The Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement: The Impasse is Breakable!

June 19th, 2017

The following post is by Dr. Salman M.A. Salman, an academic researcher and consultant on water law and policy and Editor-in-Chief of Brill Research Perspectives, International Water Law. Until 2009, Dr. Salman served as Lead Council and Water Law Adviser for the World Bank. He can be reached at SalmanMASalman [at] gmail.com.

A summit of the head of states of the Nile Basin countries is planned for June 22, 2017, in Entebbe, Uganda, to discuss the impasse over the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA). The summit is to be preceded by a meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs of the Nile countries on June 20 – 21, 2017. The purpose of this Note is to clarify the differences over the CFA, and to propose a roadmap for resolving these differences.

The CFA and the Differences Thereon

The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) was born on February 22, 1999, in Dar-es-Salam, Tanzania, following the signing of the minutes of the meeting by nine of the Nile ministers of water resources in attendance. The NBI was facilitated by a number of donors led by the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The NBI was established as a transitional arrangement to foster cooperation and sustainable development of the Nile River for the benefit of the inhabitants of those countries. The NBI is guided by a shared vision “to achieve sustainable socio-economic development through equitable utilization of, and benefit from, the common Nile Basin water resources.”

Work started immediately on the CFA, and lasted ten years. However, by 2009, major differences over some basic issues erupted, and could not be resolved, neither at the technical, nor at the political levels, leading to the impasse on the CFA. These major differences persisted as a result of the resurfacing and hardening of the respective positions of the Nile riparians over the colonial treaties, as well as the Egyptian and Sudanese claims to what they see as their acquired uses and rights of the Nile waters, and the rejection of these claims by the upper riparians.

Nile_Map_UpdatedThe first difference related to water security. Article 14 of the CFA required the Basin states to work together to ensure that all states achieve and sustain water security. However, this paragraph did not satisfy Egypt and Sudan who wanted to ensure, through an additional clause, that their existing uses and rights are fully protected under the CFA. Consequently, Egypt and Sudan demanded and insisted that Article 14 of the CFA should include a specific provision, to be added at the end of the Article, that would oblige the Basin states “not to adversely affect the water security and current uses and rights of any other Nile Basin State.” This demand was rejected by the upper riparains who saw it as a denial of the basic principle of equitable and reasonable utilization, and a breach of the vision of the NBI itself.

The second major difference related to the concept of notification, demanded by Egypt and Sudan and rejected by the upper riparians. The upper riparians saw it as a means for Egypt and Sudan to invoke the colonial treaties and their claim of veto power.

While the impasse persisted, on May 14, 2010, four of the Nile riparians (Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda) signed the CFA in Entebbe, Uganda. They were joined five days later by Kenya, and by Burundi on February 28, 2011. The CFA has thus far been ratified by Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda. It needs a total of six instruments of ratification/accession to enter into force. Egypt and Sudan continue to vehemently reject the CFA.

Developments Since Conclusion of the CFA

The upper riparians continued with their projects on the Nile notwithstanding the impasse over the CFA, and the erosion of the NBI. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which commenced in 2011, has proven a major challenge to, and a source of a bitter dispute between Ethiopia on the one hand, and Egypt and Sudan on the other. However, by December 2013, Sudan broke ranks with Egypt, and declared its full support of the GERD.

Egypt followed, albeit reluctantly, fifteen months later. Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia concluded in March 2015, through their head of states the Agreement on Declaration of Principles on the GERD (DoP). Egypt and Sudan basically accepted, through the DoP, the GERD and declared for the first time ever “the significance of the River Nile as a source of livelihood and the significant resource to the development of the people of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.” The three countries agreed further “to cooperate based on common understanding, mutual benefit, good faith, win-win, and the principles of international law, (as well as) in understanding upstream and downstream needs in its various aspects.” The DoP went on to state explicitly that “the purpose of the GERD is for power generation to contribute to economic development, promotion of transboundary cooperation and regional integration…”

The DoP included other provisions on equitable and reasonable utilization, the obligation not to cause significant harm, as well as peaceful settlement of disputes. It also contained explicit provisions on the GERD, including cooperation on filling its reservoir, as well as its safety. The DoP was confirmed nine months later through the signature by the three countries of the Khartoum Document in December 2015 at their 4th tripartite meeting.

Breaking the Impasse

These developments clearly annulled Egypt and Sudan previously held position of securing all the Nile waters for their exclusive use through existing uses and rights, and the veto power over other Nile countries’ projects. Equality of all the riparians, as pronounced by the Permanent Court of International Justice in the 1929 River Oder case, and reconfirmed by the International Court of Justice in the 1997 Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros Project case, is now fully accepted by Egypt and Sudan. Similarly, Egypt and Sudan have confirmed their acceptance of the basic and cardinal principle of international water law of equitable and reasonable utilization.

The consequent and logical step for Egypt and Sudan is to drop their demand for recognition of their existing uses and rights as a part of the water security paragraph of the CFA. Indeed, the whole section of the CFA on water security is no longer needed, given that the CFA includes the same provisions of the United Nations Watercourses Convention (UNWC) on equitable and reasonable utilization, as well as on the obligation not to cause significant harm. It is worth mentioning that the UNWC includes no provisions on water security, as this is not a legal concept – merely a political pronouncement.

