Water Cooperation and Diplomacy

Pressure on water resources is intensifying and competing claims on them at multiple scales are increasing. Hence, sustainably governing shared waters across borders is crucial for preventing and resolving conflict. The Institute firmly anchors questions of peace, security and justice in a sound understanding of water from different perspectives and builds on more than 60 years of solid expertise across the full range of water disciplines.

Meet our experts, students and partners

Focus of IHE Delft

Water diplomacy aims to promote cooperation and conflict prevention in relation to shared water resources and contribute to regional security and stability beyond the water sector. Understanding water cooperation and conflict and doing water diplomacy requires an interdisciplinary approach, linking bio-physical and geo-political aspects with engineering and other relevant disciplines. It also requires working on different scales, with international to local actors. 

IHE Delft’s practical and interdisciplinary approach on water cooperation and diplomacy addresses the underlying problems that trigger competition and conflict over water, while promoting cooperation. Building on IHE’s comprehensive knowledge and expertise on water from many academic disciplinary backgrounds, ranging from hydrology to ecology and from law to engineering, the following eight focus areas are at the heart of IHE Delft’s educational, research and institutional strengthening activities on water cooperation and diplomacy:

Causes and dynamics of water conflict and cooperation

Transboundary water interaction takes place at different stages of conflict and cooperation, often happening simultaneously at various levels and in formal and non-formal ways. Our activities aim to understand this non-linearity and how relations between actors are influenced by geographical, political and economic asymmetries as well as to develop adequate approaches to foster cooperation.

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Functioning of transboundary institutions

Institutions governing transboundary water resources are crucial for developing and implementing cooperation commitments and ensuring the harvesting of cooperation benefits and preventing conflicts over time. IHE Delft therefore engages with institutions in order to improve their effectiveness and help them to adapt to changing environments in their respective basins.

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The role of international and national water law

International and national legal instruments dealing with water related issues provide a key normative framework within which decisions are made about water resources management at different levels from domestic to transboundary, and in outlining the institutional context within which such decisions are made and implemented, and thus have an important role to play in the context of water diplomacy.

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The linkages between water and security

Water (in-)security is increasingly linked to instability, insecurity and conflict – beyond the water sector. The exact causal pathways that link water and security and the factors that determine the extent of such links are, however, insufficiently understood. IHE Delft engages with the water community and the 4D-communities (diplomacy, development, defence, disaster relief) to better understand these linkages and develop tailor-made policy solutions.

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Water diplomacy as practice: understanding how water diplomacy is done

As part of the Water Governance Chair Group, IHE Delft’s water diplomacy research is also applying a practice-theory based approach to study the practices employed by diplomats and others doing transboundary water cooperation at different levels, and how they interrelate with power relations by either sustaining or challenging them.

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Dispute resolution mechanisms

A range of dispute resolution mechanisms are available to parties that are involved in a water-related dispute and are looking to resolve it, ranging from negotiations to adjudication. Understanding and applying these mechanisms are important components of the educational syllabus at IHE Delft, as well as of its services related to research and institutional development, to enable those involved in the resolution of water related disputes to be adequately equipped.

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Informing water cooperation and diplomacy: data and diplomatic tools

Processes of creating and sharing data can be valuable tools to promote water cooperation, serving for instance as trust building processes through joint fact finding or joint monitoring. Research focuses on how data and information are created and inform decision making, and how power (im)balances influence data collection, information development and decision making over shared waters.

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Water plus: linking management of water and other natural resources 

Water resources are intertwined and strongly interdependent with other ecosystems – from mountain ranges where rivers originate to coastal ecosystems, regional seas and oceans into which rivers flow. Integrated management from the source to the sea is, however, still in its infancy in most parts of the world. Therefore, IHE Delft supports different actors in collaborating for the better governance of terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems, and draws lessons from natural resource management of other ecosystems for the multi-level and multi-stakeholder governance of water.

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This work is intertwined with other expertise at IHE Delft, for instance through the many tools available to promote cooperation and prevent conflict. These range from official negotiations or third party mediation to more technical measures like fact finding missions and joint monitoring. The latter are often also used as trust building activities.

Education and capacity development

Education & Capacity Development

DUPC2: DGIS-IHE Delft Programmatic Cooperation

Working in partnership on education and training, research and capacity development is a key approach of IHE Delft. This approach has considerably increased the Institute’s and its partners’ impact at the global and local levels, and has been strongly supported by the DGIS IHE Delft Programmatic Cooperation (DUPC). Water diplomacy is one of the strategic areas addressing and resolving water problems worldwide. 


