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New tool to facilitate the assessment of the benefits of transboundary water cooperation

Published: 19 November 2015

Transboundary basins provide numerous services; including drinking and domestic water for over a quarter of the world’s population, support irrigation agriculture and hydropower generation, and play a crucial role in preserving ecosystems and the services they provide. Transboundary water cooperation has the potential to accelerate economic growth, increase human well-being, enhance environmental sustainability and increase political stability. And the higher the level of transboundary water cooperation, the greater the benefits. However, many obstacles prevent or delay countries from embracing effective joint management of transboundary waters, including because of an incomplete or biased perception of the possible benefits. In order to make it easier for Governments and other actors to assess the full scope of the potential benefits of transboundary water cooperation, UNECE is launching a Policy Guidance Note on the Benefits of Transboundary Water Cooperation: Identification, Assessment and Communication.

The publication was adopted yesterday by the Meeting of the Parties to the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention). As cooperation is one of the main obligations under the Convention, countries preparing for accession to or implementing the Convention will benefit from in-depth reflections on what benefits such cooperation can bring. The Policy Guidance Note offers practical and accessible step-by-step advice to enable policymakers and other actors to easily undertake benefit assessments for their country or region through a participatory process. The Secretary‑General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-moon, stressed that the publication “will assist countries and other actors to reap the numerous benefits of joint action, building on experiences in transboundary basins from all over the world. It can also help to support dialogue on the benefits of collaboration, which can unlock situations where neighbourly relations have stalled and broaden and deepen ongoing cooperation.”

Participants welcomed the new publication. Several countries and intergovernmental organizations, such as Germany, the Intergovernmental Agency for Development, the Mekong River Commission, the Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission and Serbia indicated their plans to apply the Policy Guidance Note.

The publication introduces the wide range of benefits and beneficiaries of transboundary water cooperation. Based on the analysis of several case studies, it highlights the economic, social and environmental benefits from improved water management that are commonly considered, but also benefits from enhanced trust, such as the regional economic cooperation, peace and security benefits, which are sometimes missed in a cooperation dialogue. For example, transboundary water cooperation can reduce the often major economic impact of water-related hazards, such as the floods in the Elbe Basin in 2002: in Germany alone the damages were estimated at €9 billion. In the Sava River Basin, in the 1990s, post-conflict management of water served as a starting point for re-establishing trust and cooperation in the region, and resulted in the Framework Agreement on the Sava River Basin, which entered into force in 2004.

In some basins, it is possible to carry out a detailed assessment of economic benefits: for example, it was estimated that the first 30 years of operation of four dams under the Columbia River Treaty between Canada and the United States of America would result in savings of US$ 64 billion in potential flood damages and generate US$ 512 million in hydropower. The nature and the level of details of the assessment phase will, however, vary according to the issues, the cooperation stage and the political will of the Parties involved, and only for a limited number of benefits will it be possible to provide a monetary valuation.

The Policy Guidance Note also underscores the crucial role played by communication in transboundary water cooperation: communication can facilitate stakeholder buy-in in the process and will ensure that the assessment results accelerate the cooperation process.

The publication is available at:

Note to editors

More than 100 experts from national authorities, academia and non-governmental, inter-governmental and international organizations from around the world were involved over the past three years in the development of the Policy Guidance Note. It contains more than 25 case studies from more than 20 river basins.

The primary target audience is senior officials in ministries responsible for foreign affairs, finance, economic development, environment or water, as well as joint bodies for transboundary water management. This guidance note can also serve as important reference document for development cooperation partners and national stakeholders (including relevant business and civil society organizations).

The publication was developed in the framework of the 2013-2015 programme of work of the Water Convention, under the leadership of Estonia, and with financial support from Bulgaria, Estonia, Switzerland and the United Nations Development Programme Shared Waters Partnership.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

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