The quid pro quo for Egypt and Sudan agreeing to drop their demand for recognition of their existing uses and rights is to include provisions in the CFA similar to those of the UNWC on notification. This should cause no alarm to the upper riparians as the basis of Egypt and Sudan of their veto power in case of notification – the colonial treaties – is no longer on the table since the two countries have accepted the principle of equality of all the riparians. Besides, notification could take place through the Commission to be established under the CFA, or through the ministerial council of the Nile Basin States as happened in the latter years of the NBI before the differences erupted over the CFA.

This compromise would address the concerns of both Egypt and Sudan on the one hand, and those of the upper riparians on the other. Its details can be successfully worked out through good faith negotiations, if the political will among the Nile riparians exist. Indeed, this political will is urgently needed to resolve the differences over the CFA and conclude an agreement that is inclusive of all the Nile riparians, so as to pull the 250 million inhabitants of the Nile Basin out of their poverty, underdevelopment, hunger and darkness.

 

Salman M.A. Salman Bestowed with IWRA Crystal Drop Award

June 9th, 2017

While an individual’s career is often influenced by various guides and advisers, on occasion, it is possible to trace one’s career path to a particular mentor.  In my case, it is Dr. Salman M.A. Salman.  Regarded as one of the definitive experts in the field of international water law, Dr. Salman has been exceptionally kind with guidance on research and consulting projects throughout my career, and has championed my candidacy for various opportunities.  In no small measure, Salman has been an unassailable and steadfast Sherpa on my journey through the water world.  More importantly, he has been a mentor and friend.

This is why I was absolutely thrilled when, on 1st June 2017, the International Water Resources Association bestowed on Dr. Salman (along with the equally incredible Dr. Cecilia Tortajada) its highest recognition – the Crystal Drop Award – at the XVI World Water Congress.  Having devoted his entire career and scholarship to water issues around the world, I know of no one more deserving of this recognition than Dr. Salman.  The following is a transcript of Dr. Salman’s acceptance speech.

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Good afternoon water colleagues and friends

I am deeply humbled by my selection as the co-recipient of the Crystal Drop Award 2017. It is indeed a great honor being a member since 1994 of the International Water Resources Association – the premier, global, inclusive think tank that encompasses all the disciplines and experts around the world working on water resources.

Thus, it is particularly rewarding and gratifying that this distinguished community of experts has recognized my work on water law and policy, and on the urgent need for cooperation on shared watercourses. This is a mission I have embarked on some decades ago at my hometown, Khartoum, at the confluence of the Blue Nile and White Nile in the Sudan.

Allow me fellow water colleagues and friends, after this acceptance speech of the Crystal Drop Award, to deliver a short address on the role and contribution of our International Water Resources Association on the on-going debate on the challenges facing water resources.

Dr. Salman M.A. Salman accepting the Crystal Drop Award

Dr. Salman M.A. Salman accepting the Crystal Drop Award

We have now been in Cancun together for almost a week, for our sixteenth Congress, debating and brainstorming on the tremendous challenges facing the planet’s most scarce and precious resource. Hence, I thought I would use my remaining time for a quick overview of how the road to this week’s Congress has been paved, and to bring to light the great efforts that have helped in expanding and strengthening our contribution to water resources management.

The efforts of the Association in this connection are almost half a century old, and can be traced to the seventies of last century. During all these years the Association’s role in the debate has been immense and substantive, its voice loud and audible, and its publications, recommendations and actions have contributed considerably to the successes that have since been achieved in the water sector. Indeed, one can safely contend that the Congresses, debate, and actions of the Association had preceded in earnest, and influenced, all the other global efforts in this field.

The idea of establishing a water institution encompassing all the disciplines working on water resources, and open to all the experts around the world, was debated in the sixties of the last century during the meetings of the American Water Resources Association. However, it was in May 1970 that the first steps were taken for putting this idea into effect. Eighteen months later the preparatory work was completed, and the International Water Resources Association was officially formed and registered, and was legally incorporated in the State of Wisconsin in the USA on 29 November 1971.

On April 1, 1972, Mr. Ven Te Chow, Professor of Hydraulic Engineering at the University of Illinois, was elected as the first President of the Association. The business office was opened in that month in Falls Church, Virginia, with 195 members, representing the major disciplines working on water resources, from more than 40 countries. Thus, the Association was born, hitting the ground running.

The first Association’s World Water Congress was held a year and half later, on September 24 – 28, 1973, in Chicago, Illinois. Indeed, the event marked the birth of the Association, with an impressive attendance of more than 200 experts, representing the major disciplines concerned with water resources, from 62 countries. The theme of the Congress was “Importance and Problems of Water in the Human Environment in Modern Times.” That Congress can accurately be called the first world water forum, and the official launching of our Association as a multi-disciplinary global water institution. The conclusions and resolutions of the first Congress included two important aspects, namely:

One: The need to develop a significant new international and interdisciplinary approach on water resources.

Two: Many common problems exist among nations and water users which can best be solved though a cooperative and coordinated approach.

