Toothless water giants at the Indo-Pacific Virtual Conference on “Strengthening Governance of Transboundary Rivers”

Transboundary water governance comes in many forms. This event spearheaded a discussion by some of the world’s largest and most effective water governance bodies with insights from CEOs of water governance bodies such as the Danube, Mekong and USA- Canada shared waters. It also provided insights from individual countries that deal with transboundary water issues: Myanmar, India and Australia. The open dialogue meant some truths were shared.

Leonie Pearson By Leonie Pearson - Oct 22, 2020
Toothless water giants at the Indo-Pacific Virtual Conference on “Strengthening Governance of Transboundary Rivers”

Dr Hatda, Chief Executive Officer, Mekong River Commission (MRC) started by stating “Around the world, Transboundary river commissions have often been described as toothless; they’re often said to lack any real powers to manage shared water course systems. MRC is certainly no exception.”

What an opening!

However, not all agreed with this sentiment. It was clear that different transboundary bodies have alternate roles, the Danube’s intention is not to be seen as a global regulator but as a partner who concerns the welfare of all riparian countries, while the MRC had a more diplomatic approach to delivering reasonable and equitable water use.

The MRC is key to the management of the Mekong and is a leading institution in water governance across Asia. But the conference raised issues around constitutions being fit for purpose, roles, stakeholder engagement, diplomacy and political security.

With such a wide agenda to cover, the event was rich in insights and knowledge.

A core area highlighted by SUMERNET was the stakeholder engagement panel. Introducing the panel, Brian Eyler of the Stimson Centre highlighted the role that SUEMRNET has played across the region over the last decade. He encouraged everyone to seek out further insights from the website on local voices highlighting issues in Mekong water management. I was a panelist in my role as research coordinator for SUMERNET and shared a short overview of the need for Asian water governance bodies to move from water government to water governance.

I look forward to seeing the continuing discussion of the role, need and capacity of transboundary water governance bodies to deliver on both their immediate issues of water management and the longer-term UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The Indo-Pacific Virtual Conference on “Strengthening Governance of Transboundary Rivers” was hosted by the East-West Centre with over 90 participants on 15 October 2020.

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