“The Watershed Proposal”

By Tony Balis

Watershed Awareness Transforms The Way We Live

Rivers are the arteries of life on Earth, ancient and dramatic flows that bless every sentient being with our most precious resource. Fresh water sustains our life, nourishes our soul. 

Rivers also of course transcend cultural and political boundaries, creating an inevitable bond among all those who share in their benefits and occasional treachery. Rivers thus invite each of us into natural alliance with our watershed neighbors.   

Many watersheds, in fact, have formal and informal agreements for managing the health of its riverflows. How well do we respect and utilize these alliances for the benefit of each person in each watershed, particularly across borders? 

The United Nations first sponsored a global water conference in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 1977. Though its recommendations seemed promising, including “creating trans-boundary cooperation,” little hard progress has been achieved in water-related gatherings since then  — mostly generalized reaffirmations of clean water as a human right.   (e.g.,In September 2015, the General Assembly, after ten years of discussion, finally agreed on a stand-alone water goal: “Ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” )

But hope of action was renewed when the UN finally decided on holding its second major Water Conference this past March, in New York. It was attended by 7,000 people from across the continents. 

Not surprisingly, given the extensive worldwide crises involving water, it spawned all manner of good intent. Yet in the opinion of many observers, the Conference created more questions than answers. 

Here, for example, are some of the comments from The Guardian:

“Talks ended with a broad agreement that water should be treated as a global common good, and that the world’s approach to water must be less siloed given its nexus with the climate crisis, and food, energy, and national security. But with no internationally binding agreement, experts fear that pledges could slide as it will be hard to hold governments, industry, and financial institutions to account.

“On Friday morning, more than 100 water experts from research institutions and civil society groups across five continents sent a letter to the UN general secretary slamming the lack of ‘accountability, rigor and ambition’ at the conference, arguing that the paucity of scientific rigor and binding agreements will fail to secure the more just, resilient and sustainable water future urgently needed.”

So The Humanity Initiative is creating a Watershed Initiative designed to help facilitate understanding and cooperation within the 154 major watersheds on Earth, most urgently those that are shared by multiple countries, those with transboundary challenges.

First, here is how the UN defines transboundary water flow: 

Transboundary waters account for 60 per cent of the world’s freshwater flows. 153 countries have territory within at least one of the 286 transboundary river and lake basins and 592 transboundary aquifer systems. 

  • “Only 32 countries have 90% or more of their transboundary basin area covered by operational arrangements. (UN-Water, 2021)
  • “Only 24 countries report that all their transboundary basins are covered by cooperation arrangements. (UN-Water, 2021)”

For almost five decades the stakeholders of water management have too often trod water, not protected it. THI’s mission is both to accelerate public awareness of our worldwide water crises as well encourage private and government organizations to act. We will encourage public pressure and also sponsor local gatherings to supply information and inspire action. 

Here is the full, 3-hour presentation of the “Water for Cooperation” segment at the UN Conference, highlighting the countries that are assuming leadership roles.



The Danube River travels within the territory of 18 nations. Five other watersheds  –  the Congo, Niger, Nile, Rhine, and Zambezi  –   are shared between as many as 9 and 11 countries. 

Many watersheds, in particular the 154 major watersheds, now have a system of management  —  be it an alliance, an amalgam of non-profits, a quasi-government enterprise, or a private consortium  –  or combination of all these. The Danube is managed, for example, through six major organizations. 

Successful leadership of course must honor the history, needs, public inclination, resources, geography, and cultural preferences of all peoples within that alliance’s territory, as well as be entirely supportive of participating in an overarching, planet-centric assembly. 

(Omit?) THI will soon highlight the work of a different watershed management each week. We will archive the results as a library of water insight. Who has the best charter for its watershed? An award? We will create a hierarchy of the best managed watersheds in the world. 

Point out who is establishing overarching, cohesive, and vibrant watershed alliances among nations and states that exist within common river systems. Offer positive example of transboundary cooperation for the good of all. 

Our first nominee is Slovenia, which….group of 42 other nations with transboundary challenges. 