Thus, the Association was, in 1973, clearly ahead of its time and other institutions. Aren’t these issues still the focus of our discussion, even this weeks in Cancun? Aren’t we still debating multi-disciplinary approaches, integrated water resources management, and the need for cooperation at both the national and international levels for addressing the challenges of management, sharing and protection of water resources?

The year 1975 witnessed two major and significant developments. In July 1975, the first issue of our flag journal – Water International – was published as the first periodical devoted exclusively to water resources management, with articles addressing the multi-disciplinary approach, by experts in all fields of water resources.

Dr. Salman M.A. Salman and Dr. Cecilia Tortajada accepting the Crystal Drop Award, presented by IWRA President Patrick Levarde (far left), Past President Ben Braga, and Awards Chairman James Nickum (far right)

Dr. Salman M.A. Salman and Dr. Cecilia Tortajada accepting the Crystal Drop Award, presented by IWRA President Patrick Levarde (far left), Past President Ben Braga, and Awards Chairman James Nickum (far right)

The second development was the holding of the Association second Congress in New Delhi, India, in December 1975. The Congress was organized under the theme “Water and Human Needs.” It was attended by more than 1,200 participants from 45 countries, who presented and discussed more than 260 rich multi-disciplinary papers.

The second Congress was hosted by, and co-organized with the Association by the Central Board for Irrigation and Power in New Delhi. This approach set in motion the precedent of hosting of the Congress by the national water institutions, with the assistance and guidance of the Association – a practice we have seen even this week in Mexico, with the organization of ANEAS in Cancun of the 16th Congress. It is worth mentioning that Mexico also hosted the third Congress that was organized thirty-eight years ago, in April 1979 in Mexico City. The theme of that Congress was “Water for Human Survival.” About 1,500 participants from 80 countries attended and presented more than 500 papers. These are impressive numbers, interestingly, almost similar to the numbers we are having this week in Cancun.

The multi-disciplinary nature of the Association was proven to the letter when the members of the Association elected Guillermo Cano as the second president in 1979 for the period 1980 to 1982. The more than one hundred legal colleagues who are here this week for the 16th Congress will be pleasantly surprised to learn that the second president of the Association, almost forty years ago, was a lawyer, and not an engineer or a hydrologist. The Association confirmed beyond doubt its multi-disciplinary character.

The role and influence of the Association on other concurrent and parallel events in the water sector have also been quite prominent from the early days. Soon after the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was established in 1972, an invitation was extended to some members of the Association to help with UNEP water program. Dr. Chow and Dr. Biswas assisted UNEP in that task, and were able to include much of the Association’s philosophy in UNEP water policies and program.

In fact, it was the influence and push of the Association that led the United Nations to hold the first ever conference exclusively devoted to water resources – the Mar del Plata Conference in Argentina in 1977. The secretariat of the Mar del Plata Conference included a number of Association’s members, and the Association contributed considerably to the stounding success of that conference, and its resolutions and action plans.

It was also the Association’s eighth Congress in Cairo in 1994 that paved the way for the establishment of the World Water Council, and later the Global Water Partnership. Henceforth, the mobilization of action on critical water issues at all levels would be undertaken by the World Water Council; the coordination aspects by the Global Water Partnership; leaving the Association to concentrate, as a think tank, on the intellectual aspects of water resources management. The World Water Forums organized by the World Water Council every three years would complement, rather than compete with the Association’s triannual Congress. Some past presidents of the Association would assume the presidency of the World Water Council, and vice versa, and this has helped in transplanting of their unique experience, and in the coordination of the respective activities.

I can continue for the rest of this afternoon talking about the tremendous influence and contribution of our Association. However, I need to stop here, and conclude with the reminder that despite the successes we have achieved, existing challenges to water resources are multiplying and mounting, and new ones are surfacing every day. We need to remain relevant and effective. However, we can only do so by redoubling our efforts, and by continuing to be innovative, proactive, adaptive, and responsive.

Thank You Very Much.

 

The Greening of Water Law: Why and How We should Modernize Legislation to Account for the Environment

May 22nd, 2017

The following essay by Ariella D’Andrea is an introduction to the training course on “The Greening of Water Law: Implementing environment-friendly principles in contemporary water law,” which she designed and coordinated. The course is available on UN Environment’s InforMEA E-Learning Platform. Ms D’Andrea is a member of the Executive Committee of the International Association for Water Law (AIDA). She can be reached at ariella.dandrea [at] gmail.com

 

In the past century, water management focused primarily on developing the resource to satisfy human needs: irrigation, hydropower, industrial and municipal uses, and so on. National governments around the world put in place a broad range of infrastructure and mechanisms for the abstraction and use of water resources to implement their development policies.

This display of engineering skills for dam construction, diversion of watercourses, groundwater pumping and, more recently, desalination has not always been mindful of environmental concerns that may result from technological advances. More often than not, efficient water abstraction was the main objective with little thought given to the long-term availability or quality maintenance of the resource. This approach was based on the conception of water as a renewable rather than finite resource. Although water quantity and quality regenerate through the hydrologic cycle, we now know that the amount of water on Earth is constant. Of this water, only about 2.5% is freshwater and, of that volume, around 0.3% is readily accessible being found in rivers and lakes; the rest is stored in glaciers and ice caps or in aquifers underground.

