As discussed above, climate and weather events form a variable background on which agreements, conflicts, and politics are constantly being played out. Demographic, political, and environmental changes can and do disrupt existing relationships and current wisdom about the interactions between society and the environment (Glantz, 1994). There have, however, been cases where regional cooperation has led to particular solutions. In 1996 the UN Economic Commission Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourse and International Lakes came into being (Wieriks and Leidig, 1997). Parties to the Convention are obligated to prevent, control, and reduce water pollution, primarily the influx of hazardous materials from point and nonpoint sources.
Lessons provided by the Convention and from earlier treaties (e.g., the 1960 Indus Treaty between Pakistan and India) lead to the following conclusions: (1) international water problems can only be effectively handled on the river basin scale with full acknowledgement of interdependence, (2) river basin management requires an overall integrated approach, including attention to ecological water quality and water quantity issues, (3) international strategies and policies should leave room for flexible implementation, (4) public and political support are also prerequisites for successful formulation, particularly regarding environmental policies, (5) major decisions cannot be taken without input from all stakeholders and ensuring adequate legal basis for participation, and (6) cooperation will not occur without mutual confidence among all parties involved. Most importantly, implementation must be explicitly provided for, and usually does not succeed without some shared vision for the future.
Recognition of variability and change in water resources is a first step in accepting that management occurs under changing conditions in which surprise and uncertainty will always exist. From the brief reviews provided above, several conclusions can be drawn about climate-weather and water relationships: (1) it is unwise to ignore the variability that is inherent in natural systems, since decisions that bring rigidity to a management system can ultimately generate more problems than they resolve; (2) it is important not to ignore changes that have and will occur in social systems; (3) major changes in streamflow can be regarded in retrospect as climate changes, and; (4) careful examination of past seasonal to decadal-scale variability and responses can provide useful organizational lessons for areas with increased or decreased water supply, as may be postulated under different climate change scenarios. Expectations about the future tend to be better understood by people within organizations if there is a clear parallel with the past. Incentives to conserve and opportunities to reallocate supplies as conditions change do not require long lead times, large financial commitments, or accurate information about the future (Frederick, 1996). There is, however, a clear need for exchange of experience and learning among different basins especially on how awareness of slow onset problems in the context of decadal-scale variability is developed and the ways in which societies have adjusted to them. A conspicuous aspect of water management has thus been the lack of careful postaudits (systematic and iterative evaluations) of the social, economic, and consequences of previous programs and ongoing projects (White, 1997).
Few assessments, intended to provide insight into future responses, show sensitivity to historical dimensions. For instance, it is impossible to understand the present context without acknowledging that for most of the twentieth century, following the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the post-World War I period, water disputes in the Middle East were closely associated with boundary drawing, state formation, nation building, domestic and international strife, and security issues. Attention to history shows that people have known about most problems for a long time but have not acted on better knowledge of these past changes, i.e., problems have been accumulating for many years not just when they are publicized (Glantz, 1999). Inattention to these changes or engaging in inadequate responses allows the incremental accumulation of problems to the point of system criticality or collapse. Mitigating future impacts requires greater emphases on social and ecological factors that prefigure these "surprises."
As a cautionary note, the idea that many solutions to reducing social and environmental vulnerabilities, cognizant of physical, social, and economic time frames, are available but remain unused is not new (Ascher and Healy, 1990; Pulwarty and Riebsame, 1997). There are no apparent quick fixes, technological, economic, or otherwise (Glantz, 1999). A better understanding of the links between domestic political concerns and foreign policy is needed in order to construct a more complete picture of issues underlying water disputes. One of the most important benefits that may be realized through a comparative study is an understanding of why some policies may be chosen over others, how these are related to particular climatic events, which ones rise to prominence, and which are allowed to persist. Identification of the barriers to implementation and evaluation in one setting may shed light on the likelihood of success of similar actions in another setting.
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