Prospects improve for vital world water treaty | WWF
Prospects improve for vital world water treaty

Posted on 09 September 2010

Renewed interest in West Africa and Europe is boosting the prospects for a key global treaty on sharing freshwater resources over international boundaries to come into effect.
Stockholm: Renewed interest in West Africa and Europe is boosting the prospects for a key global treaty on sharing freshwater resources over international boundaries to come into effect.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UN Watercourses Convention) was adopted by an overwhelming majority of the UN General Assembly in 1997, but then languished for more than a decade, well short of the 35 signatories required for it to come into force.

Proponents of the treaty, intended to provide a global framework for resolving disputes and promoting cooperation between states on the sustainable and equitable management of transboundary waters, link increased interest in ratification to rising pressures on water resources from rapid population growth, food and energy demands, and climate change.

The most recent signatory, Guinea-Bissau, joined in May 2010 and is set to be followed by other states in West Africa, with likely candidates being Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger and Nigeria.

“The Convention is definitely the most important framework we have to secure regional cooperation and peace around shared water management issues,” says Dam Mogbante, Executive Secretary of Global Water Partnership-West Africa. “Even though there are some regional conventions and charters that set up some rules, we still see the UN Convention as an umbrella to reinforce regional agreements, and it can be used where there is no regional organization. We should all work to see it implemented!”

Fortunately, there are now clear signs of wider support for the UN Watercourses Convention in Africa, which Guinea-Bissau’s ratification should further boost.

France willing to promote treaty

Similarly, discussions on the role and relevance of the convention for the Mediterranean region are building momentum and can bring new champions for a region where water resources are unevenly distributed. The region’s fragile rivers and aquifers are at particular risk from over-extraction, drainage, infrastructure works and droughts. The principles and rules enshrined in the UN Watercourses Convention can promote better transboundary water management and ensure political stability and peace between neighbouring countries.

Spain, one of Europe’s largest water users and an important player in international development cooperation, was the last Mediterranean country to have joined the convention in September 2009, bringing it past the halfway mark for entry into force.

In June 2010, during the kickoff meeting of the 6th World Water Forum, France announced its imminent ratification and willingness to actively promote the convention in Europe and beyond.

“The hope is that one of these countries plays a leading role to start a domino effect in ratifications across the Mediterranean, similar to that expected to arise from Guinea-Bissau’s commendable recent ratification in West Africa,” says Flavia Loures, WWF’s Senior Program Officer, International Law and Policy Freshwater Program.

Under the UN Watercourses Convention Global Initiative, the side event “UN Watercourses Convention – In Force by 2011” will be held during the 2010 World Water Week in Stockholm, on 9 September, from 12:45 p.m.-1:45 p.m. The event will bring together a number of expert organizations and government representatives. With emphasis on West Africa and the Mediterranean region, the event aims to foster discussions on the convention’s specific role and relevance, track and celebrate progress toward entry into force by 2011 and catalyze action by the international community to support the global initiative.


The Danube delta, in Romania and the Ukraine, is home to the largest colony of pelicans outside Africa and is a peaceful haven for 300 other species of birds. And it is not just the birds: 75 species of freshwater fish, half of the European total, roam the waters, including the gian Beluga sturgeon, which can grow to the size of a small bus. It is a preciously peaceful place.
© Anton Vorauer WWF