All life forms need clean and sufficient water to thrive, which is produced by healthy ecosystems.  Time has shown that inconsiderate economic development may critically affect the rate at which freshwater is generated in the natural environment, thus compromising the crucial ecosystem-support function of water resources in a vicious cycle of progressive water salinization and biodiversity loss, at least in a local context.

Inspired by traditional knowledge, some countries have declared the environment or specific waterbodies as right holders. In Ecuador, Mother Nature or Pacha Mama was granted the right to the conservation of water resources (Water Resources Law 2014 based on the Constitution of 2008); New Zealand recently granted legal personality to the Whanganui River, with rights and duties as well a legal representative (Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017); shortly after, the forests and waterbodies of the Indian State of Uttarakhand, including the Ganga and Yamuna Rivers, were declared as legal entity by the High Court of Uttarakhand (Uttarakhand High Court Decision 2017); at this very moment, French Polynesia is considering the possibility of granting legal personality not only to its rivers but also to its ocean Te moana nui a Hiva (Parliamentary Question to the Minister of the Environment, 28 March 2017).

Greening-course2Clearly, a balance must be struck between people’s needs and those of the natural environment. Moreover, action must be taken to reverse the degradation of waterbodies, knowing that the status quo ante cannot always be restored. UN member States recently committed, under Sustainable Development Goal 6, to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, including by implementing integrated water resources management and by protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems.

Water law can support this commitment by guiding water use and management towards sustainability. To do this, it must become ‘greener’. In practice, the water law ‘greening’ is the process by which legal provisions regulating the use of water resources progressively incorporate environmental concerns. The greening of international treaties, regional agreements and domestic legislation on water resources may be carried out by: freshwater treaty negotiators as they bring environmental principles and concerns to bear on negotiations over shared freshwater bodies; domestic legislatures embedding environmental provisions into laws and regulations, and by judges interpreting legal provisions in light of environmental law.

Legislation reflects the society it regulates; therefore, early domestic water laws generally supported the ‘development craze’ and focused on abstraction and use of water resources rather than protection and conservation. Similarly, early international water law, including bi- or multilateral agreements on shared waters, focused on allocation of those waters between riparian countries rather than preservation.

Environmental concerns started making their way in both domestic and international water law in the second half of the 20th century and, more conspicuously, after the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 when the greening wave acquired momentum and depth. It was during that decade that two major treaties on transboundary waters were adopted: the 1992 UNECE Water Convention, and the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention.

The interdependence of water and nature is now widely recognized, not only in the scientific world but also by policy- and lawmakers. The environment is increasingly being recognized as a water user, competing with the different human uses of the resource, and a wide range of solutions are emerging to ensure that environmental concerns are duly accounted for in water law.

‘Green’ provisions often aim at controlling effluent discharge to minimize pollution of natural waterbodies, or more innovatively promote wastewater reuse thanks to advances in water treatment technology. They also aim at establishing an ecological flow of water in rivers to allow aquatic life or a water reserve for human and environmental benefit. An environmental impact assessment may be required before developing infrastructure that might affect water resources. Certain standards may be established to protect aquatic biodiversity (e.g. migratory fish passage in dams), prevent soil erosion (e.g. reforestation of river banks) or prevent groundwater pollution (e.g. protection of recharge areas). Legislation may also recognize ecosystem services, such as the provision of freshwater or the regulation of floods, and establish payment or compensation schemes for those who maintain healthy ecosystems.

The most progressive examples of ‘green’ provisions are generally found in domestic legislation, with international water law often lagging behind despite the ‘green’ potential of its main guiding principles – equitable and reasonable utilization, no significant harm and ecosystem protection. A vast range of multilateral environmental agreements adopted during the last 50 years, such as the 1997 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, may effectively support the process of water law greening, both at domestic and international level, by prompting normative reform and orientating judicial interpretation towards environmentally-sound application of water use principles.

Funded by UN Environment (formerly UNEP), the online training course on “The Greening of Water Law: Implementing environment-friendly principles in contemporary water law” was developed by the International Association for Water Law (AIDA) with the contribution of 10 authors and 6 reviewers, as a guide for policy makers, technocrats and experts. The course focuses on the implementation of international principles for sustainable water management, stemming from both binding and non-binding instruments, and on their implementation in domestic legislation, transboundary agreements and related court/arbitration decisions.

The program is accessible free-of-charge from the INFORMEA website. It involves a series of slides and readings, including a brief and group exercises presented as a manual for lecturers, and requires 5 days to complete considering one module per day. A condensed version of the training course will be presented in a Special Session at the XVI World Water Congress of the International Water Resources Association (IWRA) that will be held in Cancun, Mexico at the end of this month.

Further reading:

Burchi S., Balancing development and environmental conservation and protection of the water resource base – the “greening” of water laws, FAO Legal Paper Online #66, June 2007

Eckstein G., et.al., The Greening of Water Law: Managing Freshwater Resources for People and the Environment, UNEP, 2010

 

Water During and After Armed Conflicts: What Protection in International Law?

