UN Water Treaty Accelerating support

September 5, 2012 in Water Treaty

Progress on the treaty, which deals with transboundary water basins, or those shared by two or more countries, had stalled — until a major conservation group got involved.
By Brett Walton
Circle of Blue
international river basins

Photo courtesy of Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database
According to researchers at Oregon State University, there are 276 river basins that are shared by two or more countries. The UN Watercourses Convention lays out principles for managing these basins.
Fifteen years ago, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a framework convention for bodies of water shared by two or more countries. The UN Watercourses Convention, as it is called, lays out a set of principles that should be addressed when negotiating international water management agreements.
After a burst of ratifications in the early days, followed by a dead period in the mid-2000s when only three countries adopted it in five years, the convention has recently seen new life.
What Is The UN Watercourses Convention?
The convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1997 by a vote of 103-3, with 27 abstentions. The convention’s history, however, reaches much farther back, to 1970, when the General Assembly told its legal arm to develop draft articles relating to the non-navigational uses of rivers.
The body of the convention has 37 articles, and an annex on arbitration holds another 14. The articles address things like sharing information on planned projects, exchanging data on water resources, preventing pollution, and protecting ecosystems.
Just this year, six countries have jumped on board: Benin, Denmark, and Luxembourg have officially approved the convention; Italy has signed everything except for the paperwork at the UN; Ireland and the United Kingdom said in June that they would ratify it.
In all, 27 countries have completed the process, leaving the convention just eight ratifications short of the 35 necessary for it to come into force. When that happens, the ratifying countries will be obligated to follow the convention’s provisions.
Legal experts told Circle of Blue that the convention is important because it sets a standard. Even now, its principles serve as a model. Two river basin agreements signed since 1997 — for the Nile River and for the Southern African Development Community, a regional group of 15 countries — have referred to and copied language from the convention.
“By itself, it won’t resolve anything,” said Joseph Dellapenna, a Villanova University law professor who has helped summarize international water law. “But it will strengthen the hand of those who are negotiating water agreements.”
Alistair Rieu-Clarke, an expert on transboundary water cooperation at the Centre for Water Law, Policy, and Science at the University of Dundee, Scotland, said that each ratification adds to the convention’s persuasive power.
“If enough countries adopt it, we can say the convention is reflective of customary international law,” Rieu-Clarke told Circle of Blue. “The opposite is also true — if it is not in force, countries can question whether it is really necessary to cooperate with core principles, such as notifying basin partners about water development projects and giving them a chance to respond.”
It Needed A Champion
That the convention is even close to 35 signatures is largely due to the work of one organization. In 2006, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a major conservation group, decided to put its weight behind the convention.
“Most of our priority places for conservation are drained by international watercourses,” explained Flavia Loures, WWF’s point person for the watercourses initiative. “A lack of cooperation between countries over water resources was preventing us from achieving our goals.”
“A lack of cooperation between countries over water resources was preventing us from achieving our goals.”

–Flavia Loures, program officer
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)
There are 276 international watercourses, or river basins, shared by two or more countries. Roughly 40 percent of the world’s people live in one of these basins.
“We looked at our on-the-ground work,” Loures told Circle of Blue, “and asked, ‘What could we add to that, to strengthen water governance?’”
The answer, it turns out, would be obvious to a political strategist.
The convention needed a lobbyist, someone to cut through the noise and bring the message directly to national governments — after all, they are the ones responsible for ratification and are sometimes oblivious to the sausage being cranked out at UN headquarters in New York.
“The convention never really had a champion for the cause back in 1997,” said Rieu-Clarke, who has helped WWF research why there was widespread support in the UN General Assembly but just a handful of ratifications.
Back then, the convention was lost in the congestion of a few frenetic years of international treaty-making, Rieu-Clarke said. The 1990s saw international treaties on climate change, desertification, and biodiversity, plus the Kyoto Protocol for greenhouse gas emissions and the Rio Declaration on principles of sustainable development.
Contentious and Controversial
The most contentious articles deal with water-sharing and avoiding harm. Article 5 states that countries should use water “in an equitable and reasonable manner,” while Article 7 says that countries should prevent “significant harm” to others in the basin.
This is a problem when new users — generally those in the upper reaches of a basin — want to use more water, and countries downstream do not want to let go of their historical entitlement. The classic example is the Nile River Basin, where upstream Ethiopia wants to build dams and expand its irrigated acreage, while downstream Egypt, fearing for its national security and economy, maintains that doing so would cut down the flow of the Nile, its lifeline.
The watercourses convention, though it covers aquifers connected to river systems, does not address confined aquifers that cross national borders.
Confined aquifers — such as the massive Nubian system in North Africa — are surrounded by impermeable rock and do not receive water. The General Assembly will consider draft articles governing these aquifers in 2013.
“Maybe the watercourses convention was one convention too many,” he surmised.
In any case, Loures and Rieu-Clarke did find that many government officials were simply unaware of what the watercourses convention was or did. So WWF began holding workshops with government ministries in places like West Africa and Central America.
Ratification Process
“The convention is now in the spotlight,” Loures said. “Countries are talking about it.”
The length of the ratification process varies. Loures said that Nigeria — which marked it a priority — sped through ratification in a matter of months. In Benin, however, almost five years passed before Parliament approved the convention.
Any number of obstacles can disrupt ratification. National elections can distract government officials and internal political chaos, as was the case in Guinea-Bissau in 2010, can push a water treaty far down on the domestic to-do list.
But the convention is now on a relatively clear path. Loures said that at least five more countries–the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Niger and Senegal–appear to be on track to complete the process in the next few months. That would bring the number of parties to 32. Another five countries, she said, are working a bit slower.
In a perfect world, the convetion would come into force next year, which the UN has declared the International Year of Water Cooperation. A nice bit of symmetry for a treaty long in the making.
Author: Brett Walton

