Increasing Need For Hydroplomacy In Asia

Via Radio Australia, a very interesting interview of Suzanne Dimaggio of the Asia Society on the increasing pressure of water scarcity in Asia.  As the article notes:

SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: Well, I think the Central Asian water summit is one of the harbingers of what’s to come – growing disagreement over how to share water resources. There’s certainly – that area is what I would call prone to greater conflict. Beyond Central Asia, we have, of course, India and Pakistan, which for many years have had skirmishes over water resources. And when you factor in the growing populations in these countries, combined with growing urbanisation rates and then the impact of climate change, what we’re seeing is sort of a perfect storm of factors that are putting greater stress on water. Another example of potential conflict, or growing tension, is within China itself. There are already mass movements and protests at the local and community levels over water resources. And there’s also an ethnic factor there, where Tibetans – where that part of China does have a good deal of water, is now – that water is being taken to Han Chinese and creating ethnic tensions. So we see simmering tensions at many levels, the local level, trans-boundary and regional.

JOANNA McCARTHY: And Suzanne, you’re calling for more preventive diplomacy. What are the issues that states should be trying to resolve before it reaches a conflict stage?

SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: Well, first and foremost, when we talk about conflicts over water, we have to realise that traditional tools of response are clearly not going to solve these matters. So through preventive diplomacy, dialogue and treaties and agreements on how to share these depleting resources – it’s really the only answer. We have to look at it from a development point of view, as well as an environment point of view.

JOANNA McCARTHY: We have, though, seen the difficulties in arriving at a post 2012 climate agreement, for example. Are you confident that global co-operation on water security is actually possible?

SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: Well, I would actually like to see the international community link the two, link climate change and water. Because, after all, when you look at the impacts that climate change is going to have, and is having, most of them manifest themselves on negative impacts on water, in terms of quantity and quality. So I think with the major UN conference coming up on climate change, where governments will be coming together to try to hash out a post-Kyoto agreement, it should also include a lot of focus on how to deal with the water issue, as well.

JOANNA McCARTHY: What about the technical solutions here? Is it feasible to rely on desalination plants and the like to address the region’s water needs?

SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: Well certainly using technologies and other innovations is part of the solution. The Middle East now uses a lot of desalinisation technologies for their water issues, which are also severe. What the challenge will be – because a lot of the technology is very expensive and in Asia, where you have, you know, large populations of people living under the line of poverty – particularly in India and China and elsewhere – these technologies are just out of reach. So we have to find a way to get low technologies to these communities throughout Asia.

JOANNA McCARTHY: Suzanne, is there a danger here of the world succumbing to crisis fatigue? We hear so many alarming predictions. Is there a danger people will just shut their ears?

SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: Yeah, that’s something that worries me a lot. Of course, we have the climate crisis, the energy crisis, and now with swine flu, a potential global health crisis, among others, and of course the economic crisis. But when you look at the major challenges that are facing Asia today, whether it’s the energy, energy security, food security, the economic crisis, poverty alleviation. If we can make improvements in water security, that would help to advance all of these issues. So I think we should look at water standing as the nexus of more developments in the region.

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