Blog: How water can support peace and cooperation

22 March 2024
A woman waters some plants

The theme for this year’s World Water Day is Leveraging Water for Peace. It recognises the importance of water as a common good, especially between nations and disaffected groups of people.

Water is a fundamental resource for life. It is critical for sanitation, human development, and for the nature-providing ecosystem services and goods that maintain life as we know it.

Blog by Akil Crichlow, Assistant Research Officer; Helene Gichenje, Commonwealth Regional Climate Finance Adviser for Africa and Mxolisi Sibanda, Adviser, Climate Change

We have just over five years left to realise the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and World Water Day is an opportunity to highlight Goal 6 - Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. For the 2.3 billion people living in water-stressed countries, this resource, above all has the potential for causing personal and community dislocations, including conflicts.

When water becomes scarce, contaminated, or inaccessible, it becomes a catalyst for escalating tensions between communities, nations, and regions. In active armed conflicts, rival groups often target water infrastructure. Climate change and pollution also jeopardise the supply and the drinkability of water.

Water stress puts an estimated 31% of global GDP at risk— a staggering $70 trillion according to the World Resources Institute in a 2023 report. The Commonwealth’s island paradises in the Caribbean and Pacific, its expansive and wild landscapes in Africa, the arid island states in Europe and its densely populated countries in Asia, all face a multitude of challenges related to water scarcity. 

Commonwealth support on water issues

As a result, the Commonwealth has prioritised water issues in the Commonwealth Living Lands Charter, which is already being translated in tangible ways through on-going support to our member states. One such example is our partnership with the Zambezi Water Commission, the African Development Bank, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, and the Climate Resilient Infrastructure Development Facility to address some of the water-related challenges facing countries within the Zambezi River basin.

The Programme for Integrated Development and Adaptation to Climate Change in the Zambezi River Basin (PIDACC Zambezi) is being funded through the Climate Investment Fund’s Nature, People and Climate (NPC) Investment Programme.

The Zambezi River begins in Angola and weaves through Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to the West Indian Ocean. The river’s basin is a vast area spanning approximately 1.4 million square kilometres, which serves as a significant territory for Commonwealth nations.

Aerial view of Zambezi River
Zambezi River

Its basin size is not its only strength, the Zambezi River supports livelihoods, including fishing and agriculture, and maintains ecosystems like woodlands and wetlands that are critical for life in most communities

The PIDACC Zambezi project, which began in 2022 will deliver under four pillars crucial for nurturing water cooperation across political borders:

  1. Enhancing community resilience

By investing in infrastructure that can withstand the impacts of climate change and ensuring that livelihood opportunities are accessible to all, communities can fortify themselves against adversity.

  1. Promoting integrated landscape management

This ensures that the needs of both people and nature are met harmoniously by safeguarding the integrity of landscapes while promoting Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM).

  1. Fostering adaptive capacity

Equipping communities with the tools and knowledge needed to adapt to changing environmental conditions and strengthening the institutional foundations that support IWRM.

  1. Facilitating coordination and programme management

Accentuating the importance of monitoring, evaluation, learning, and knowledge sharing through peer-to-peer learning, ensures that efforts are aligned, resources are optimised, and lessons are captured and contextually applied.

Water as a tool for conflict prevention

Leveraging Water for Peace is a thematic reminder of the need for more practical cross-border cooperation like the PIDACC Zambezi project. With a warming planet, and ongoing environmental pressures, water management – both within and between communities and nations - will become an increasingly valuable tool for conflict prevention.

Happy World Water Day! 

About the Commonwealth Living Lands Charter

Media contact

  • Victoria Holdsworth  Communications and Media Liaison Lead, Commonwealth Secretariat
  • Email