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10th international IFGR session: A wide angle on lakes and the outlook for future twinning projects

The 10th international IFGR session took place in Switzerland on 27 September. The association’s members had not seen each other face to face for two years! The hybrid format allowed the participants from Oceania and Asia, subject to health restrictions, to attend by videoconference, and thus join the participants from Europe, American and Africa to discuss the theme: “River, Lake and City: the conditions for a successful alliance”.


Switzerland, the host of the 10th session with multiple dimensions


La délégation IAGF devant le château de Chillon, Veytaux

This session was welcomed by the Water Agency of the Canton of Geneva and its Managing Director, Gilles Mulhauser, with the contribution of other partners in Switzerland: the cantons of Valais and Vaud, the CIPEL (International Commission for the Protection of the Waters of Lake Geneva), SIG (Services Industriels de Genève) and the University of Geneva. A member of the Rivers Committee since 2016, Mr Mulhauser explained that “Switzerland has things to show: we have a densely urbanised watershed. It’s what defines the theme of the session: to see how we deal with the relations between the lake, the river and the city. We are endowed with financial resources that other regions don’t have, especially regarding wastewater treatment. It may be something that can be learned from.”

Sur le bateau Henry Dunant de la CGN, Léman

The participants were able to take in the theme while admiring the landscape: the working sessions were shared between the Nautical Society of Geneva, on the shores of Lake Geneva, the left bank of the Rhone, close to its outlet in the lake, and the boat, the Henry Dunant, which sailed from Chateau Chillon to Nyon. “By sailing on the lake, we are ‘riding on the back of the beast.’ The object of our discussions has become the subject”, Gilles Mulhauser declared. He wanted to bestow a concrete place to the river as much as the lake in the organisation of this session.

Apart from this down to earth approach, the Rivers Committee of IFGR was able to listen to and dialogue with the different stakeholders of the Rhone, Lake Geneva, and water in general, thanks to very wide-ranging participation: naturally, there were representatives from river management bodies and political authorities, but also from civil society, scientific research and UN institutions, since the IFGR delegation was received at the Palais des Nations on the occasion of the 9th Conference of the Parties on the Water Convention, held during the same week.

Palais des Nations, Genève

These dialogues were an essential prerequisite for understanding local challenges and formulating the recommendations expected on the relation between the city and its river, as the participants shared their experiences and knowhow. They were organised into three main orientations: flood risk management, the preservation of aquatic habitats, and water in the city. A workshop supervised by the Institute of Environmental Sciences of Geneva also dealt with the issue of data: “for shared scientific knowledge”.

Great rivers and lakes: common relevance


For the first time, IFGR specifically included the lake in its reflections, a logical decision given the host and the theme chosen for the session. “Everyone agreed that convergences exist between great rivers and lakes. The Swiss session allowed us to deal concretely with this issue which had already been mentioned in previous sessions” for the Genevan host.

This inclusion of lakes is consistent with the global approach conducted by IFGR. The lake can inspire the river, especially regarding governance, according to Gilles Mulhauser: “Although the governance of Lake Geneva has been shared between Switzerland and France for 60 years, no such coordinating body exists for the Rhone, contrary to the Rhine. Is it necessary to set up a single governing body for the lake and the river? It’s a question that deserves an answer.”

Does one speak of a lake in the same way as one speaks of a river?»

– Gilles Mulhauser


Twinning lakes in a spirit of mutual solidarity


Lakes were also at the heart of discussions due to the request for twinning made by certain African members. “Our African colleagues are very interested in our facilities for observing the lake and managing data. They’re asking for technical support. The region of Geneva possesses a lot of knowhow on the subject”, said the Director of the Geneva Water Agency.

For example, a twinning project between Lake Chad and Lake Geneva would provide the occasion to practise international solidarity in both directions: the Swiss can provide the technical skills while the experts of the Chad basin are able to share their knowledge of crisis management, in particular regarding drinking water. “This system of mutual learning should favour twinning. Our privileged situation in Switzerland gives us responsibilities: Geneva has a role to play in helping other regions of the world to build resilience to climatic and health problems”, emphasised Gilles Mulhauser.


The evaluation of the session: an intellectual boost as much as the desire to act


Boosted by the conviviality and level of dialogue of the 10th session, the host described it as “concentrated energy and joy”. He emerged dynamized by the desire to act: “I’m convinced that the intellectual exchanges and multi-thematic mixing between academics, functionaries and experts that composed this IFGR session is the right way to proceed in order to stimulate everyone.”

Gilles Mulhauser also praised the motivating dimension of the session’s high level of narration: “If we want to give meaning to our scientific, geographical, historical and political observations, we have to know how to tell stories about rivers to our media and economic partners, as Erik Orsenna does so well”.

Restitution officielle de la 10e session en présence d’ANtonio Hodgers, Conseiller d’Etat du canton de Genève

Antonio Hodgers, Counsellor of State of the Canton of Geneva, who attended the synthesis of the session, left it enriched with what he had heard, and able to transmit this message to the political level. In particular, he declared It is ethically impossible to refuse a right of scrutiny to a neighbour regarding a hydraulic resource located upstream. Everyone should be able to agree on this point. Otherwise, the result is war. Peace cannot exist in situations of hydric stress, human distress, with harm done to agriculture and to life in general.”

Lastly, twinning should not be a solely technical affair: the members of IFGR raised the idea of creating a network of major music festivals, like the Paléo Festival of Nyon and the jazz festivals of Montreux, Saint-Louis (Senegal) and Montreal, for example, to further strengthen the link of emotion and identity with the river and lake. Gilles Mulhauser explained, “We’re not only scientists. We want to give life to the issue of rivers: they are cultural nexuses.” The Swiss session ended with messages in support of peace and water, music and great rivers.

Amazement is the best form of warning.”

– Erik Orsenna during the official restitution of the 10th international IFGR session.


  Read the conclusions of the session

Leman, Villeneuve, Canton du Vaud (Suisse) – Photo: Camille Moirenc

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