cattle to continue to cross the river. “
The Water, Peace and Security (WPS) partnership is a collaboration between the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), and a consortium of six partners: IHE Delft (lead partner), World Resources Institute (WRI), Deltares, The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS), Wetlands International and International Alert.
Read more about the Water, Peace and Security (WPS) partnership.