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Hydrodiplomacy and Climate Change for Peace: Case of the Governance of International Basins

Senate, Luxembourg Palace - 20 January 2020

A truthful day organized by the initiative of Mr. Fadi Georges Comair

in collaboration with Senator Olivier Cadic


"Hydrodiplomacy and Climate Change for Peace: Case of the Governance of International Basins" is the title of the symposium held in Paris on 20 January in the prestigious setting of the Senate in the heart of the 5th arrondissement, a stone's throw from the Luxembourg Gardens.

It was at the joint initiative of French Senator Olivier Cadic and Fadi Georges Comair, President of the Council of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme (IHP) and MEDURABLE, that this event was able to renew itself for the fifth year in a row by bringing together a panel of experts and personalities from around the world to discuss together the future of hydrodiplomacy, a concept initiated and created by Fadi Comair. 

Building a culture of water peace 

Hydrodiplomacy, a tool at the service of peace, was at the heart of the major symposium hosted by the Senate on 20 January, in the presence of several ministers and personalities from the Arab world and France. Among them are Her Royal Highness, Princess Soumaya Bint El Hassan, President of the Royal Scientific Society, His Excellency Mr. Mohamed Nasr El Din Allam, Former Egyptian Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources and Yasser Abbas Mohamed Ali, Minister of Hydraulic Resources Irrigation of the Republic of Sudan.

As a key theme of this 5th edition: the management of international basins and the governance of the Nile were at the heart of the debates.


During this day, rich in debates and information sharing, participants took turns addressing the growing climate challenges and their dangers and called with one voice for the need for dialogue by applying the concepts of hydrodiplomacy and Nexus (Water-Energy-Food) in order to find "win-win" resolutions to conflicts.

At the opening of the symposium, the President of the IHP’s council rightly highlighted the importance of such a reflection on geopolitical, environmental and security issues that affect the riparian countries in question, in order to maintain a climate of peace through the concept of hydrodiplomacy and the implementation of the recommendations of the Paris Agreement (on the fight against climate change, adopted in 2015) as well as the Paris Pact (on water and adaptation to climate change at the basin level, also agreed on in 2015).


Based on the experience gained in other basins around the world and referring to the recommendations of the four previous symposiums on the Orontes, Jordan, Nile and Tigris and Euphrates basins, the main objective of this meeting was to propose the establishment of a "roadmap" of policies of adaptation to climate change, securing and managing resources for the governance of international basins.

Before going back on the highlights of the day, let us remember that the Franco-Lebanese expert is also a member of the Academy of Overseas Sciences and honorary president of the Mediterranean Network of Basin Organizations (MENBO).


On this occasion, Fadi Comair said that he was very grateful, once again, for the continued support of his friend, Senator Cadic, with whom he works hand-in-hand through these seminars to raise awareness among as many experts and decision-makers as possible about the tools of hydrodiplomacy.


Separated in two workshops, the reflections, inviting the experts to dialogue and to explain their visions, animated the morning. Here are the main elements, chosen from a long and complete list.

Workshop 1: Hydrodiplomacy and the Nexus of the Nile Basin: what kind of mediation for sustainable governance?
"The interconnectedness of global issues affecting the Nile Basin and the lack of adequate governance have implications in the sustainable governance of the Nile basin. Moreover, the impact of global changes on the concerned countries would have  negative repercussions on water resources, both quantitatively and qualitatively, as well as on the need for water and the efficiency of the use of this resource for different purposes," explains Fadi Comair in this workshop which aimed to identify the hotbeds of tension that weigh on the riparian countries, while focusing on demand management and water efficiency, improving local and national water governance, based on the integrated basin approach, in order to propose the adoption of hydrodiplomacy and Nexus Water-Energy-Food concepts.
From this workshop, we will remember the following points raised and defended by the participants:
  • The final agreement to be signed on 29 January 2020 led by negotiations in Washington between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan... January 28 and 29 were to be the dates that would finalize the agreement on the filling and operation of the Great Renaissance Dam. The negotiations in Washington follow Egypt's call for the international community to move forward in negotiations with Ethiopia in order to reduce the impact of the 6,450 MW dam on its drinking water supply.

  • Climate change is a challenge. 

  • The principles of international law must be the guide of the talks.

  • Governance must involve all riparian countries.

  • An approach of cooperation is essential between the neighboring countries to reach a "win-win" agreement. 

  • The spirit of cooperation at the service of the three countries was particularly welcomed.

