Water diplomacy is a relatively new field of interest in international relations and foreign policy strategy building. The significance of water, however, is increasing rapidly. Water is a resource that is related to multifaceted issues. When we discuss the challenges that are related to food and nutrition, actually, water (water quality, irrigation, scarcity of water, etc.) is one of the biggest influential factors. The water/climate-change nexus is also critical to the many people living in low-lying areas around the world. In view of the variety of aspects that are linked to water, it is no surprise that water diplomacy is far from being a homogeneous field.
Since water is a critically important resource, humankind has always organised access to water in some way. Due to ongoing industrialisation and its impact on the environment, different scientific disciplines, such as hydrology, physics, ecology, and the social sciences, have more and more become interested in water systems. Interdisciplinary approaches to water management, for example, in the case of water dam construction, polder landscapes, river basin and coastal zone management, have increased in number. Although some segments of water management are prone to be privatised, water is a public good and policy bodies are busy with its maintenance and care. Since water is a topic for border-crossing concerns, it is a diplomatic issue.
In the 1960s, for example, it was the support of the Americans in the person of President L. B. Johnson who gave his support to the Israeli planning of drinking water through desalination. In a speech on 1 June 1964, during the visit of the then Israeli Prime Minister Eshkol to Washington, President Johnson declared:
Mr. Prime Minister, you told me only this morning that water was blood for Israel. So we shall make a joint attack on Israel’s water shortage through the highly promising technique of desalting. Indeed, let us hope that this technique will bring benefit to all of the peoples of the parched Middle East.”
President Johnson showed his willingness to cooperate in the development of the desalination technology, and, later, approved funding for the project. It was linked, however, to the hope that a benefit to all people in the Middle East would be generated. Nowadays, the supply of water in the Middle East remains an issue of political tensions.
On 19 November 2018, the European Council adopted conclusions on water diplomacy which lay out the strategic framework and the policy objectives and priorities of the EU on water diplomacy (Cf. European Council 2018). The conclusions are divided into five chapters that give us a neat idea of the priorities that are set by the Council of the European Union with regard to water diplomacy
The conclusions put emphasis on the role that water plays in crises and of the interplay between water scarcity and peace in specific regions. The Council also emphasizes the expertise available in the EU on the issue and its full commitment to ensure that it remains a common good. To this end, a multilateral approach is considered necessary.
– European Council (2018): Water diplomacy: Council adopts conclusions. Press release. (Link)
– Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, Volume XXXIV, Energy Diplomacy and Global Issues (Link)
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