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: http://www.siwi.org/publication_category/stockholm-water-front-magazine/

More about SIWI: http://www.siwi.org/

To order a copy of ‘The UNWC in Force’, go to: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9781849714464/

For more information about the 2013 UN International Year of Water Cooperation: http://www.unwater.org/water-cooperation-2013/en/





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