Water Conventions

WWF calls on governments to collaborate on the protection, equitable use, and sustainable management of river basins crossing international borders – river systems that sustain millions of people and support vast, vulnerable ecosystems.

WWF is particularly urging governments to promote and accelerate:

  • Ratifications for the entry into force of the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UN Watercourses Convention); and
  • Ratifications for the entry into force of the 2003 Amendment to the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (UNECE Water Convention).

The current situation

While watercourse agreements are already in force for some international river basins, many of these simply define borders or regulate joint water resources development. Numerous others do not involve all states within a basin.

Most agreements contain serious gaps and failings. For example, they provide neither for integrated river basin management, nor for adequate ecosystem protection or pollution control. Many agreements also lack appropriate enforcement mechanisms and monitoring provisions.

Where no cooperative management frameworks exist, which is the case in 60% of the world's international watercourses, unilateral action by one state can significantly impact human health and livelihoods across the border.

Effective multinational governance mechanisms would support the sustainable management of places like the Amazon, Mekong, Indus, Sepik, Fly, Amur, Zambezi, and Congo basins. It would protect river ecosystems and communities dependent upon them and encourage nations to work together to sustainably manage and conserve water resources physically shared among them.
Transboundary river basins cover almost half of the earth's surface. 
	© Wolf, A., J. Natharius, J. Danielson, B. Ward, and J. Pender. 1999. International River Basins of the World, International Journal of Water Resources Development 15(4) 387-427.
International River Basins of the world
© Wolf, A., J. Natharius, J. Danielson, B. Ward, and J. Pender. 1999. International River Basins of the World, International Journal of Water Resources Development 15(4) 387-427.
There are 276 transboundary river basins around the globe, covering nearly half of the earth’s land surface and crossing the territories of 145 countries. Such basins are home to 40% of the world’s population and generate around 60% of global freshwater flow.

"Civilization has been a permanent dialogue between human beings and water."

Paolo Lugari

There are good reasons to collaborate...

Without active measures to promote collaboration, growing water scarcity and degradation are likely to increase interstate conflicts in rivers like the Jordan, Tigris & Euprates, Indus, Ganga & Brahmaputra, Mekong, Nile & Okavango.

International norms regulating the rights and duties of basin and aquifer countries create a legal framework for transboundary cooperation on the management, use, and protection of water resources.

They foster dialogue and global security that are necessary to maintain ecosystems services and facilitate access to sufficient food supplies, to alternatives for sustainable energy production, to safe and affordable water, and to adequate sanitation, in furtherance of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

Those actions, if taken by governments, will provide states with minimum legal standards to support coordination and cooperation towards the sustainable, cooperative and equitable management of transboundary river basins.

For more information, please contact:

Flavia Rocha Loures
Senior Program Officer
International Law and Policy
Freshwater Program
1250 24th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037-1193
Phone: +1.202.495.4716
Cell: +1.202.640.9055
Fax: +1.202.495.4377

Parties to the UN Watercourses Convention

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