International inland waters: Concepts for a more active World Bank role
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Many developing countries are facing serious problems in meeting the rapidly growing water demands for domestic, industrial, irrigation, power, and other uses. The marginal cost of additional supplies is increasing, water quality is deteriorating, ecology and biodiversity problems are aggravating, and inter-sectoral conflicts are becoming more frequent. These issues are more difficult and often intractable in international river basins where riparian countries are unable to establish cooperative arrangements to plan and use the available water resources effectively. This paper reviews the World Bank's role in international water affairs. It was initiated to address the concerns expressed by the delegates to an international workshop on comprehensive water resources management organized by the Bank in June 1991. The delegates complained that the current Bank policy on international water affairs was not sufficiently helpful and recommended that the Bank should play a more proactive role in promoting cooperative arrangements between riparian countries for systematic planning and development of their common resources and fostering settlement of riparian disputes. The review of the Bank's experience shows that, with the notable exception of the Indus Waters Treaty, the Bank has made only limited direct interventions in international water affairs. Its present policy (Operational Directive 7.50) has a strictly limited project orientation. It is curative rather than preventive and does not foster creative options in situations where riparian countries of widely different technical abilities and economic power are involved. The paper points out that international water issues are assuming increasing importance in the Bank's development assistance strategies, and the demand for Bank assistance is increasing and that the Bank has unique opportunities and comparative advantage in assisting riparian countries where inefficient use of scarce water resources, increasing pollution, and the lack of riparian cooperation are seriously threatening sustainable development. The paper recommends that the Bank should play a more proactive role in international water affairs. Development should be the primary objective for its interventions. Its policy should be flexible and its main thrust should be to assist riparian countries in their own efforts to establish cooperative arrangements to plan and use their common water resources efficiently. There are many modalities for Bank interventions. It should promote dialogue, improve the data base and analysis, and induce constructive cooperation. The report cautions that international water issues are technically complex and potentially sensitive. The Bank should concentrate its efforts on cases where its interventions are likely to produce favorable results. It should be responsive when there is a need for its assistance and the riparian countries welcome it. Bank involvement in international water affairs requires developing consensus and mobilizing support on complex and sensitive legal, political, and technical concerns of all riparian countries, big and small, and rich and poor. It requires patience, perseverance, and development diplomacy. The paper recommends that the Bank should enhance its capacity to play a proactive role and address riparian requests for assistance objectively, competently, and effectively.
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