Water has been all around me for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest childhood memories is jumping into Hungary’s Kerka River from a makeshift bridge, a stone’s throw away from the Iron Curtain. Later, my studies and career led me to the mighty Danube of Budapest, the wild and winding rivers of war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, to the majestic Dnieper of Kyiv and lately to the liberating Baltic Sea.
‘Practitioners and policy makers at times experience what I call the moment of magic around the negotiating table.’
I had learned in school that water is a natural barrier between people as it marks borders, de facto separates peoples and can be a source of conflict. Now with over twenty years of field experience with the United Nations, European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the NGO sector what I wish somebody had told me early in my career is that water is also a universal connector between people and that water always serves more that one community. The re-building of Mostar’s iconic Old Bridge in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina could only be done through cooperation and it became a strong symbol of the reconciliation process. In the eight years preceding the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, most local ceasefire agreements occurred to service and repair water filter stations along Ukraine’s 483km contact line.
‘…I am convinced that multilateral approaches carry the potential to achieve bold results in innovative and creative ways…’
Practitioners and policy makers at times experience what I call the moment of magic around the negotiating table. For me, water has often been the source of that tipping point because humans can’t live, let alone prosper, without it. The preservation of water as a public good, as a commodity and resource necessary for all to thrive elevates the discussions from deeply rooted grievances to the identification of mutually beneficial solutions.
In the past decade or so, water increasingly is central to climate resilience, and adaptation to conflict prevention, peace building and development in practical ways. The communication of intentions and demands around water are usually clearer and pave the way to building trust. The interdependence between environmental and societal security, particularly in fragile and conflict contexts is at the centre of policy debate.
The UN’s Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change issued a ‘code red for humanity’ in its 2021 August report, calling for much bolder actions. Climate change and societal security need to be viewed in tandem with building adaptation capacity and resilience; this will reduce conflict in fragile and transitional settings, where simultaneous processes of peacebuilding, state/institution-building and development run in parallel. This calls for more holistic, multi-sectorial policy and programmatic approaches for managing water resources, in the rural and urban space, and across borders. In service of the 8 billion and more people and in service of water.
I am glad to be joining the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation as the Multilateralism portfolio manager and convinced that multilateral approaches carry the potential to achieve bold results in innovative and creative ways like in the case of water issues, among many others. In the words of Secretary General Antonio Guterres at Conference of Parties (COP) 27, ‘cooperate or perish’.