Neglected Water Treaty Revitalised

Delegates of 14 countries attending the World Water Forum tonight signed pledges of support to a growing call to bring into force a global water treaty that has languished in limbo for more than a decade as anxiety grows about the increased potential for conflict in a world increasingly short of water.

The pledges were made at an awards ceremony held at the forum by a coalition of leading international and civil society organizations to “celebrate the accomplishments of the world’s leading countries in international water policy.”

Recognised by the awards were the 16 countries signed up to the UN International Convention on Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (the UN Watercourses Convention) - Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Namibia, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Qatar, South Africa, Sweden, Syria and Uzbekistan.

The delegates said they shared WWF’s concern that the poor coordination in river basin regulation between nations “represents a major threat to international peace and to the world’s energy and food security.” The pledge also noted that climate change would worsen the global water crisis.

Countires make a start on internal approval processes

The pledge to push for more countries to join the convention was signed by Slovenian President Danilo Tulk, and government delegates from Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Ghana, Greece, Iraq, Niger, Sierra Leone, Spain, and Syria. Internal processes for ratification have already started in some of the 12 countries at the event not already party to the Convention.

Dr Shaddad Attili, head of the Palestine Water Authority also signed, following the reading of a declaration by President Mahmoud Abbas earlier during the Forum that Palestine would ratify the convention once it attained statehood. When that occurs the River Jordan will have the most coverage of any international watercourse, with four of its five riparian states acceding to the Convention.

The UN Watercourses Convention provides a framework for common and cooperative management for the rivers, lakes, wetlands and aquifers crossing or forming international borders. An overwhelming majority of nations voted for the Convention in the UN General Assembly in 1997, but fewer than half the required number have proceeded to ratify it a national level.

“If fully enacted it would provide a strong basis for sharing and caring for the water draining half the world’s land surface and vital to the water supplies of 40 per cent of humanity,” said Flavia Loures, WWF International Water Law and Policy Senior Program Officer

World Water Forum vague on bridging divides

The UN Watercourses Convention has been one of the most contentious topics at the World Water Forum, with specific mention of the convention and its potential for bridging divides on water excluded from the Ministerial Declaration due to be issued on World Water Day (March 22) tomorrow.

“It is ironic in the extreme that with a World Water day themed around sharing transboundary waters the ministerial declaration to be issued that day takes great pains to avoid mentioning the only available instrument for global co-operation,” Ms. Loures said.

In lively World Water Forum discussions on the UN Watercourses Convention, it was also seen as a key legal instrument to foster cooperation on climate change adaptation in shared freshwater systems, crucial as river flows falter and extreme events such as floods and droughts increase in frequency and severity.

Millions of dollars in aid funds for developing cooperative water management schemes for some of the world’s major – and most contentious – river systems also remain available but unapplied for, although some of the countries concerned have been able to cooperate on marine issues.

The multi-stakeholder campaign to have the UN Convention on Watercourses brought into effect is supported by the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, the European Water Partnership, Conservation International, the Global Nature Fund, Living Lakes Partners, Green Cross International, IUCN and WWF, along with many governments in Europe and Africa.

“As climate change further exacerbates the water crisis, the difficulties and cost of expanding and sustaining water security will rise, and potentially very steeply,” said Green Cross International President Alexander Likhotal.

“The risks from failing to act are increasingly understood to be high, and include economic instability, loss of quality of life and reversal of gains in poverty reduction, more frequent disaster and ecological degradation. Therefore, we are calling for a swift ratification of the Convention ."

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