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Transboundary conflicts management in the Rhine and Euphrates-Tigris river basins

Transboundary conflicts management in the Rhine and Euphrates-Tigris river basins

On 27 January 2022, the youth-led initiative Youth for the Rhine, with the participation of SWIM and 1 Million Youth Actions Challenge, held a workshop on Transboundary Water Conflicts Management. The causes of conflict, its evolution, and the cooperation progress in two river basins with contrasting characteristics – the Rhine and the Euphrates-Tigris – were discussed.

The workshop, especially aimed at youth, was attended by young people from all continents who offered fascinating insights into the challenges of transboundary cooperation in their river basins.

 

THE RHINE RIVER BASIN

Roumald Bolliger from 1 Million Youth Actions Challenge provided background information on the Rhine river basin water conflicts. Along its ca. 1300 km length and in 9 riparian countries, the Rhine River basin has historically presented conflicts over competing water uses, including navigation, irrigation, industrial use, recreation, human consumption, fishing and others.

Naturally, diverse uses led to conflicts over deteriorating water quality, river ecology, and flooding, which exposed the need for cooperation in the basin. It is noteworthy that historically the Rhine River Basin has had a legacy of shared governance, which has resulted in favourable cases of cooperation. Mechanisms such as the EU water framework directive and other regional integration frameworks have significantly influenced cooperation.

However, in the words of Romuald Bolliger, to combat current challenges in the basin, such as water stress and new pollutants, a vision for the Rhine River needs to be built. In constructing such a vision, youth play a key role. Therefore, the invitation is to dream, imagine and innovate in cooperation alternatives to achieve long-lasting transboundary water management with clear steps, responsibilities and multilevel governance.

 

THE EUPHRATES – TIGRIS RIVER BASIN

The context of the Euphrates-Tigris River basin differs significantly. Here, transboundary water relations have taken place in an environment of political instability, with unilateral dam development by Turkey, Syria and Iraq, weak institutions, lack of adequate water infrastructure and a growing population. This has negatively affected food, agricultural production and the national stability and security of the downstream countries of Iraq and Syria.

Adding to the challenges for transboundary cooperation in the Euphrates-Tigris river basin is the emergence of armed non-state actors that have used water as a weapon against their opponents, influencing power dynamics in the basin.

However, amid conflict and violence, cooperation mechanisms have been initiated between the riparian countries (Water Treaty – 1987, Adana Agreement – 1988). Nonetheless, the situation is highly complex, and additional alternatives are required not only to address the conflict but also to transform it.

At the workshop, Armin Bigham Ghazani, from SWIM, extended the invitation to the youth to learn about existing cooperation initiatives to participate in them actively, as well as to take part in youth movements that constitute forceful and effective advocates to lobby policymakers at national, regional and international level.