Rebecca L. Farnum
PhD Candidate, King's College London
On World Water Day 2002, then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asserted that “the water problems of our world need not be only a cause of tension; they can also be a catalyst for cooperation”. This narrative contrasted with warnings of ‘water wars’ popular in the 1990s – predictions reinforced by then-UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
A variety of sometimes-contradictory claims about the relationships between water, peace, and conflict continue to be made. But the idea of ‘hydro-diplomacy’, using water to stimulate cooperative relations, has gained prominence. Susskind and Islam championed the rationale in their 2012 book. Tufts University has a graduate program in the field. The 2013 theme of World Water Day was “Water Cooperation”. A 2014 report from adelphi, “The Rise of Hydro-Diplomacy”, argued that greater foreign policy cooperation over shared waters can help resolve other conflicts and encourage regional integration.
While the concept is thus no longer new, hydro-diplomacy conversations have up till now been state-centric, intentionally focused on formal international relations and transboundary river basins. This paper will apply the notion of hydro-diplomacy to a fog-harvesting project in rural Southwest Morocco to interrogate the scalar potential of water-based environmental peacebuilding.
In the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Aït Baamrane, Dar Si Hmad for Development, Culture and Education oversees the world’s largest operational fog-harvesting system, piping potable water collected from the mountains’ extensive fog cover to some 400 Amazigh villagers. The local NGO spent ten years testing, building, and installing the fog system to ensure viability. Over this period, strong networks of trust were built with partner villages, enabling a variety of related projects. These include a Water School engaging rural children in environmental learning, capacity-building workshops supporting women seeking economic empowerment, and a study abroad program involving international audiences in the work. The Ethnographic Field School leverages the fog project’s uniqueness to attract students to a marginalized region. Activities focus on building equitable relationships with local communities, questioning mainstream narratives of Morocco and development, and exploring how traditional knowledges can be integrated in scientific innovation.
By intentionally using fog to facilitate collaborative exchange, Dar Si Hmad is engaging in a form of hydro-diplomacy. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork using participant observation and semi-structured interviews with staff, students, and beneficiaries, this paper will demonstrate how fog water is being used to foster relationships that lay the groundwork for durable peace, intercultural understanding, and symbiotic growth.
Building on theories of Track 1 (official negotiations), 2 (unofficial dialogue between civil society leaders), and 3 (people-to-people relationship-building) Diplomacy from international relations scholarship, the paper will consider how the hydro-diplomacy of international relations can be bolstered by hydro-diplomacy focused on interpersonal relations – and how river basins need not be the only water source used in peacebuilding. Dar Si Hmad’s fog project and other local iterations of hydro-diplomacy should be better understood and integrated with the emerging literature on state-to-state water cooperation in order to develop holistic expertise, share best practices, and promote positive policy interventions.