Averting a water crisis

Enhanced mutual cooperation in the water sector is vital if a looming global water crisis is to be warded off – and could also be a tool for world peace, according to a declaration signed yesterday at the conclusion of an international conference in Vouliagmeni which introduced two new cooperative water programs for Southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean. The two-day conference, «Sustainable Development for Lasting Peace: Shared Water, Shared Future, Shared Knowledge» – jointly organized by the Foreign Affairs and Environment ministries and the World Bank – examined the opportunities and constraints related to the transboundary management of shared bodies of waters and aquifers in the region and explained the aims of the Southeastern Europe Transboundary River Basin and Lake Basin Management Program and the Mediterranean Shared Aquifers Management Program. (The World Commission on Water projects that by 2025 more than 60 percent of the world may be living in areas that are under water stress and has warned that many aquifers are being used at rates that are unsustainable over the medium and long term. The importance of the mutual management of shared natural resources for the achievement of sustainable development was stressed at a world summit in Johannesburg last August.) In addition to introducing the new programs, the «Athens Declaration» endorsed «a new form of Diplomacy for Environment and Sustainable Development» which aims to enhance cooperation on water at all levels of foreign and domestic policy, between governments, international agencies, businesses and non-governmental organizations. Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who attended the conference with Environment Minister Vasso Papandreou, called for the integration of environmental concerns into the external affairs of the European Union which is currently under Greece’s presidency: «A new aspect of diplomacy, the environmental or ‘green’ diplomacy could represent, first, a tool for promoting cooperation on environmental issues and second, a means of alleviating regional crisis. Green diplomacy may represent the core of a proactive policy and a policy of approach among peoples.» Other conference participants included Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios (known as the «green patriarch» for his promotion of environmental initiatives), regional environment ministers and World Bank officials. The World Bank vice president for sustainable development, Ian Johnson, remarked that the two regional water programs «represent the way forward in scaling up the positive lessons from the ongoing programs, such as the Danube River Basin Program as well as the Lake Ochrid Conservation Project shared by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania.» The programs were explained in detail in a press release issued by the World Bank yesterday: The Southeastern Europe Transboundary River Basin and Lake Basin Management Program aims to help regional states «to draft integrated water resources management and water use efficiency plans for all… transboundary river basins lying south of the Danube River Basin, which flow into the Adriatic, Aegean, Black, and Ionian seas, and on the series of transboundary lake basins in this area.» Meanwhile, the Mediterranean Shared Aquifers Management Program will «link ongoing programs to facilitate a broader exchange of planning, management, and implementation experience, develop a mechanism for initiating cooperative work on additional shared aquifers on a case by case basis and provide a means for development and dissemination of information on good practices,» according to the same statement which added that «the program would play a valuable role in highlighting the importance of the management of shared aquifers,» and that «the knowledge gained in the Mediterranean could be transferred to other regions of the world that have less experience in this critical topic.»

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