High-Level International Conference on Water Cooperation

Daniel A. Reifsnyder
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Dushanbe, Tajikistan
August 21, 2013

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Like others, we wish to thank President Rahmon and the Government and people of Tajikistan for their leadership on these important issues and for their warm hospitality.

The message of this conference should be simple: There is no alternative to cooperation on water.

We have heard repeatedly of the incredible challenges that nearly every one of us now faces and will continue to face. I don’t think there is one among us who does not appreciate – at a personal level – the importance of water. Our economies depend on it, our environment depends on it, and our lives depend on it. We know this is true for ourselves and for our neighbors.

As demands rise and supplies decline – as variability increases – there will be conflicts among competing uses and among competing users. There will be legitimate disputes over who has access, and over when and how water is used. There will also be less room for mistakes and a greater need to get the most value out of every drop.

This can be done. In the United States, we have more than 20 large river basins and more than 20,000 small watersheds. We share several rivers with our neighbors. The availability of water and the demand for water varies greatly across these basins, as do the interests of the public in how these resources should be managed.

We have a range of institutional arrangements that support joint research, data sharing and cooperative decision-making. We are working with Canada, jointly managing our shared river systems to optimize power production, protect the environment, and minimize the risks from floods. With Mexico, we recently put in place a provisional agreement that enables Mexico to store water.

I am pleased that this conference is so strongly focused on positive examples of cooperation. There seem to be common strands that run through each of these examples -- among them: (1) a thorough understanding of the problems each participant faces; (2) an appreciation of the concerns that arise from these problems; (3) a willingness to share data and information, which increases trust and confidence; (4) a willingness to work together in various arrangements and mechanisms to address shared problems jointly; and (5) a strong belief that cooperation produces better, more durable results.

I am also pleased to be here discussing some of the mechanisms that support cooperation on shared waters -- such as the Shared Waters Program (SWP) at the United Nations Development Program. The SWP is a multi-donor platform for establishing new, or strengthening existing, regional mechanisms for advancing cooperation on shared waters. Initial U.S. funding is currently supporting SWP activities in several basins. The focus of this initiative will be on laying the ground work -- for example, through meetings, workshops, legal/technical/facilitation expertise that establish a foundation -- for cooperative work between and among countries on shared waters. Once that ground work is laid, we expect that long-term capacity building and institutional reform will be supported through traditional bilateral and regional development assistance efforts. The SWP thus complements these development activities.

Mr. Chairman, in closing, let me say that there really is no choice. The history here is clear – without cooperation economic growth is slower and insecurity grows. Through cooperation, communities and countries can fully realize the multiple benefits of shared water resources, and work toward a more secure water future.

I thank you.