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Atlas of International Freshwater Agreements
Addressing water problems requires strategic approaches that recognize
the interdependencies among competing demands on a finite resource. An
integrated approach offers a framework in which choices can be made and
reconciled, leading to effective operational actions.
The UNEP Water Policy and Strategy, with three components assessment,
management, and coordination of actions stresses the cross-sectoral
nature of water. One of the goals of the UNEP Water Policy and Strategy
is to identify and promote the tools that will address the critical water
issues facing humanity. Many already exist. International cooperation,
especially among countries sharing water resources, has become more urgent
as it can help address the transboundary nature of many water issues.
Almost half of the Earths land surface lies within international
river basins. The physical, economic and social disparities between riparian
nations that share river basins make their management complex. International
treaties and agreements serve to provide structure to allow nations to
address these disparities within a legal framework. This structure may
provide for joint management and monitoring of the resources to support
sustainable development of the water resources, including management of
water flow, water quality, and infrastructure development. Care must be
taken to ensure that disparities do not translate into unfair inequalities.
Utilizing historical documents, statistical analyses, and maps, the Atlas
presents both a graphic and textual analysis and documentation of the
worlds international basins and their agreements. This Atlas builds
upon knowledge stored in existing environmental legislative databases.
The Oregon State Universitys Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database
provides an effective complement to FAOs legislative database, FAOLEX,
and the joint UNEP, IUCN and FAO gateway to environmental law, ECOLEX.
This Atlas and these open treaty databases yield a better understanding
of existing treaties and treaty development through time, provide a basis
for negotiating new agreements, and organize the underlying knowledge
for improving environmental governance throughout the world. Water crosses
many borders: scientific, political, social, and cultural. Humans have
always had trouble addressing cross-border issues, yet cooperation is
essential. This study offers some information for how to move forward
in a collaborative, cooperative way to develop appropriate policies for
making sure that transboundary water resources issues are identified and
successfully addressed in the coming years.
The water problems confronting humanity on the eve of the World Summit
on Sustainable Development can be solved but we must have the will to
invest in our future.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Water is one of the most widely shared resources on the planet, and the
most vital for human survival after oxygen. It has the capacity to unite
the people and states that share a source of water, and to incite conflict
among them as they compete for it. The latter, reaching the point of water
wars, has become increasingly common in the media, but the contents
of this Atlas show that treaties, not wars, are the norm.
The potential for conflict over shared water resources is real, so it
is important that countries reach agreement. In the process of reaching
agreement, and through the agreement and the mechanisms for consultation
and cooperation frequently created by such agreements, countries manage
conflicting interests, and defuse the potential for conflict to escalate
all the way to the water wars mentioned earlier. That states recognize
the value of such agreements is borne out compellingly by the innumerable
treaties, agreements and conventions made through recorded history in
regard to navigation on, and boundary demarcation along or across, rivers
and lakes. Since the dawn of hydropower and large-scale irrigation development
in the twentieth century, however, the focus of negotiation and of treaty-making
has shifted away from navigation and from boundary demarcation towards
the use, development, protection and conservation of water resources.
The issues requiring negotiation and agreement among states have grown
more complex and intricate, but the practice of seeking a negotiated,
agreed solution has remained.
Water treaties, agreements and conventions abound, but knowledge of them,
and the relevant records, used to be scattered and not always easily accessible.
The United Nations system has perhaps the most extensive experience and
knowledge base regarding such treaties and their negotiation. For example,
the UN International Law Commission (ILC) developed the Convention on
the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, adopted
by the UN General Assembly in May 1997. As a framework treaty, the 1997
Convention will offer binding guidance in the avoidance and resolution
of conflicts when it is ratified by the required number of states. As
early as 1963, the United Nations Secretariat pioneered work on the consolidation
of the then-available water-related treaty record and on its dissemination.
Following on from it, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Nations (FAO) carried out systematic surveys of water-related treaties,
which resulted in a series of publications, respectively in 1978, 1984,
1993, 1995, and 1997. In addition, the full text of contemporary (post-1980)
water-related treaties is now included in FAOLEX, FAOs online legal
database. UNEPs experience in the management of shared water resources
is attested to by its work on the Environmentally Sound Management of
International Water Resources, initiated in 1984. This led, notably, to
the Zambezi Action Plan (ZACPLAN), which is a non-binding instrument adopted
in 1987 by the Zambezi river basin countries.
