Blue Peace Index 2019
By Matus Samel, Beth Warne 18 October, 2019
The Economist Intelligence Unit's Samel & Warne introduce the brand new Blue Peace Index (BPI) & how it promotes transboundary water cooperation
By 2050, more than 50% of the world’s population will live in water scarce regions; without a solution many regions of the world are fast approaching a state of water poverty. Although rapidly rising sea levels are a very real consequence of climate change, freshwater resources – that account for just 2.5% of all the world’s water – are dwindling fast.
By 2050, more than 50% of the world’s population will live in water scarce regions
Critically, the majority of these resources cross national borders, making their management and conservation particularly challenging. To highlight the challenges, and explore potential solutions, of transboundary water management and cooperation, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), in partnership with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), developed The Blue Peace Index.
The BPI was developed to highlight challenges & explore solutions of transboundary water management & cooperation
Freshwater is the heartbeat of human health but it isn’t only a source of hydration. Freshwater is also consumed in the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the products that we buy. Access to safe freshwater is critical if we are to achieve many of the social and economic objectives outlined in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) framework.
Rising demand for decreasing water resources is not solely negative, demand has increased as more and more people are able to access clean, safe drinking water. Nevertheless, the wider availability of drinking water and sanitation accounts for just a small fraction of our global water consumption. Agriculture (including irrigation, livestock and aquaculture) relies heavily on freshwater resources and accounts for almost 70% of demand globally. An explosion in water-intensive agriculture has exacerbated the pressure on the freshwater resources we have access to.
If the expected demand is realised, 45% world’s GDP, 52% population & 40% grain production will be at risk by 2050
The world’s demand for freshwater is expected to continue rising at similar rates over the next few decades. If realised, the results could be extremely challenging, putting 45% of the world’s global gross domestic product (GDP), 52% of its population, and 40% of its grain production at risk by 2050.
Indeed, The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Risks Report placed the water crisis as the fourth largest risk facing the world, after weapons of mass destruction, extreme weather, and climate change (both also closely linked to water).
Transboundary river basins provide 60% of the world’s freshwater flow & are home to 40% of population…
National and local governments will need to undertake an array of policies to mitigate the effects of freshwater scarcity, from innovative wastewater treatment, to the use of technology to curb waste. However, the scope for any individual country to address the issue in isolation is limited by the realities of nature, as water knows no borders. Transboundary river basins provide 60% of the world’s freshwater flow and are home to 40% of the world’s population. These basins are essential for agriculture, industry, energy generation, and domestic drinking water and sanitation.
…yet globally, only <1/3 of transboundary river & lake basins have joint water management bodies
The Blue Peace Index highlights the worrying lack of formal collaboration structures to govern these critical transboundary water resources. Globally, less than a third of the 286 transboundary river and lake basins, spanning 148 states, have joint water management bodies—and their institutional capacity varies considerably.
Exploring 5 basins and 24 countries globally, the first edition of The Blue Peace Index aims to broaden public debate and awareness on the desirable goals and best practices in transboundary water management, as well as the real costs of mismanagement and lack of cooperation. The Blue Peace is a multidimensional approach that recognises water as a potential source of conflict, whilst also appreciating its power to foster peace.
The benefits of transboundary water cooperation are diverse and extensive, cutting across economic, health, social, environmental and political domains. Working together does not merely mean avoiding negative scenarios, such as flooding or pollution, but creating public goods that provide more than countries could achieve on their own.
The benefits of transboundary water cooperation are diverse & extensive…
…cutting across economic, health, social, environmental & political domains
The report compares transboundary practices across 5 basins & 24 countries…
…including the Amazon, Mekong, Senegal, Sava & Tigris-Euphrates Basins
The Blue Peace Index assesses how water resources are currently managed before detailing how basin countries could start to move towards best-practice. In order to engage with Blue Peace, we must start by identifying the fundamental issues in current water (mis)management. The report compares transboundary cooperation and management practices across the Amazon, Mekong, Senegal, Sava and Tigris-Euphrates Basins across five domains – Policy and legal framework, Institutions and Participation, Water Management Instruments, Infrastructure and Financing and Cooperation Context – to assess the extent to which basin site countries are currently working in a sustainable and collaborative manner to future-proof this threatened resource.
The apolitical nature of some River Basin Organisations (RBOs) has helped to maintain access to water in the face of geopolitical turmoil
The apolitical nature of some pre-existing River Basin Organisations (RBOs) has helped to maintain access to water in the face of geopolitical turmoil for local communities. Despite this, the BPI highlights the need for high-level political will and leadership in transboundary water management as one of the six key areas in which water management can occur more effectively. Although the politicisation of RBOs is a delicate matter, open and collaborative discussions between nations and national politicians are needed to incite change.
To underpin such dialogue, between countries with, at times, conflicting political agendas, identification of shared benefits and broader commitment to evidence-based decision-making can provide essential foundations. Development of formal and informal institutions, and channels for inclusion of key local stakeholders and communities, can then facilitate the exchange of ideas and prevent individual disputes and disagreements from escalating into broader conflicts.
Finally, all of these efforts need to be underpinned by coordinated and sustainable investment in institutions, infrastructure and information systems, which has so far proven to be extremely challenging.
The Blue Peace Index aims to help bringing the challenges and opportunities for improving transboundary water cooperation and management of shared water resources to the fore of political and public attention, and ultimately expand to provide a global holistic assessment of drivers and conditions for Blue Peace.
To find out more about the Blue Peace Index, visit https://bluepeaceindex.eiu.com/#/.
 The study uses the data from the Water Stress Index measuring total water withdrawals as a share of internal renewable water resources for 115 countries and economic regions, and 281 food-producing units (large river basins or aggregated river basins within countries). The countries and basins are defined as “water scarce” when they withdraw more than 40% of internal renewable water resources. These water-stressed regions are considered “at risk” due to water scarcity. See Veolia Water, ‘Finding the Blue Path for a Sustainable Economy’, (2011), https://twi-terre.net/images/PDF/2011-03-Veolia-IFPRI-Water-2050-WhitePaper.pdf, [last accessed 24.04.19]
 See also, S. Burchi, ‘Legal frameworks for the governance of international transboundary aquifers: Pre-and post-ISARM experience’, (Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 20, 2018), pp. 15-20, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214581817301787, [last accessed 24.09.19]
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