Water of Life

Posted by Frances Orchard CJ

Yesterday I strayed into a side event at COP15 entitled ‘Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future, Global Water Partnership Organisation’. There is abundant evidence that the world’s water resources are vulnerable to climate change with wide ranging consequences for human societies and ecosystems. We have already experienced an increased frequency and intensity of floods and droughts, water scarcity, intensified erosion, reduction in glacial and snow cover, sea level rise, and damage to water quality, ecosystems and human health.

Whilst the future of climate change and its impact on the ecology is difficult to predict it is self-evident that water, like climate, knows no frontiers. Rain will fall on the just and on the unjust alike. As glaciers melt and river systems experience greater flow only to be followed by reduced capacity all peoples within the river basin ecosystem will be affected. The ‘water towers’ in the Himalayas will cease to provide a reliable and safe water supply for the peoples of West Bengal at the same time people of the Ganges Delta become increasingly vulnerable to sea-level rise. With their low carbon emissions they have done little to cause either problem, but nonetheless are the victims of decisions made a long way away.

International river basins constitute about half of the Earths’ land surface and their vulnerability to climate change affects millions of people. Transboundary cooperation between states is therefore of paramount importance if the risks and challenges are to be shared and solutions co-ordinated. Yet Transboundary cooperation in developing adaptation strategies is currently almost non-existent in the developing world. Each country develops its own strategy in accord with its own perceived need. So an upstream country can damn a river to produce hydro-electricity whilst further downstream the livestock and crops perish.

This lack of Transboundary cooperation where water resources is concerned is a reflection of the larger problem facing COP15. National sovereignty issues take first place. Each national government can decide, block or threaten to walk out of conference should its perceived national sovereignty be threatened. So despite the widespread recognition that water will be the primary medium through which climate impacts will be felt, the current negotiation text here at COP15 (Non-Paper 53) pays little regard to the role of Transboundary water management in adapting to climate change. The concept that water is a commodity to be shared by all is not at the centre of the negotiations here in Copenhagen. Maybe this is just one more area where spiritual and ethical values are absent because the official voice of the spiritual leaders is largely absent. It would be a sign of hope if the concept of sharing – economic justice – was more in evidence. ‘Let all who thirst come to the waters, without money, without price….’ (Is.55)

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