Submitted by guest blogger on Wed, 11/07/2012

By Claire Warmenbol, IUCN Global Water Programme Communications Officer.
What is hydro-diplomacy? I was able to find the answer to that question last week when I interviewed leading water experts, scientists and politicians at the IUCN Hydro-diplomacy conference in Chiangrai, Thailand. I asked the question many times and received as many different answers. Clearly, it is a vast and complex topic.

For the purpose of producing a short conference video, I switched from programme communicator into video journalist to capture the insights of the bright minds present at the conference which gathered over 140 participants from all over the world.

I felt quite privileged to listen first-hand to what Ghandi’s grandson, H.E. Ambassador Gopalkrishna Ghandi, had to say about the current and future state of water resources; to how the CEO of the Mekong River Commission, Hans Guttman, thought about sharing water to meet the needs of growing demands for food and energy in the Mekong region; where Dr. Khaled AbuZeid, Director of the Arab Water Council, saw solutions for his water-scarce region; or which key elements Ian Makin from the Asia Development Bank identified as crucial for hydro-diplomacy. All shared their own interpretations, but also their hopes and visions for a safer water future.

From plush conference lobby to the rugged banks of the mighty Mekong, at the point where it crosses Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, the interview locations varied greatly. In short, appropriate places for hydro-diplomacy as a topic that spans from the highest political echelons to the widest stretches of borderless ecosystems.
And yet, to those who know about filming challenges, the variety of these locations also meant noise disturbance from panel discussions, fishing boat engines and chatter of water-splashing children, the hum-drum of tourists boarding river ferries and so on. Reflecting later on this audio challenge, it reminded me and reinforced the place that water holds in people’s lives — right at the centre.

“Water is like the Cinderella of our times; cleaning, storing, providing for our needs, whilst we take everything for granted”, said H.E. Ambassador Gopalkrishna Ghandi.

This too resonated. Considering the Lower Mekong for example, where 80% of the population relies directly on the river for their food and livelihoods. Or wetlands, which store floodwaters, such as the Inner Niger Delta which absorbs seasonal flooding and then transforms into dynamic fisheries and fertile soils. Or the Miyun watershed in China which purifies and supplies water to 80% of Beijing’s residents.

These rivers, watersheds, wetlands with all their natural and precious ecosystem services, cross borders and territories. With these crossings, different languages, cultures and legal systems come into play. And this, or so I understood, is where hydro-diplomacy comes in, as a tool to create dialogue, build cooperation and trust. So whichever side of the border you are on, the benefits of the river can be shared by all. To find out what the water experts had to say…the conference video will be out mid-December!

Photos of the conference are available here
Read more about the IUCN Hydro-diplomacy conference.