World Water Day celebrates water cooperation: UNECE Water Convention set to make a difference by supporting action on the ground

In the International Year of Water Cooperation (2013), World Water Day (22 March) will also celebrate the theme of water cooperation, focusing on enhancing cooperation and building partnerships at the local, national and transboundary levels to address freshwater-related challenges. The official celebrations organized by the United Nations and the Government of the Netherlands in The Hague will address both water cooperation and the outcomes from the Thematic Consultation on Water in the post-2015 development agenda. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), represented by its Executive Secretary, Mr. Sven Alkalaj, is participating prominently in these festivities.

A Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Water, organized in The Hague on 21 March, in the lead up to the World Water Day celebrations, brought together leaders from business, civil society and religious groups to debate, building on the recent Global Thematic Consultation on Water. UNECE has already led five rounds of regional sub-consultations to feed into the overall recommendations on any water-related Sustainable Development Goals — the final objective of the Thematic Consultation on Water.

A major player in developing regional water cooperation for over 20 years now, the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) will gain new momentum this year as an instrument of international water cooperation: on 6 February 2013 amendments opening the Convention to accession by countries outside the UNECE region came into force. As soon as at the end of 2013, countries from outside the pan-European region are expected to be able to accede to the Water Convention. This will expand the scope of this effective institutional platform into a major global support for transboundary water cooperation.

One example of the UNECE Water Convention’s ability to foster cooperation is the step-by-step development of cooperation between Tajikistan — the initiator of the proposal for the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation — and Afghanistan in the upper Amu Darya River Basin. A bilateral meeting supported by UNECE will be held from 25–28 March in Dushanbe with the objective to establish a framework for cooperation on environment and hydrology. A highlight of the meeting will be the presentation of a “Visual Atlas for Cooperation”.

Another example is the new treaty between Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova on cooperation in the Dniester River Basin, signed in November 2012, which was supported by UNECE and partners. Water supply for drinking water, flood management and protection of ecosystems are important challenges in this cooperation. A bilateral agreement on the management of the Kura River between Azerbaijan and Georgia is also being developed with UNECE assistance, and will be important as a framework for consultations in connection with expansion of hydropower as well as to increase the understanding of water quality management. When signed, this agreement will be an important example for the Caucasus and the entire Kura Basin, where political conflicts too often obstruct water cooperation.  Another major advancement in water cooperation in a sub-region with a history of conflicts — the Balkans ‒ is the on-going  implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Strategic Shared Vision for the Sustainable Management of the Drin Basin by the riparian that signed it in November 2011, also supported by the Convention. 

For further information please visit:
or contact:
Ms. Francesca Bernardini
UNECE Water Convention Secretariat
Phone: +41 (0)22 917 2463


Note to Editors:

Good management of water as a shared resource requires cooperation due to its irregular availability in space and time, and due to the complex effects that the use and development of water resources may produce. Water management needs to take into account a wide variety of conflicting interests but this also provides opportunities for cooperation among users. In designating 2013 as the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation (Resolution A/RES/65/154), the United Nations General Assembly recognizes that cooperation is essential to strike a balance between the different needs and priorities and share water equitably. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is the lead agency of the Year, in collaboration with UNECE. Promoting water cooperation implies an interdisciplinary approach bringing in religious, ethical, social, political, legal, institutional and economic dimensions, among others.

The UNECE Water Convention’s central aim is to strengthen measures at the local, national and transboundary levels to protect and ensure the quantity, quality and sustainable use of transboundary water resources — both surface waters and groundwaters. The Convention takes a holistic approach, based on the understanding that water resources play an integral part in ecosystems as well as in human societies and economies. Today, 38 UNECE countries and the European Union participate in the Convention.

The Convention requires countries to fulfil certain obligations, from observing general principles to implementing concrete actions. The Convention requires Riparian Parties (Parties bordering the same transboundary waters) to enter into specific bilateral or multilateral agreements and to create institutions — joint bodies such as river and lake commissions — to meet these responsibilities. Other specific obligations include establishment and implementation of joint programmes for monitoring the conditions of transboundary waters and, at regular intervals, to carry out joint or coordinated assessments of the condition of transboundary waters and the effectiveness of measures taken to prevent, control and reduce transboundary impacts.

The Convention has provided a framework and reference for institutionalizing transboundary cooperation after the break-up of the Soviet Union and of the former Yugoslavia. It has also helped the Central and Eastern European countries to develop the protection of shared waters and related transboundary cooperation in the run-up to the 2004 enlargement of the European Union (EU) in. Most recently, the Convention has been central to promoting transboundary cooperation on the ground, especially in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, where conflicting interests in water and shortcomings of the institutional frameworks are constant challenges.