November 15th, 2016

The following essay by Dr. Mara Tignino is a summary of her recently published monograph (under the same title), which appears in Vol. 1.4, 2016, pp. 1-111, of Brill Research Perspectives in International Water Law. Dr. Tignino is a Senior Lecturer and Coordinator of the Platform for International Water Law, Faculty of Law, University of Geneva. She can be reached at Mara.Tignino@unige.ch.

 

Armed conflicts affect water in several ways: destruction and damage of water facilities, attacks against power plants providing water supplies, and the collapse of water treatments and sewage systems. Air strikes conducted against water and electrical facilities in Syria and the contamination of groundwater resources in Gaza illustrate the many dimensions of armed conflicts’ impact on water. In my monograph, I examine the different regimes applicable to water during and after armed conflicts. Starting from an analysis of the rules of international humanitarian law (IHL), I also explore human rights law and international water law. I argue in favour of the complementarity of these regimes.  To allow for this complementarity to exist, I support the establishment of a single instrument that would gather all the rules protecting water during and after armed conflicts.

tigninoIHL specifically protects water supplies required by civilians. The First and Second Protocols to the Geneva Conventions (relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, and to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts, respectively) prohibit States and armed groups from attacking, destroying, removing or rendering useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works. Despite these protections, exceptions exist where water-related installations are used “as sustenance solely for the members of its armed forces” or if they provide “direct support of military action”. While some water supplies could serve armed forces, such exceptions may not be sufficient if military action results in depriving civilians of necessary water supplies. Indeed, Article 56 §3 states that warring parties must refrain from acts that may be expected to reduce the civilian population to starvation, or cause them to move away.

Hostilities increasingly take place in urban environments. The urbanisation of conflicts heightens the risk of extensive damage to civilian objects such as electrical facilities. Experience has revealed the interconnections between electricity, access to water and public health. If a power plant is targeted as a military objective, damage to electricity networks can lead to interruption of water services and treatment of wastewaters. In some cases, electrical installations have been considered as “dual-use” objects. This means that they can be used for the civilian population as well as for military purposes. Although electrical facilities are protected under the rules of IHL as civilian objects, the scope of these norms is uncertain and in need of clarification.

During armed conflicts, warring parties often seek to control dams and dikes. Controlling strategic dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has been at the centre of military operations carried out by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Dams and dikes enjoy special protection under IHL. Both Article 56 of the First Protocol and Article 15 of the Second Protocol respond to the concern that the partial or complete destruction of dams and dykes could have catastrophic impacts on the population. However, the control of these installations is not covered by these provisions.

To address this shortcoming, I engage with other areas of international law, such as human rights law and international water law. I argue that they can contribute to the protection of water in time of armed conflicts, including through human rights instruments and mechanisms. Post-conflict human rights investigatory mechanisms such as the Commission of Inquiry on Lebanon and the Fact Finding Mission on the conflict in Gaza have dealt with the protection of water and electrical facilities. Besides, a panoply of international water agreements can protect water during and after armed conflicts. It is not uncommon to see watercourse States continue to apply them, and representatives of States in conflict often meet in joint mechanisms.

In addition, I explain that the rules of IHL should be interpreted by taking into account human rights law and international water law. Such a reading of the law can consolidate peace after armed conflicts. As water is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of armed conflicts, its protection should be reinforced by placing more emphasis on the similarities rather than the differences between norms found in instruments of international law. This will contribute to strengthening the protection of this natural resource in times when it is most at risk. A cumulative view of those norms is not only desirable, it is also consistent with a growing humanity-based framework used by courts, tribunals, and other international bodies, as well as by scholars, to reflect upon conflicts.

The entire article is available here.

Midriver States: An Overlooked Perspective in the Nile River Basin

September 26th, 2016

The following essay is by Aletta Brady, Member of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO Youth Working Group. She can be reached at clairealettabrady@gmail.com.

The majority of research on transnational cooperation in the Nile River basin (and elsewhere) has failed to note the distinct perspective of midriver states. Most academic literature on transboundary river basins classifies states solely as upriver or downriver states, even in instances where countries, geographically and behaviorally, are midriver states.  Midriver states have an important position and role to play in transboundary river basins as they intimately understand the needs and concerns of both their upriver and downriver neighbors. Midriver states also have a more complex perspective of their “rights” based on their combined upstream/downstream interests. This aspect is being ignored under contemporary analyses.

An upriver state is a country out of which water in a river flows. Such states generally advocate for their right to the equitable and reasonable utilization of the waters of a transboundary river. A downriver state is a country into which a river flows. Downriver states tend to advocate for the principle of no significant harm, desiring water flow upriver to be preserved in its near-natural state until it reaches their downriver territory. A midriver state refers to a country that has water from a discrete river flowing both into and out of its territory. Midriver states can espouse the desires of both upriver and downriver states, depending on whom they are dealing with.

river_nile_mapThe Nile River basin has three mid-river states: Sudan, Uganda, and South Sudan. The academic literature has classified these states based on historical political allegiance and economic interest. For example, Sudan is usually categorized as a downriver state largely based on its historic allegiance to Egypt. Similarly, Uganda’s advocacy for a fair share of the Nile River, along with Ethiopia, has led to its classification as an upriver state. These binary categorizations, however, do not accurately characterize the behavior and interests of these two states in the Nile Basin.

