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Water co-operation needed to keep peace

Update: May, 24/2013 - 09:41

by Pham Diem Quynh

Leaders from Asia-Pacific nations warned at the second Asia-Pacific Water Summit in Chiang Mai on Monday that fierce competition for water could trigger conflict in the region unless nations co-operate to share water resources.

The Asian Development Bank last month said that nearly two-thirds of over 4 billion people in Asia-Pacific did not have access to clean, piped water in their homes despite strong growth in the region, blaming it on poor management and a lack of investment in infrastructure.

From Central to Southeast Asia, regional efforts to secure water have sparked tensions between neighbours reliant on rivers to sustain booming populations.

"There could be a fight over resources," Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra cautioned in an address to a regional water security forum in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.

"No country in this region can handle these challenges alone," she added.

"The greater demand on freshwater resources by burgeoning human populations is occurring at the same time global climate change is making water supply and demand more problematic and uncertain", said researcher Dao Minh Truong from the Viet Nam National University's Centre for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies.

Each year, global water consumption rises by 2-3 per cent, while the total supply of fresh water remains relatively constant, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

Water issues do create friction between nations and have led to local internal conflicts. This has already happened in some parts of the world. For example, driven largely by water and food shortages linked to drought in the Horn of Africa, almost 185,000 Somalis fled to neighbouring countries in 2011.

In Sudan, violence broke out in March 2012 in the Jamam refugee camp where large numbers of people faced serious water scarcity. And in South Sudan, entire communities were forced to leave due to scarce water resources as a result of conflict in 2012.

Major clashes over dwindling supplies of water may well constitute the source of future conflicts between nations.

"Co-operation across international boundaries is very important," Truong added.

The use of upstream-downstream river water particularly needs to be worked on together.

In recent years, not only climate changes but also water management and use along the Mekong River have led to flooding and triggered heavy economic losses for Thailand, Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia.

"Without a masterplan for the whole region, countries downstream are going to suffer," Truong warned.

All of the Mekong countries need to take part in designing a co-operation framework on the management and use water of the Mekong River. Sustainable management of Mekong resources holds great importance to the development of the whole region.

The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) is a natural economic area bound together by the Mekong River that covers 2.6 million sq.km with a combined population of around 326 million.

The GMS countries are made up of Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam.

Water issues have to be tackled in an integrated manner while environmental factors must be taken into account, and the management of water resources needs to be shared among governments and those it affects the most.

The need for protection and management of water resources has never been greater.

The region needs to ratify the UN convention on the Law of International Water Resources Utilisation.

During the Asia-Pacific Water Summit in Chiang Mai, regional leaders made strong commitments to co-operate with one another to tackle water issues. However, commitments are not enough. We need follow-up steps to turn commitments into practical schemes. — VNS


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