This month, Palestine became the latest signatory to both the UN Convention on International Watercourses and the Basel Convention on Hazardous Waste. The Palestinian ratifications were submitted on 2 January and will take effect on 2 April, 2015.
The international community remains split over recognition of Palestine as a state. Green Cross recognizes this, but nevertheless welcomes the accession of a new party to these important agreements dealing with the management of resources across borders.
We spoke with Marie-Laure Vercambre about these developments. She has been instrumental in bringing the UN Watercourses Convention into force.
Green Cross International:
Marie-Laure, could you tell us why this new accession is such a welcome development?
All other disputes aside, tensions over trans-boundary waters between countries are a reality and are expected to exacerbate in the future in a global context of rising water demand, demographic growth and climate change. Severe damage to the environment that may arise from a lack of cooperation and sustainable management is also likely to increase in the absence of regulations, agreements and joint monitoring.
There are 276 international watercourses and about as many trans-boundary aquifers in the world. Just the international watercourses and their connected groundwater represent 60 per cent of all freshwater on Earth. The strategic importance of those shared waters and the vital role that is played by aquatic ecosystems call for stronger cooperative frameworks for the sound management of trans-boundary hydrographic basins. A lot remains to be done in this regard, as only 40 per cent of all international watercourses benefit from a basin agreement.
And this is particularly important in the Middle East region?
The Middle-East region faces numerous challenges in its quest to achieve sustainable supply and management of its water resources. Regions stricken with hydric stress and shortages, especially, need to ensure the equitable utilization, protection and sustainability of resources that are non-renewable and non-replaceable. Preventive and precautionary measures must be taken, and cooperative arrangements initiated, to avoid new disputes and solve existing ones.
As such GCI, which aims to promote the interconnected link between peace and sustainability, has been advocating for more than a decade for the ratification and implementation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, more commonly called UN Watercourses Convention.
You mentioned the link between peace and sustainability – can these agreements encourage both?
In the Middle East, long-running tensions between neighboring states on multiple issues has perpetuated a cycle of violence and under-development in many parts. Concerns over control of water pose another challenge, or, alternatively, a great opportunity, for regional peacemaking.
We’ve been working there a long time.
The French Green Cross organization launched a project in 2003 to protect trans-boundary groundwater from pollution in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. That helped reduce tensions caused by the limited availability of groundwater in the region.
The main causes of groundwater pollution in the region are domestic effluents, industrial activity and environmentally harmful agricultural practices. The French Green Cross, in collaboration with Friends of the Earth-Middle East and the House of Water and Environment, undertook a project to educate Israeli and Palestinian technicians on establishing a network of water professionals with strong technical knowledge on groundwater preservation.
In 2007, the French Green Cross also helped train 150 people in the Gaza Strip to optimize and maintain the Palestinian coastal strip’s stretched water and sanitation infrastructure. In Gaza, the average person’s daily water consumption is less than half that recommended by the World Health Organization. Only nine of the existing 24 high-flow wells in Gaza were operational at the beginning of the project; many illegal wells further exploited the overextended coastal aquifer.
In 2000, regional leaders, plus the Presidents of the European Commission and the World Bank, backed a Green Cross initiative to develop an integrated Water Emergency Plan for Middle East. In an opinion piece for The New York Times that December, Green Cross Founding President Mikhail Gorbachev said he strongly believed water could be a natural vehicle for peace in the Middle East. Whatever the political climate, the people of this region need to drink water and to grow their crops.
Thank you Marie-Laure. It may be appropriate to finish with a further quote from President Gorbachev:
“The word ‘conflict’ does not automatically need to be associated with water, not even in the Middle East. Cooperation to solve water problems is possible. Joint action on water has the potential to lead to even greater cooperation in the wider political arena, as resolution of water problems may help key Middle Eastern actors slowly build the trust needed to settle the other issues that divide them. Conversely, arrangements that are not perceived to fairly allocate one of life’s most important necessities can only perpetuate conflict.”
– Green Cross Founding President Mikhail Gorbachev, preface to the report on the UNESCO workshop titled: Make Water a Medium of Cooperation Rather Than Conflict (Paris, France, 18 March 1998).
The United Nations Watercourses Convention entered into force in August 2014, largely thanks to the ratification campaigns organized by several Green Cross National Offices. The convention will help foster better cooperation and management of the 276 international watercourses to ensure their conservation and protection. This represents a major achievement for our water programme. Awareness-raising campaigns were led in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Italy, France, Poland and South Korea by Green Cross national organizations.