  • The use of water in a reasonable and fair manner.

  • Principles of international law and the UNECE Convention. "The Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE Water Convention) was adopted in Helsinki on 17 March 1992. It is the only international framework agreement in force on transboundary fresh water."

  • UNESCO: Create the transboundary water observatory. Give member states a voice for data exchange.

  • Have a clear picture of the situation on which negotiations can be based.

  • Support of the European Union to the agreements.

  • Developmental, demographic, environmental, technical, political and financial dimensions. Call for the connection between all these dimensions.

  • Another form of diplomacy is needed: hydrodiplomacy.

  • The deep need for cooperation; Innovation in mindset of working together.

  • Sharing a vital resource: negotiation is not the best way but it is an ethical communication process.

  • The respect for living together and finding win-win solutions. The principle of not harming riparian countries.

  • The mediator is not a diplomat who works according to the techniques of negotiation

  • Inter understanding - Process of ethical communication, dialogue.

The conclusion of this workshop highlighted the following findings:

  • Water is an element for peace. 

  • The lack of water can be a source of conflict, hence the importance of hydrodiplomacy and dialogue. 

  • We must take into account the interests of all. 

  • Work in a developmental logic. 

  • Science has the power to build a better society.

Workshop 2: Hydrodiplomacy and Nexus: creating the conditions for sustainable governance for the Mediterranean

During this workshop, the topic of discussion was how the Nexus can operate on an international level? 

The participants agreed that UNESCO can play a central role in securing both hydrodiplomacy and nexus in order to resolve conflicts between the neighbouring countries.


To do this, UNESCO will continue to raise awareness through improving education and disseminating knowledge. Another unifying point was to encourage state donations by acting as close as possible to decision-makers.

We will remember from this workshop the following interventions :

That of French MP Jean Francois Mbaye- the Member of Parliament for Val-de-Marne looked at the issue of the Nile and the "importance of third-state mediation". He highlighted particularly "the important role that NGOs can play in this regard in order to push towards greater international solidarity" and also financial support. 

Professor Ilan Juran, -NYU- Senior Consultant- defended the sharing and exchange of data, as well as the immense weight of education. He then called for the setting up of meeting points, such as an observatory, between the different countries of the Mediterranean basin. Although he acknowledged that the problems are global, the consultant nevertheless stated that "the solutions are mostly local" and then took the successful example of Colorado that is made up of 6 U.S. states as well as Mexico, whose conclusion of an agreement took 7 years...

From his side, Eric Tardieu, the Director General of the International Water Board warned by saying that: "The Mediterranean Basin region will be most affected by climate change." He then called for "for being inspired by the achievements already made, notably around Senegal, and to build on the Helsinki Convention and the UN, which can be sources of information". In this sense, he recommended involving local authorities to create a common space that would allow water to be seen as a common good.


Jacques Brulhet- GID, Academy of Agriculture in France highlighted "the importance of agriculture and water use because of which many problems arise" including irrigation, overgrazing for livestock... (With a specific emphasis on forests and the optimal prevention of related current fires).


For Natasha Carmi : "Stopping armed conflict includes giving the parties obligations to recommend and to educate about the jurisdiction in terms of water and conflict."


Michel Lafforgue, project manager-Direction France Nord-Ouest - Agence Ile de France-SUEZ, after presenting 3 cases, assured that "the real problem and solution are always political". However, he assured that observing many ways of dealing with water, and especially anticipation, are essential because initiatives often take several years to come to light. As an example, he cited Singapore by saying that the city was totally dependent on Malaysia but that it succeeded to stand out with several initiatives including desalination and wastewater use.


Martina Klimes, Advisor, Water and Peace, Transboundary Water Management Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI): although there are conventions in force, the expert lamented the fact that several countries are not signatories of any of it. Hence the importance for her to "promote informal diplomacy: to find places for discussion where the parties can dialogue despite the tensions". She also said that conflicts are on the rise, particularly as a result of rising global warming. For the advisor, "science is now being defied," and that is another challenge, she said. "So it's a matter for scientists to figure out how to get the message across and to influence on decision-makers. Improving communication on needs, and pushing for collaboration" were among the necessary actions she then called for.  The last highlighted point was the inclusion. "We need to include direct beneficiaries and those involved as well as decision-makers who need to work hand-in-hand."


