Water, Global Warming and International Boundaries

(Note: World Water Week, sponsored by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), is an annual global conference that takes place in Stockholm each August. It’s focus on the global water crisis, healthy water and sanitation, water and natural health, water diseases, worldwide drought, climate change and natural health is compatible with the mission of the Sharon Kleyne Hour. Flavia Loures is a specialist in International water law and policy for the World Wildlife Fund, which is vitally interested on the impact of the global water crisis on human and animal health and demographics.)

Ms. Loures lives in Washington DC and was interviewed from Stockholm, Sweden, where she was participating in World Water Week – 2010. Her topic was “Transboundary Water,” or water that crosses international borders (she was born in Brazil). Flavia has been attending World Water Week since 2006 and believes that it is creating global awareness and momentum.

There is an extensive body of international law regarding shared water between nations and the world could come together, if the countries involved were willing, to settle most regional water wars. In Stockholm, they tend to take an “internationalist” point of view whereas on the ground, people tend to be more fiercely nationalistic.

Ms. Loures believes that it is important environmentally, and from a humanitarian and natural health perspective, to view a river as a unified system or watershed, as nature intended, rather than as a political entity.  Global warming is making nature’s fresh water scarcer and it is important for the more powerful countries to reduce carbon emissions and to have concern for the effect they might have on the environmental health and nature of smaller, poorer countries.

Sharon asked Ms. Loures about the recent Pakistan floods. Pakistan is a mostly desert country with watersheds originating in the naturally water-rich Himalaya and Hindu Kush mountains. It has been experiencing more frequent flooding and more frequent drought. This is made even more complex because some if its rivers flow into the territory of its primary rival and enemy, India. Similarly, some of its main water sources, in Jammu and Kashmir, have been disputed with India for decades. The Indus, Pakistan’s main river and lifeline, begins in Tibet.

Ms. Loures noted that human migrations tends to follow the water and that the problem in Pakistan resulted largely from poor planning.

Southeast Asia is also very vulnerable to floods and there is little or no planning or precautions to deal with it. Again, nations need to come together and work out a solution. They also need to know the law and they need to bring local communities into the conversation. Watersheds affect drinking water, agriculture, fisheries, water sanitation and air quality.

In Latin America, they are beginning to develop regional watershed management strategies and there is a non-binding policy in place (The Amazon River, although mostly in Brazil, begins in Peru).

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is involved because rivers and draught affect natural wildlife populations, reproduction, distribution and migration. Successful wildlife management involves entire ecosystems that may be very much affected by international water law. The WWF is especially concerned with “bellweather species” such as dolphins in the Amazon.

Sharon asked about dams, flood control and intensive water use on the Colorado River drying up the natural delta wetlands in Mexico. Healthy water no longer reaches the marshes (and hasn’t for 75 years). There is an international agreement but the Colorado delta wetlands are still not restored.

According to Ms. Loures, governments do not fully understand the importance of fresh natural, healthy water. If there is not enough of nature’s water, it is impossible to address poverty or promote economic development. She notes that counter-environmental policies are almost always counter-productive to long-term economic development – and there are no quick fixes.

Sharon asked about the WWF. It is a global network headquartered in Switzerland. It is multi-disciplinary with interests in the environment, economics and more. Its logo is the panda, which is very familiar to most people as an endangered species.

Sharon asked about endangered wetlands, noting that wetlands filter water, control floods and help regions adapt to climate change.

Regarding the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Ms. Loures cannot understand how the US government, which is a global leader in advocating environmental responsibility, became so lax in licensing deep water drilling and enforcing the law – especially since good regulations are in place.

She observed that Brazil, her home country, also has strong environmental legislation but poor enforcement. That’s because there aren’t enough people or money and the enforcers tend to be very corruptible or easily intimidated.

One solution, according to Sharon: Be well informed and proactive.

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