New Guide to Implementing the Helsinki Convention

UNECE publication is intended to help stakeholders understand the 1992 UNECE Water Convention and give policy makers the tools to implement the Convention.

The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has published a ‘Guide to Implementing the Water Convention’ to help the implementation of the 1992 Helsinki Convention. The guide has been designed to help translate the norms and principles enshrined in the Helsinki Convention into concrete policies and measures in member countries.

The guide is principally meant for decision-makers and government officials and gives them the tools needed to better understand and implement the Convention.

The publication goes through each of the Convention’s articles and painstakingly explains and clarifies the terms of the provisions. By doing so, it hopes to assist state parties in their efforts to comply with the Convention and set up measures and policies that respect the letter and spirit of the Convention.

Although the meat of the guide is the commentary of the Convention’s provisions, which includes legal analyses and technical clarifications, the guide also encompasses recommendations and ‘tips’ as to how best to effectively and efficiently implement the Water Convention, and addresses challenges that might arise throughout the implementation process.

In addition, the guide is also expected to provide countries wishing to accede to the Helsinki Convention all the necessary elements to make an informed decision. By acting as a commentary, the guide gives potential members all the information needed on what would be expected of them once they become parties to the Convention.

The underlying objective of the guide is the promotion of the Convention. An entire section, entitled ‘Advantages of Becoming a Party’, discusses the benefits states might gain from acceding to the UNECE Water Convention. The guide thus poses itself as an advocate for the enlargement the circle of state parties to the Convention.

According to the UNECE website, “the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) was adopted in 1992 and entered into force in 1996. It brings together almost all countries sharing transboundary waters in the pan-European region, and is expected to achieve broader participation with its global opening to all United Nations Member States.”

It continues, “the Water Convention serves as a mechanism to strengthen international cooperation and national measures for the ecologically sound management and protection of transboundary surface waters and groundwaters. Furthermore, it provides an intergovernmental platform for the day-to-day development and advancement of transboundary cooperation.”

This guide is particularly important now, at a time when accession to the Helsinki Convention has been opened to all UN member states. This is an important development in the evolution of the governance of shared waters, because a treaty that has proven very effective in UNECE states has now been opened to other non-UNECE states, which now have precedents of good practices to model their own actions on.

With the opening of the UNECE Convention to all UN member states, the Helsinki Convention, along with the UN Watercourses Convention (New York Convention), makes up the foundation for a global legal skeleton setting the down the rules and principles for the administration of transboudary river basins across the globe. Furthermore, momentum is getting traction for a near future entry into force of the New York Convention. These two developments will strengthen the legal framework surrounding river basins and facilitate inter-state cooperation over shares water resources.

The ‘Guide to Implementing the Water Convention’ is an important tool in the process of implementing the Helsinki Convention, and will actively contribute to making the developments mentioned above a reality.

To get a paper version of the guide, contact


UNECE Website:

To download a PDF version of the guide:

The  text of the Helsinki Convention can be found here:

Find more information about the relationship between the UNWC and the UNECE Convention, see Fact Sheet #12:

High Hopes for Budapest Water Summit

Budapest Water SummitThe summit, entitled ‘The Role of Water and Sanitation in the Global Sustainable Development Agenda’, will bring together world leaders and experts to discuss the future of water governance. The conference, the keyword of which is ‘inclusiveness’, aims to produce a landmark document, the Budapest Statement, which is to include recommendations and solutions for the major water and sanitation challenges faced by the world today. The summit will also set water-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), contributing to the priority objective defined by the Rio+20 Conference of setting an development agenda for the post-2015 world.

On 8 October, the Budapest Water Summit will kick off. The four-day conference, entitled  ‘The Role of Water and Sanitation in the Global Sustainable Development Agenda’, will be a milestone in the evolution of the recognition of the importance of water to sustainable development. Global political and institutional leaders and leading experts from a wide range of disciplines will come together in Hungary, the ‘Land of Thousand Waters’, to re-affirm the necessity of including universal access to clean water and sanitation as essential goals of the global agenda for development.

Through a series of multi-disciplinary forums and panel discussions and roundtables, the summit is to substantially contribute to the debate surrounding the future of water management, with the view of producing a final document, the ‘Budapest Statement on Water and Sanitation’, containing concrete and specific policy recommendations to achieve water-related sustainable development goals.