The DUPC2 programme supports the development of education, training and research activities related to water cooperation and diplomacy by IHE Delft and its partners. 

The water diplomacy activities under DUPC2 are crosscutting throughout the different programme components.  It includes among others the implementation of the Universities Partnership for Water Cooperation and Diplomacy (see below for more information), work with institutions in partner countries, as well as activities with Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The education activities undertaken, relate to the Water Cooperation and Diplomacy programme offered jointly with the University for Peace in Costa Rica and Oregon State University in the US.

More information about DUPC can be found via: Water Diplomacy DUPC 2 and DUPC 2 Global Partnership Water and Development.

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Water Peace and Security Partnership

The growing water crisis increasingly poses a threat to livelihoods, agriculture, energy security and local and national economies. This has consequences for the security situation of communities, countries and entire regions, all the way up to the global level.  

The Water, Peace and Security Partnership is designing innovative tools and services that identify water shortage-related security risks. These tools and services demonstrate changes in short term water availability and their impacts on societies, and link them to both hydrological as well as social, economic and political factors. Based on this information, evidence-based actions can be triggered to prevent or mitigate human security risks. The WPS will promote this by raising awareness, developing capacities and supporting dialogue.

The Water, Peace and Security partnership is a collaboration among an expanding group of organisations supported by The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Current partners are: IHE Delft (lead), World Resources Institute, Deltares, The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, Wetlands International, International Alert. In addition, the consortium collaborates with a growing number of other institutes, such as Oregon State University, the Pacific Institute and New America. 

Find more information here.

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Nile Water Lab

The Nile - particularly the Blue Nile shared by Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia - is one of the international rivers usually described as on the verge of a “water war”, as a consequence of competing claims and concurrent project of water exploitation by the riparian countries. Open Water Diplomacy Lab aims at reversing this potential conflict, by boosting the role of science and communication as a catalyst for cooperation and peace.  

The project, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs Global partnership for Water and Development, aims at studying the role of the media and science in transboundary waters negotiations, as well as at building the capacities of journalists and researchers in water science communication. Journalists and researchers from different Nile basin countries will be trained together and will be supported to co-produce original knowledge on Nile waters, in a way that facilitates mutual understanding between riparian countries and cooperation on transboundary water resources.

Find more information here.

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Universities Partnership

Academic institutions offer substantial resources in helping to develop capacity and understanding of issues for effectively and peacefully managing shared waters. In 2018, IHE Delft and other core partners established the Universities Partnership for Water Cooperation & Diplomacy with the aim of coordinating activities, synergising expertise and producing new knowledge in these areas.

The Universities Partnership for Water Cooperation & Diplomacy brings together academic expertise in fields related to water resources conflict prevention and resolution, currently from research institutions on five continents. With a global hub at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, coordinating universities include the German-Kazakh University in Kazakhstan; IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands; Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati; the International Water Management Institute; Oregon State University in the USA; the University for Peace in Costa Rica and the University of Zimbabwe.

The activities of the Partnership focus on key socioeconomic and geopolitical issues in shared water management at local, regional, national, and international levels. All activities are explicitly linked and integrated within four coordinated focus areas:

  1. Coordinated applied research; 
  2. Shared and unified data accumulation, analysis, and distribution;
  3. Training workshops for local, regional, and international basin stakeholders; and,
  4. Graduate and professional certification in shared water resources management.

More information is available at: https://www.un-ihe.org/news/universities-partnership-water-cooperation-diplomacy

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Core team

Susanne Schmeier - Senior Lecturer in Water Diplomacy

Jenniver Sehring - Senior Lecturer in Water Diplomacy

Zaki Shubber - Lecturer in Law and Water Diplomacy

Rozemarijn ter Horst - Lecturer/Junior Researcher 

Margreet Zwarteveen - Professor of Water Governance

Pieter van der Zaag - Professor of Integrated Water Resources Management   

Joyeeta Gupta - Professor of Law and Policy in Water Resources and Environment

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of water cooperation and conflict, colleagues from other departments, as well as partners from other organisations, are frequently involved in water cooperation and diplomacy activities. For more information about IHE Delft’s departments, please visit: https://www.un-ihe.org/academic-departments.


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