We also currently are investigating the feasibility of coordinating a private, non-governmental overlay, alliance among the world’s watersheds. A place to share insights, information, coordinate action, all to aid UN and the other international beauacracies… Help create a supra-national allegiance among the watersheds of the world. Help place a revitalized environmental and social consciousness at the forefront of civilization. 

Also, we will honor the prospect of establishing watershed alliances for each amalgam of cultures, tribes, nations, and states within the geographic boundaries of still-to-be-delineated watershed or island regions. 

Promote a “humanitarium.” Composed of representatives of each watershed alliance and each island alliance, this would be a soft-power assembly that will act as the organizing enterprise for Earth-centered consensus. It would provide a range of sophisticated consultation for the individual alliances, as well as, most importantly, offer oversight for international commissions, ones that it would be invited to create by those assembled at the inaugural watershed conference.
Idea for commissions might be…

In addition, “watershed action summits,” convening representatives of all watershed alliances, would serve as a planetary assembly of positive change and practical oversight, all without the tricky imprimatur of being a government enterprise. 


In welcoming watershed alliances to our planet, there is extraordinary opportunity to consider the creation of international commissions, engaged more in research, debate and overview, than in any form of overt governing. They would serve as advisors and consultants for the watershed alliances  —  becoming, in combined effect, the public voice of planet Earth.
These commissions would cover a range of responsibilities and interactions across the planet. They would disseminate regular reports  —  well researched, carefully translated and readily available  —  to a world-wide audience. Where even slightly appropriate to the subject, they should be dependent on a high component of scientific and technological expertise. In instances where any commission thinks something requires judicial oversight, it would refer it the International Court of Justice. 
Might lead someday to a WATERSHED CONFERENCE

Foremost among the early and crucial responsibilities of a watershed conference might well be:
** To study the overarching role of any supra-planetary assembly. Implementation alone of such an idea requires a sea-change of consciousness. Any recommended design must avoid the twin poisons of bureaucracy and inertia. And not least, it must be an utterly inclusive process: dreamers and doers, saints and sinners, artists and activists must work together to create this planet-centric overlay if it is to have any chance of success. 
So, the conference must make brilliantly ecumenical recommendations. It must define the precise role for a planetary assembly and determine how to keep it productive, positive, inclusive, and, in effect, only mildly, if at all, political. One of the primary responsibilities, as well, of any supra-planetary assembly will be to publish in detail frequent summaries of current and emerging challenges. These include political crises, refugees, environmental destruction, meteorological events, species preservation, civil strife, and terrorism. 
** To aid in the process of limiting violence across the continents by establishing an immediate strategy (using social media and traditional public media) for a comprehensive, grassroots call for peace. This “new voice of humanity” would clearly identify the issues, the instigators, and mostly importantly sustainable, enduring solutions wherever and whenever conflict threatens to dissolve into war. It of course respectfully would address all cultures, creeds and peoples involved. 

UN:   5. How can you get involved?

Water is a critical issue that affects everyone. As UN Member States, governments and stakeholders prepare to make their own water commitments, the UN is calling on everyone to take their own action. Any action – whether small or big – can help accelerate change and action towards achieving the goals and targets of SDG 6.

Here are some simple actions that can be incorporated into daily routines:

  • Take shorter showers and reduce your water waste in your home. With 44 per cent of household wastewater not being safely treated, taking shorter showers is a terrific way to save this precious resource. Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving Water
  • Participate in clean-ups of local rivers, lakes, or wetlands. Plant a tree or create your own water garden. These actions can help protect water ecosystems from pollution and reduce the risk of flooding and store water efficiently.
  • Raise awareness on the critical connection between toilets, sanitation, and menstruation. Break taboos by starting conversations in your local community, school, or workplace.

Learn more about the goals and targets of SDG 6 and continue to advocate for solutions at the local and national level. Support water-related campaigns and find out other ways you can incorporate simple actions that can help protect water resources.