The Atlas of International Freshwater Agreements is a welcome step in
the consolidation and dissemination of information about shared waters
treaties. This systematic and thorough compilation of the available historical
record of the very many treaties and agreements concluded in regard to
the water resources of rivers and lakes shared across international borders
offers fresh, compelling testimony to water being an agent of cooperation
rather than of conflict. Moreover, the thematic maps featured in the Atlas
help understand why this is so, and add new perspective to that of the
legal records which make up most of the Atlas.
Thanks to its double feature as a reference book and an original instrument
of analysis of water-related treaty-making, the Atlas will be of value
not only to those who study the practice of states in this matter but
also, and above all, to those who fashion such practice and articulate
the negotiating positions which eventually inform it.
Senior Legal Officer
Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations (FAO)
This Atlas simply would not have been possible without the generous assistance
of a number of individuals and institutions, for which we are grateful.
Ashbindu Singh of UNEP, and Eugene A. Fosnight and Kimberly Giese, of
Raytheon (assigned to the UNEP office), were integral collaborators, instrumental
in crafting the document from start to finish. Stefano Burchi at the
UN Food and Agriculture Organization has been an extraordinarily generous
collaborator as well, providing dozens of treaties and supporting documents
as quickly as he acquired them for FAOs own extensive database of
environmental treaties <faolex.fao.org/faolex/index.html>. Likewise,
a number of individuals at the National Geographic Society have been tremendously
helpful: Deirdre Bevington-Attardi, for getting the ball rolling to begin
with and for supporting the effort even when it lagged; Allen Carroll,
for giving much needed institutional support, and Russ Little and Jan
Morris for kind assistance and data support.
At Oregon State University, we are especially grateful to Shira Yoffe
for her careful management of the myriad components of the Transboundary
Freshwater Dispute Database on which this atlas was based, as well as
for her detailed read and helpful suggestions. Becci Dale Anderson served
as project manager and cartographer extraordinaire, generating
visually stimulating maps at the drop of a hat and remaining unflappable
despite way too short a deadline. We are more indebted than we can say
for the commitment of the rest of the research group at OSU as well: Sara
Ashley, Case Bowman, Kuuipo Burleigh, and Kyoko Matsumoto, as well as
to Caryn M. Davis of Cascadia Editing for her layout and editing expertise
and extraordinary patience. Their skill and long hours are immensely appreciated.
Thanks also to Greg Fiske and Jesse Hamner for performing much of the
initial work compiling and preparing data and agreements, and to A. Jon
Kimerling for his help with data conversion and general map critique and
This was also an extraordinarily data-intensive project, which relied
on the generosity of many researchers around the world who are committed
to open distribution of their incredibly rich data sets, among them Mark
Levy, Center for International Earth Science Information Network; Jake
Brunner and Kirsten Thompson, World Resources Institute; Petra Doell,
University of Kassel, Germany; Balazs Fekete, Complex Systems Research
Center, University of New Hampshire; David B. Kynoch, President, Pacific
Northwest GIS Consulting, Inc.; Michael D. Ward, Department of Political
Science, University of Washington (Seattle); Jerome E. Dobson, Oak Ridge
National Laboratory; and Jeff Danielson and Kent Lethcoe, EROS Data Center.
Thanks especially to Jeff Danielson of the EROS Data Center for close
collaboration in the delineation of international basins, with adaption
of the HYDRO1k Elevation Derivative Database <http://edcdaac.usgs.gov/gtopo30/hydro/>.
The authors and collaborating agencies are extremely grateful to UNEPs
Division of Early Warning and Assessment and the Division of Policy Development
and Law, as well as the College of Science at Oregon State University
and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, for funding the development
of this publication.
For updates of this document, and for the full text of most agreements,
see the Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database website at <http://www.transboundarywaters.orst.edu/database/transfreshspatdata.html>.
While we have done the best we can to be inclusive in this document,
it should be noted that neither the authors and contributors, nor their
respective institutions, make any claim as to the exhaustiveness or the
authoritativeness of the information presented.
Aaron T. Wolf
Associate Professor of Geography
Department of Geosciences
Oregon State University, USA
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