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Basins of Cooperation*
In Latin America there are countless situations in which rivers and lakes form borders to divide one country from another, in which waterways flow transnationally, and in which underground aquifers span the territories of more than one country. The Amazon basin alone, covering parts of eight out of the twelve South American states, serves as an international border for over 8,000 km, has close to 70 waterways that cross at least one border and encompasses an estimated 64 international aquifers. In spite of this condition of interdependence, for the most part, each country plans and programs its activities according to according to a wide range of divergent parameters. Thus, regardless of the shared nature of so many water basins in the Americas, information and studies regarding quantities and quality of water are generally available only at the level of individual countries, the data that is compiled employs a variety of distinct criteria and methodologies, and is most often lacking the necessary presentation or coherence to prove useful at the regional level. This situation makes the type of dialogue and levels of understanding required for coordinated and efficient management very difficult to achieve, which in turn creates deficiencies in the water resources that is available from the large water basins and underground aquifer systems.
The growing demand for water comes from growing populations and expanding economies around the Americas, this growth continues to take place in the context of uncontrolled urbanization and migration, over-exploitation and source contaminations, and of changes to climates and increasing climatic instability, all of which are major factors in the contributing to the availability water. This growing demand places increasing pressure on existing shared water resources, which shows the limitations of self-isolated management strategies, and increases the willingness to use greater levels of coordination for the resolution of common and interdependent problems. Transboundary water basins require transboundary management efforts. To make this a reality, it is necessary to reinforce the mechanisms that support resource management when it is conducted through a regional perspective. It is also crucial to support actions that encourage productive, ongoing dialogue, that promote research, that facilitate negotiation and consensus-building and that foster the mobilization of financial resources. Only in this way can the foundations be developed for successfully planning and managing water resources (both basins and aquifers) with a hemispheric vision. This approach is needed to facilitate the technical and political collaboration necessary to manage our shared water resources.
The greater harmonization of information and initiation of efforts to coordinate actions in those areas where large water basins, aquifers and hydrologic regions are found is beginning to be reflected in initiatives dealing with water resources such as the Guarani Aquifer, the Plata Basin and the Amazon Basin. The coordination involved in these initiatives offers an opportunity for the harmonization of existing hydrology-climatology information systems at the regional level, including those that provide information on meteorology and associated weather modeling that allows for the evaluation of responses to climate variability of hydrological systems, and for the adoption of prioritized ways to adapt to extreme climatologic events. At the same time, working together on the identification of key indicators to be monitored throughout the large water basins, aquifers and hydrologic regions of Latin America and the Caribbean will allow for the adequate monitoring of water availability and variability and for the improvement of mechanisms for the avoidance of problems and prevention of disputes. Paying attention to the topics listed above will undoubtedly facilitate cooperation among countries that share transboundary waters.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, profound discussions and substantial changes are currently underway regarding water-related themes and the legal frameworks within which they are regulated, with institutional changes as a consequence. Several countries have now approved constitutional changes and new laws related to how they conceive of and manage water resources. In other countries, intense discussions are underway regarding the theme, serving to advance internal transformative processes that affect the ways in which this resource is managed. The historical conjuncture in which we find ourselves makes this period in time an excellent opportunity for countries to share, harmonize, and mutually support one another in efforts to improve the sustainability of the use of water and of the protection of this vital resource.
Cletus Springer, Jorge Rucks and Enrique Bello
Department of Sustainable Development
*The ideas, thoughts, and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflecte those of the OAS or of its member states. The opinions expressed are the sole responsibility of the authors.