Law Division

Water Law


A key concern facing nations today is how to ensure that both people and the natural environment have adequate freshwater to sustain and nourish their existence. In many parts of the world, communities actually compete with nature for dwindling supplies, to the detriment of both. Most often, though, water for the environment is not a priority in water management practices, the result of which has gravely impacted the natural environment, especially the aquatic environment.


One of the pivotal legal challenges for governments is to overcome the need for human demand-side competition and to find ways to harmonize the water requirements of people with those of the natural environment. Potentially, the most effective means for achieving such harmonization is to integrate environmental concerns into national and international water laws and policies.

In particular, transboundary freshwater resources account for 60 per cent of global freshwater flow, but more than half of international river basins lack any type of cooperative frameworks and only one fifth of those include all riparian states. Moreover, current arrangements are often geared towards meeting human demand at the expense of the environment. Hence, there is a particular need to strengthen legal frameworks.


To respond to the growing legal issues concerning transboundary watercourses, UNEP, in close cooperation with International Network of Basin Organizations (INBO) and the Royal Thai Government, is organizing the first International Environment Forum for Basin Organizations, which is scheduled to take place in Bangkok, Thailand, from 26 to 28 November 2014.  The aim of the Forum is to strengthen transboundary freshwater governance and ensuring the environmental sustainability of these vital resources.

The Forum will create a global platform for basin organizations - as well as other relevant actors such as international financial institutions, secretariats of multilateral environmental agreements and other UN Agencies - to work together towards stronger governance and management of transboundary freshwater bodies through the adequate integration of environmental considerations and responses to challenges faced by freshwater basins.

The expected outcomes of the Forum include:

  • The establishment of a regular platform for basin organizations to debate and work towards improving the governance and management of transboundary freshwater resources;
  • Strengthened legal, policy, financial and institutional mechanisms to support basin organizations in meeting environmental challenges for both surface and groundwater resources;
  • Priority actions to strengthen the ecosystems in transboundary basins applicable to both surface and groundwater resources identified by stakeholders; and
  • Increased political and institutional support to international cooperative frameworks for the sustainable management of transboundary basins.

DELC has also produced a publication entitled the ‘Greening of Water Law’. This comprehensive handbook for national, regional and international stakeholders in freshwater resources explores the notion and the benefits of a greater integration of environmental aspects into water law and policy making by presenting and assessing a variety of legal, procedural and policy mechanisms, for both national and international arenas, that can help to elevate the status and importance of environmental concerns in relation to other societal interests and harmonize the water needs of both people and the natural environment.

To help raise awareness and about the ‘Greening of Water Law’, DELC is also organising a series of regional conferences with the aim of promoting the integration of the environmental dimension in national water laws and raise the understanding on the benefits of “greening” national water laws.  The first such regional meeting, The Greening of Water Law in Africa, was held in Kampala, Uganda, from 17 to 19 November, 2010.