Sudan’s actions and statements over the course of the past century support a much more complex analysis. Consider, for example, that in 1929, Sudan rejected the Nile Waters Agreement (NWA)—an agreement that allocated shares of the Nile River waters, giving the majority share to Egypt—between Egypt and Great Britain. Then, in 1959, Sudan changed its position and signed the Agreement for the Full Utilization of the Nile Waters with Egypt. In 1991, Sudan signed a bilateral agreement with Ethiopia, to the dismay of Egypt, that established a joint technical committee for data sharing and exploring mutually beneficial projects, and that recognized a commitment to the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of the Nile waters. In 1996, Sudan once again sided with Egypt in opposition of Project D3—an Ethiopian proposal to establish legal cooperation and water sharing among all of the basin states. But, in 2012, Sudan expressed support for Ethiopia’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) against the counsel of Egypt. Sudan’s vacillating allegiance between Egypt and Ethiopia is evidence that Sudan acts neither consistently in the interest of an upstream state nor in the interest of a downstream state, but rather fluctuates between the two because it is, quite literally, caught in the middle. Sudan wants both to utilize the water within its boundaries before it flows downstream, and preserve water flow into its territory from upstream neighbors.

Similar to Sudan, Uganda’s position on which Nile neighbor to support has fluctuated. The Ugandan government opposed Egypt’s 1929 NWA. But, when Egypt supported the joint-technical institutions, HYDROMET (1967-1992) and TECCONILE (1993-2002), Uganda became a member alongside Egypt. Ethiopia and Burundi wanted legal cooperation that granted upstream states an equitable water share of the Nile River and saw TECCONILE, a technical institution, as a distraction. In comments recorded from the 1995 annual meeting of the Council of Ministers for Water Affairs (Nile-COM), Burundi explained that it would not join TECCONILE unless it “completed [an] institutional framework… [that] must guarantee equitable benefits to all.” Uganda also supported Egypt’s UNDUGU organization that launched in 1983, which was opposed by the majority of Nile upriver states.  In 1993, the Ugandan government opposed the implementation of Project D3, a legal project intended to investigate each state’s need for water, which was also supported by a majority of Nile upstream states.  In those same Nile-COM MEETING notes, a Ugandan representative criticized upriver states for being “not yet sure of the benefit from ongoing” transboundary Nile collaborations, and described the possibility of Project D3 as an “optional utilization of the Nile River.” Uganda warned against D3 “paralyz[ing] other activities, especially those that could lead to large investments in the basin.” But, in 2014, during an interview that I conducted, a Ugandan official explained that Ethiopia’s GERD “was the right thing to do,” even though, at the time, Egypt vehemently disapproved of the project.

In addition, Ugandan and Sudanese government officials, in similar interviews, identified both the desire to ‘utilize’ and ‘maintain’ the waters as high priorities, underscoring their intermediary positions as midriver states in the basin. In contrast, Ethiopian officials ranked the desire to utilize Nile waters as more important than the desire to maintain the quantity of the water, which aligns with their position as an upriver state advocating for the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization. Following suit, Egyptian officials emphasized maintaining the quantity of water as more important than utilizing the water, which aligns with their advocacy for the principle of no significant harm.

When South Sudan gained statehood in 2011, media outlets and publications immediately began discussing South Sudan as an upriver state. However, while South Sudan’s time as an independent nation has been brief, it has already demonstrated tendencies of mixed allegiances fluctuating between its downstream and upstream neighbors. For example, soon after its independence, South Sudan’s Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources stated in an interview (see here) that it was “inevitable” that South Sudan would sign the CFA, which has long been opposed by Egypt. Since that time, however, South Sudan has yet to sign that accord, which some speculate is due to its relationship with Egypt. South Sudan’s emergence as the newest basin state should be discussed as an addition to the midriver cohort in the basin rather than an additional upriver state.

Where transnational basin agreements and negotiations are approached as bilateral in nature (with the two main positions of upriver and downriver states), negotiators will likely miss key interests and perspectives of the intermediary stakeholders. Moreover, approaching negotiations with a bilateral framework puts midriver states in the uncomfortable position of choosing which neighbor to side with, even when their interests do not fully align. This could lead to midriver states reneging on agreements, or shifting allegiances, as seen in the Nile River basin. This, in turn, could increase tensions. Accordingly, a new trilateral framework encompassing the midriver classification should be utilized to better describe the relationships and interests of nations in the midriver position.

 

Transboundary Offshore Aquifers: A Search for a Governance Regime

June 27th, 2016

The following essay by Renee Martin-Nagle is a summary of her recently published article entitled: Transboundary Offshore Aquifers: A Search for a Governance Regime, which appears in Vol. 1.2, 2016, pp. 1-79, of Brill Research Perspectives in International Water Law. Ms. Martin-Nagle is a PhD Researcher at the University of Strathclyde and a Visiting Scholar at the Environmental Law Institute. She can reached at renee.martinnagle [at] gmail.com.

