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March 22, 2013

World Water Day 2013: Water Cooperation

Posted by: Katie Heasley

Joanna Robinson, author of the brand new Contested Water, writes about water cooperation in honor of World Water DayJoanna is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Glendon College, York University, Toronto.

Water is essential for life; it holds deep emotional, social, cultural, and spiritual significance. Water permeates our lives like no other element except air. We need water to drink, to grow food, to bathe. The way we think about water is shaped by our everyday lived experiences, the places where we live, and their unique geographical, political, and cultural characteristics.

In December 2010, the United Nations declared 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation. As we prepare to celebrate World Water Day on March 22, 2013, we should ask: What do we mean by water cooperation?

Water has increasingly become a source of conflict globally. Water shortages, drought, and unfair allocation of water resources have resulted in battles over who owns, controls, and regulates water. Water crosses geographical and political boundaries, giving rise to geopolitical conflicts over the management of transboundary water resources. The water crisis is particularly serious in urban areas, as cities around the world struggle with problems of scarcity, crumbling infrastructure, and pollution, and grapple with the question of how to ensure fair access and sustainability of water resources.

At the same time, because water is a shared resource and a source of life, it has the potential to unite individuals and societies through increased cooperation over water governance as well as a commitment to equity and sustainability. Water scholars have emphasized the need for increased water cooperation in order to ensure equity of access as well as ecological protection and highlight the importance of key political reformssuch as decentralized, participatory, and inclusive decision-making. Integrated approaches are necessary for developing sustainable and equitable water governance policies because they recognize the full complexity of water resources in their social, political, and ecological contexts.

As we celebrate World Water Day this year and the possibilities for increased water cooperation, we need to consider the multiple meanings and values that are associated with water, including its social, ecological, cultural, and spiritual dimensions, as well as its life sustaining properties. Cooperation around water is essential if we are to protect this precious resource, reduce conflict, and ensure equity of access and sustainability of water resources for current and future generations. 

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