West Africa confirms its leadership in promoting entry into force of world water treaty – and starts a domino effect across Africa

Nigeria’s recent ratification followed by the approval of Burkina Faso’s Parliament to accede confirm the leadership taken by West Africa in promoting a key global treaty on transboundary freshwater resources.

Addis Ababa – 26 November 2010: With Guinea-Bissau’s ratification last May, followed by that of Nigeria in September and the approval by Burkina Faso’s Parliament of a law allowing ratification, 2010 brought three new African contracting states to the only global treaty governing the use, management and protection of international watercourses: the 1997 Convention on the Law of the Non- navigational Uses of International Watercourses, more commonly called the UN Watercourses Convention.

This significant progress reflects Africa’s commitment to improve its freshwater resources governance and place the continent, particularly West Africa, at the forefront of the promotion of international water law and sound transboundary water cooperation. For Nigeria, an important upper riparian, “joining the convention was a matter of ensuring regional peace and water security, now and in the future,” according to Mrs. Amaka Odili, from the Federal Ministry of Water Resources.

A flexible and overarching global legal framework, the UN Watercourses Convention establishes basic standards and rules for cooperation between states on the sustainable and mutually beneficial management of transboundary waters. Although adopted at the United Nations 13 years ago by an overwhelming majority, the convention has yet to become effective. Nigeria became the 20th country to have joined the convention, bringing down to 15 the number of additional ratifications needed for entry into force. Burkina Faso is set to become the 21st contracting state, and should be closely followed by two European counterparts, France and Greece. Other states in West Africa, including Benin, Ghana and Niger, are expected to join soon as well.


These developments were acknowledged and celebrated during a side event that WWF and GWP- Eastern Africa hosted on 23 November during the 3rd Africa Water Week, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and which comes to a close today. During the event, the Government of Burkina Faso received a Leaders for a Living Planet award, through which we commended its decision to join the convention as a contribution to peaceful and sustainable water management, to the benefit of people and nature. Thanking the organizers, Ms. Éléonore Bélemlilga, Legal Officer at the General Direction of Water Resources, underscored the government’s willingness to share its experience in going through the ratification process and urged fellow African countries to step up to the plate as well.

The side event also promoted lively and rich discussions on the role and relevance of the UN Watercourses Convention for Africa among representatives from the Governments of Burkina Faso, Nigeria and France; the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC); and the United Nations Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation. At the end of discussions, representatives from the Governments of Ivory Coast, Guinea, Kenya and South Sudan handed back signed postcards signalizing their personal support for the global initiative and willingness to champion the convention within their own governments. We also received postcards from SADC and ECOWAS. Among current parties, Iraq remains a proactive champion, with diplomats from the Holy See, Romania, Denmark, Serbia, Canada, Chile, Germany and Senegal submitting postcards to reiterate support for our efforts.

The fast progress in West Africa is indeed starting to spill over into neighbouring regions in the continent. In July 2010, member states of the Interim Guinea Current Commission, which include countries from West, Southern and Central Africa, agreed to assess the relevance of the convention and consider acceding to it. In addition, the conclusions of a recent high-level meeting on the sustainable management of the Lake Chad basin include a recommendation proposing the assessment of the convention by the four basin states that have not yet joined – Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Central African Republic.

“Even though there are some regional conventions and charters that set up some rules, we still see the UN Watercourses Convention as an umbrella to reinforce regional agreements and foster cooperation where basin treaties are absent. We are committed to working to see it in force and widely implemented in the short-term!”, says Dam Mogbante, Executive Secretary of GWP-West Africa. For Simon Thuo, from GWP-Eastern Africa, “the convention provides definitely a key legal framework to secure regional cooperation and peace around shared water management issues.”

WWF’s participation in the 3rd Africa Water Week closed with the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate Nigeria’s ratification of the UN Watercourses Convention by presenting the Government, represented by H.E. Chief Obadiah D Ando, Minister of Water Resources, with a Leaders for a Living Planet award.

For further information:

Contact information of:

  • Flavia Loures, Senior Program Officer, Freshwater, International Law and Policy
  • Email:  flavia.loures@wwf.us
  • Office: +1 202 640 9055

About WWF

WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with almost 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. For more information, visit www.panda.org/media and, specifically on the UN Watercourses Convention.

About Green Cross International

Green Cross International (GCI) is a leading environmental organisation. Founded by President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1993, this non-profit and non-governmental organisation works to address the inter- connected global challenges of security, poverty eradication and environmental degradation through a combination of high-level advocacy, campaigns and local projects. GCI is present in over 30 countries, including Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Swaziland and Ghana in Africa. For more information about GCI, follow GCI on twitter @GreenCrossInt and visit http://www.gci.ch and, specifically on the UN Watercourses Convention.

About GWP-West Africa

The West Africa Water Partnership (GWP-WA), established in 2002, is a sub-regional body of the Global Water Partnership (GWP), whose mission is to support the countries towards sustainable development and management of their water resources. The basic mission of the Partnership in West Africa is to build alliances and develop the institutional capacities of its members in order to encourage and strengthen IWRM research, experts and information networks. At country level, there are 12 Country Water Partnerships: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo. For more information, visit www.gwp.org or www.gwpao.org.

About GWP-Eastern Africa:

The Eastern Africa Water Partnership is a sub-regional body of the Global Water Partnership (GWP), whose mission is to support the countries towards sustainable development and management of their water resources. GWP Eastern Africa’s priority is the development of a water policy and program strategy that provides a coherent and systemic framework through which to address these numerous demands. At country level, there are 6 Country Water Partnerships: Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. We also work with Partner organizations in Djibouti and Rwanda. For more information, visit www.gwp.org or http://www.gwp.org/en/gwp-in-action/Eastern-Africa/.

About IHP-HELP Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science, under the auspices of UNESCO (Centre for Water Law, Policy & Science): The Centre for Water Law, Policy & Science has as its key objective to engage water law, policy and science researchers in joined-up new approaches to respond more coherently and completely to water resources management issues. As a founding member of the UNESCO HELP (Hydrology for the Environment, Life and Policy) program and the Universities Partnership for Transboundary Waters, the Centre seeks to be a world leader in advancing innovative operational responses to the water-related challenges of the future. The Centre provides expert input into a variety of global, interdisciplinary projects, and runs a taught and post-graduate teaching program under its Water Law: Water Leaders Programme. More information is available at www.dundee.ac.uk/water.

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