International legal water cooperation

International cooperation implies joint actions of international law (IL) entities in any area of mutual interests, their activity for harmonization of positions, coordination of actions, solution of mutually important problems and making of mutually acceptable decisions.

International legal water cooperation is maintained as part of international legal cooperation between IL entities as a whole and, particularly, within the framework of international environmental cooperation and also through signature of special bi- and multilateral agreement on transboundary water use and protection.

The underlying principles of international environmental cooperation formulated in the Stockholm Declaration (1972) include three basic points:

  1. First principle (main): States have the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.
  2. Second principle: The natural resources of the earth, including the air, water, land, flora and fauna and especially representative samples of natural ecosystems, must be safeguarded for the benefit of present and future generations through careful planning or management, as appropriate.
  3. Third principle: The non-renewable resources of the earth must be employed in such a way as to guard against the danger of their future exhaustion and to ensure that benefits from such employment are shared by all mankind.

Later, the principles of international environmental cooperation were supplemented by the World Charter for Nature approved by the UN General Assembly (28.10. 1982). Particularly, it contained the following points:

  1. Living resources shall not be utilized in excess of their natural capacity for regeneration.
  2. The productivity of soils shall be maintained or enhanced.
  3. Non-renewable resources which are consumed as they are used shall be exploited with restraint, taking into account their abundance, the rational possibilities of converting them for consumption, and the compatibility of their exploitation with the functioning of natural systems.
  4. Resources, including water, which are not consumed as they are used shall be reused or recycled.
  5. Activities which are likely to cause irreversible damage to nature shall be avoided.

The UN Conference on environment and development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (3-14 June 1992) became the turning point in international environmental cooperation. The Rio Conference made the conclusion that the current market- and consumption-oriented patterns in a number of developed countries lead to death of all humankind. In this context, the countries declared a need to shift to sustainable development that balances socio-economic development and environmental conservation and meets the basic vital needs of the present generation without compromising such opportunities for future generations.

The main forms of international water cooperation are:

  1. International organizations;
  2. Treaties, agreements, conventions;
  3. Initiatives (governmental, of international organizations) on international water cooperation.

Involvement in activities of international organizations is one of most active forms of international cooperation. The aim is to ensure consideration of national environmental and related interests in international cooperation agenda.

The most authoritative international intergovernmental organization is the United Nations (UN) organization. Nature protection is one of important areas of its activity.

UN plays a leading role in formulation of international environmental policy, including global and regional water policy, and in coordination of environmental activities of the states at global level. UN has special international environmental agencies in its structure.

The most serious global environmental challenges, such as climate change, environmental pollution, deforestation, etc. that affect water resources are tackled within the framework of UN.

For example, UN-Water aims to implement the Agenda set in the Millennium Declaration of 2000 and at the World Summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg (2002) in the area of water and sanitation.

UN-Water coordinates efforts of almost 30 UN entities, including:

  1. WMO — World Meteorological Organization
  2. FAO — Food and Agricultural Organization
  3. WHO — World Health Organization (chairman)
  4. IFAD — International Fund for Agricultural Development
  5. Convention to Combat Desertification
  6. UNITAR — UN Institute for Training and Research
  7. UNESCO — UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

In particular, UNESCO implements ambitious water initiatives and programs. The UNESCO society for water resources includes:

  1. Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme (IHP).
  2. UNESCO Institute for Water Education (UNESCO-IHE).
  3. Network of 18 water-related centers under the auspices of UNESCO.
  4. World Water Assessment Programme, which unites 30 UN agencies and issues annual world water development reports.
  5. UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme.

Various international organizations directly dealing with water focus on the development of water cooperation also:

  1. World Water Council
  2. Asia-Pacific Water Forum
  3. International Network of Basin Organizations
  4. International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage
  5. International Water Resources Association
  6. International Commission on Large Dams, etc.

Participation in relevant global and regional treaties is an important tool of water cooperation.

General treaties may include also the matters of water sharing. For example, many treaties on state frontiers contain, as a rule, the norms on the use of border water resources.

Special treaties contain the norms on cooperation of the parties on concrete watercourses and issues.

For example, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (New York, 1992) is a general treaty that concerns water resources indirectly only. Whereas, the Convention on the use and protection of transboundary watercourses and international lakes (Helsinki, 1992) is a special treaty that promotes national and international measures for transboundary water protection and efficient use.

Source (in Russian):
Международное сотрудничество в области природопользования и охраны окружающей среды
International water organizations
Принцип международного сотрудничества (Para 7)
Основные этапы и принципы международного экологического сотрудничества
ЮНЕСКО → Естественные науки → Вода → Водное сотрудничество

Author: Rysbekov Yu. Kh., SIC ICWC