Interest grows in neglected global water treaty

Delegates of 14 countries attending the World Water Forum signed pledges of support on Saturday night to add 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. GCI International Water Programme Director David Alix was among the speakers at the event, which was organized together with the WWF, the Global Nature Fund (GNF), the European Water Partnership, and the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water & Sanitation (UNSGAB)

“Green Cross works on the linkages between natural resources and peace. So we are very active in transboundary water management issues and it is very important for us to actively support this Convention, in collaboration with WWF,” said GCI International Water Programme Director David Alix. “I am sure you will agree with me that it is now becoming urgent to make this Convention enter into force.”
The pledges of support 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.” The awards recognized 16 countries that 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 in signing the pledges confirmed their shared concern that 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.
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.
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.”
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. It has now emerged to be 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 that was issued on World Water Day (March 22).
“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,” said Flavia Loures, WWF International Water Law and Policy Senior Program Officer. “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.”
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 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.
In addition to GCI, 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, IUCN and WWF, along with many governments in Europe and Africa.

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