The statement, meant to guide policy-makers towards including water-specific elements in their efforts to build a world viable for future generations, and the summit as a whole, are part of a wider recognition that sustainable development cannot occur without taking into account the need for a better management of water resources.

The conference will concentrate on a number of key themes central to face the challenges presented by the ebbing supply of water, with discussions centering around the following issues: the need to ensure universal access to water and sanitation; the adoption of the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) model in water governance; improved institutional arrangements with greater stakeholder participation, capacity development and  monitoring; recent developments in the research for new water technologies; and investment in and financing of ‘philanthropic’ business models that strive for poverty eradication and the sustainable development of water resources.

Thus, the summit promises to take a truly innovative approach:  it proposes to integrate different disciplines into the discussion and use the input from each one to get to a comprehensive solution that incorporates all facets of the issues.

This inter-disciplinary approach is reflected in the structure of the summit. Alongside the plenary sessions, so-called ‘stakeholder meetings’ will take place. These are meant to discuss the same questions addressed in the panel debates, but from four different perspectives (that of the Youth, Civil Society, Business, and Science stakeholders). These forums are expected to shape the final draft of the Budapest Statement through written contributions, based on the debates that will have taken place throughout the conference.

2013 Int Year of Water Coop

The summit is a major event of the 2013 UN Year of International Water Cooperation

The shape the summit organizers settled on was chosen to demonstrate that the interests of stakeholders from these frames of reference are not at odds, on the contrary: they can each contribute in their own way to the goals defined by the summit, and are all essential elements to achieving a sustainable world.

The summit is one of the major events of the 2013 UN International Year of Water Cooperation. 2013 has been declared the ‘International Year of Water Cooperation’ by the UN General Assembly. The goals of the series of events, programmes, projects and activities organised throughout the year are to raise awareness of the crisis water supplies are currently facing and of the challenges of building effective water governance. The ‘International Year of Water Cooperation’, part of a wider effort to achieve the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), also aims at bolstering and promoting water cooperation agreements, in the hopes of enhancing access to water supplies and services.

‘Inclusiveness’ is clearly a keyword of the summit. By implicating such a wide range of actors from varied backgrounds, the summit seeks to build collaborations that cut across traditional discipline-driven boundaries and help participants expand their horizons, in the hopes of creating networks to develop successful water projects.

More importantly, this structure gives low-level actors from the scientific and the civil society community the opportunity to make an active contribution to global policy: this shift in decision-making from a top-down process to a more grassroots one responds to the criticisms that have plagued the mechanisms of decision-making in international institutions.

High-level political leaders will deliver keynote speeches addressing the importance of water for the sustainable long-term development, including Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN;  Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union; Lamberto Zannier, Secretary-General of the OSCE; and ministers from developing countries around the world. the appearance of these high-profile public figures at the summit shows that issues related to water, long overlooked or dismissed, are gaining greater recognition in the public eye and are climbing the ladder of the global policy agenda.

Ban Ki Moon

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary- General of the UN, will give the commencement speech

The Budapest Water Summit has the potential to inspire widespread and much needed change in governance and the evolution in perceptions of the role of water in sustainable development.

The summit has been given the responsibility of defining Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to water. SDGs are a series of objectives to be achieved for the post-2015 world, and are to replace the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). Under the slogan ‘The Future We Want’, SDGs, when defined,will be targets that every country will strive to hit by a certain date. Similarly to the MDGs, the SDGs are a component of the worldwide drive to build a world in which every individual has achieved a landmark standard of living. The process of defining SDGs was started during the 2012 Rio+20 Conference, which set the process as a priority for the UN policy agenda.

The final documents of the Rio+20 Conference had already acknowledged the importance of water for sustainable development. Participants of the Budapest Water Summit, by being asked to design water-related SDGs, are given the opportunity the shape the agenda that will guide policy for years to come and make water cooperation and universal access to water and sanitation more of a reality, and less of an aspiration.


