South America

UNWC's Global Relevance

South America is the richest hydrological region in the world, and the continent’s transboundary basins are vital to its population; in all of the region’s states, international basins cover at least half of the country’s territory and a large majority is dependent on the water resources of the region’s transboundary watercourses.

Yet despite the contribution that basin- and region-wide cooperation agreements could make to water governance structures in South America, no country in the Americas has as yet ratified the UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC).

Amazon Basin

The Amazon is the second biggest river in the world. It runs through three countries, although over sixty percent of its basin lies in Brazil. The river’s tributaries flow through four additional countries. It has grown under increasing pressure from human activities, creating tensions between riparian states and raising alarm among indigenous and environmental groups.

Although the Amazon Basin is one of the most important in the world, its governance structure lack comprehensiveness and robustness. As a result, sustainable water management and conflict prevention are not assured. A basin-wide cooperation treaty, the Amazon Cooperation Treaty (ACT), does exist, but it refers mostly to navigation and contains many gaps and weaknesses.

The UNWC’s entry into force could have vast potential benefits for the Amazon Basin states:

  • Entry into force would bolster legitimacy of the Convention among the Amazon basin states and strengthen international water law in the region and inviting states to follow its principles
  • The UNWC’s application in the Amazon basin wold solidify and improve the current water governance regime, making an effective and sustainable management of water resources
  • The UNWC contains detailed provisions on dispute mechanism procedures. These could act as models for dispute resolution regarding the ACT
  • None of the ACT’s provisions make mention of international water law’s two key principles, that of Reasonable and Equitable Utilisation and No Significant Harm. Many of the UNWC’s articles are built around these two paradigms and could govern the rights and duties of Amazon basin states where to fill the gaps in the ACT
  • Data and information exchange, and prior notification of planned measures are essential elements of the UNWC. The relevant provisions could help guide the Amazon basin states on the content, scope and extent of their obligations

The UNWC has the potential to strengthen cooperation between basin states and mitigate future conflicts. Efforts must thus be continued to encourage ratification of the UNWC by ACT state parties.




Additional Resources

Video: Alexander Lopez Video: Alexander Lopez What will be the contribution of the UNWC to water governance in Latin America?
Video: Alana Lancaster Video: Alana Lancaster How can the UNWC strengthen existing governance structures and cooperation mechanisms? – Example of the Amazonian Cooperation Treaty in the Amazon River Basin


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