Today is Nile Day, and to celebrate this day we highlight the Open Water Diplomacy Lab project which focusses on the Nile basin. The project establishes better understanding between the media, scientists and diplomats to unfold transboundary spaces where everyone can communicate about water issues in a more open and an effective way.
Communicating water sciences
Countries that share the Nile River basin annually celebrate Nile Day on the 22nd of February. Nile Day honours the signing of the 1999 Agreement (Nile Basin Initiative) to cooperatively manage the river basin between the countries that share it.
DUPC2 partnership and funding programme of IHE Delft commemorates this day by highlighting a funded project aimed towards improving water diplomacy among nations involved, in addition to ensuring understanding between different players including the media and diplomats by focussing on media, science and transboundary cooperation in the Nile Basin, named the Open Water Diplomacy (OWD) Project. Other projects the DUPC2 programme funds in the Nile include support to the Nile Basin Capacity Building Network (NBCBN) and the Tekeza Atbara project.
The project believes that water diplomacy could benefit from establishing better understanding of how the interaction between media, science and politics unfolds in transboundary spaces where water journalists, scientists and diplomats can engage to communicate about water issues in a more open and effective way.
The Open Water Diplomacy Lab
The Open Water Diplomacy Lab was set up in 2016 to promote science and media as a catalyst for cooperation and peace amid tensions between basin-countries (primarily Egypt-Sudan and Ethiopia). It examines the role of these two sectors in influencing ongoing negotiations over Nile waters, working with researchers and journalists to build mutual understanding and improve collaboration. Eventually, the project aims to build clearer understanding of the interaction between media, science and politics and its impact on water diplomacy.
“The project provides a space for journalists and water scientists from different Nile Basin countries to participate in the joint learning and production process of knowledge and discuss issues related to the Nile Basin,” says Dr. Emanuele Fantini, a senior lecturer and a researcher in water politics and communication at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, who spoke to SciDev.Net about the challenges of researching this thorny issue.
IHE Delft embarked on research with journalists from Water Journalist Africa and SciDev.Net and researchers from the Nile Basin Capacity Building Network and University of WITS, Johannesburg, to better understand how international and national media are talking about the Nile.
Throughout the project, Water journalists have been strengthened in terms of capacity to cover water issues – with a large amount of journalistic reports published - and are supported to promote a shared transboundary narrative. Water scientists have been made more aware about the water diplomacy implications of their research and of the way they communicate it. Safe to say that scientific knowledge on transboundary waters has been co-produced by water scientists and water journalists and is being disseminated among water diplomats.
Channels of communication
During the project different channels are created to reach different audiences. The website InfoNile.org is a platform for geographic journalism interested in mapping the world. Additionally, the podcast the Sources of the Nile is set up with the goal to prompt conversation between journalists, researchers and policymakers.
In the first episode, hosted by Dr. Fantini, Zaki Shubber talks about what is water diplomacy with Yasir Mohamed about the role that science could play in Nile hydropolitics. Listen to the first episode and onwards here.
Next, the online campaign #EverydayNile involves photojournalists from basin-countries who visited each other to picture how the Nile looks in other riparian countries. You can take a look at their photos via the campaign's Instagram account.
Most notably, the Handbook on Media in Water Conflicts and Cooperation, coordinated by SciDev.Net under the Open Water Diplomacy Lab project, provides inputs on how to resolve sensitive issues regarding water diplomacy for the media and journalists. The Handbook offers extensive knowledge, insights, opinions and expertise from people from different (academic) disciplines, genders, backgrounds and countries, mainly aimed at journalists, editors, communication officers, and researchers interested in engaging with the media. Open access to the book and more information about the products developed under this project can be found here.
For more information on the OWD make sure to check its page here.
Since 2020, the project has generated interest outside the Nile Basin. For this reason, partners are sharing experience with journalists and researchers from other basins including Lake Chad in Africa and Brahmaputra in Asia. Dr Anamika Barua from the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati in India is leading the Science communication Brahmaputra projects, also funded by DUPC, and aims to bridge the gap by bringing media and scientists on one platform to facilitate water diplomacy in the Brahmaputra Basin.