Valuable ecosystems can help build transboundary cooperation in water-stressed environments

WINNIPEG—August 17, 2009—Placing an economic value on ecosystems can help build cooperation in water-stressed parts of the world, according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, which is presenting its current thinking on the subject at World Water Week in Stockholm on August 18.

Accessing water for the common good is the theme of next week’s annual meeting, which brings together experts, practitioners, decision makers and leaders from around the world to exchange ideas and foster new thinking to address the planet’s most urgent water-related issues.

This year’s meeting will have a special focus on transboundary water issues, which can become a source of conflict, particularly in areas experiencing water stress. But transboundary issues can also be a catalyst for build peace building, according to Henry David (Hank) Venema, Director of IISD’s Sustainable Natural Resources Management program and Water Innovation Centre, based within North America’s Red River Basin.

“We have found that multiple jurisdictions within a transboundary basin can find common ground in dialogue about the environment. There is a greater degree of cooperation when people understand that the ecosystem services of a watershed have considerable value, beyond applications for navigation or water supply,” Venema said.

“There are many examples of transboundary organizations around the world that have succeeded in diffusing tensions by working for the common good.”

Venema said IISD’s newly established Water Innovation Centre is developing policies and processes to support the work of transboundary organizations, particularly in North America’s vast Lake Winnipeg Watershed, which is nearly one million square kilometres, and home to more than 5.5 million people, in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta, as well as the U.S. states of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.

Lake Winnipeg is the tenth largest freshwater lake in the world, and also one of the most eutrophic, fed by the nutrient-rich waters of the Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, and Red rivers. Compared with other great lakes in the world, particularly the North American Great Lakes, Lake Winnipeg has received surprisingly little scientific attention until the past decade.

“We have a lot to learn, but our work will help us develop policies and processes to improve the management of other transboundary river basins,” he said.

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