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Transboundary initiatives and river basin agreements

Freshwater resources are widely shared among nations, regions and communities. International river basins account for nearly half the planet’s land surface, and host about 40 per cent of the world’s population (UNEP 2002d). However, a common, long-term vision of transboundary water systems, needed for their efficient, environmentally-sustainable management and use, is still lacking in many cases. There is inevitably the potential for conflict over the shared use of these resources. On the plus side, the increasing number of river basin agreements offers a platform for collaboration that can lead to a more equitable and sustainable use of shared freshwater resources. A recent report highlighted the need for countries to share freshwater as a major force for peace and cooperation, noting that the historical norm has been to establish treaties, rather than resort to armed conflicts over this issue (UNEP 2002d).

There are 263 rivers that cross or demarcate international boundaries (UNEP 2002d). Issues involved in sharing transboundary freshwater resources have grown more complex over time.
The process of reaching agreements on international water systems, and the mechanisms created therein for consultation and cooperation, provide countries with a means of managing conflicting interests over shared freshwater resources. Organizations such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Southern African Development Community
(SADC) have brokered agreements and protocols, including the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Water Courses and International Lakes (1992) and the Protocol on Shared Watercourse Systems in the Southern African Development Community (2000). In 2003, the meeting of the Forum of Ministers of Latin America and the Caribbean also defined management of water resources as a priority area for cooperation toward sustainable development of the region (Box 10).

Box 10: LAC environment ministers place water high on the agenda

The 14th Meeting of the Forum of Ministers of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) defined the management of water resources as one of the priorities in the implementation of the LAC Initiative for Sustainable Development. A decision adopted during their November meeting in Panama City recognizes water as an essential resource for life and economic development, and highlights activities such as tourism and agricultural irrigation.

In reaffirming the internationally-agreed target to halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of people with no sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation, the ministers committed their countries to initiatives for integrated management of water resources through watershed management. They guaranteed the active participation of all stakeholders, especially through the creation of watershed councils or local management bodies, and through workshops.

Furthermore they committed their countries to promote:

user friendly and accessible technologies to prevent water loss and pollution by fostering sound water use and sanitation;
the identification and evaluation of groundwater resources in arid regions as an alternative for guaranteeing access to water in terms of quality and quantity;
incentives and economic instruments for the protection of natural resources (forests and water), such as economic compensation for public and private stakeholders who contribute to conservation of the environment; and
The adoption of integrated planning approaches that take into account the linkages between land use, watershed and coastal zone management, especially for the region’s Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Source: UNEP 2003b 

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