Research Guide on Transboundary Freshwater Treaties and Other Resources
By Barbara H. Bean
Barbara H. Bean is a Reference and Public Services Librarian at Michigan State University College of Law, East Lansing, Michigan. She holds a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center and a Master’s of Science in Information Science from the University at Albany, New York.
Published April 2007
Table of Contents
II. Water Basics
The most common substance on earth, water covers seventy percent of the earth's surface. It is a renewable, but finite resource. Less than three percent of the world's water is fresh, most of that is trapped in glaciers or inaccessible snow cover. Fresh water is essential to all aspects of human activity: agriculture, industry, energy production, and to life itself.
Approximately 260 of the world’s river basins, with a majority of the world’s freshwater flow, cross or create international political boundaries. 145 countries, with close to half of the world’s population, are located in international river basins. Although conflicts over water resources date back thousands of years, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the essential role water plays in sustaining human civilization, the nations have found a way to cooperate in sharing and managing water resources. In addition to global conventions and rules governing the use of water resources, hundreds of regional treaties and agreements exist between and among nations, covering a wide range of issues, from border security and navigation to hydro-electric power and water quality and water quantity. Many treaties contain mechanisms for conflict resolution and many establish international commissions for water resource management.
In addition to surface water contained in lakes and rivers, the vast majority of the earth’s freshwater consists of groundwater held in underground aquifers. Although a “hidden resource”, groundwater serves the basic needs of more than half the world’s population and may be the only source of water in arid and semi-arid countries. A far smaller number of international agreements that address the use and sharing of groundwater resources are in place; international principles are still being developed.
Selected resources containing terminology, water data and information about world water resources.
- United States Geologic Survey (USGS): Glossary of Hydrologic Terms
- Pacific Institute: The World’s Water: Water Data
- International River Basins
- Pacific Institute: The World’s Water: Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources
- Convention and Statute on the Regime of Navigable Waterways of International Concern (Barcelona, April 20, 1921), 7 LNTS 36
- Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar, February 2, 1971), 996 UNTS 245
- Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Helsinki 1992), 31 ILM 1312 (1992) UN Doc E/ECE/1267
- Protocol on Water and Health to the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes
- United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UN General Assembly, May 21, 1997), 36 ILM 700; UN Doc a/51/869
Some agreements also may be found in general treaty collections such as the United Nations Treaty Collection.
- IUCN - the World Conservation Union, International Water Governance: Conservation of Freshwater Ecosystems, Vol. 1 International Agreements, Compilation and Analysis (2004). Includes: place and date, signatories, geographical area covered, primary focus area, provisions most relevant to ecosystems conservation, institutional framework and source.
- Waterlex - Searchable database of international water agreements maintained by the FAO.
- International Freshwater Treaties Database maintained at Oregon State University. Searchable database includes links to many of the treaties described in the database.
- Groundwater in International Law: Compilation of Treaties and other Legal Instruments , FAO Legislative Study #86 (2005)
- International Law Association - Berlin Rules on Water Resources
- International Law Association - Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers
- International Law Association – The Seoul Rules on International Groundwaters (1986)
· Topics Completed: Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses (Topic 8.3)
· Topics under consideration: Shared Natural Resources (includes draft convention on transboundary aquifers) (Topic 8.5)
Sources of International Water Law
Legislative Study 65(1998)
Documents governing the development and management of international watercourses: rivers, lakes and underground aquifers formed or traversed by the international border between or among sovereign states. Updates and replaces “The Law of International Water Resources”, FAO Legislative Study 23 (1980).
Sources of International Law Association Rules on
Excerpts from various legal instruments that support the approach of the Rules, and indicate trends in customary international law.
Analysis of the interface between land tenure and water rights.
- FAO Water Law and Standards Database (developed jointly with the WHO)
- UNESCO Water Portal
- UNEP Freshwater Portal
- Global International Waters Assessment
- IUCN (World Conservation Union)
- International Water Law Project
- Pacific Institute
- Worldwatch Institute
- World Water Council
- CA Water Info (Information Portal for Water and Environmental Issues in Central Asia)
Management of transboundary water resources is sometimes delegated to a regional commission. Listed below are commissions for which websites were located.
- Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization ( Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela)
- Autonomous Binational Authority of the Basin of Lake Titicaca (Bolivia, Peru) (Spanish)
- Border River Commission between Finland and Sweden (Finland, Sweden)
- Finnish Norwegian Transboundary Water Commission (Finland, Norway)
- Guadiana River Commission (Spain, Portugal) (Spanish)
- Intergovernmental Coordinating Committee of the River Plate Basin Countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay) (Spanish and Portuguese)
- International Boundary and Waters Commission (United States and Mexico)
- International Commission for the Protection of Lake Geneva (France, Switzerland)
- International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine)
- International Commission for the Protection of the Elbe (Germany, Czech Republic)
- International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine (Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland)
- International Joint Commission (United States and Canada)
- International Meuse Commission (Belgium, France) (French, Dutch, German)
- International Sava River Basin Commission (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Yugoslavia)
- Interstate Coordination Water Commission ( Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan)
- Lesotho Highlands Water Project (Lesotho, South Africa)
- Mekong River Commission (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam)
- Moselle Commission (France, Germany, Luxembourg) (French, German)
- Nile Basin Initiative (Burundi, D.R. Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Rwanda Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya)
- Organization of Cooperation for the Development of the Gambia River Basin (French)
- Organization for the Development of the Senegal River (Mali, Mauritania, Senegal) (French)
- Peipsi Center for Transboundary Cooperation (Estonia, Russia) (Estonian)
- Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
- Uruguay River Management Commission (Argentina, Uruguay) (Spanish)
- Zambezi River Authority (Zambia, Zimbabwe)
- List of International River Basin Organizations
International Court of Justice
Judgment in Case Concerning the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Project
(September 25, 1997)
37 I.L.M. 162 (1998)
- International Water Events Database : 1948-1999 maintained by Oregon State University
- Pacific Institute: Water Conflict Chronology
- Water Conflict Bibliography