This is of particular relevance in the water scarce Middle East, where the political environment is extremely hostile to meaningful cooperation over shared water resources. While most of the water conflicts in the region have been continuing for decades without any sign of defusing, in some cases the situation actually eased towards an environment where stakeholders are now able to cooperate -- at least at some level. However, this often erratic transformation process is not being comprehensively understood. Hence, a new perspective in the debate about water conflicts in the Middle East will be beneficial not only for international water lawyers, but also for decision makers and negotiators on the ground.
This paper builds on earlier work which has examined international water law through a security lens and revealed two main weaknesses of the current system: (1) the tension between the task to provide for 'security of expectations' and the needed innovation to meet fluctuating demands and supplies; and (2) the tension between the ecological unity of the water resource and the diverging sovereign interests of states. In order to address these shortcomings, the present mindset of prevailing rigidity and state-centrism has to be challenged by examining how international legal instruments might be crafted in a way that advances a more flexible and common approach towards transboundary water interaction. Here, the concept of considering water security as a matter of 'regional common concern' is introduced in order to help international law play a more prominent role in addressing the challenges of water insecurity in the Middle East. While the novel mindset of regarding freshwater as a security issue of common concern opens several pathways for the development of international law, the focus of this paper is on the procedural rules of data and information sharing. How can international law contribute to achieving more uniform data collection techniques which are compatible between states? What is the role of regionalism in building trust and providing a framework for facilitating cooperation? How to strengthen the natural science-law interface in order to improve transboundary cooperation? In addressing these questions, new pathways for strengthening water diplomacy within this politically highly charged region will be revealed. The hypothesis of this study is that the progressive development of both substantive principles (like water security) and procedural rules (like data and information exchange) have to go hand in hand in order to alleviate the water crisis in the region. In marrying results from scientific projects on data and information sharing with the legal discussion of how we should phrase the future challenges of managing the world's transboundary water resources, a new approach in addressing the longstanding water disputes in the Middle East will be proposed.
At a time when international environmental law is said to be losing relevance, the growing complexity and interdependence between states demands us to break with the prevalence of thinking in silos and within national borders. What is required instead is a renewed effort to foster international cooperation on all issues shaping our common future. This paper analyses transboundary water interaction in the Middle East as a 'case study' for advancing public international law in order to fulfil its responsibility of promoting fairness in sharing the world's transboundary water resources.
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