The UN Watercourses Convention enters into force

Major international environmental law development

Geneva – May 21, 2014: The Socialist Republic of Vietnam triggered a major development by acceding to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, more commonly called UN Watercourses Convention, and thereby making it reach the 35 State parties threshold required by its status to enter into force.

The convention, text of which was adopted in 1997 after being negotiated during more than three decades at the UN, establishes basic standards and rules for cooperation between states on the use, management and protection of international watercourses.

“This is a major legal and governance development for the world’s 276 international watercourses, says Alexander Likhotal, President of Green Cross International.  60% of them do not benefit from any sort of cooperative agreement and are often poorly managed, overexploited and, in some cases, inequitably shared. This mix of mismanagement has been extremely harmful to the ecosystems and cannot go on in the global context of climate change and growing demand for water, he adds”.

60% of all freshwater on Earth flows through basins that are shared by at least two countries. As a framework and overarching legal instrument, the convention will facilitate cooperation between States that share transboundary rivers and their connected groundwater. The convention promotes the equitable and sustainable use of these watercourses. It requires from its state parties to exchange information and to take all appropriate measures, when utilising an international watercourse, to avoid causing significant harm to the other states and, should it happen, to take all possible measures to eliminate or mitigate such harm. The convention also urges states to prevent, reduce and control pollution and to seek the peaceful settlement of disputes should they arise. As can be expected from a UN Convention, several of its articles propose disputes settlement mechanisms.

“Green Cross sees in this convention a real opportunity to promote environmental security, economic development and political stability, says Marie-Laure Vercambre, Director of the Water for Life and Peace Programme. We celebrate today and will continue to promote it alongside with the UNECE Water Convention, which promotes very similar principles and will soon be available for accession from countries outside of the UNECE1 region, she adds. An estimated 145 countries share watercourses and effective management will require a widespread involvement from various stakeholders.”

Since 2006, Green Cross has collaborated with the World Wildlife Fund and other partners to promote the Convention as a tool for global cooperation over fresh water and, ultimately, helping tackle the global water crisis. Awareness raising campaigns on the need for sound legal frameworks to manage cross-border river basins have been led by Green Cross national organizations in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Argentina, South Korea, France, Italy and Poland. Of the 35 countries that have so far joined the Convention, 18 did so between 2006 and 2014.

GCI works on water issues in other ways. It promotes national implementation of the Right to Water and Sanitation, and provides sustainable supplies of safe drinking water, and improved sanitation, to selected communities in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe through the Smart Water for Green Schools (SWGS) project. GCI and partner Giorgio Armani launched the 2014 Acqua for Life campaign, which since 2010 has been raising funds for supporting new SWGS projects around the world.

Related content:

1 United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

For further information, please contact:

Green Cross International

Marie-Laure Vercambre

Director, Water for Life and Peace Programme

Mob: +336 80 04 04 81


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About Green Cross International (GCI):

GCI was founded in 1993 by Nobel Peace Laureate Mikhail Gorbachev and is an independent non-profit and nongovernmental organization advocating and working globally to address the inter-connected global challenges of security, poverty eradication and environmental degradation through advocacy and local projects. GCI is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, and conducts on-the-ground projects in more than 30 countries around the world.