Budapest Water Summit Website:

Draft of the Budapest Statement:

Detailed Programme of the Budapest Water Summit:

More on the Sustainable Development Goals:

More on the 2013 UN Year of International Water Cooperation:

University of Strathclyde and CIFAL to host Transboundary Aquifers Conference

Glasgow Conference LeafletThe ‘International Water Cooperation and Transboundary Aquifers Roundtable Conference’, part of the UN 2013 International Year of Water Cooperation, will take place on 15-16 October 2013 at the Banqueting Hall of the City Chambers in Glasgow.

the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow and UNITAR CIFAL Scotland will host an international roundtable conference on transboundary aquifers. The ‘International Water Cooperation and Transboundary Aquifers Roundtable Conference’, organised in partnership with a number of institutions involved in water governance and management, including UNESCO-IHP and the Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science, is a programme designed as part of the 2013 UN International Year of Water Cooperation.

This international roundtable conference will provide a unique opportunity to discuss transboundary aquifer management from a multi-disciplinary perspective, focusing on its scientific-hydrogeological, socio-economic and legal-institutional dimensions.

The Conference will take place on 15-16 October 2013 at the Banqueting Hall of the City Chambers in Glasgow.

The Conference will aim at exploring the importance and value of cooperation over transboundary aquifers, discussing the challenges currently facing effective governance of transboundary aquifers and the ways in which law and science can help overcome these obstacles. In particular, discussions will revolve around the interactions between science, law and policy and the role of in fostering transboundary aquifer cooperation.

Speakers will include actors who have been at the forefront of the campaign towards greater international cooperation over issues involving transboundary aquifers, as well as members of the Scottish Government.

According to UNEP, around 30 percent of the world’s freshwater is stored underground in the form of groundwater, constituting about 97 percent of all the freshwater potentially available for human use; however, “the lack of specific legal and institutional arrangements to manage these aquifers, in addition to the need to further deepen the understanding of the science-policy interaction, calls for further debate”, a gap which the Conference in Glasgow will partially fill.

The Conference will take the form of multilateral discussions as well as roundtable debates, a format chosen to allow for greater interactivity and dialogue between speakers and participants. The Conference is meant to be an open forum that allows each participant to give their input and views on the issues at hand and work together to find the solutions to achieve effective transboundary aquifer management.

2013 has been declared the ‘International Year of Water Cooperation’ by the UN General Assembly. The goals of the series of events, programmes, projects and activities organised throughout the year are to raise awareness of the crisis water supplies are currently facing and of the challenges of building effective water governance. The ‘International Year of Water Cooperation’, part of a wider effort to achieve the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), also aims at bolstering and promoting water cooperation agreements, in the hopes of enhancing access to water supplies and services.


Uni Strathclyde Pic

2013 Int Year of Water CoopCIFAL SCOTLAND LOGO



To register to the Conference, please visit:

For a detailed schedule of the Conference:

And more information about the speakers attending the Conference:

Learn more about the 2013 UN International Year of Water Cooperation:

Website of the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance:

Montenegro accedes to UN Watercourses Convention

Montenegro, by depositing its instrument of accession with the UN Secretary-General, becomes the 31st party to the UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC). Four more acts of ratification are needed until the UNWC comes into force

The country of Montenegro on 24 September 2013 acceded to the UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC), becoming the thirty-first party to the  UNWC. By depositing its instrument of accession with the office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the southern European country agreed to be bound to the Convention.

While the UNWC is not yet in force, the accession of Montenegro to the Convention makes entry into force an ever closer reality. Four more instruments similar to that deposited by Montenegro are needed for the UN Watercourses Convention to come into force.

Source: Lonely Planet

Source: Lonely Planet

In 1997, over 100 countries voted for the adoption of the UNWC. Despite the widespread support that was exhibited at the time, the Convention is not yet in force, and has yet to fulfill the legal requirements specified within the Convention itself.

As laid out in the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which governs the rules and procedures attached to the design of multilateral treaties, a treaty must contain a provision identifying the date at which it will come into force. Article 36 of the UNWC specifies that the Convention will come into force ninety days after 35 states have ratified the Convention.

Following Montenegro’s accession to the UNWC, four more instruments of ratification are needed for the dispositions of Article 36 to be fulfilled and the UNWC to come into force.

The UNWC is a global legal framework which promotes inter-state cooperation, exchange of information and joint management of transboundary river basins. It creates a legal architecture that edicts the rights and duties of state parties regarding the governance and management of river basins shared with other countries.

By codifying norms and clarifying emergin legal principles of international water law, it strenghtens the regulation of water resources and helps ensure that the way these resources are used is done following fundamental legal paradigms.

