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Point of view: Water needs no borders – do we?

Mar 11, 2020 / alpMedia
So far, sufficient water is available in the Alpine regions. If there is to be enough for everyone in the future, despite climate change, water must be treated as a common Alpine resource across national borders, says Marion Ebster, Project Manager at CIPRA International.
Image caption:
Marion Ebster, Project Manager «Nature and people» bei CIPRA International (c) Caroline Begle

Water per se is constantly on the move and knows no borders. Seasonal discharge rates vary greatly, leading to major challenges in the densely packed, multinational Alpine region. The need for cross-border coordination in the Alpine region is growing in line with rising temperatures, but the political willingness to do so is not – which makes the demanding task of dealing with conflicts over distribution and use even more difficult. But this is exactly what we need in the Alpine Space: the involvement of all stakeholders and affected parties in organising the use and distribution of water under the intensified conditions of climate change – and across borders. Water as a common good must be anchored more firmly in the consciousness of institutions and the population. There are already positive moves being made in this direction.

In mid-February 2020, the French presidency of the Alpine Convention held an international water conference. It also addressed the need for optimised water management in the Alpine region and the increase in conflicts of use. One example of best practice presented was the integrated catchment area management of the River Inn in the Lower Engadin/CH over an area of 2,000 square kilometres, covering five municipalities and 7,900 inhabitants. A long and difficult process led to the adoption of an action plan for this participatory type of water management by the local communities. However, the River Inn has a total length of 517 kilometres and a catchment area of 26,000 square kilometres – which would require integrated water management across three countries.

Despite all the difficulties, the participation of the populations affected by complex water management issues must also be tackled on a cross-border basis. Transnational institutions can play a central role here: both the EU with its Water Framework Directive and the Alpine Convention with its climate target system 2050 must call even more strongly for participatory and transboundary water management. They otherwise run the risk of missing one of the most important topics of the coming decades – and thus perhaps the last opportunity for a sustainable and fair use of water as one of our most important resources.