Transboundary cooperation

Many of our water resources that are vital to the country’s economy and natural environment belong in the transboundary category. Taking into account that their protection depends greatly on the policies of our neighboring countries, how can Greece ensure the quantity and quality of the water within its own borders? I could speak extensively on this subject because for 20 years I served as head of the technical consultants group in all these negotiations, especially with Bulgaria (with whom Greece shares the Evros, Ardas, Erythropotamos, Nestos and Strymonas). Briefly, I will say that – other than a 1964 agreement on the Ardas, which obliges Bulgaria to supply water for irrigation for 60 years, and another in 1995 under which Sofia agreed to allow Greece the use of 29 percent of the river’s counterflow on Bulgarian soil – there are no other binding bilateral agreements. Over the years, several cooperation protocols on quality (pollution and flooding) have been signed. For the Axios, there is a 1971 agreement, which cannot, however, be described as a success. Talks, as far as I know, have been held with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as well as with Albania (for the Doiranis, Prespes and Aoos), to no great effect. The only document binding the three countries mentioned above is the 1992 Helsinki International Convention of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, which refers to the use and protection of transboundary water courses and international lakes. This was exclusively an achievement for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as it was providing the entire technical backup throughout the three years of negotiations, while the legal aspects of the document were overseen by the Environment Ministry. No other ministry took part, despite pressure by the Foreign Ministry. Unfortunately, this international convention which is binding on our neighbors, who also ratified it with laws – apart from Turkey which did not even sign it – has not been exploited to its fullest by the executive ministries and there are those who have ignored its existence even though it has been passed by the Greek Parliament. Greece’s efforts begin and end with the cooperation provided for in European Union Directive 60/2000, in view of those countries’ accession to the EU (whenever that may be). How far do interstate agreements provide assurances for the future of the Greek side, since, in a few years, our neighbors to the north will have the right to greater quantities of water? I do not know whether, or to what degree, the accession of our neighbors into the European bloc will oblige them to participate in an open-border, integrated management of waters in transboundary water courses. Joint studies will be made, but I cannot hazard a guess as to whether these countries will concede anything more than the right to use specific quantities, apart from those demanded by the ecological balance of the water ecosystem. Nevertheless, we should not overlook the need for cooperation in reducing pollution and in prompt flood warnings. The Evros River has flooded twice this year, and the Strymonas is also a major hazard for the Serres plain, given that Lake Kerkini has gone over capacity. If no disasters occur it will be due to the grace of God. Do you share the view that future wars will be over water? I do, and it should be said that in recent years our focus has been on the problems of the Tigris and Euphrates (Iraq, Syria and Turkey) or the region between Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel. After the US intervention in Iraq and the weakening of Syria’s position, the danger has abated. However, I also believe that other factors will be the cause of a new world war and so water as a cause will be postponed for the more distant future.