Francesca Bernardini is the Secretary to the UNECE Water Convention. We ask her about some of the achievements and activities of the Convention:
Effective management of transboundary basins requires the involvement of all riparian countries – what happens when one or more countries are unwilling to cooperate?
What we see in the UNECE region, but is also valid worldwide, is that it is rare that States are unwilling to cooperate on transboundary waters. Rather the lack of cooperation on transboundary water reflects broader political cooperation problems. The consequences are of course a stalled situation with degradation of the resources, and risks for all countries. In such cases, in our work under the Convention, we try to establish cooperation at the technical level to maintain an open channel for dialogue and strive to broker political cooperation when windows of opportunities appear.
How does the UNECE Water Convention provide for transboundary groundwaters?
The Water Convention applies to both surface waters and groundwater and since its entry into force special attention has been devoted to groundwater. However cooperation on transboundary groundwater is generally less advanced than on surface waters. There are currently two main activities under the Convention to address this issue. Firstly, the Second Assessment of Transboundary Rivers, Lakes and Groundwaters - which is being prepared for the 7th “Environment for Europe” Ministerial Conference in Astana in 2011 - aims to complete the full inventory and characterisation of transboundary groundwaters in the UNECE region. The second area of work is a legal and technical study on what the Convention, existing legal frameworks and established practice offers on transboundary groundwater management, to identify ways and means to further strengthen the existing framework. On the basis of the study, the Meeting of the Parties might decide to develop a set of model articles/rules for transboundary groundwaters to be used in bilateral and multilateral agreements, or a specific protocol on transboundary groundwater, or specific recommendations/guidelines.
What is the current situation on the amendments for extending the Water Convention to non-UNECE countries?
The amendments were adopted in 2003 and so far have been ratified by 15 Parties. It is noteworthy that at the last Meeting of the Parties in November 2009, the entry into force of the amendments by 2012 was set as an objective. This will require 9 more ratifications. As 6 countries are in the process of ratification – Belarus, Italy, Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland and Ukraine – and will do so by the end of 2011, I believe that the target will be reached.
Another positive development which came out of the Meeting of the Parties is the plan to develop specific activities to involve non-UNECE countries in the Convention’s work, even before the entry into force of the amendment. This will facilitate understanding and implementation of the Convention outside the region, in particular in countries that share water with UNECE countries, such as Afghanistan, Mongolia, Iran and China. As a first step, a workshop will be organized in 2011.
Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes