Technical mechanisms of water diplomacy

The resource base, current uses, challenges posed to the resource, potential/future uses, and infrastructure needs and opportunities, are thorny issues in the Nile Basin. While decisions over the allocation, management, and development of the water resources should be based on sound and objective scientific knowledge, this is not an easy task. One can find enduring disputes about basic figures on water

Role of the Nile Basin initiative 153 availability, asymmetric capacities to generate knowledge, strong resistance to sharing national data, and lack of harmonization of national databases, among many other predicaments. The role of the NB1 in promoting a common knowledge base dates back to its inception and it became more extensive and sophisticated over time.21 It is this very effort of the NBI that counts as a technical mechanism of water diplomacy. Such efforts include the endeavor to establish commonly validated data, such as those developed under the Cooperative Regional Assessment Studies for the sectors of watershed studies, irrigation, power trade in the Eastern Nile sub-basin;22 the establishment of standards; and the development of common analytic tools that can provide a solid foundation for dialogue and cooperation.

During the first decade of existence (1999 2009), under the Shared Vision Program, among others, the NBI initiated the following knowledge-related foundational mechanisms:

  • Water Resources Planning and Management Program', to enhance the analytical capacity from a basin-wide perspective to support decision-making processes at national and regional levels;
  • Water Policy Component: to establish a baseline and needs assessment, and establish guidelines and good practices for policy formulation and implementation; and
  • Nile Decision Support System (Nile DSS) Component: establishment of groundbreaking analytic tools and a database to monitor, model, and forecast current and future utilization, management, and development of common resources, which ultimately can serve to inform decisions at national and regional levels. The Nile DSS is the fundamental knowledge tool used as the basis for water resources analysis and decision-making processes developed in the following decade.

These mechanisms were a cornerstone of the Nile cooperation process (see Figure 7.4 for a timeline of technical mechanisms). First, they represent the first knowledge base jointly developed by all countries (through the NBI centers), which have generated knowledge previously inexistent. It is particularly relevant to highlight that those knowledge products/processes were generated by a two-decade-long collaborative effort by professionals of the Nile countries themselves. For sustainable conflict transformation, solutions to transboundary problems should emerge out of the interaction of the parties themselves through joint analyses, information sharing, and relationship building so that ultimately the needs (and fears) of all are addressed.

Timeline of main technical water diplomacy mechanisms

Figure 7.4 Timeline of main technical water diplomacy mechanisms.

Therefore, the NBl’s efforts have provided a foundation for sustainable cooperation and conflict transformation. Besides, focusing on the large benefits from cooperation overrides the last-longing dominant perceptions that focus on the risks of conflicts. Therefore, this represented a major discursive transformation. Second, the new knowledge generated clearly contributed to more informed and collective decision-making.

During the second decade (2010-2019), technical cooperation moved toward the generation of strategic knowledge and planning tools, tailored to inform and influence increasingly complex collective decision-making processes:

  • State of the Basin (SoB) Report and Nile Basin Water Resources Atlas: the first SoB in 2012 provided a comprehensive overview of relevant issues and a joint understanding of the state of the basin resources and development.23 The second SoB (2019) is currently being finalized. An SoB is a fundamental component of any transboundary decision-making process, as it is a prerequisite for a reporting process designed to monitor policy impact and to inform basin planning cycles. The Water Resources Atlas24 captured for the first time a commonly agreed description of the basin’s hydrology, which was the outcome of a consultative process to establish a baseline for water use and flows;
  • Policy framework for basin management: under the Nile Basin Sustainability Framework,25 member states have continuously developed specific policies, strategies, and guidance, which are binding for the cooperation under the NBI framework that is intended to

Role of the Nile Basin initiative 155 provide orientation for countries. This includes procedures for information and data sharing, disclosure of information on planned investment projects,26 and strategies to address wetlands and environmental flows,27 all of which ultimately constitute parts of an enabling policy framework for basin management;28

  • Establishment of a Nile Hydrological Monitoring System: in 2014 the Nile-COM agreed on the design of a basin-wide joint hydro-logical network29—a regional monitoring of more than 70 hydro-logical stations that will allow countries to monitor and share data in a systematic manner and under agreed mechanisms; implementation began in 2018; and
  • Coordinated management of dam cascade: after having addressed issues around dam safety,30 the riparian countries are now working to study the optimization potential of the coordination of dams of regional significance (in particular in the Eastern Nile), and toward a transboundary dam reservoir cascade management mechanism;31 precursors for coordinated operation—such as flood flow forecasting—have been operational for several years now.

The technical processes mentioned earlier have resulted in the collaborative generation of knowledge products and capacity building of strategic importance. These include data collection, scientific monitoring, modeling and assessment, forecasting, and state of the basin reporting. This represents a great leap forward in terms of enabling transboundary cooperation processes, as Nile countries move progressively toward regional thinking, planning, and ultimately collective action. They are also key entry points to embark on joint investments of regional significance.

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