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

The Water Convention

The UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (the Water Convention) promotes cooperation on transboundary surface and ground waters and strengthens their protection and sustainable management.

The Convention obliges Riparian Parties to prevent, control and reduce transboundary impact, use transboundary waters in a reasonable and equitable way and ensure their sustainable management. Parties bordering the same transboundary waters shall cooperate by entering into specific agreements and establishing joint bodies. The Convention includes provisions on monitoring, research and development, consultations, warning and alarm systems, mutual assistance, and exchange of information, as well as access to information by the public.

The work under the Convention contributes to:

  1. Strengthening cooperation and prevention of conflicts over transboundary waters;
  2. Promoting sound water management and protection at national level; and
  3. Implementation of integrated water resources management.

Parties to the Water Convention

The Water Convention has 39 Parties: the European Union (EU) and 38 countries from the UNECE region - Albania, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

In the 20 years since its adoption in 1992, the Water Convention has provided a legal framework and an intergovernmental platform for the promotion of cooperation and sustainable management of water resources in the pan-European region. Its implementation has facilitated the adoption of better policies for the management of water resources resulting in an overall improvement of their status. During the past two decades, the pan-European region has become the most advanced in terms of cooperation on transboundary waters. By now, almost all the countries of the pan-European region have taken measures to establish cooperation on their shared waters, have entered into bilateral and multilateral agreements and have established joint bodies for transboundary water cooperation.

Going global after 20 years of successful water cooperation

The Water Convention started as a regional convention. It was negotiated by the Member States of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and signed in Helsinki on 17 March 1992. It entered into force on 9 October 1996.

In 2003, driven by the desire to promote transboundary water cooperation worldwide the Parties to the Water Convention amended the Convention to make it possible for any United Nations Member State to accede to this instrument.

The 2003 amendmentPDF document to the Convention opening it for accession by any United Nations Member State enters into force on 6 February 2013. On 30 November 2012 the Convention's Meeting of the Parties in Rome took a landmark decision allowing for accession by non-UNECE countries through the same procedures as for UNECE member States, once the amendment is in force for all States and organizations the were Parties to the Convention in 2003. It is envisaged that non-UNECE States will be able to accede to the Convention as of end of 2013.

This "global opening" of the Water Convention will be a major contribution to the International Year of Water Cooperation. It is expected to coincide with the entry into force of the 1997 Watercourses Convention.

For this reason the Meeting of the Parties to the Water Convention included in its work programme for 2013-2015 the activities to ensure synergies and coordination with the 1997 Watercourses Convention.

Since 2009, over 22 non-UNECE countries have participated in activities under the Water Convention, recognizing its relevance and role also beyond the UNECE region. 18 non-UNECE States took part in the sixth Meeting of the Parties (Rome, 28-30 November 2012). During that meeting, Iraq and Tunisia have expressed their strong interest in joining the Water Convention as soon as possible.

The Water Convention is applied in very different settings and conditions. It is implemented in water-rich as well as water-scarce countries. As the level of ambition of the implementation required is proportionate to the capacity and means of Parties, the Convention is ratified and implemented by developed and wealthy countries as well as countries with economies in transition. As the Convention is based on equality and reciprocity, its Parties are both upstream and downstream countries.

A supportive institutional framework

An important strength of the Water Convention lies in its institutional framework, based on the Meeting of the Parties (MOP), its subsidiary bodies such as working groups and task forces, and a permanent secretariat. That institutional framework assists Parties in implementation and progressive development of the Convention, including exchange of experience and good practices, elaboration of guidelines and recommendations, the development of legally binding protocols and capacity building. In other words, a Party is not left alone to implement the Convention: its needs and expectations may be brought to the attention of the MOP and its subsidiary bodies.

The work under the Water Convention is very dynamic and responds to the challenges faced by Parties. Work under the Convention is intense in water-stressed regions, such as Central Asia and South Eastern Europe, and addresses emerging issues such as climate change.

The Water Convention partners with numerous international and non-governmental organizations to foster transboundary water cooperation and management. The International Water Assessment Centre — the Convention's collaborative centre based in Bratislava — is another important operational asset. Finally, non-Parties also participate in many activities under the Convention and can request assistance so that they can accede to it and implement its provisions.

Facilitating higher environmental standards and national water sector reforms

The Water Convention has provided an invaluable framework to support the step-by-step approximation of legislation of the Central and Eastern European countries that acceded to the EU in the 2004 and 2007 enlargements. The challenge facing those countries was to bring their legislation and regulations up to EU environmental standards. The Convention also provided an important platform for the building of capacity and the exchange of experiences between old and new EU member States as well as neighboring non-EU countries. For example, through the National Policy Dialogues, the Convention has facilitated national water sector reforms in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, in line with principles of EU water-related directives.

Read more about the Water Convention, its guidance documents, regular assessments, activities on water and climate change and prevention of industrial accidents, projects in South Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia, or contact