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Management of transboundary groundwaters

The scope of application of the Water Convention includes groundwaters which are intersected by State boundaries, whether in confined or unconfined aquifers, even if those groundwaters are not connected to international watercourses. The issue of transboundary groundwater management has always been high on the priorities of work under the Water Convention.

In 2012, the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention adopted the Model Provisions on Transboundary Groundwaters aiming to facilitate the application of the principles of the Convention to transboundary groundwaters and to improve transboundary cooperation in groundwater management.  The Model Provisions build on experience worldwide, including the UN International Law Commission’s Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifer.

Support to the management of transboundary groundwaters is currently provided under different activities, in particular:

Supporting intersectoral dialogues and assessments for transboundary groundwater management through the application of the water-food-energy-ecosystems nexus approach

The Convention promotes the application of the water-food-energy-ecosystems nexus approach in transboundary groundwater management. Since 2017, the Water Convention secretariat, GWP-Med and OSS are supporting a participatory assessment of intersectoral trade-offs and synergies in managing the transboundary North-West Sahara Aquifer System (NWSAS) in close cooperation with the aquifer-sharing countries, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia. The final basin workshop was held in June 2019 in Tunisia. The NWSAS Nexus Assessment Report, including the findings from the analysis, outcomes of the participatory process, and related recommendations is expected to be available as of 2020.

Focus on groundwater under the reporting on Sustainable Development Goal indicator 6.5.2 and under the Convention

Both the reporting under the Convention and the reporting on indicator 6.5.2 monitor progress in the management of transboundary groundwaters. SDG indicator 6.5.2, adopted in July 2017 by the General Assembly as part of the global indicator framework for the SDGs, measures the ‘proportion of transboundary basin area within a country covered by an operational arrangement for water cooperation’, including the area of river and lake basins, and aquifers. The indicator thus covers transboundary cooperation in both surface and groundwater contexts. 

The regular reporting mechanism under the Convention, introduced in 2015, aims to review and enhance implementation of the Convention and identify needs and gaps in transboundary cooperation. The template for reporting, in the form of a questionnaire, monitors the status of national implementation of the Convention looking at all transboundary basins, rivers, lakes or aquifers.

Results from the 2017 reporting cycle show that cooperation on transboundary aquifers is lagging behind, as highlighted in the reports Progress on transboundary water cooperation: Global baseline for SDG indicator 6.5.2’ and ‘Progress on Transboundary Water Cooperation under the Water Convention’.

Supporting the development of agreements and the establishment of joint bodies for transboundary groundwater management

Activities under the Water Convention Secretariat support projects in transboundary basins that support the development or revision of transboundary water cooperation agreements and arrangements for transboundary cooperation in both surface and groundwater management. For example, in February 2019, a roundtable on transboundary collaboration on the Senegalo-Mauritanian Aquifer System brought together the four aquifer States, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania and Senegal, and the main transboundary basin organizations of the region, the Senegal River Basin Development Organization and the Gambia River Development Organization. It facilitated an exchange on shared aquifer management issues and the identification of possible options for cooperation to promote the sustainable management and use of the aquifer, as a first step towards strengthening cooperation.

Prior to 2014, significant work on monitoring and assessment of transboundary groundwaters had been carried out within the framework of the First and Second Assessment of Transboundary Rivers, Lakes and Groundwaters. Additional useful guidance for the management of transboundary groundwaters can be found in the Strategies for Monitoring and Assessment of Transboundary Rivers, Lakes and Groundwaters (2006) and the Monitoring and Assessment: Transboundary groundwater guidelines (2001).

Groundwater management is also addressed in the Water Convention’s Protocol on Water and Health. The Protocol sets out the obligations for its Parties in the areas of water supply and sanitation which require respective action for the management and protection of groundwaters that, whether in domestic or transboundary aquifers, should be considered as one of the sources of water supply.