Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database | Publications

Robertson, Kyle. 2004. Design Considerations for an International Facility to Promote Cooperation between States Sharing a Common Water Resource: A Feasibility Study on the International Water Cooperation Facility Initiative. UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education. Master's Thesis. [PDF file]

With rising populations and the associated increase in water demand and poor water quality, allocation of shared water resources is becoming an increasingly difficult task as institutions must establish cooperation and consensus amongst the differing political and socio-economic minded riparian nations within the international river basin. At the 3 rd World Water Forum in Kyoto , UNESCO and the World Water Council announced that they would partner with The Universities Partnership for Transboundary Waters and the Permanent Court of Arbitration to develop an “International Water Cooperation Facility” to promote cooperation in transboundary basins and provide third-party assistance in dispute resolution for water-related conflicts. The purpose of this study is to assess the need for such a facility, the capacities required to address these needs, and to propose design considerations to enhance the likelihood of success (if needed). The need, capacities, and criteria were based on the insights from a global survey targeted towards water experts in the field of transboundary waters management, multiple interviews and a limited literature review on aspects of global governance, international institutional design, international mediation and integrated transboundary water management. The “International Water Cooperation Facility” was to be assessed according to the originally proposed concept presented in Kyoto , however, as this study was being prepared it was understood that significant changes to the Facility design occurred, and therefore, some aspects of the assessment were omitted, as they would be redundant and out of date.

The survey findings indicated that there was a need to create an “International Water Cooperation Facility”. The capacity to address these needs would require a wide scope and sufficient flexibility to cope with the spatial and temporal demands. The respondents were asked to identify the obstacles they faced to improve transboudary water cooperation in their regions, and which third-party assistance services they would seek from an international facility. In comparing those desired services with those ‘obstacles to cooperation', the survey respondents generally requested the services needed to address the identified obstacles, where the biggest problems: insufficient cross-border exchange of information (most frequently identified), insufficient political will (#2), lack of stakeholder participation (#3), and insufficient capacity building across basin states (#4), were countered by requests for assistance in accessing financial resources (#1), increased capacity building (#2), basin-wide access to knowledge and tools (#3), and assistance convening parties (#4). The high demand for assistance assessing financial resources could be a result of respondents simply requesting more money when presented with the opportunity, but it was also determined likely that the respondent's priorities were reflected differently in this survey as assistance accessing additional financial resources could very much alleviate the difficulties in regular operating and maintenance costs of vital basin monitoring and information systems (increasing cross-border exchange of information). This argument was reflected in an earlier study that proposed the creation of an “ International Shared Waters Facility ” for purposes of coordinating donor funding to provide a favourable mechanism to administer long-term funding strategies to implement shared visions in a risky investment environment which has generally been avoided by funding agencies. While many of the services to be provided by the International Water Cooperation Facility would not need large financial commitments, the findings from the survey suggest that financing transboundary water management remains a major obstacle towards improving cooperation. By coupling the concepts outlined in the “ International Shared Waters Facility ” proposal with this most recent “Water Cooperation Facility” initiative, it is likely that major strides towards fostering peace between countries within transboundary basins, reducing poverty through the development of water resources in a cooperative environment, and improving human and ecosystem health through sustainable transboundary practices could be achieved.

The findings also suggested that organisations to provide similar services within each of the regions studied existed, but respondents believed that the services provided by these organisations were inadequate to meet the demand. The survey also indicated that there was a strong desire for better coordination amongst those service providers and aid agencies active within the basins surveyed.

