Spain takes international water treaty past half way mark | WWF
Spain takes international water treaty past half way mark

Posted on 01 October 2009

Spain has boosted efforts to bring into effect an international treaty to share and protect rivers and lakes crossing or forming international borders, telling the United Nations General Assembly it was committed to jointly addressing issues of security, development and protection of the environment.
New York: Spain late last month boosted efforts to bring into effect an international treaty to share and protect rivers and lakes crossing or forming international borders, telling the United Nations General Assembly it was committed to jointly addressing issues of security, development and protection of the environment.

The International Convention on the Non-Navigational Use of International Watercourses (UN Watercourses Convention), drew the support of an overwhelming majority of nations when passed by the UN in 1997 as the framework for resolving water disputes and promoting cooperation on water management between States.

But, even as the world grew more anxious about dwindling water supplies and the growing impacts of climate change, the treaty languished for more than a decade well short of the 35 ratifications needed for it to come into effect. Spain becomes the 18th nation to ratify the convention.

“Spain taking the ratifications for the UN Watercourses Convention more than half way is tremendous news for a world worried about water,” said WWF Director General James Leape.

“This convention is not a dry legal instrument but the basis for us to share limited water resources and protect the vital human and natural assets of rivers, lakes and underground water.”

For the past two years, WWF has taken a leading role in a campaign to have the UN Watercourse Convention ratified, arguing it is a vital step in adaptation to climate change. Changes in rainfall patterns and freshwater availability will be for many people the most severe and immediate impacts of climate climate change.

Half the world’s land surface is drained by international waterways containing more than two thirds of global freshwater flows. Three quarters of the world’s countries face potential disputes with neighbours over shared rivers, lakes, wetlands or aquifers.

Spain, one of Europe’s largest water users, is no stranger to international water agreements, concluding the Albufeira Convention on river management with Portugal in 1998. It is also a party to the European Water Framework Directive but, like other Mediterranean nations such as Italy and Greece is experiencing difficulties in implementing the directive.

WWF-Spain welcomed the ratification, urging Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, to implement key measures with Portugal, including implementing River Basin Management Plans on shared rivers.

“A sufficient supply of water in Portugal is essential for the good ecological status of the degraded estuaries of the Guadiana and Tagus rivers which are affected by overexploitation of its water resources,” said Enrique Segovia, WWF-Spain Director of Conservation.

“The Tagus River, for instance, suffers several water transfers towards the Upper Guadiana and Eastern Spain and is facing the threat of a new water transfer of the Tagus river before the Portuguese border.”

WWF-Spain is hoping that the Spanish Government will use its 2010 EU Presidency to promote ratification of the UN Water Courses Convention in addition to seeing it as an impetus to improve its performance in water management at home.

“In the past year, Tunisia and Spain have ratified the UN Watercourses Convention and we have received indications from other nations that they are working towards ratification,” said Flavia Loures, who heads WWF’s global initiative to have the convention and other related agreements brought into effect.

“We are really getting the sense there is some momentum building.”

Skadar lake, Montenegro
Skadar lake, Montenegro
© WWF / M. Gunther