What's In Blue

Open Debate on Water, Peace and Security

Tomorrow morning (22 November), the Security Council will hold an open debate on water, peace and security with briefings by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; Danilo Turk, Chair of the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace; Vice-President of the International Committee on Red Cross (ICRC) Christine Beerli; and Sundeep Waslekar, the President of Strategic Foresight Group (SFG). In organising this debate, Senegal seeks to encourage discussion on the peace and security implications of water management.

Ahead of the debate, Senegal circulated a concept note (S/2016/969) which outlined some of the main issues which members will be encouraged to address. These include the cooperation between the UN and regional organisations on water resources; the role of the Council in managing water-related conflicts; protection of water resources during armed conflict; encouraging cooperation between countries facing water-related issues; and enhancing the mediation role of the Secretary-General, the Department of Political Affairs and Special Representatives of the Secretary-General in conflict situations. Among the key themes in the concept note is that water scarcity and its mismanagement could play a major role as a driver of conflict, and that there is a need to protect this resource in the context of armed conflict. The note highlights that current trends in climate change and population growth are expected to increase the importance of water management, and that international organisations including the UN could provide a platform for cooperation and mediation on disputes over water resources.

When the General Assembly adopted the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in September 2015, ensuring water security was defined as one of its core goals. In his briefing, Ban may draw on his experience regarding the issues of sustainable development and climate change, to which he has devoted considerable attention during his time as Secretary-General. He is likely to highlight the increasingly clear nexus between conflict prevention and development, and specifically the role of water security in this context. During the 17 November 2015 debate on “Security, Development and the Root Causes of Conflict”, Ban stated that “prevention demands the concerted use of preventive diplomacy and good offices, but it also means that the 2030 Agenda must become a bigger part of our strategies”. He may elaborate on particular cases where UN mediation has been used to resolve water-related disputes.

Launched in November 2015, the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace is an initiative of a group of countries committed to global water issues. Three Council members, France, Senegal and Spain, are members of the initiative. The Panel, which is chaired by Turk, seeks to develop proposals to strengthen the global architecture to prevent and resolve water-related conflicts and to facilitate the role of water management as a factor in building peace. Some Council members might be interested in hearing more about specific proposals the Panel is working on. Turk may provide information on the conclusions from the Second Meeting of the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace, which was held earlier this year in Senegal.

Beerli’s briefing is likely to reflect ICRC’s significant presence in many conflict zones, including as one of the main providers of water to local populations affected by armed conflict. Beerli could use this briefing to address the importance of water management in some of the ICRC’s major humanitarian missions in countries that are on the Council’s agenda, such as South Sudan.

In his briefing, Waslekar is likely to provide Council members with information on the activities of the SFG, which is a think tank that produces policy proposals and research in the field of water diplomacy, among other issues. Over the course of the past several years, the SFG has sought to facilitate discussions among leading experts and policy makers on the relationship between water, peace and security. Some Council members might be interested to hear more from Waslekar on the ongoing initiatives by his organisation that could be relevant to the Council’s discussion on this issue, such as the Blue Peace initiative which seeks to develop recommendations on water management cooperation between the countries in the Middle East.

In April this year, Senegal used the informal Arria-formula meeting format to initiate a discussion on the issue of water, peace and security which was chaired by Senegalese President Macky Sall. However, tomorrow’s debate will mark the first time this issue will be considered at a formal meeting of the Council. The Council has on several previous occasions held meetings on the more general link between conflict, development, natural resources and climate change, but tomorrow’s debate will be the first formal discussion of water as a separate issue connected to peace and security. While initially some members may have had concerns about this issue being discussed in the Council rather than in other UN bodies, it seems that there was eventually general acceptance of having this debate. Looking ahead, it is possible that issues around climate, development and security may feature more prominently in the next couple of years as a number of incoming elected members may chose to focus on these issues.

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