Additional recommendations for the conference include:
* To establish workable, acceptable, fair, and pacific guidelines for creating alliances. 
* To study current friction points among nation-states, especially to become cognizant of soon-to-be-unEarthed differences and disagreements caused by any such dramatic transition of global governance  —  yet another reason for this conference to include a healthy range of not only environmental scientists but also peace building and social justice experts. 
* To determine how best to establish and foster independent commissions or councils, including suggestions for how each would function, exercise a positive influence, and conduct planetary plebiscites. These commissions also might well be decision-making enterprises. 
* To address how these independent commissions  —  and any other new institutions or international structures  —  would function within the current international system of justice and in full respect for bilateral and multinational treaties and conventions (e.g., International Court of Justice, International Atomic Energy Agency, Law of the Sea, The Kyoto Protocol, International Monetary Fund, etc.). 
* To delineate each natural watershed and island group, including not only their exact boundaries, but also: quality of the water; rate, seasonality, and historical parameters of river flows; traditional and projected methods of transportation along each river; mineral and biological resources within that watershed’s boundaries. 
Even as the conference studies and honors the current political mix of each watershed and island region, it also must examine and predict opportunities for the formation of new geographic bounds and relationships, if not new nation-states (or whatever they eventually are named). 
* To make recommendations for preserving public lands and wilderness and for protecting wildlife. Again, work on this goal (and on many others) will benefit from the participation of a range of respected international organizations, such as, in this regard, The World Wildlife Fund, Oceana or The Royal Geographical Society.
* To aid alliances in monitoring and publicizing on a regular basis the environmental health of each watershed or island group. 
* To help ensure that lakes, rivers, mountains, and the rest of our geography receive standing in any legal dispute (cf. Bolivia’s 2010 groundbreaking law, Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra, as well as the work of the Earth Law Center). 
* To help oversee the transparency and integrity of public voting in each watershed or island region. 
* To make recommendations for how many citizens might best represent each watershed region at planet-wide assemblies as well as for how these representatives may best be elected or appointed.

Here are some suggestions for commissions and a word or two about their mandate as partner and resource for each watershed alliance and island group. This list includes, in a few cases, recommended background material (to lend a little spice to the mix). 
Ahimsa and Biophilia Commission
In deep recognition of humankind’s instinctive bond with the natural world, to help protect the lives and integrity of all sentient beings; in addition, to promote a profound understanding of and respect for the thoughts and feelings of animals (for an enlightening and sobering read: Beyond Words, by Carl Safina).
Cosmos Commission
To help continue humankind’s peaceful study of outer space, while also working to keep the Earth’s atmosphere free from environmental or technical pollution or from any manner of weaponry. 
Entrepreneurship Commission
To foster the development of new businesses. This includes monitoring the regulatory and financial environment for creating private sector enterprises. It also extends to providing consultation and oversight on relationships between capitalism and any form of democracy. 
Environmental Commission
To monitor all manner of Earth’s environmental health; to encourage governments and the public to be keenly aware of environmental challenges and concerns; to recommend and help implement short- and long-range solutions. 
Human Rights Commission
Working with leading human rights organizations, to monitor and report on violations of human rights and to establish an annual human rights convention. 

International Enterprise Commission
To help monitor the planetary outreach of trans-national enterprises (corporations; environmental, political, and religious groups; etc.); to help ensure that they work for the benefit of the planet.

Joy Commission 
To encourage joy, humor, play, fun and laughter (cf. Gross National Happiness in Bhutan). 
Kindness Commission
To remind the world of the necessity of kindness; to help establish festivals, seminars, plays, films, and art that remind us of the many benefits of acting kindly. 
Listening Commission
To speak to the importance of listening well; to establish forums, programs, and seminars on the art of negotiation. 
Peace Commission
To help create a contagion of peace; to draft a declaration of peace and interdependence; to conduct programs that encourage peaceful settlement of conflict; to publicize examples of peaceful intent and success, as well as the history of peace-loving peoples (such as the Hadya, the Moriori and the Batek); to conduct seminars, conferences and artists retreats devoted to the study of peace. 
(A quick reminder: “There is no biological, psychological or physiological evidence to prove that violence, aggressive behavior, and war are inherent characteristics in human beings.(Maria Montessori, Education and Peace, 1992) 
Rogue Actors and Terrorism Commission
To create a planetary network devoted to identifying rogue or non-state actors and terrorists, not least helping to contain or eliminate their destructive efforts; most crucially, to help persuade disaffected youth that, instead of a short path of violence, they could well have a long, peaceful life. 
As but one recent example of ever-possible peace, after 52 years of guerilla warfare, here’s a statement from Colombia’s FARC rebels in 2017: “We are transforming ourselves for a new, democratic fight. Not demobilizing but laying down our weapons to become an open and legal political movement.” (NY Times, Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Weather and Climate Commission
To help monitor the world’s weather; to provide advance notice of potentially damaging events to governments and the public; to keep track of major trends in meteorology. 

