With the ratification of the UN Watercourses Convention by 3 West African countries this year, West Africa has taken a leadership role in promoting the ratification of the UN Watercourses Convention, starting a domino effect across Africa.
The domino effect started with Guinea-Bissau’s ratification last May, followed by that of Nigeria in September and most recently with the approval by Burkina Faso’s Parliament of a law allowing ratification. With ratification, Burkina Faso would 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.
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.
These developments were acknowledged and celebrated during a side event hosted by GCI partners WWF and Global Water Partnership-Eastern Africa on 23 November during the 3rd Africa Water Week, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. During the event, the Government of Burkina Faso received a Leaders for a Living Planet award to commend 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 of the Convention. At the end of the week, Nigeria also received a Leaders for a Living Planet award for their recent ratification of the Convention, which was presented to H.E. Chief Obadiah D Ando, Minister of Water Resources.
The fast progress in West Africa also seems to be having an effect on 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.
The UN Watercourses Convention represents the only global treaty governing the use, management and protection of international watercourses. A flexible and overarching global legal framework, the Convention would establish basic standards and rules for cooperation between states on the sustainable and mutually beneficial management of transboundary waters.