International Annual UN-Water Zaragoza Conference 2012/2013
Preparing for the 2013 International Year. Water Cooperation: Making it Happen! 8-10 January 2013

Interviewing Iulia Trombitcaia, Environmental Affairs Officer, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

Iulia Trombitcaia.

"The conclusion of specific agreements and the establishment of joint bodies (such as river and lake commissions) has proved to be the most efficient way of advancing cooperation of the riparians."

What are you expectations on the Zaragoza conference on water cooperation?

The Zaragoza conference and the International Year of Water Cooperation are a great opportunity to raise the awareness about the importance of transboundary water cooperation. There is a lot of experience accumulated by countries and stakeholders from all over the world on how to cooperate in transboundary basins. This will be clearly demonstrated by case studies prepared for the conference. What is frequently still missing is the political to use previous experience for finding cooperative solutions in specific basins.

The Zaragoza conference is also an opportunity to increase awareness on the importance of the international legal frameworks for transboundary water cooperation, in particular the experience accumulated over the last 20 years by Parties to the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) and the upcoming global opening of the Convention. Becoming a global instrument, the Water Convention will offer a global intergovernmental platform for exchange and debate on transboundary water issues and for supporting the implementation of international water law.

Your session focuses on “furthering water cooperation in river basins”. Why is it important to specifically focus on water cooperation in river basins?

The cooperation of riparians is more effective when it covers the entire river basin(s). The basin approach is one of the pillars of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). The promotion of the integrated approach to transboundary water management, based on the basin approach (or “catchment area” approach using the language of the Water Convention) is one of the major successes of the Convention. In this respect, the Convention has influenced the EU Water Framework Directive.

While the basin approach is a well recognized concept nowadays, it is still far from being implemented everywhere, including in the pan-European region. Through its projects on the ground, especially in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, the Water Convention has been actively promoting not only the idea but also the practical ways of cooperation at the basin level. For example, the EU Water Initiative National Policy Dialogues on IWRM facilitated by UNECE  in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan focus on the introduction of river basin management into the national legislation and institutional frameworks. Other projects of the Water Convention promote basin cooperation in selected transboundary basins. The signing of the bilateral Treaty on the Dniester River Basin by the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine is a very recent success story.

What are the challenges that river basins are facing in terms of water cooperation?

Different interests of different “uses” (irrigation, energy production, drinking water supply, recreation, etc.) have to be reconciled in many river basins, along with protection of water as a resource. Achieving such reconciliation requires step-by-step efforts to build trust and efficient cooperation. Establishing legal and institutional frameworks is instrumental for sustainable and efficient cooperation.

Such frameworks are still missing in many basins over the world. While the pan-European region is rather advanced in this respect, in many cases the legal and institutional frameworks for cooperation in specific basins require strengthening and improvement.

Which tool or approach to promote water cooperation would you like to highlight?

The conclusion of specific agreements and the establishment of joint bodies (such as river and lake commissions) has proved to be the most efficient way of advancing cooperation of the riparians. Under the Water Convention, the Riparian Parties are obliged to enter into agreements which provide for the establishment of joint bodies. And this is not by chance: joint bodies can be the major vehicle of cooperation between riparian States, serving as a forum to exchange information, jointly assess the status of transboundary waters, share information about planned projects and activities, agree upon joint or coordinated strategies and measures and address potential differences and disputes.

However, as we speak about tools to promote water cooperation, I would like to draw your attention to the new mechanism developed under the auspices of the Water Convention. Following three years of negotiations, the Meeting of the Parties in November 2012 established an Implementation Committee for the Convention. The Committee consists of nine independent members – outstanding professionals with legal and technical expertise – serving in their personal capacity. The Committee will render practical case-tailored assistance to prevent water-related disputes and support Parties in their efforts to implement the Convention. It should also be able to facilitate external assistance, e.g., technology transfer and capacity-building, when the lack of these hinders implementation of the Convention.

Which key lessons learnt would you like to deliver for the International Year of Water Cooperation 2013?

There is a need to strengthen cooperation and prevent conflicts at the transboundary level. With the growing pressures on water, there are increasing challenges to resource availability, management and sustainability, which call for stronger cooperation to prevent potential conflicts on water use.

Over the last 20 years, the Water Convention has provided an efficient framework for cooperation of the countries in the Pan-European region. In the vision for the future of the Convention adopted by the Meeting of the Parties in Rome (November 2012), the Parties view the Convention as facilitating the dialogue and promoting firm cooperation on transboundary waters worldwide, pioneering the responses to emerging challenges and fostering sustainable water resources management.

The International Year of Water Cooperation is a major opportunity to advance the message on the urgency of transboundary water cooperation and the importance of firm international legal frameworks to this respect.