Historic gathering of the parties to the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention at UNESCO

15 September 2015

Water does not respect political and cultural boundaries, yet it must be shared equitably to meet socio-economic, environmental and basic human needs. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, which was adopted in 1997 and entered into force on 17 August 2014, is a key tool to help countries manage their shared waters equitably. Today, the parties to the Convention met for the first time, for a 2-day informal gathering hosted by UNESCO.

As water demand rises, we are increasingly dependent on transboundary waters. In all, there are about 600 transboundary aquifers, including 200 transboundary groundwater bodies in the EU, which means that almost every State shares an aquifer with at least one of its neighbors. In terms of surface water, there are 276 international river basins, which account for approximately 60% of global river flow and host about 40% of the world’s population. The Convention, based on the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization and participation, is a key mechanism to address the current water crisis, facilitate cooperation and prevent potential conflicts.

This first gathering of the 36 countries that have ratified the Convention is a major milestone in the development of international water law and diplomacy. The meeting is being hosted by UNESCO, in recognition of the leading role played by its International Hydrological Programme (UNESCO-IHP) in promoting water cooperation, water diplomacy and the sustainable management of transboundary aquifers. For example, UNESCO-IHP’s International Shared Aquifers Resources Management Programme has significantly improved the scientific knowledge on transboundary aquifers and shared groundwater resources, thus providing scientific inputs in decision-making and legal frameworks.

The first day of the informal gathering was attended by representatives of Parties of the convention exclusively. Some International Organizations and NGOs were invited to participate in the second day.

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