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

Session 1: Furthering water cooperation between nations and between stakeholders


Session convener: UNECE, UNESCO
Session partner: World Bank
Session chair: Blanca Jimenez. Director of the Division of Water Sciences, UNESCO

>> Video recording of session

Water cooperation between nations

Despite the complexity of water problems and the many interests at stake, records show that water disputes can be handled diplomatically. A growing number of treaties, protocols, conventions and institutional arrangements have been created on the use, development and protection of watercourses and related ecosystems. These frameworks and arrangements increasingly help crystallize mechanisms for the prevention and peaceful resolution of disputes over water resources.

A review of case studies where international law has been a part of resolving conflict has shown that successful achievement of cooperative solutions is facilitated by:

  • legal framework in place (series of treaties);
  • relatively good neighborly relations between the parties;
  • creation of joint commissions to address the problems;
  • agreement to submit the matter to arbitration
  • absence of significant adverse impact on the quantity or quality of waters flowing into the neighboring country.

International diplomacy has played a key role in many cases around the world. Water Diplomacy efforts have been often directed to the establishment of a global framework for water governance which can facilitate the further development of multilateral and bilateral water treaties and agreements.

Currently, The UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses and the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (the Water Convention) form useful frameworks where general principles and prescriptive obligations are set out. The adoption of these conventions facilitates dispute resolution as it provides a common ground and focus from which mediation can occur. One of the objectives of water diplomacy will be to highlight to the importance of these conventions in enhancing cooperation and to encourage states to ratify the conventions.   

Water cooperation between stakeholders

Managing water effectively and sustainably requires that all the stakeholders of a common water resource cooperate in jointly managing, protecting, and developing it. National and regional bodies, such as water resource ministries and river basin organizations (RBOs) can manage upstream-downstream issues that may arise between groups of stakeholders. Bringing parties to the table, raising awareness of challenges to be faced, and changing attitudes will be necessary if new agreements are to be reached and accepted.

During the session several stakeholders will be asked to present or represent the perspectives of their group in a context of river basin cooperation. Each of them will, based on a specific case study, outline what his vision and interests are in that particular case. What were the main difficulties he/she and other stakeholders faced when establishing a transboundary or multisectoral dialogue? And how were joint solutions developed in the basin? Stakeholders from various backgrounds will include: researchers, local authorities, government, civil society.

Format of the session

Date: Tuesday, 8 January 2013

10:30-10:45 Presentation of the Session

10:45-11:15 Overview presentation on transboundary cooperation: Lessons learned from water cooperation in transboundary basins

11:15-13:15 Panel of cases: Sava River Basin Commission (Presentation), Spanish-Portuguese cooperation, Hungary Tisza cooperation (Presentation).

14:30-15:15 Panel of cases: Finland-Russia cooperation

15:15-17:00 Interviewing case presenters on stakeholder cooperation: Jordan, Myanmar,  Basins in decentralized states, Senegal River Basin, Africa

17:00–18:30 Workshop Water Game 
Role play on the value of trust in negotiations

>> Please have a look to the agenda for more details on this session

Examples of transboundary water cooperation

  • The Spanish-Portuguese cooperation on the five main river basins that these countries share, particularly on the negotiation and implementation of the Albufeira Convention, signed in 1998. 
  • The Sava Commission based on the Framework Convention on the Sava River Basin, which was the first agreement signed after the end of the war in the former Yugoslavia.
  • The Finnish Russian Commission which is one of the oldest examples of good transboundary water cooperation. One of the elements of the agreement between the two countries is the Vuoksi discharge rules, which foresee a compensation in case of broad deviation from agreed discharges.
  • Jordan and Israel signed a Peace Treaty in 1994 which provides e.g. for the storing of Jordanian “winter water” in the Lake Tiberias inside of Israel. Israel subsequently releases the water in the dry summer period when Jordan needs it in its urban centres.
  • Hungary Tisza cooperation relates to the close transboundary co-operation between the five states in the Tisza Basin (Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, Serbia) who jointly aim to achieve integrated management of the Tisza River Basin.
  • Mexico- US cooperation have led to an increased access to drinking water, sewerage systems and sanitation services in the Mexican border area in the period 2000-2010.
  • The Senegal River Basin Development Authority (Organisation pour la mise en valeur du fleuve Sénégal) is an organisation formed by Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal to cooperatively manage the Senegal River and its drainage basin.