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Egypt, Sudan contingency plans to secure Nile water resources from Ethiopian Dam -WeakiLeakes

September 2, 2012 in Egypt's contingency plan against the Dam, Water Crisis

Nile watershed topography
Hundreds of millions of people in the Nile basin area depend on the Nile’s water.  Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi (the ten “Nile basin countries”) all depend on this vital resource, but a 1929 treaty with the UK endowed Egypt with veto powers over upstream water-related projects in neighboring countries.  In 1997, the Nile Basin initiative was lau nched to negotiate an equitable water-sharing treaty between the nations, but to date Egypt and Sudan have refused to sign proposed agreements. Since 2010, six of the basin states have signed an agreement that would reduce Egypt’s share of the Nile water; under a treaty between Sudan and the UK from 1959, Egypt is entitled to 55.5 billion cubic meters of water annually – 66% of the Nile’s annual flow.  More recently, E thiopia has launched dam construction projects around the country in the hopes of harnessing outflows to generate electricity for domestic use and export, but possible fluctuations in downstream water supplies have caused alarm in Egypt and Sudan. In May 2011, Ethiopia publicly announced a project to build a hydroelectric power dam on the Blue Nile river, which flows into neighboring Sudan and on into Egypt. An internal email written in 2010 at the private intelligence firm Stratfor, obtained byWikiLeaks, cites Egyptian diplomatic sources as saying that following an Egyptian request to station commandos in Sudan, Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir had agreed for a small airbase to be built in the Kursi region of the country. The airbase was to be used as a relay point for a possible military assault by Mubarak-regime Egypt on Blue Nile hydroelectric facilities.  Stratfor’s sources emphasized that Egypt only planned to use these options if all diplomatic efforts failed. Another Stratfor source from Egypt, identified only as a “security/intel source keeping close direct contacts with Mubarak and Suleiman” (described by Stratfor analysts as having “A-level” reliability and “level 2″ credibility) revealed that Ethiopia was the only upper Nile country who was not cooperating with Egypt/Sudan.  Asked about Sudanese and Egyptian military cooperation, he said, “Yes, we are discussing military cooperation with Sudan.  We have a strategic pact with the Sudanese since in any crisis over the Nile, Sudan gets hit first then us.  We can’t afford that.”  The source also explained how Egypt would respond to the building of a large dam by Ethiopia after all diplomacy options fail:

If it comes to a crisis, we will send a jet to bomb the dam and come back in one day, simple as that. Or we can send our special forces in to block/sabotage the dam. But we aren’t going for t he military option now. This is just contingency planning. Look back to an operation Egypt did in the mid-late 1970s, i think 1976, when Ethiopia was trying to build a large dam. We blew up the  equipment while it was traveling by sea to Ethiopia. A useful case study.

Blue Nile River near Ethiopia’s Lake Tana. The Egyptian ambassador to Lebanon, another source, told Stratfor analysts that Egypt would do anything to prevent South Sudan from gaining independence in March 2010. The ambassador believed the Nile issue was so important that Egypt could not afford to deal with two separate Sudans on the issue. According to the ambassador, Egypt even tried to urge the Arab League to cooperate and invest in Southern Sudan so the Southerners would choose to remain united with the North at the 2011 referendum.  At the same time, Ethiopia was working to aid South Sudan in gaining its independence, confident that a new South Sudan state would side with the upper Nile countries, led by Ethiopia, on the Nile dispute. A later email in July 2010 cites the same ambassador as saying that Egypt had given up its hopes on South Sudan’s unity with the North, and that the Egyptian government planned to shower South Sudan with aid and money once the new state declared independence. Reports in the past few months, including the August report of Egypt’s cash flow to South Sudan, have shown Egypt giving aid to be used for irrigation development. The death of Ethiopia’s long time Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on August 20, 2012 is suspected to bring certain new challenges to a resolution of the Nile water dispute. Written by @NoelClyde1 and edited by WikiLeaks Press