Dr. Danilo Turk, Former President of Slovenia

Dr. Danilo Turk, Former President of Slovenia, Chairman Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace


Stockholm, 30 August 2018



The Geneva Water Hub, as Secretariat of the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace of which Your Excellency is the Chairman, has published a report titled as “A Matter of Survival”, as the final recommendatory report of the Panel. Could you tell us the main recommendations of the report in terms of water and peace for the fragile communities?


We have to understand the nature of tensions around water. Some of which are purely internal within the country. The international community cannot do very much about them. But best practices can be compared. So our report is suggesting some directions including the ways in which businesses, civil society and scientific community can get together. And then we have called for solutions which allow the use of water in a way which is not harmful to the civilian populations and does not harm the human consumptions. One has to keep the balance and that is an important thing to ensure in all water projects. And there are issues of transboundary nature and we are obviously suggesting the use of mechanisms that exist. I do not want to go now into every detail but what important is to understand that there is a plenty of practice around the world. And the critical important element in the transboundary water systems is the institutional side. So you need a certain robustness of institutions, committees, possibly secretariats. Institutions that take care of the implementation of transboundary water issues works well. They have to be taken seriously. They have to be respected by the authorities of cooperating fractions. Their procedures have to be followed and the new problems require new procedures. Those new procedures have to be established. So, we are really very much focusing on that. Luckily, there are international mechanisms with broad mandates that can help. For example UNECE convention, Helsinki Convention have been developed. So that it is open to non-European countries. So, all that is available and all that should be made use of. Now I am focusing on these new sets of recommendations because they are critical. We talk about other things also but these are the key recommendations.


SUEN has been involved in the SDG 6.5.2 discussions within the UNECE Convention. We had some hesitations with regard to the indicator for this goal which can really be a political one. And if you examine the UNECE Convention, indicator itself is really linked with the Convention. On the other hand, with a global prospective, I believe it is not enough to demonstrate the degree of cooperation European countries which are also being part of the UNECE Water Convention. However, in the other parts of the world there are no such cooperation arrangements. Could you elaborate on this issue?


Sure, I think that would be specific, when you come to geographically defined areas, when it comes to transboundary cooperation. You have to proceed from the needs of that area. You do not impose a mechanism from abroad. So I think the way to start is to figure out what would work in that place at a given moment. And then from that point further, you then take advantage of various elements of procedures and advisory services of European Union. You have to do your own homework first. Obviously, because no two situations are the same. There is a great deal to learn about local circumstances. For example; local agriculture, land and local ethnics and sensitivities. All kinds of factors which cannot be prescribed globally. And in order to be effective, you have to have a good idea about the needs. Local needs and local parameters of the organization. Once you have that done, so that homework which has to be done by the by the countries concerned. Only then you go to Geneva and say this is where we would benefit from some advice or from some investment. I mean this doesn’t take away any of the responsibilities of the countries concerned. It is important not to see this as a prescribed thing. It is more of an indicative thing. It is an indicative mechanism which must be adjusted to the needs of the situation. Prescription is not a good way to proceed. Prescription creates worries and that has to be avoided.


Another question is about the refugee crisis. So far we could not see any resolution. What are your messages for the international community? What is your perspective in terms of your report and your personal opinion?


Again, we do not have a prescription. Because this refugee problem has grown extremely wide in recent years. And it has created new problems which we are not fully acquainted with and those problems have two kinds. First, the refugee populations tend to become larger than before and more permanent than before. So, the wars are taking place for a longer period of time. That prospect of return is extended and the numbers are larger. So that creates a problem in water supply, among other things, and this is a very serious problem. And international community currently does not have any mechanism that would really help the host countries of refugees. So the host countries are often left to their own devices. Now one of the experiences that we have seen could be of some help but not everywhere. If you have a refugee population which can be at least partly employed so that they can play a role in water services. That is doable, then this should be done. We know that it is not doable everywhere. But wherever that is doable, it is important because otherwise, if you donate something to people, then obviously they do not value it. And then the other people locally who have to pay for the same service become nervous about it become unhappy and that creates tensions. So that is the problem that we have seen and there are solutions through stimulation for employment opportunities for refugees and of course we know this brings risks also. Because then again the question is integration or return of refugees and all that. And these are difficult questions. We do not want again to be prescripted but we just point out to the experience that exist in some place. Some countries allow employment of refugees and of course that can take care of some of the questions. So that is one part of the problem. The other part of the problem is their returns. Because returns cannot just happen. People have to come to a place where there are basic conditions either existing or quickly established. So that is a problem that one has to discuss now. Many people will discuss the returns when the time of returns comes. But unless we discuss them now, we likely to have very big problems in the future. Take, for example, the problem of Palestinian refugees. Now we see that there is a growing body of opinion that this problem should be abandoned altogether. Because refugees have been now for decades elsewhere and cease to be refugees. That logic is there and in order to prevent these kinds of things to happen, we have to start doing returns early. And how to do it this again is a difficult question; how to prepare conditions. Some people today suggest that this should be basically, especially when it comes to Syria, done with the assistance of non-governmental organizations and locally. Working with the municipal authorities, local communities would be more effective than intergovernmental. That is an interesting and potentially good idea. The question is, are there funds available for such type of work. I guess this might be doable. Then you have to have projects. You have to be convincing with your projects. One is not going to be wasted. And you have to have good communication with the local authorities. I believe that in Syria this is possible because according to water experts who were there during war, there has been a fair amount of activity in securing the water infrastructure even in the time of war, even in areas with were badly affected by the war. Because that basic need of human beings to have war that was recognized by all parties in conflict. So I mean that is the optimistic assumption which is around, which should be tested. And I believe that working with municipal authorities in places where you are expecting returns of refugees is a very important early step. With mayors, with water authorities to see what exactly the needs are for investment, what kind of investment is needed for reconstruction or development of water infrastructure. You see this big donor conferences and all that one should not expect too much. Because what you have seen in those conferences is lot of politics and lot of pledgings, which are subsequently not implemented. Countries come to pledge such amounts of millions and then in all before that money comes, things change again. Of course all spectrum of measures have to be in place, but again more importance should be placed on local things and less expectation on big pledging conferences.


We do research at SUEN to understand of needs of the refugees in the host countries because they are very exposed. What are your final words on this matter?


We have to understand this: This report is not a holy book. This is a kind of text that should stimulate work, stimulate discussion and stimulate search for solutions. We are aware that we have addressed a very large spectrum of problems and we could not offer specific solutions for everything. And there is a need to do a lot of follow-up work. Now, I personally would be quite interested to come to Turkey to look and discuss these issues in some detail as your studies move ahead. Because Turkey has been, first of all, extremely exposed to the refugee problem, has shown a remarkable capacity of handling the situations, helping in some ways, integrating them and so on. So there is a gradual experience which will now be important when one talks about permanent solutions. Well, there are returns, but not all refugees will return. So you have to understand this as well. In other words, the subsequent activities as the Syrian war moves to a less active phase and peace comes. In the end, it will be very important that people who were discussing these things so I will be very happy come at some point to Turkey to see how things are going. I mean we have discussed this in the İstanbul International Water Forum last year, which was about water and peace. That was at the time when the situation was different. Now we have to move again. And Turkey should be actually very much in the lead here. You know it, there is no need for Turkey to be on a defensive mode. We have to come with solutions.


Your Excellency, thank you very much for your time.


Sure, it was a pleasure.

Libadiye Caddesi No:54 Küçükçamlıca Üsküdar 34696 İstanbul / TÜRKİYE
SUEN © Türkiye Su Enstitüsü
Rules of Site Use | Information Inquiry