Empowering Youth Through Conflict Sensitivity on Transboundary Water Conflict

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Jun 27, 2020
by Sudarat Tuntivivat
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Empowering Youth Through Conflict Sensitivity on Transboundary Water Conflict

Salzburg Global Fellow Sudarat Tuntivivat, taking part in the Asia Peace Innovators Forum, reflects on the role of young peacebuilders in the Mekong River basin Indigenous students at National University of Laos during an Indigenous empowerment and local livelihoods session (Picture supplied by Sudarat Tuntivivat)

The Mekong River is one of the most valuable rivers in the world because it is the main source of food, water, and economic opportunities that directly support an estimated 60 million people in six countries, including China, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

A huge proportion of the population in these countries and their respective economic activities are relying on an agricultural sector from natural resources, wetlands, and freshwater. Water is an indispensable natural resource for life as well as being home to many endangered fish, animals, and plants. Recently, the lack of rainfall and the development of hydropower dams lead to a low level of stream water, causing droughts.

Alternately, in some years, a high volume of rainfall led to flash floods, landslides, and water contaminations, causing serious damage to people’s livelihoods, properties, and farmlands.

Consequently, the Mekong River is under threat of transboundary water conflict due to climate change and the rapid development of large hydropower dams, which is likely to lead to significant ecological, social, economic, and cultural destruction of the Mekong River basin.

As young peacebuilders in the Mekong River basin, we need to be aware we are not only affected by conflicts, but we also influence the dynamics of conflict where we implement our peace interventions.

Ideally the effect will be positive. We will contribute to the development of peace. However, in some cases, our well-intended interventions of conflict contexts can do more harm than good because young peacebuilders are relatively inexperienced. For example, harm can occur if young peacebuilders experience traumatic events during their fieldwork without being prepared to handle such situations.

Conflict sensitivity is a tool for young peacebuilders in the Mekong River basin to enhance the quality of our peace intervention. Conflict sensitivity refers to the ability to:

  1. Understand how the context peace is operating, particularly the dynamics of relationships between and among groups.
  2. Understand the interactions between peace interventions and their contexts.
  3. Act upon the understanding of these interactions through planning, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating interventions in a conflict-sensitive fashion to avoid negative impacts and maximize positive impacts

Conflict sensitivity rests on the assumption any peace intervention in a conflict-affected area will interact with that conflict, and such interaction will have consequences that may have positive or negative effects on that conflict. 

Water resources are becoming increasingly unpredictable due to climate change leading to a higher potential for water conflict. Given the complexity created by different economies, societies, cultures, and ecosystems surrounding the Mekong River, young peacebuilders in the Mekong River Basin must consider the dimensions of potential transboundary water conflict.


Sudarat Tuntivivat is a Salzburg Global Fellow who is currently taking part in the Asia Peace Innovators Forum, a program held in partnership with the Nippon Foundation. Sign up for our newsletter here to receive updates about this program.