Professor Michael Scoullos, President of GWP-MED and workshop rapporteur, then highlighted the need for hydrodiplomacy. "It's a preparatory work for a more conventional action," he said. In this sense, he stated that "associations have a role to play in disseminating and including UN conventions." He also welcomed the many initiatives that exist around the Mediterranean basin, while calling "the situation complex with equally convoluted problems that must be tackled with all the necessary available tools".


For Alice Aureli, head of The Groundwater Systems and Human Settlements (GSS) section at UNESCO, the work must be done at the local and international level. "National work is important and must be preparatory," she said, adding that "France must also play a role, especially at the political level." Here the key word is inter-sectionalism (agriculture, water sharing, but also economic, commercial exchanges...). 


The former Minister in charge of the Environment of Morocco's Minister of Energy, Mines, Water and Environment, Charafat Afilal, called for promoting the role of hydrodiplomacy in which she strongly believes. "Unesco has a real role to play," she said. The Jordanian representative then made much more political remarks, assuring that: changes in Syria and Libya, particularly demographic changes (with many refugees) affect water and its use. She then called for broadening the scope of vision by including the concrete contexts of the so-called countries. 


At the end of the workshop, Senator Olivier Cadic said: "It was important to create, to try something new, hence the alliance between experts and policy makers that is of great interest." Taking stock of the discussions, he added that several challenges have been mentioned including demographics, pollution and global warming). "We didn't mention the problem of tourists in the area spending huge amounts of water, 10 times more than locals," he added.


The two morning workshops were followed by a plenary session in the afternoon which was devoted to the restitution of the work presented in each of them.

Plenary session


Hydrodiplomacy and Nexus of the Nile Basin: what mediation for sustainable governance?

During the restitution of the first workshop on the theme "Hydrodiplomacy and Nexus of the Nile Basin: what mediation for sustainable governance?”, Egypt and especially the Nile Basin were at stake.


The allocations of the main experts, rapporteurs and ambassadors followed, exposing to the public the issues and the purpose of the morning discussions:


Catherine Morin-Desailly, president of the France-Egypt friendship group, said that "the Nile is crucial for Egypt but also for Ethiopia with strong population growth in the region." In order to reconcile interests, she called for "the use of several sometimes contradictory treaties". She also welcomed the progress that has been made since the 3rd edition of the hydrodiplomacy seminars. As proof of this progress, she cites "these regular exchanges that prove the goodwill of the parties". Catherine Morin-Desailly also called for a "win-win" solution, notably by creating a basin agency that would be the most effective tool for dialogue between the various players. On the Egyptian ambassadors' side, there are still many concerns.


For the first Egyptian ambassador, "the challenge of the 105 million inhabitants in Egypt is one, because life in Egypt is based around the Nile, which pushes people to rationalize especially by economically punishing some among those who have gardens," he gave as an example. The Renaissance dam is also a great concern as the country undergoes revolutions. Positive negotiations have been put forward; however, there is always a question about the filling time. We will remember this sentence: "If Ethiopia is entitled to its development, Egypt also has the right to life". 


The second Egyptian ambassador, for his part, welcomed the existence of a group for the Nile basin while deploring the lack of coordination and mechanisms. However, he acknowledged that "scientific and technical discussions have been intensifying recently, and there is a great hope for the challenge of peace, which remains immense.


For the Ethiopian ambassador to Paris, H.E.Mr. Henok Teferra Shawl : "the Nile is the gift of Ethiopia, because it comes from the Blue Nile." But the existential question remains a big one because it is a large population of which only 40% have access to electricity - and only 44% have access to safe drinking water. The ambassador's aim is therefore to "ensure the well-being of the population with a win-win solution that is possible," he said. To do so, he calls for the implementation of the principles of international law by using the water resource in a reasonable manner without causing significant harm to its neighbor. He then called for dialogue that is essential and he insisted on the importance of the agreement based on the following principles: filling the dam, in the months of the high rainy season, and then filling in phases based on coordination mechanisms. 


As for Sudan's ambassador to Paris, H.E.Mr. Daffa-Alla Ali-Osman, "all negotiations can be conducted on a tripartite level giving primacy to ethics rather than technology." On filling, he called to follow the principles of adaptation and cooperation of Sudan and Ethiopia, which consist of rain donations. "The Nile is being counted on for major industrial irrigation projects," he added, expressing hope for an agreement that was due to be concluded in Washington at the end of January.


In turn, Michel de Vivo, Secretary General of the International Commission on Large Dams and rapporteur of the workshop, highlighted the following main points:

- The strong will of the actors to move forward to find a solution.

