RECIEL Special Issue on International Water Law online now

A special issue of the Review of European Community and International Environmental Law is no available on-line at -  Several articles examine the role and relevance of the UN Watercourses Convention in light of recent developments in transboundary water management.

UNECE, UNDP Facilitate Water Cooperation in Chu and Talas Rivers

High-profile meetings between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are being organized in an effort to bolster cooperation between the two countries over the management of the rivers shared by both states.

UNECE Press Release:

The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and Kyrgyz authorities have organized meetings aimed at promoting water cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan in the transboundary Chu and Talas Rivers.

The meetings took place on 27-28 February 2014, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. On the first day, participants discussed the outcomes of the project on ‘Promoting Cooperation to Adapt to Climate Change in the Chu and Talas Transboundary Basins’ jointly supported by UNECE and UNDP under the framework of the Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC) and funded by Finland. The meeting highlighted the importance of climate-proofing water-related development and ensuring robust water management.

On the second day, participants were presented and discussed the project document for the ‘Enabling Transboundary Cooperation and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) in the Chu and Talas River Basins’ to be funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The project under development aims to increase transboundary cooperation on monitoring of water quality and quantity.

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Water Cooperation in South Asia Gets a Jolt

Growing water concerns over water scarcity and increased diplomatic tensions force South Asian countries to cooperate.


From Asa Times Online:

The countries of South Asia are facing increased challenges regarding the availability and quality of water supplies, exacerbated by a lack of cooperation between countries that fuels tensions instead of seeing their shared water resources as an opportunity for joint development and management. Recent developments are more auspicious in this regard with the formation of two sub-regional alliances that may herald greater regional cooperation, though Pakistan is conspicuous by its absence from these new relationships.

Water is of pressing concern for the countries of South Asia. Population growth, rapid urbanization, and the prospect of climate change are placing huge strains on both water accessibility and quality, with household water security classified as “hazardous” by the “Asian Water Development Outlook 2013″, a report from the Asian Development Bank.

Exacerbating these challenges and the inadequacies of existing domestic water policies is South Asia’s trans-boundary hydrological legacy, which fuels tensions between countries and, in turn, has thwarted the potential for joint water management when precisely such is required to judiciously exploit hydropower, better control risks such as flooding, and allay downstream concerns over water availability and contamination.

Epitomizing the state of affairs is that of the friction between India and Pakistan over the Indus, one of the region’s main rivers: the former’s upper riparian position is seen as a threat by Pakistan to the free flow of water, while India feels constrained by Pakistan, as a downstream user, in developing hydropower.

Although bilateral treaties have been signed between countries – most notably, the 1960 India-Pakistan Indus River Treaty and the 1996 India-Bangladesh Ganges River Treaty – this has not prevented the emergence of disputes: Pakistan took India to the International Court of Arbitration (ICA) in 2010 over the Kishanganga hydropower project in Jammu & Kashmir (the ICA ruled in favor of India in December 2013); while Bangladesh has similarly objected to an Indian hydropower project in Meghalaya, arguing that the dams could affect its water flow.

Relations between countries in South Asia have traditionally been beset by mistrust and rivalry, with water no exception in this regard, coming under their respective national security strategies rather than viewed as a resource for joint management and development. Failure to cooperate thus not only contributes to inter-state tensions, but also decrease the prospects for growth and prosperity in the region.

In spite of this, recent events may signal a much needed shift in focus toward greater regional cooperation. In April 2013, two sub-regional alliances were formed with the aim of cooperating over water resource management and hydropower. One alliance is composed of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh for collaboration over the Ganges. The other alliance, of Bangladesh, India, and Bhutan, is joining forces for electricity production from the trans-boundary waters of the Brahmaputra.

Despite the conspicuous absence of an “alliance” containing both Pakistan and India, these alliances may nonetheless herald a change in thinking on how their shared water resources are managed – with a shift from national policies or bilateral agreements to a more integrated regional policy on water resource sharing.

The countries of South Asia stand to benefit from common development strategies in regard to trans-boundary waters, rather than seeing them only as a security challenge. Such a “win-win” development-focused approach would not only lead to enhanced cooperation and improve trust-building, but also contribute to greater economic and human development.

While it is not yet clear to what extent the recently formed alliances are symptomatic of a change in how water resources are viewed, most significantly in India, evidence from the latest studies on global water resources and the Asian Water Development Outlooks shows that South Asia has few policy options for the future of its water resources.

The countries of the region bear many similarities in terms of environment, social conditions, and development needs. Cooperation and sharing of data could lead to early flood warnings and improved drought resilience; hydropower for electricity can be utilized by all states which would have a positive impact on economic growth and improving people’s livelihoods; and monitoring water quality and availability will improve sanitation and better meet downstream demands.

Trans-boundary waters are often considered in terms of conflict, but such waters also necessitate cooperation and harbor potential for mutual development. Indeed, reframing the issue of water in a more development-focused context would have the positive effect of easing cooperation between South Asian states – so lowering the risk of becoming gridlocked by highly sensitive security issues – and help them focus on their shared priorities.

The newly formed alliance between India, Bangladesh and Nepal could be a sign that South Asia is moving in the right direction, with the initial sub-regional steps that go beyond the usual bilateral agreements.

Although Pakistan’s absence from such agreements makes it impossible to talk of a real regional development, such alliances are nevertheless to be welcomed. Indeed if these alliances will be at least partially successful, they will raise hopes for the involvement of Pakistan in more effective regional cooperation over water resources in the future.


