Conflict and cooperation continuum

Interestingly, the different RBOs’ place in the water diplomacy capacity and effectiveness matrix introduced in the Introduction to this volume figure fairly differently in the cooperative continuum. The cooperative continuum (see Figure 15.1) posits that riparian states enter into different types of cooperation arrangements in their river basins, with the variation depending on the context of the respective basin—including the hydrological, environmental, socioeconomic, and political—as well as the consequent benefit-sharing mechanisms. In terms of conflict management though, river basins toward the left end of the continuum (which are characterized by a high level of unilateral action) tend to exhibit more conflictual dynamics, while basins toward the right side, with more joint effort and action, tend to be involved in fewer disputes.

More than a few basins lie somewhere on the left between “unilateral action” and “coordination.” As stated in the Introduction, the capacities of RBOs to manage tensions in these basins range from limited

Conflict and cooperation continuum

Figure 15.1 Conflict and cooperation continuum.

(Jordan) and developmental (Congo, Niger, and Helmand) to restricted (Nile), with outcomes that are, respectively, of limited effectiveness, emerging (going in the right direction), and transitional (could go forward or backward). In terms of benefit sharing, there are some worthy efforts being made but significant breakthroughs are still pending. For example, the hydropower project jointly owned by Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania (Rusumo Falls) is considered a good example of three riparians coordinating and collaborating in the Nile, but the Nile Basin Initiative’s ability to initiate more of these highly needed projects remains limited by political tensions and impediments. In other cases, some communication and information sharing are done but not together among all parties (as in the Jordan) and some whole-of-basin regional assessments take place but are either contested (such as the Nile), or lacking a common strategic approach and more driven by donor interests than by a true commitment of all riparians to mutually beneficial cooperation (such as the Congo). But most of the time, the countries, especially the dominant ones in each basin, prefer to take unilateral or bilateral approaches to developing water infrastructure projects—the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam in the Nile, the Fomi Dam of Guinea in the Niger, and dam development and irrigation expansion by Afghanistan in the Helmand, are cases in point.

In the Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers of the Aral Sea, something of a reversal has happened in terms of benefit sharing. During Soviet times, a comprehensive joint management scheme of water assets delivered the benefits—in the winter, upstream reservoirs in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan stored water to supply later in the summer for irrigation in downstream Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In exchange, energy (oil, coal, and gas) from downstream was sent to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to compensate for the loss of electricity production by their upstream dams. With the collapse of the Soviet Union this system is gone, and the independent states of Central Asia have faced difficulties in coordinating their water uses. To secure energy in the winter, the upstream states release more water from their dams to produce energy, leading to not only flooding in the downstream in this period but also less water in the summer for downstream lucrative crop production. Furthermore, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been in conflict with Uzbekistan over new hydropower projects (the Kambarata dam in Kyrgyzstan and the Rogun dam in Tajikistan) that the former are proposing or building. The “RBO” in the basin, the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, with its myriad subordinate but legally separate and independent institutions and bodies, has struggled to deal with high tensions among the states due to a weak legal mandate and poor institutional coherence. No longer it is able to effectively manage and share the benefits of water resources use in the basin.

Therefore, in addition to difficulties in handling tensions and conflicts associated with those types of actions, these RBOs also have some way to go in terms of bringing together their riparian states to collaborate on water resources management and water cooperation in their respective transboundary basins. This could be done, for example, by better understanding—in a joint manner—the challenges the basins are facing, better coordinating efforts to address key challenges, and adapting national plans to mitigate regional costs or capture regional gains.

Other RBOs and basins lie along the middle of the conflict and cooperation continuum. Although they rank fairly high in terms of their water diplomacy capacities to manage tensions and conflicts, they are situated in between coordination and collaboration, and sometimes fall to the right, at joint action, in terms of benefit sharing. In the Mekong, the Mekong River Commission has been able to gradually address tensions among the riparians over the mainstream hydropower infrastructures through various means: a clear legal mandate to bring the parties together; rules and procedures for notification and consultation; and technical and strategic works from basin-wide perspectives to help inform negotiated measures for improving the dam designs, joint monitoring, and adaptive management. In this sense,

Managing tensions in conflict 299 national projects are adapted to mitigate regional costs. While this is laudable, the commission, as envisioned in the Mekong Agreement, has so far not been able to optimize shared benefits through joint investment projects—the highest level of benefit sharing—that meets objectives of energy, food, waterborne transport, and environmental security. Some preparatory works have been initiated in this regard but actual dealmaking still has a long way to go. Some joint investment projects—mostly in the hydropower sector—have been prepared by two or three countries, although this has taken place outside the current MRC framework.

In the Danube and Rhine, with strong Europe-wide legal frameworks in relation to water and the environment, and specific basin management regulations, the riparian states collaborate and coordinate in sharing the costs of monitoring and addressing issues in the rivers. They also reap all four types of benefits in the rivers through year-round navigation, acceptable water quality, environmental services, political cooperation, and regional integration.

Good cases of joint action are RBOs in the Columbia, the US-Mexico shared rivers (Colorado and Rio Grande), and the Senegal. While these benefit-sharing schemes have not been without problems, they represent the highest level of cooperation sovereign states have entered into to jointly develop and manage their common transboundary water resources. Interestingly in these cases, the RBOs had little role in dealmaking—they were in fact parts of the deal creation. After mid-twentieth century devastating floods in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada, the Americans and Canadians got together to establish the Columbia Basin Treaty that developed and managed three dams (Mica, Arrow, and Duncan) in the Canadian and one (Libby) in the US parts of the Columbia. Following a series of negotiations, gross benefits were divided equally, with Canada paid for flood storage (through American finance of the dams and extra power imported from the United States) and the United States protected from flood damage.

Even more astonishing, following years of colonialism, wars, and conflict, and poverty-stricken, the three riparians of the Senegal River (Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal) negotiated and concluded a series of river treaties3 that together developed, financed, owned, and operated water infrastructures in one country Mali (the Manantali dam) and on the border of two countries, Senegal and Mauritania (the Diama Dam).

The three countries agreed to share proportional costs and multisector benefits each was expected to receive. Senegal would finance

42.1 percent and get back 58 percent of irrigation, 33 percent of energy, and 6 percent of navigation benefits. Mali would invest 35.3 percent with returns of 11 percent for irrigation, 52 percent for energy, and 82 percent for navigation. And Mauritania would receive 31 percent in irrigation, 15 percent in energy, and 12 percent in navigation for shouldering 22.6 percent of the costs.4 Despite ongoing problems of implementation in practice, including the generation and distribution of benefits that are behind ambitious expectations, the fact that the three riparians came together in the first place and made it happen is a testament to what is theoretically possible.

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