- Giving primacy to the technical path rather than to the political one. 

- Placing the discussions beyond the dam but at the basin level. For 20 years, he said, "negotiations have not been successful." It is therefore a question of replacing negotiation with mediation, and it is that of the United States of America that has been chosen.

Four decisions resulted, proposing a bright future for the Nile Basin:

  • 1 - Filling the dam, taking into account floods and droughts. 

  • 2 - Setting up a mechanism not to block discussions. 

  • 3 - Mechanism for exchanging data.

  • 4 - Coordinating the sharing of water.


The former president of the International Water Board and also rapporteur of the session, Pierre Roussel, said optimistically: "the ambassadors are gathered and talking to each other, this is already a huge step forward. This is not easy and will certainly take a long time. But solidarity upstream is not natural, so it's about putting it on the table." What can be learned from the various interventions is the legitimacy of each of the parties to know certain fairness: all have the same rights on this Nile and all want "win-win" agreements. It is also clear that there is no real technical study. And finally, water remains a potential for peace rather than war.




Hydrodiplomacy and Nexus: creating the conditions for sustainable governance for the Mediterranean


The return of Atelier 2 entitled "Hydrodiplomacy and Nexus: Creating the Conditions for Sustainable Governance for the Mediterranean" opened with the intervention of Mr. Loïc Fauchon, President of the World Water Council and the Marseille Water Company. "The Mediterranean is a basin" he said, adding that "many problems arise from demographics, which, more than for the climate, have immense water needs, especially with tourism."


Jean Francois Donzier, the honorary secretary general of the INBO,  insisted that "deploring a polluted sea is a land-based activity to be questioned".


H.E. Mr. Shaddad Attili, the Palestinian minister in charge of water negotiations, said: "I am the Minister of Virtual Water, because all the access to this resource is held by Israel." He then called for initiatives to come from abroad. He also highlighted the problems of polluted water in Gaza, with children playing in it and dying from it. "Water is for everyone," he said, referring to the prophet. People share water, land and food; it is a bit the foundation of the Nexus".


For the president of the Friendship Group France-Greece, Didier Marie: The region is special because it has a huge marine production of the globe, a fundamental role for the riparian countries. But it depends on a heritage that is deteriorating greatly. The challenges are numerous and among which I quote: the demographics, the dynamism of the countries on the south shore, the migratory flows (tensions - global warming), terrorism, security (a region almost closed and the interconnection that makes a place conducive to trade but also to the black market and illicit trade. It is a complex context where creating governance is not easy. But there are cooperation projects: the role of local authorities: megacities / solution: decentralized cooperation and collective responsibility.


Exchanges with the public


It was under the presidency of Brice Lalonde, the president of the Water Academy, that an interesting exchange was held with a curious and involved audience. These discussions included:


Ces échanges ont notamment porté sur les questions suivantes :

  • The question of water culture.

  • The question of the training of water trades. 

  • Question of ethics.

  • Marine pollution.

  • Global warming is moving faster than policies.


"There will be a life after oil, there will be no civilization without the Nexus Water-Energy and Food," Christian Cambon, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense And Armed Forces Committee, said at the closing.


Also, president of the Friendship Group France-Morocco, he added that "Hydrodiplomacy is an interesting grid that presents virtuous results because water is increasingly scarce, which increases tensions, so this concept is necessary to favor dialogue and collaboration."

Finally, recommendations were made by the Secretary-General of the Water Academy, Jean-Louis Oliver.

"Water is life," an often-repeated maxim, especially true in the Mediterranean basin where, since antiquity, water has always been both an essential, irreplaceable resource, a form of culture, and therefore a major issue! In fact, many multi-millennium hydraulic works (dams, aqueducts, sewers, etc.) remain on all the shores and sometimes still work today. So let's try to do as well today! He said.


The expert then called for a resolutely optimistic and dynamic perspective, beyond the serious challenges posed by demographics, urbanization, especially coastal, migratory movements, etc. in the context of climate change whose effects are significant in this region of the world (droughts, floods, storms, etc.).

Another recommendation: "Increased mobilization not only of current public or private partners, but also of other categories of actors whose role is essential, especially the populations themselves,  women and young people, through better information and multidisciplinary scientific training (because in the field of water, the humanities and social sciences are as necessary as the engineering sciences), by developing solidarity at all levels, from the local to the regional level and even to the global one within the framework of multilateral institutions, including UNESCO, which is very involved in this field) at the service of the general interest and of this precious common good that is water! »


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