Ebba Mortensson is South Asia Project Manager and Silvia Pastorelli is a former intern at the Institute for Security and Development Policy, a think tank based in Stockholm specializing on security and development issues (

(Copyright 2014 Institute for Security and Development Policy)

ACTO member countries move to protect water resources in the Amazon basin

Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) member countries agree to run regional project implementing IWRM in the Amazon River Basin


The 8-member countries of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO), namely Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Surinam and Venezuela joined to run the “Integrated Management and Sustainable Regional Project for Transboundary Water Resources in the Amazon River Basin,” considering variability and climate change.
ACTO member countries move to protect water resources in the Amazon basin

Amazonian rivers contribute approximately 20% of the world’s freshwater in the oceans, which is more than the Missouri-Mississippi, Nile and Yangtze rivers combined. Its basin has 25,000 kilometers of navigable rivers. The Amazon River is 6900 kilometers long, is the largest in the world with over a thousand tributaries, and has the highest water discharge volume (220,000 m3 per second, representing 15.47% of the daily discharge of fresh water into the oceans).

The Amazon represents 6% of the planet’s surface, and occupies 40% of the territory of South America. Its approximately 38.7 million people account for 11% of the population of the eight Amazonian countries.The Amazon basin is the largest river basin in the world, which crosses national borders of eight South American countries and is the most important element of the global water circulation. The sustainable development of the Amazon River basin requires a coordinated government strategy among Amazonian countries to address environmental and social impacts caused by extreme weather events and human activities affecting the ecosystem.

“The project seeks to achieve a shared vision for the development of the region, based on the needs and interests of Amazonian society and propose a Strategic Action Programme (SAP). It aims to strengthen the institutional framework for the planning and implementation of strategic activities of protection and management of water resources in the Amazon basin, in a process involving the stakeholders,” said Mauricio Dorfler, Executive Director of ACTO.

MRC talks over Laos Mekong dam project reach a dead end

Don Sahong hydropower dam could threaten the livelihoods of thousands; dispute will now be submitted to the Mekong River Commission Council

No agreement was reached during talks this week over a dispute regarding the Don Sahong hydropower dam project in Laos. Following the failure to find a solution during the negotiations, which were conducted by the four members of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), the issue will now be brought to the MRC Council, the Commission’s highest governing body.

The talks were called for by Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, Laos’ neigbouring countries which share the lower Mekong. They argued that Laos had failed to comply with the 1995 Mekong Agreement, which mandates prior notification and consultation of riparian states for certain projects.

All three neighbouring countries have asserted that Laos is obliged under the Mekong Agreement, and its associated procedures, to submit to prior consultation. Laos maintains that the dam is not strictly located on the mainstream of the river.

A statement by the MRC Joint Committee, which comprises representatives of the four member states, said that “[Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam] raised particular concerns on the project’s potential impacts on fish migration routes as the Hou Sahong has been the major migration channel for fish to migrate in the dry season”.

Because no consensus was reached during this week’s discussions, the matter will now be presented to the MRC Council, which is comprised of the water and environment ministers of the member countries. The Council will determine whether or not it considers the dam to be located on the Mekong’s mainstream.

However, the Council, whose function is to “provide guidance” and to “resolve issues and disputes referred to it”, does not have the power to legally oblige Laos to abide by its decision and halt construction on the dam. A final course of action available to member states is international arbitration, the outcome of which would be legally binding.

The MRC, set up in 1995 pursuant to the Mekong Agreement, is an inter-governmental governing body overseeing the regional cooperation over the use and development of the Lower Mekong River Basin.

The Don Sahong dam is the second such dam being built by Laos on the Mekong river. The Xayaburi dam, currently under construction in Northern Laos, is at the root of major concerns among environmentalists and world leaders that it could create irreversible and disastrous damage to the ecosystem, biodiversity and populations along the Mekong in downstream as well as upstream countries.

A threat to thousands

Events accelerated and relations grew tenser following Laos’ decision in September 2013 to go ahead with the construction of the Don Sahong dam, with riparian states raising concerns over the project and objecting to the go-ahead given by the Laotian government to Mega First Corporation Berhad, a Malaysian company in charge of the project.

After the announcement by the Laos Ministry of Energy and Mines that work on the dam would start by the beginning of the year, Cambodia issued a formal complaint to the MRC, which protested that Laos is moving ahead with the dam without first consulting its neighbors. In addition, At least 19 NGOs in the region have written to the prime ministers of the four lower Mekong countries—Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam— calling on them to suspend the project until further studies are conducted.

Environmental groups have been critical of the project. International Rivers, a California-based NGO which monitors dam activity around the world, claims that the Don Sahong dam would “threaten to block the only channel of the Mekong that currently allows for year-round fish migrations on a large scale, while also wiping out one of the last pools of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins”, not only upending local ecosystems, but threatening the lifeline of thousands who depend on the fish.

“The dam will create inevitably devastating impacts on riverine communities and dwellers whose livelihoods and food security depend on the Mekong River’s resources such as fisheries”, International Rivers said.

The Don Sahong Dam is a hydroelectric dam. It will generate 260 MW of electricity, most of which will be exported to Thailand and Cambodia, two fast-growing economies in desperate need for energy.

The dam, conservationists say, could potentially cause environmental catastrophes and destroy the livelihoods of fishermen along the river. Laos argues that measures will be put in place to minimize any impact on the ecosystem.


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