The insights gained through the survey, interviews and literature review were used to propose design considerations for the Facility. The design considerations presented herein should not be acted upon without significant consideration and debate amongst those experts familiar with international organisational design and transboundary water management. The purposes of presenting design considerations in this study is to increase the debate on how the governing structure should be designed to improve the likelihood of developing a sustainable, fair and robust facility that could provide services in an effective and efficient manner. The proposed design considerations focussed on Scope, Membership, Centralization, Control, and Flexibility of the Facility. As such, it was proposed that the Facility Partners consider a membership structure that is inclusive to other major international and regional organisations that could prove their added value in providing services to improve transboundary cooperation. The four proposed Facility Partners provide a strong platform in which to grow the membership which could include coordinating bodies like UN-Water, GEF, regional banks, GWP and others in the field of transboundary water cooperation. A second consideration was that none of these organisations ‘lead' the Facility, rather the “Transboundary Water Alliance of Organisations” should have a functionally independent secretariat directed by an advisory board and elect members to a governing council. It was proposed that subsidiary principles be adopted and the proposed centralized structure of the Facility exist only for as long as it takes to disseminate the capacity required to provide these same services in the various regions through existing regional organisations perceived to be neutral (i.e. OAS, SADC, UN Regional Economic Commisions). These ‘arms' to the regional bodies (if desired) could potentially be sustained through innovated funding mechanisms within the regions and associated regional development banks, thereby creating more ‘ownership' over the development process. During the transfer of tasks under a targeted one-time “Program of Action”, the International Water Cooperation Facility could provide the linkages and coordinate activities to develop standards and provide a unified international platform to voice the transboundary concerns and funding needs of the regional nodes. When the activities of the focused “Program of Action” have been addressed , the role of the International Water Cooperation Facility and small core staff and role as central ‘node' facilitators would be reduced until it is completely phased out and the linkages between the various regional networks are established. This self-destructing philosophy is generally not consistent with the way many organisations operate, so it may prove difficult for some agencies to adopt such a paradigm shift.

The recommended design considerations aside, the results of the survey indicated that an International Water Cooperation Facility as originally defined would be welcome to the majority of respondents surveyed in this study. The researcher will be requesting feedback from those same respondents on the design considerations developed in this study and the feedback comments will be compiled into a brief addendum. It is recommended that findings presented within this report be considered in the context of any suggestions made by the target audience following their review.

Assessing the originally proposed International Water Cooperation Facility was complicated by the fact that the assessment was performed during the Facility's development. Progress reports were presented to the Facility Partners on an ongoing basis during the preparation of this thesis in order to ensure that the findings and recommendations from this work would be available for consideration prior to the complete development of the Facility. It appears that some of the recommendations from the progress reports were acted upon or were in line with the Facility Partner's own thinking during the development process. Of particular note was the apparent shift from the Facility's formal network of four equal partner organisations operating under an MOU amongst them to the concept of adopting a more inclusive governing structure with a functionally independent secretariat with no ‘lead' agency. As such, a detailed assessment of the originally proposed Partner organisations with respect to Membership and Control design dimensions was determined to be redundant, as they would not represent the whole. Through this study's limited assessment, the four Partners were determined to each have complimenting expertise that can provide a good foundation in which to expand the cooperative network of transboundary water organisations. The issue of decentralisation is new in this report and not available in previous progress reports. Any plans to revise the centralized concept outlined in the original Facility proposal into a “Program of Action” to decentralise the process was not known at the time this report was completed.

It is recommended that the current Facility Partners use their contacts and recognition for further consultations with high-ranking decision makers within the international development field and regional stakeholders in order to further assess the ‘need' to create the Facility relative to other pressing water-related issues (sanitation, drinking water, etc.) as this study's scope was limited to gauging the response from those active within transboundary basins (although the recent rise of transboundary waters cooperation assistance on the global agenda and subsequent interviews performed by the researcher generally did support the need).

It was also recommended that renewed pressure be placed on development banks to adopt a coordinated and innovative approach to financing aid in sensitive investment environments like transboundary basins and use the opportunity of this Facility's creation to further improve coordination.

Transparent selection criteria to include other organisations into the ‘cooperative network' should be developed and clearly defined for all agencies (including existing ones) to perform internal assessments to identify value added and service gaps. New partners should be quickly invited to provide inputs into the design at this early stage of the development process of the Facility. If a decentralised process were adopted, the current Facility Partners should identify regionally neutral organisations and determine their interest, commitment and capabilities in expanding their agenda to coordinate and promote water cooperation within the transboundary basins in their regions.

It would be valuable for the Facility Partners to refine the scope of services through consultations (i.e. roundtables) with the regional neutral organisations, stakeholders and riparian governments at an early stage of development of the Facility. Target dates, milestones, and deadlines for the dissemination of activities to the regional bodies should be developed if a decentralised “Program of Action” were to be adopted.

Finally, the findings of this study suggest that water experts within the field of transboundary waters cooperation have an urgent desire to approach the Facility for assistance in many regions. Those developing the Facility should do so without haste.

I commend UNESCO, the World Water Council, the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the Universities Partnership of Transboundary Waters for initiating the development of this often-recommended proposal and for adopting a pragmatic and open approach to its design and development in the best interests of those riparian states in need of these services most. It is apparent through the study's survey that the creation of such a Facility is urgently desired, and therefore, I wish those involved in it's development a successful launch in the very near future.