|State A (upstream) and State B (downstream) share an international watercourse which is heavily polluted due to the exploitation of the water resources for the industrial needs of both countries. In a push to achieve food self-sufficiency, state A is planning to extract a considerable amount of the (less polluted) river’s headwater for agricultural use outside the basin.
State B immediately complains about the planned withdrawal and water transfer, arguing that this will cause increased pollution of the river, leading to a complete collapse of the river system. This in turn would make the little remaining biodiversity along the watercourse disappear. State A argues that all uses have to be regarded as equal – and that the already highly modified river is only good enough for economic exploitation. The maintenance of environmental services would be too costly, since both states have chosen the path of maximising the economic benefit of the river.
While state A is right in arguing that according to the Convention no use enjoys inherent priority, the sustainability of a watercourse will always be protected. The tipping point where the river’s ecosystem will be irreversibly destroyed has to be avoided at all costs. Rather than focusing on short term benefits states A and B have to think about how to collaborate in order to manage the watercourse more sustainably – i.e. imposing higher environmental standards on their industries utilising the river’s water. See also Part IV of the Convention – Protection, Preservation and Management.
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