The forces of nature are perhaps humankind’s most dramatic reminder of being unavoidably inter-related. Tectonic plates have no regard for humans; nor do hurricanes, wildfires, atmospheric flows, or ocean currents. So, this commission fosters advanced scientific knowledge of the dynamics and whims of natural forces. It also encourages broad public awareness of and active participation in the preparedness, encountering and clean-up of the assaults of nature. 


This (almost) goes without saying: a major characteristic of any new global governance should be an inherent reliance on a myriad of respected scientific, peace building and civil society institutions (e. g. Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Doctors Without Borders, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, etc.) for their expertise in such areas as monitoring environmental health, negotiating sustainable peace…or just plain understanding the needs of each other.


Every drop of water that we encounter during our days has the potential to remind us of how we are interconnected with every sentient being. In addition, the mixing power of the oceans and of the naturally occurring weather systems on the planet reminds us that each watershed region is inevitably bound to each other.
Recognizing that humankind is in desperate need of a profoundly more mature approach to how we conduct our lives on our miraculous but assaulted Earthome, this proposal therefore aims to take vigorous advantage of our natural affinity with water, tuning this necessary new consciousness keenly to an environmental and humanistic ethic, lifting us into a kinder, wiser, more peaceful future.  

END HERE  or later…..


In many ways, this assertive nurturing of a watershed consciousness  —  where the reality of our shared and precious resource becomes more and more predominant in our thinking  —  will give us a clearer mind and heart about choosing what to concentrate on in our struggle to survive. This clarity naturally should subsume political, economic, and social divisions that far too long have kept us in defensive, antagonistic, or militaristic postures with each other. 
Ultimately, this reawakening to the fact that we are a part of nature, not in control of it, combined with our inarguable reliance on life-giving water, encourages a profound and accessible re-understanding of how we depend on each other. This, in turn, encourages the necessary respect for all sentient beings that is key to any proposal for global governance worth its weight in words. 


Each planetary commission will be encouraged to instill their work with the paramount ethic of understanding Earth as our common and only home. This awareness leads naturally to treating each other with curiosity, kindness and grace, not least with respect for our equal value.
It creates as well: an overarching consciousness of how intimately we are tied to each other by our dependence on fresh air and clean water; an appreciation of cultural diversity as a vital asset to life on Earth; and a willingness to work well together, to seek compromise, to accept not winning an issue, to sharing wealth, and to maintaining a positive and constructive outlook.
In addition, transparent, pan-global, attentive, and sophisticated oversight by a supra-planetary assembly would help assure attention to these core values. 
Such ethical commitment lends itself of course to decisions guided by the good of all humankind  —  without the complications and dilutions of political overlay. In addition, deterrents to any disregard for core values include a free and independent media, as well as broad availability of arbitration.
Lastly, we recommend that the supra-planetary assembly adopt programs that encourage writers, artists, painters, filmmakers, dancers, and musicians to address, applaud, investigate, and challenge core values, the reasoning behind these values, and the widespread hopes they embody. 

Someday:  Indeed, it could be as much festival as conference, including art, music, film and dance among the seminars and presentations  —  a compelling combination, in fact, of serious and sunny, of crisis investigation and of Earth-wide celebration of progress made and joy found. We once again could resonate in the remarkable and way too infrequent togetherness we felt, for example, when mankind first landed on the moon or when we celebrated the new millennium.