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Partnership aims to avoid water conflicts

UNESCO director-general, Koïchiro Matsuura, and Mikhail Gorbachev, president of environmental organisation Green Cross International(GCI) and former Soviet president, have signed a two-year agreement aimed at joining forces to help avert potential conflicts over the world's water resources.

Some 261 river basins worldwide extend over more than one country and, as demand for water continues to rise and water becomes increasingly scarce, the potential for disputes over this shared resource remains a threat to peace.

The agreement, signed on 12 December 2001 at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, will mean pooling the results of two complementary approaches to world water security. While UNESCO will continue to develop educational tools aimed at decision-makers and governments through its programme ‘From Potential Conflict to Co-operation Potential’, GCI will raise awareness at grassroots level, with its ‘Water for Peace’ project. ‘We have the same objectives and aims,’ said Matsuura, ‘but we can reach different audiences.’

Unofficially announced in a joint UNESCO/GCI workshop at the International Conference on Freshwater in Bonn, Germany, the new initiative will involve case studies on major shared river basins. UNESCO will focus its attention on the Rhine, Aral Sea Basin, Incomati, the Mekong, Jordan, Danube and Columbia rivers. These case studies will analyse the existing co-operation mechanisms developed by the states involved.

Meanwhile, GCI will cover the Jordan, Volga, Okawango, Danube, Volta and Parana-Plata river basins. GCI’s work in the field will use questionnaires in local languages to gather information on water issues, and in some cases will produce handbooks and leaflets to raise awareness of the potential for conflict.