In December 2013 an article appeared in Nature magazine describing aquifers lying under continental shelves around the world and containing fresh to slightly brackish water.  Entitled ‘Offshore Fresh Groundwater Reserves as a Global Phenomenon’, the article summarized scientific studies since the 1970s and suggested that the volume of water held in these offshore reserves could amount to twice the volume of groundwater withdrawn from aquifers globally since 1900.  Within days, the global press seized on the article and gleefully announced that the global water crisis had been solved.  Intrigued by the possibilities, I determined to understand the scientific support for such claims as well as the potential they held for supplementing existing freshwater supplies.  Moreover, I began to wonder what governance regime might apply in the likely event that one or more of these offshore aquifers straddled an international border  Since the topic of sharing transboundary offshore aquifers has not been addressed previously, there was no template to follow.  However, logic suggested that a governance regime for the these unique aquifers should be influenced by at least three current regimes: legal principles embodied in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (‘UNCLOS’), legal principles applicable to transboundary offshore hydrocarbon development, and legal principles that have evolved for transboundary land-based freshwater resources.

Global_Sumarine_Aquifers1My article begins with an explanation of the origins of offshore aquifers.  Not surprisingly, they were formed in the distant past, when meteoric and geological conditions were different than they are today.  During the last glacial maximum between 26,500 and 19,000 years ago, sea levels were much lower than they are today.  At that time the current continental shelves were actually part of the continental coastlines and were, therefore, exposed to rain and other meteoric conditions.  Over thousands of years, freshwater became entrapped between confining layers that were generated by the same natural processes that produced other land-based confined aquifers.  As glaciers melted and sea levels rose, the confining layers protected the now-offshore freshwater aquifers from saltwater intrusion.

With this background, the article proceeds to analyze three legal regimes in search of guidance on how these resources might be governed in transboundary circumstances.  It begins by looking at the UN Convention on the Continental Shelf (the precursor to UNCLOS) and its equidistant method for apportioning shared natural maritime resources among nations with adjacent and opposite coasts.  It then considers the assessment of the International Court of Justice in the North Sea Cases, which rejected the equidistant approach, urged nations to seek equitable solutions based on locally-specific facts and circumstances, and referenced the unity of a deposit. UNCLOS followed the ICJ guidance in advising nations to seek equitable solutions.

Global_Sumarine_Aquifers2Following the North Sea Cases, the oil and gas industry quickly filled the void by developing its own legal mechanism, which is the second regime assessed in my article.  Under that regime, and in harmony with the ICJ’s suggestion to preserve the unity of deposits, the industry utilized a system called unitization where parties sharing a resource appoint a single operator to exploit that reserve, with their respective shares being pre-determined in the applicable agreement.  The concept of unitization later evolved into joint development agreements where nations agreed on an operator for both exploration and exploitation of the resource.

The third regime considered in my study is the body of law that has developed for land-based groundwater resources.  While there are only four ratified treaties and several sets of guidance that address transboundary aquifers, certain concepts for land-based water have evolved to the point of representing accepted principles of customary international law.  Principles such as reasonable and equitable use, no significant harm, cooperation, and sharing of information have been enshrined in treaties for surface water and have also influenced principles for sharing hydrocarbon resources.

After examining these three bodies of law, I propose suggestions for a governance regime for transboundary offshore aquifers that incorporates the best aspects of each of them while still bearing in mind practical aspects of resource development.  Whether this regime will be needed in the near future remains to be seen. Nonetheless, by offering this analysis, I hope to begin the conversation and lay the groundwork for the time when offshore aquifers may be used to support existing freshwater supplies.

The entire article is available here.

 

Transboundary Water Cooperation in Europe – A Successful Multidimensional Regime?

May 16th, 2016

The following essay by Dr. Götz Reichert is a summary of his recent published article entitled: Transboundary Water Cooperation in Europe – A Successful Multidimensional Regime?, which appears in Vol. 1.1., 2016, pp. 1–111, of Brill Research Perspectives in International Water LawDr. Reichert is head of the Environment Department at the Centre for European Policy in Freiburg, Germany. He can reached at goetz.reichert [at] t-online.de.

Europe’s diverse aquatic environments continue to face pressure, often suffering from pollution, over-abstraction, morphological alterations, loss of biodiversity, floods and droughts. Throughout the European continent, 75 transboundary river basins have been identified. Given that over 60% of the European Union (EU) is covered by transboundary river basins and 70% of European catchment areas are shared between EU Member States and other European countries, pressures on rivers, lakes and aquifers constitute a considerable challenge to international cooperation. In Transboundary Water Cooperation in Europe, I analyze the multidimensional regime for the protection and management of European transboundary freshwater resources, which is composed of different but increasingly intertwined legal systems: international water law, water law of the European Union (EU), and domestic water legislation.

Götz Reichert, Transboundary Water Cooperation in Europe – A Successful Multidimensional Regime?, Brill Research Perspectives in International Water Law, Vol. 1.1., 2016, pp. 1–111

The emergence of this complex regime was triggered and facilitated by a general paradigm shift in water policy and law in the 1980s and 1990s towards an ecosystem-oriented approach, which is guided by the overall leitmotif of sustainable development and operationalized through the concept of integrated water resources management. It is based on the notion that the various components of the aquatic environment should be managed in an integrated manner throughout their natural catchment area, irrespective of administrative or national boundaries. Consequently, the different legal systems applying to transboundary freshwater resources in Europe are also increasingly interlinked and harmonized so as to function as an integrated whole. In order to shed light on the nature, fabric, and functioning of the resulting multidimensional regime, my article takes a closer look at its various dimensions.

