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Regional Common Concern For Water Security : The International Legal Foundation For Effective Data And Information Sharing In The Middle East

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Bjiłrn-Oliver Magsig (Leipzig, Germany)

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 15: Water law,
AbstractThe world's freshwater supplies are squeezed by rapidly increasing demand, the impacts of global climate change and unsustainable management. Given the fact that water is the gossamer linking various other security issues -- e.g. energy, food and environment -- it seems obvious that 'business as usual' in transboundary water management will threaten future global stability and endanger the very foundation of international security. Yet, the much longed for radical new approach is missing. This is mainly due to the fact that addressing water insecurity is a highly complex task where multilevel and polycentric forces must be balanced and coordinated. The absence of law in much of this emerging debate highlights the necessity for further understanding and elucidation, especially from the legal perspective.

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. Beck L and others, 'Implications of Hydro-Political Dependency for International Water Cooperation and Conflict: Insights from New Data' (2014) 42 Political Geography 23. Bernauer T and B√∂hmelt T, 'Basins at Risk: Predicting International River Basin Conflict and Cooperation' (2014) 14 Global Environmental Politics 116. Gerlak A, Lautze J and Giordano M, 'Water Resources Data and Information Exchange in Transboundary Water Treaties' (2011) 11 International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics 179. Magsig B-O, 'Pushing the Boundaries: Rethinking International Law in Light of the Common Concern for Water Security' in Sancin V and Kovič Dine M (eds), International Environmental Law: Contemporary Concerns and Challenges in 2014 (GZ Zalo¬ěba 2014). Moynihan R and Magsig B-O, 'The Rising Role of Regional Approaches in International Water Law: Lessons from the UNECE Water Regime and Himalayan Asia for Strengthening Transboundary Water Cooperation' (2014) 23 Review of European Community & International Environmental Law 43. Nasser A-SNB, 'Water Modeling Technologies: A Key to Unlocking Water Conflict in the Middle East?' (2012) 149 Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education 13. Strategic Foresight Group, The Blue Peace : Rethinking Middle East Water (Strategic Foresight Group, 2011). Zawahri N and Weinthal E, 'The World Bank and Negotiating the Red Sea and Dead Sea Water Conveyance Project' (2014) 14 Global Environmental Politics 55.

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