Facilitating a Global Partnership to Sustain the World’s Great Rivers

David Fairman

Helping to deepen and expand the impact of integrated river basin management.

The great rivers of the world — the Mississippi, the Yangtze, the Amazon, and others that flow hundreds of miles through densely populated and wild places — are facing unprecedented stresses. For thousands of years they have provided water for drinking and irrigation, transported people and goods, and offered habitat for an astonishing diversity of creatures, from microbes to hippos.

Over the past two hundred years, societies have found more and more ways to use and control rivers. Nearly all of the world’s great rivers have large dams for electricity, flood protection and irrigation; extensive systems of locks and channels for navigation; and high rates of water extraction for cities, towns and industries. Along with disruptions to natural flows, the great rivers now face serious threats from pollution and watershed degradation. Farm runoff, industrial effluents and urban waste have led to the destruction of whole ecosystems and the creation of “dead zones” in great river estuaries.

Amazon RiverToday, human demands on the world’s largest rivers are testing their physical and ecological limits, with direct consequences for economies and livelihoods. In response, government water and power agencies, environment and development NGOs, and some major agribusiness, energy and water-based transport companies are beginning to work together on “integrated river basin management (IRBM).”

The core idea behind IRBM is for a wide range of river basin stakeholders to jointly learn about the human activities affecting the river basin and the full range of ecosystem services that the river basin provides, from clean drinking water to wetlands for flood control. With that shared understanding, river basin stakeholders can identify ways to reduce tradeoffs and restore benefits from river use, and then change public and private rules and behaviors to move to a more sustainable relationship between people and river ecosystems.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a global leader in the practice of IRBM. In 2005, it convened the Great Rivers Partnership to promote new approaches to management of the Mississippi River in the U.S., the Yangtze in China, the Magdalena in Colombia, and tributaries of the Amazon in Paraguay and Brazil.

This year, with support from the MacArthur Foundation, TNC is planning to scale up and expand the Great Rivers Partnership, seeking deeper impacts on some of the rivers where it and its national partners are already working, and adding new rivers that can benefit from participation in the network of Great Rivers partners.

TNC asked CBI to facilitate a global planning process, involving senior TNC staff and counterparts from a wide range of government, multilateral, non-governmental and business organizations. CBI is adding value to GRP by providing impartial facilitation of a complex, multi-stakeholder global planning process, and by advising on strategies to promote the breadth and depth of stakeholder participation that will be necessary for success.

This year, CBI Managing Director David Fairman and Senior Associate Stacie Smith have facilitated the creation of an International Steering Committee to advise on strategies to deepen and expand the impact of the Great Rivers Partnership. We have been working with TNC staff, the Steering Committee, and potential partners from other organizations around the world to:

  • Set the Great River Partnership’s goals, and the benefits that it will offer to participating partners in individual river basins;
  • Define the criteria for selecting river basins;
  • Reach out to current and potential partners who are already working on great rivers, and encourage them to submit proposals to advance IRBM for the river basins where they are working over the next 5 years; and
  • Decide which river basin partnerships will be involved in the next phase of GRP.

Over the next six months, TNC staff and the Steering Committee will finalize the selection of river basin partners, and create a business plan for the next 5 years. The business plan will define the strategies and resources that the Great Rivers Partnership will provide to individual river basins. It will also outline the way that the Partnership will use lessons from its experience to influence and support global networks working on integrated river basin management.

CBI will continue to help facilitate a strong, global partnership in support of the Great Rivers Partnership. Together with The Nature Conservancy and the International Steering Committee, we aim to help key stakeholders at the river basin and global levels to ensure the sustainability of the world’s great rivers.

Great Rivers Partnership International Steering Committee Members

  • Brian McPeek (Chair)
    The Nature Conservancy, Chief Operating Officer
  • Richard R. Calhoun
    Cargo Carriers, Cargill, Inc., President
  • Alfred Duda
    Global Environment Facility, Senior Advisor, Recently Retired
  • Kimberly S. Hauer
    Caterpillar Inc., Chief HR Officer and VP, Human Services
  • Dr. Fritz Holzwarth
    German Ministry of Environment, Nature, Protection and Nuclear Safety, Deputy-Director General
  • Rachel Kyte
    World Bank, Vice President for the Sustainable Development Network
  • Daniel P. Mecklenborg
    Ingram Barge Company, Senior VP, HR; Chief Legal Officer and Secretary
  • Dr. Eun-Kyung Park
    Korea Water Forum, President
  • Mark Sanderson
    Anne Ray Charitable Trust, Director of Programs
  • Brenda Shapiro
    The Nature Conservancy’s Illinois Chapter Trustee; GPR Advisory Board Trustee
  • Steven L. Stockton, SES
    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Director of Civil Works
  • Jorgen Thomsen
    John D. and Catherin T. MacArthur Foundation, Director, Conservation and Sustainable Development

For more information, contact David Fairman, Managing Director.

Copyright © 2012 Consensus Building Institute. All Rights Reserved.

Photo Credit: CIFOR/Flickr