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Latin American countries confirm interest in the Water Convention and its tools for transboundary water cooperation

Approximately 71% of the total surface water flow in Latin America is derived from shared basins, which cover 55% of the total area of the region. In South America, international basins provide 75% of the total flow, and in Mexico and Central America, 24%. Increasing impacts from climate change — ranging from growing water scarcity to more frequent and destructive floods — coupled with mounting pollution and degrading ecosystems, means that transboundary cooperation and collective actions are crucial and urgent for the region to ensure sustainable development.

More than 80 participants representing governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and academia from 16 Latin American countries gathered in Campeche, Mexico, on 3 and 4 October 2016 at a workshop to discuss transboundary water cooperation and the role of the global water conventions, in a workshop organized by UNECE and the National Water Commission of Mexico (CONAGUA), in cooperation with partners.

Recently, the face of international water law changed with the entry into force of the Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses (Watercourses Convention), and the global opening of the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention), open to accession by any United Nations Member State as of 1 March 2016. These events offer new tools and opportunities to Latin American countries to strengthen their cooperation and the sustainable management of their transboundary waters.

The synergies provided by the two complementary international water conventions are particularly timely in the light of the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which recognizes the key role of water for sustainable development, poverty reduction and peaceful societies. In particular, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, on clean water and sanitation for all, underlines the importance of transboundary cooperation. As pointed out by Salomon Abedrop Lopez, Deputy Director General for Planning of CONAGUA, in his opening statement “water cooperation is an instrument for peace and negotiation”.

The workshop reviewed the main principles of international water law and discussed how those principles have been translated into practice through examples in Latin America and in the pan-European region, addressing main cooperation challenges, such as institution and trust building and information sharing.

Participants also discussed the relevance and usefulness of the two global water conventions to strengthen transboundary water cooperation in Latin America. The workshop underlined the important role of the Conventions in defining clear rights and obligations of both upstream and downstream countries. Moreover, participants valued the rich experience available under the Water Convention, its many tools and activities to support cooperation and its institutional framework offering a forum for exchange and mutual learning. Latin America countries could and should benefit more from such tools and opportunities. However, in much remains to be done in the region to increase awareness and understanding of the Conventions, to clarify the implications of potential accession and, in some cases, to tackle political reluctance to commit to formalized cooperation.

The workshop on the general principles of transboundary water cooperation was organized by UNECE and CONAGUA in partnership with ECLAC, the Ibero-American Water Directors Conference (CODIA), the International Hydrological Programme of UNESCO, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and WWF, with support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). It is part of the Water Convention’s programme of work for 2016–2018, and follows up on the workshop “Latin American and Pan-European Regions: Sharing Experiences and Learning from Each Other”, which took place in June 2013 in Buenos Aires.

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Francesca Bernardini: francesca.bernardini@unece.org