The ultimate goal of the UNWC is the sustainable management of shared basins which maximizes and ditributes in an equitable fashion the benefits for all states involved.

Several reasons have been put forward for the slow process of entry into force, including treaty congestion within the UN System; the lack of champions and high-profile actors promoting the UNWC; low awareness of the Convention; and the fragmented understanding of its provisions.

In the face of these obstacles, many efforts have been invested in a campaign for the entry into force by proponents of the UNWC, such as the World Wildlife Fund, the Green Cross, and the Dundee Centre for International Water Law, Policy and Science. This campaign is coming to fruition, as the recent spike in the number of state parties to the UNWC seems to testify.

In addition to Montengro, four more states have signed the UNWC, and are close to completing the steps required by their domestic legislation to ratify it, igniting the hope that the day of entry into force of the Convention is around the corner.


For the status of the ratification process of the UNWC, inluding a list of state parties and dates of ratification, please follow this link:

For an analysis of Article 36 of the UNWC, please go to Part VII of the Online User’s Guide:

Will 2013 be the Year of Water Law Cooperation?

Two articles in the July, 2013 issue of the Stockholm Water Front examine the future of collaboration over shared water resources.

2013 has been declared the ‘International Year of Water Cooperation’ by the UN General Assembly. The goals of the series of events, programmes, projects and activities organised throughout the year are to raise awareness of the crisis water supplies are currently facing and of the challenges of building effective water governance. The ’International Year of Water Cooperation’, part of a wider effort to achieve the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), also aims at bolstering and promoting water cooperation agreements, in the hopes of enhancing access to water supplies and services.

In support of the ‘Year of Cooperation’, two articles in the July, 2013 issue of the Stockholm Water Front, a magazine published by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), explore the roles and implications of cooperatistockholm water font cover- july 2013on around shared water basins and examine the future of water law cooperation.

In an editorial, Alistair Rieu-Clarke, author of the UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC) User’s Guide, and co-editor of a recently published Earthscan book on the role of the UNWC in transboundary water governance, ‘The UN Watercourses Convention in Force’, believes that 2013 is “a big year of international water law”. Mr. Rieu-Clarke explains that the design and implementation of global water law instruments are central to water governance. By giving substance to emerging and customary norms and detailing the processes of conflict resolution,  treaties and conventions can help strenghten the legal framework surrounding water governance and bolster the political engagement for water cooperation.

Yet of the 263 international river basins in the world, only a third are covered by a cooperative management mechanism. This, according to Mr. Rieu-Clarke, may change in 2013. Momentum is fast growing for the entry into force of the UNWC, a milestone that would be a victory for proponents of a strong water law framework. The UNWC, Mr. Rieu-Clarke says, combined with the UNECE Helsinki Convention (which will soon be open to ratification by non-UNECE states) and the Draft Articles on Transboundary Aquifers, could soon form a strong global legal structure supporting water governance around the globe.

While Mr. Rieu-Clarke’s editorial analyzes the potential for cooperation and the value added of enforcing water cooperation instruments, the article by Kerry Schneider, Programme Officer at SIWI, looks at water law cooperation by listing the challenges it faces and the steps that need to be taken to overcome them.

The error, Mr. Schneider suggests, is trying to force a ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula onto river basins around the globe; “[t]he key to supporting cooperative processes involving shared waters,” he writes, “is in understanding that every basin is intrinsically unique in the type of support needed and the amount of time required to establish long-lasting frameworks and institutions that lead to effective development.” Different river basins, because they present different characteristics, require different cooperative agreement frameworks. Mr. Schneider criticises the model of Transboundary Water Management (TWM) and its uncomprimising efforts to establish basin-wide Cooperative Framework Agreements (CFAs), even if that means discarding other methods of cooperation or the CFAs becoming “empty shells with no long-term vision of a healthy and useful cooperation.”

According to Mr. Schneider, a new model should emerge that tailors cooperation to the local circumstances of the river basins. This model should avoid the shortcomings of TWM and offer flexibility and continued support of a strong cooperative framework  in the acknowledgment that collaboration over shared waters demands a lasting commitment and long-term strategies.


To order a copy of the Stockholm Water Front magazine:

More about SIWI:

To order a copy of ‘The UNWC in Force’, go to:

For more information about the 2013 UN International Year of Water Cooperation:





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