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Rally for Rivers at Geneva Peace Week

At the 2018 edition of Geneva Peace Week, a Conference on Water Diplomacy served as a platform to share learning from the Rally for Rivers movement. The movement successfully brought together a diverse range of stakeholders with varied political and economic ideologies who were unified by the rallying cry of the movement: to save India’s depleting water resources so that this life-making material does not become the source of conflict for future generations.

The “Conference on Water Diplomacy – Building Bridges for Lasting Peace” on 9th November 2018 examined how water can become a unifier of communities rather than a point of contention. The Rally for Rivers presentation highlighted how this was achieved in what is now officially recognized as the largest ecological movement in the history of the planet.

Rally for Rivers was careful to never pitch itself as a movement against any segment or cross-segment of society. Rather, since its inception, it positioned itself as an inclusive movement in search of a practical and sustainable solution that benefits all stakeholders. Of this deliberate departure from standard debates on ecology, a Rally for Rivers representative said, “If you’re going to pit economics versus ecology, as a lot of the discussion in development often is, in today’s world, economics will win. What we need to do is turn this around a little bit. What we need to do is to move economics from being a hindering force to actually being the catalyst which leads to the environmental gain.”

The across-the-board appeal of the movement is also due to its simple articulation of the solution to a complex water crisis: ensuring a tree cover of a minimum of 1 km on both sides of the riverbank. The water crisis in India is not only grave with alarming depletions in water bodies and ground water levels, it is also complex as legislative powers over rivers lie both with the state and central governments depending on the geography – inter-state rivers are covered by central legislations while non-interstate rivers are the business of state governments. This has inevitably led to several inter-state water disputes, the most infamous of them being the dispute between two southern Indian states, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The two states that share water from river Kaveri have been locked in a water-sharing dispute for over a century. During the Rally for Rivers campaign, farmers from both states came together at the Kaveri riverbank to demonstrate that the approach of enhancing water supply was the key to resolving the century-old conflict.

Geneva Peace Week is a collective action initiative facilitated by the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, and the Geneva Peace building Platform in collaboration with the Swiss Confederation. By synchronizing meetings and events on different topics related to the promotion of peace during one week, Geneva Peace Week maximizes synergies between organizations in Geneva, focused on the cross-cutting nature of peace.