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22 March 2021

Why the world needs a revised approach to water diplomacy

In the face of accelerating climate change, continued developments in hydropower and competing agricultural demands, water has the potential to become more and more contentious.

Aerial view of dam construction on the Mekong River
An aerial view of dam construction on the Mekong River

On World Water Day Dr Naho Mirumachi, leader of the King’s Water Hub, stresses the importance of an inclusive and sustainable approach to global water diplomacy.

Water drives economic activity, is fundamental to our survival and it is a finite resource. Dr Mirumachi warns that states, organisations and individuals need to pay greater attention to negotiations and agreements that will mitigate conflict over water in the future.

Speaking on the WORLD: we got this podcast, she reminds us that issues relating to water use and access in other parts of the world have the potential to impact us all:

Even here in the UK we are reliant on other river basins because we demand food from these river basins. So whenever we make our choices as consumers in the supermarket…we really are using other regions’ water resources. And so thinking about the sustainability of other river basins is very much a concern for us"

Dr Naho Mirumachi

Dr Mirumachi points out that there are few global organisations focused specifically on water diplomacy, and while there are many bi-lateral or multi-lateral cooperative agreements on water use, these agreements have historically served only a portion of states or communities.

As a result it is becoming increasingly important to properly address the past failures of water diplomacy and to re-define how we cooperate on water issues in the future. Dr Mirumachi urges negotiators to ask: ‘who loses out when water is used?’ and ‘who bears the burden of changes to river systems and basins?’. She argues that water diplomacy needs to be redefined to work for everyone, not just the privileged few who get a seat at the negotiation table.

The global challenges we face dictate that agreements around water need to be flexible. As we rethink water diplomacy and whose interests it serves, Dr Mirumachi cautions that future agreements can’t always be formal and will need to be able to withstand change and uncertainty.

Listen to Dr Mirumachi’ s insights into sustainable water diplomacy on the podcast: Water Diplomacy with Dr Naho Mirumachi

In this story

Naho Mirumachi

Professor in Environmental Politics