Submitted by guest blogger on Wed, 09/04/2013

By Rebecca Welling of IUCN’s Water Programme attending World Water Week in Stockholm.

When you think about water diplomacy, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Law? Transboundary conflict? States and Ministers agreeing on pertinent issues?

For me, from a water management perspective, it was about legal frameworks, international law and States coming together to ‘shake hands’ on common issues, with the goal of signing ‘agreements’ to frame how countries should manage their water resources.

And it still is – but now I realise there’s more to it.

Working on the IUCN Water Programme’s Building River Dialogue and Governance (BRIDGE) project I’ve learned that it’s not just about these elements. Crucially, in addition to national-level dialogue, it’s also about a variety of actors, right down to the community level, coming together to build a common vision under a variety of agreements – and not just treaties at the highest levels. For agreements to work on the ground they need to have the agreement of water users themselves. Working across such a spectrum of agreements builds a practical, operational roadmap for change and improvement in water governance capacities that is closely linked to sustainable development in a basin.

This is something that all of us in the team have learned working on the BRIDGE project.

Since our Global Learning Workshop in Lima in March, we have pulled this learning together in the form of a case study series and water governance briefings. Stories from project locations in the 3S rivers (as the Sesan, Sekong and Sre Pok rivers are collectively known) in the Mekong, to the Lake Titicaca basin between Peru and Bolivia explain how BRIDGE implements water diplomacy on the ground.

And what better place is there to share these new knowledge products than at World Water Week? It’s a great platform to launch and share learning as it gathers water sector professionals from around the globe.

We presented our BRIDGE project during our lunchtime session on Monday afternoon, providing a space for people to come and learn and ask questions. After an introduction from Johan Gély, from Swiss Development Cooperation and the donor of BRIDGE, we showed the new video created by the Mesoamerica team – ‘Ríos que Unen Fronteras”/”Rivers Uniting Borders’ which illustrates work in the Coatán, Sixaola and Goascorán Basins. We also heard from Ganesh Pangare who brought an Asian perspective to the event explaining that with the 3S Basin being the most intensive dam building area in the world, no place was more important to implement water diplomacy approaches.

Río Yorkín in Sixaola with accumulation of eroded soil from upstream, Costa Rica/Panamá. Photo by IUCN MesoAmerica

Our star of the event was Miztella Dávila, a leader in her community on water governance and coordinator of the Champions Network under BRIDGE in the Mesoamerica region. The Champions Network brings together people from communities in the region who are passionate and energetic about making changes to water management practices through improved water governance. Listening to her tell the story of the successes in the Sixaola Basin (shared between Costa Rica and Panama) – work with local governments and the signing of the Declaration of San Marcos – Mitzella brought to life the stories and learning captured in the case studies and briefings.