United Nations Watercourses Convention Enters into Force

United Nations Watercourses Convention Enters Into Force

Landmark global framework on fresh water to improve water security, conflict resolution and cooperation across borders

August 17, 2014—Today the United Nations Watercourses Convention, the first global framework on fresh water and the world’s only global framework for transboundary cooperation endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations, officially enters into force.


“Our Board has been promoting the Convention because effective transboundary water management furthers peace and promotes cooperation, and is a fundamental element of sustainable development,” said Ms. Uschi Eid, Chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.  “It is high time to have it ratified, and I am satisfied it is going into force now, as we enter a new era of international cooperation defined by the post-2015 development agenda.”


Currently, there are 276 transboundary freshwater lake and river basins worldwide, but only 40% are governed by agreements. Where agreements exist, 80% involve only two countries, even though other states may also be part of the watercourse in question. The Convention will standardize one set of criteria for which all countries with international river basins and transboundary waters abide, ensuring more practical management globally. These criteria include defining the subjects that countries should discuss on their shared waters, facilitating the process of transboundary cooperation and holding governments accountable to their own countries and regions.


“We have found that we cannot achieve the same level of conservation goals in regions where countries are not cooperating on transboundary water management,” said Lifeng Li, Director of WWF’s global freshwater program. “Nature and wildlife do not respect national borders, and some of the most crucial areas for biodiversity are linked to international rivers and lakes. The UN Watercourses Convention will play an important role in creating a world in which people live in harmony with nature.”


Throughout decades of drafts and revisions, international organizations—particularly those focused on conservation—raised awareness, increased understanding and encouraged adoption of the UN Watercourses Convention. In May 2014, Vietnam became the 35th country to ratify, bringing the Convention into force, and several other countries are on the verge of acceding.


With a growing population and a resurgence in large-scale hydropower projects, the need for comprehensive and effective arrangements for the equitable and sustainable management of transboundary waters is more vital than ever.


“The Convention’s entry into force provides important impetus to further foster much needed cooperation over transboundary waters at the global to local levels,” said Dr Alistair Rieu-Clarke from the University of Dundee Centre for Water Law, Policy & Science.


Marie-Laure Vercambre, Director of Green Cross International’s Water for Life and Peace Programme, emphasized the importance of the Convention, saying “Not only will the governance of the largest and best known watercourses be enhanced by the UN Watercourses Convention, but all transboundary basins of a country’s territory will benefit from it, providing a harmonized legal coverage to all those watercourses whom we know will be more and more exploited/utilized/developed”


“This is just the beginning. Even as we eagerly move toward the next phase of planning implementation, we encourage other nations to accede to the UN Water Courses convention, thus demonstrating international support and recognition for the importance of adequate, joint management of fresh water,” Vercambre added.


For more information about the UNWC, visit http://wwf.panda.org/unwc or http://www.unwatercoursesconvention.org/


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About WWF

WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries.  WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. Visit panda.org/news for latest news and media resources.


About University of Dundee Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science

The Centre was established in 2006 as the first UNESCO ‘category II’ centre in the UK. Its aim is to find news ways of effectively integrating law, policy and science to address water challenges of the 21st century. The centre seeks to achieve this aim through a wide breadth of research, consultancy, and training activities across the world. For further information, please visit http://www.dundee.ac.uk/water.


About Green Cross International:
GCI was founded in 1993 by Nobel Peace Laureate Mikhail Gorbachev and is an independent non-profit and nongovernmental organization advocating and working globally to address the inter-connected global challenges of security, poverty eradication and environmental degradation through advocacy and local projects. GCI is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, and has a network of national organizations in 27 countries conducting several local on-the-ground projects in many regions of the world. For further information, please visit: http://www.gcint.org.



David Hirsch, WWF



Dr Alistair Rieu-Clarke, Centre for Water Law, Policy & Science


+44 1382 386471


Marie-Laure Vercambre, Green Cross International


+33 6 80 04 04 81

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 -  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/reel.2014.23.issue-1/issuetoc.  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.

read more: http://water-l.iisd.org/news/unece-undp-facilitate-water-cooperation-in-chu-and-talas-river-basins/

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 (www.isdp.eu).

(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

From iwlearn.net:

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.

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