Though three more ratifications are needed before the UN Watercourses Convention has the force of law, advocates assert that four countries are close: Ireland, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam.
By Brett Walton
Circle of Blue
So far, 31 countries have signed onto a United Nations treaty governing rivers that are shared by two or more countries. After Cote d’Ivoire’s Parliament approved ratification of the treaty last week, the West African nation will soon become the 32nd.
World Wide Fund for Nature
Cote d’Ivoire shares six rivers with its neighbors, including the Volta River, a branch of which forms the country’s northeast border with Ghana. Cote d’Ivoire is the third country this year — along with Montenegro and Niger — to ratify the treaty, commonly known as the UN Watercourses Convention.
There are 276 river basins that cross international boundaries, but less than half are managed under formal agreements.
To have the force of law, the treaty, which was approved by the United Nations in 1997, needs at least 35 signatories. Only those countries that have ratified the convention will be bound by its principles, which include ecosystem protection, equitable use of the waters, and the sharing of data and information about planned projects.
First Of Its Kind
Back in July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly declared drinking water and sanitation to be undeniable human rights; the Watercourses Convention, however, is the only UN treaty to address shared rivers.
–according to Marie-Laure Vercambre
Green Cross, Water for Life & Peace
Progress on the transboundary treaty stagnated in the early 2000s but accelerated after 2006, when the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a major conservation group, took up the cause.
“Most of our priority places for conservation are drained by international watercourses,” explained Flavia Loures, WWF’s point person for the watercourses initiative, in an interview with Circle of Blue last year. “A lack of cooperation between countries over water resources was preventing us from achieving our goals.”
Several other countries are close to ratifying the treaty, according to Green Cross International, an organization founded by former Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev in 1993 to address global poverty and environmental protection. Green Cross joined WWF as an advocate for the UN Watercourses Convention in 2006.
Marie-Laure Vercambre, director of Green Cross’s Water for Life and Peace Program, specifically named two countries in Europe, one in Asia, and another in Africa.
“The United Kingdom has completed its own national process, and Ireland should do so soon. The UK and Ireland have been coordinating closely on this,” Vercambre wrote in an email to Circle of Blue. “Tanzania and Vietnam are also very advanced in their national processes. [Four more countries] is more than is needed for entry into force. Therefore, we are contemplating imminent entry into force.”
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton