‘Regional Conference on Rivers as Lifeline for South Asia’ discusses challenges facing the region’s rivers

Experts stressed on the need for enhancing water diplomacy to forge larger cooperation among the countries in the region to conserve, use and protect the water resources for the best interests of the people.

NL Today

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Kathmandu: International experts from eight Asian countries as well as from Europe and the Tibetan community deliberated on challenges and opportunities offered by water resources and ways to promote river diplomacy and multilateral cooperation in South Asia in the capital on Wednesday. In the Regional Conference on Rivers as Lifeline for South Asia hosted by the South Asia Office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) in collaboration with the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Nepal, the Samriddhi Foundation, and the German-Nepal Friendship Association, experts stressed on the need for enhancing water diplomacy to forge larger cooperation among the countries in the region to conserve, use and protect the water resources for the best interests of the people in the region.

Dr Prakash Sharan Mahat, former Minister of Energy of Nepal, inaugurated the conference along with Dr Carsten Klein, Head of FNF South Asia, Dr Stephan Russek, Deputy Chief of Mission of the German Embassy in Nepal, and Mr Juergen Martens, President of the DGLI. Addressing the conference, Dr Mahat said that abundance of water resources has directly and indirectly contributed to the flourishing human civilization in South Asia. However, weak management and cooperative mechanisms at national and regional level substantially hamper the region’s development, he said.

We need to harness the untapped hydropower energy potential for meeting our agricultural, industrial, and social needs. Above all, shared resources through effective regional cooperation will foster peace in the region and will attract substantial investment across the region, which can help South Asian countries to foster transboundary cooperation to counter growing challenges of climate change, water scarcity, food security, trade and create opportunities for generating wealth and employability for its citizens, he further added.

“The purpose of this conference is to bring together experts, policymakers and stakeholders to discuss the challenges facing the rivers in this region and develop a roadmap for their sustainable management,” said Dr Carsten Klein, Head of FNF South Asia, in his inaugural address.

“Rivers are the lifeline of civilization and South Asia is blessed with some of the world’s mightiest as well as most economically and culturally significant rivers. These rivers provide water for drinking, irrigation, hydropower, and industry and are integral to the economic development of our region,” said Dr Klein.

Various other topics were raised and discussed in separate panel discussions and interaction sessions. The panel discussion under the topic “Transboundary Water Cooperation and Hydro-Politics” highlighted how transboundary water cooperation is the source of both cooperation and conflict in South Asia. Disagreements over riparian rights, power asymmetry between states, water diversion and inundation, geopolitics over rivers, internationalization of river disputes, differences in interpretation of water treaties and hegemonic tendencies of powerful countries were the topics of discussion.

Panel discussion on ‘River and Economy: Agriculture, Energy and Trade’ highlighted the facts that rivers are the economic backbone of South Asia, as the primary source of irrigation for the agrarian region. Experts said rivers such as Brahmaputra, Indus, Narmada, Koshi and Ganges have contributed to the rise of some of the earliest civilizations in history and today are the source of livelihood for millions, while also pointing to the challenges to utilizing these rivers in a sustainable and fair manner.

Panel discussion under ‘Future of Rivers and Impact of Climate Change’ shed light on how climate change affects the water systems due to melting/shrinking glaciers and increasing water temperature.

A number of experts and delegates from Germany, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal and other European countries attended the conference.