OOSKAnews Talks - Francois Munger, Director, Geneva Water Hub: "A Matter of Survival" - One Year On

STOCKHOLM, Sweden

On the first anniversary of publication of the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace Report “A Matter of Survival”, OOSKAnews caught up with François Munger, Director of the Geneva Water Hub, which acts as Secretariat to the Panel. 

In this audio conversation with David Duncan of OOSKAnews, Munger describes the founding ideas behind creation of the Geneva Water Hub of which he was principal developer; the need to link water with peace; global challenges contributing to rising tensions and risk of conflicts regarding water; Geneva Water Hub’s contribution to the Global High Level for Water and Peace; how the Global Panel Report “A Matter of Survival” contributes to global thinking about water, peace and security linkages, and next steps for the Geneva Water Hub.

The Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace was launched in 2015 with the task of developing a set of proposals aimed at strengthening the global framework to prevent and resolve water-related conflicts, and facilitating the use of water as an important factor of building peace and enhancing the relevance of water issues in national and global policy making. 

The 15 countries who co-convened the Panel are Cambodia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Estonia, France, Ghana, Hungary, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Oman, Senegal, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland with the Geneva Water Hub acting as Secretariat. The Panel was tasked with focusing on four main themes: Identify legal, economic, financial and institutional mechanisms to incentivize multi-sectoral and transboundary water cooperation; Examine how to cope with and prevent water-related conflicts, namely transboundary and inter-sectoral — possibly exploring potential mechanisms to promote hydro-diplomacy; Promote effective implementation of the global water conventions; Promote best practices in water cooperation.<--break->

In November 2016, the Panel briefed the United Nations Security Council. According to Dr. Danilo Türk, Chairman of the Panel, 69 UN Member States, including all 15 members of the Security Council, participated in the briefing, showed a growing sense of urgency on the issues of water and peace, and readiness to continue the discussion with a view to developing adequate responses.

The final report was officially launched in Geneva in September 2017 and recommendations were presented to the UN later that month.

The key themes of the report, which can be downloaded in full here are:

  • The Drama of Water. Over 2 billion people globally lack access to safe drinking water, most in fragile, often violent regions; population growth and climate change are exacerbating the issues. A fundamental rethinking of international water cooperation is essential, and the UN should be at the center of efforts for the necessary policy and institutional changes.
  • Into the Abyss: Water in Armed Conflicts. Increasingly, contemporary armed conflicts are making water resources and infrastructure targets of attack or weapons of war, particularly in urban areas. These flagrant violations of International Humanitarian Law must be condemned. As the UN Security Council bears primary responsibility in this regard, it should consider adopting, within its action for the protection of civilians in armed conflict, a resolution on the protection of water resources and installations in all the situations on the Council’s agenda.
  • An Ounce of Prevention: International Water Law and Transboundary Water Cooperation. The principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of watercourses and the obligation not to cause significant harm constitute the core around which appropriate international regimes can be developed. It is critical that the existing level of international cooperation is expanded: out of approximately 400 internationally shared aquifers there are only 5 where international agreements exist. Transboundary water agreements and institutions, as well as the relevant “soft law” instruments represent valuable tools that should be utilized more fully.
  • Quantity and Quality: Strengthening of the Knowledge-Based and Data-Driven Decision Making and Cooperation for Security and Peace Building.Changes affecting water quantity such as droughts and floods – increasingly provoked by the effects of human-induced climate change – require intensified international cooperation and stronger institutions. Rates of withdrawal of groundwater is sometimes greater than nature’s ability to recharge the particular aquifer. A strong, integrated global data and monitoring system needs to be developed on the basis of ongoing work by UNESCO, WMO, and UNEP. Another vital undertaking relates to the application and further development of international water quality standards, both regional and global. And finally, it will be necessary to overcome the existing fragmented institutional landscape related to water issues.
  • People’s Diplomacy, Inter-Sectoral Water Management and Decision Making: The trade-offs necessary between the various uses of water such as agriculture, energy generation, mining, human consumption, and others, have to be carefully considered, while respecting the needs of all those concerned. Transparency and data sharing are particularly important aspects of decision making relating to water, and governments are well advised to ensure the necessary multi-stakeholder dialogue platforms. For these to be operated effectively, it is necessary to invest systematically in water education at all levels, including the empowerment of women. The UN Global Compact, which involves tens of thousands of private companies around the world, would be instrumental in developing an appropriate voluntary code of practice on water management.
  • Financial Innovation for Water Cooperation: It is necessary to develop sustainable financial mechanisms specifically aimed at promoting water as an instrument of peace. Additional incentives are also necessary, and could include preferential and concessional finance for transboundary collaborative projects in water resources and infrastructure of a significant size. Incentives such as interest subsidies, financing of preparatory costs and insurance costs, as well as the provision of matching grants might also be made available.
  • In Pursuit of Agency - New Mechanisms of Water Diplomacy: While a variety of national and international institutions are doing important work and contributing to international water cooperation, what is needed now is an institutional setting that connects key actors, and reinforces and complements the existing frameworks, initiatives and expertise. The Panel proposes the Global Observatory for Water and Peace (GOWP) to facilitate assistance to governments.

François Munger's experience spans range of different private and public institutions in Switzerland, Africa, Latin America, Central Asia and East Europe. He notably was the Chief of the Central America Water Programme for the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development (SDC) and Senior Water Specialist at the World Bank. After heading SDC’s Global Water Program for the past eight years, François was awarded the title of Swiss Special Envoy for Water and given responsibility for the creation and development of the Geneva Water Hub. 

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