By Shada Islam - Asian and European representatives meet in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho in Vietnam on March 21-22 to discuss closer Asia-Europe cooperation on water resource and river basin management.
The workshop, the first of its kind in Vietnam, is expected to attract 150 delegates from 51 ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) partners and organisations such as the Mekong River Commission, the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River, the World Water Council, the United Nations, the UN Environment Programme, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank.
Part of the Danube-Mekong Cooperation Initiative agreed at the 9th ASEM Summit in Laos in 2012, the meeting coincides with World Water Day celebrations in Can Tho.
International World Water Day is held annually on 22 March as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and the sustainable management of freshwater resources. An international day to celebrate freshwater was recommended at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The United Nations General Assembly designated 22 March 1993 as the first World Water Day and in addition, 2013 has been designated as the International Year of Water Cooperation.
Managing the world’s water resources is part of the green growth agenda identified as a key priority by ASEM partners. Recommendations from the workshop in Vietnam will be sent to the 11th ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting to be held in New Delhi this November.
Discussions are expected to focus on a variety of themes including the link between water resources management and climate change, balancing water-related policies on industrialisation, food security, energy security, tourism and transport and the importance of ensuring clean water supply and accessibility to ensure improved public health.
Experts will exchange experiences in managing Asian river basins, including the Mekong and the Ganges models as well as intra-European cooperation in the Danube, the prevention of accidental industrial water pollution in the Rhine Basin and transboundary modelling in the Meuse River Basin. Discussions will also cover the mainstreaming of water resource management into national strategies on green growth and public-private partnerships in water management.
ASEM’s focus on water management is no surprise. The UN underlines that while access to water can be a source of conflict between countries, it is also a catalyst for cooperation and peace building.
Cooperation on such practical and vital issues as water management can help overcome cultural, political and social tensions and build trust and social peace between states. Cooperation is also essential to ensure a more efficient and sustainable use of water resources through joint management plans.
The Joint Research Centre, the European Commission's in-house science service, addresses key societal challenges on a European and global scale. The JRC supports water policies by assessing water quality, predicting climate change impacts on water, assessing future water needs of the economy, studying water governance in developing countries, mapping ecosystems and water resources and carrying out analysis of how new technologies may give opportunities for water reuse, saving and harvesting. Since the 1980s, water research has accounted for growing numbers of projects and an increasing budget in the EU's research programmes.
The "European Union Water Initiative" was launched in 2002 at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg as a partnership with national governments, donors, the water industry, NGOs and other stakeholders.
One of the key goals of the initiative is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of water management through dialogue and coordination and to strengthen cooperation through promoting river basin approaches in national and transboundary waters.
Shada Islam is a journalist in Brussels with a long experience of EU-Asia relations. This is a part of a series of articles being published by Ecorys Research and Consulting, as member of the COWI Consortium which is under contract to the European Commission, to look at different aspects of the multi-faceted Asia-Europe relationship. This article represents the views of the author and does not commit the European Commission in any way.