Today, there are over 100 bi- and multilateral international agreements pertaining to rivers, lakes and aquifers in basins and sub-basins shared by riparian countries throughout the European continent, ranging from the two global framework conventions to basin-specific agreements. The first part of the article provides an overview of the origins, regulatory structure and main substantive and managerial elements of current international water law in Europe. It shows that the obligations of the EU, its Member States and other European countries, as parties to various international water agreements in Europe, function as “transmission belts” for the transposition of substantive and managerial provisions from international water law to EU water law and the domestic water legislation of EU Member States and other European countries.

Since 2000, however, the EU’s Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC (WFD) has generated the defining impulses for the further development of the unfolding regime on transboundary freshwater resources in Europe. Most importantly, the WFD set the legally binding objective of attaining “good water status” by the end of 2015. Accordingly, the second part of the article provides for an accessible introduction to the unique legal nature and normative clout of EU water law, which is indispensable to understand transboundary water cooperation in Europe. It focusses on the main substantive and managerial elements of current EU water law relevant for cooperation between riparian countries, both within the EU and beyond. The pivotal instrument in this respect is the international river basin management plan, which is provided for by EU water law, but may be developed and implemented within international river commissions established under international water law. In this way, substantive and managerial provisions of EU water law are transposed to international water law in Europe.

Against the background of this hybrid interface between the different dimensions of the transboundary water regime in Europe, the third part of the article looks at the resulting integration of EU water law and international water law. Illustrated with examples of internationally shared river basins, such as the Danube and the Rhine, the analysis demonstrates that EU water law is, to a growing extent, influencing transboundary water cooperation not only within the European Union, but also beyond its territory.

Given the recently expired deadline for attaining the WFD’s objective of attaining “good water status” and the mixed results transboundary water cooperation has yielded so far, the article finally asks whether the elaborate and complex regime for the protection and management of transboundary freshwater resources in Europe is actually living up to its ambitious aspirations. In this respect, I suggest an optimistic conclusion. The different legal dimensions of the regime have the potential to fulfill those functions they are most capable of performing, thereby allowing for the development of solutions tailored to the particular needs of a specific freshwater ecosystem. EU water law has introduced a common vision, objective, terminology and managerial framework, thereby creating overall compatibility and complementarity within the regime. Furthermore, the normative clout of EU water law creates legally binding obligations for EU Member States and provides for robust enforcement procedures under judicial review. With regard to procedural and managerial aspects in a transboundary context, international river commissions established under international water law provide a stable institutional framework for the development of expertise, mutual trust and common approaches on transboundary water cooperation. On this basis, the multidimensional regime for the sustainable protection and integrated management of transboundary freshwater resources in Europe has the potential to be further developed in order to fulfill its goals.

The entire article is available here.

New Journal: Brill Research Perspectives – International Water Law

May 13th, 2016

Brill Research Perspectives – International Water LawIn April 2016, the publishing house, Brill, launched a new journal entitled Brill Research Perspectives – International Water Law (IWL Journal). The IWL Journal is a quarterly publication that targets monographs deemed too long for a typical journal article and too short for a book, typically in the range of 25,000 to 45,000 words. Thus, the IWLP Journal has carved out a niche that will not compete with other water journals, but rather provide in depth analysis of critical issues pertaining to international water law.

The Editor-in-Chief of International Water Law Journal is Dr. Salman M. A. Salman, who is a Fellow with the International Water Resources Association (IWRA). The editorial board consists of Professor Laurence Boisson de Chazournes, Professor Gabriel Eckstein, Professor Lilian del Castillo-Laborde, Professor Alistair Rieu-Clarke, Dr. Makane Moise-Mbengue, and Dr. Kishor Uprety. More information about International Water Law Journal can be found at: www.Brill.com/rpwl.

In an effort to disseminate widely the important articles that will be published in this journal, Brill and the International Water Law Project Blog have teamed up to present summaries of articles appearing in the IWL Journal as they are published.

The monograph for the first issue of IWL is authored by Dr. Gotz Reichert, and titled “Transboundary Water Cooperation in Europe – A Successful Multidimensional Regime?” An essay summarizing that inaugural article will be forthcoming on the IWLP Blog on Monday, 16 May 2016.

The Newest Transboundary Aquifer Agreement: Jordan and Saudi Arabia Cooperate Over the Al-Sag /Al-Disi Aquifer

August 31st, 2015

By Gabriel Eckstein

By any standard, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are two of the most water-scarce countries on the globe (see here and here). Hence, it is no surprise that the neighbors have long looked to the Al-Sag /Al-Disi Aquifer on their shared border as a partial source for relief. Until recently, though, competing water needs and a lack of knowledge about the aquifer complicated efforts at compromise. That complexity appears to have been surmounted. On 30 April 2015, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia entered into an agreement for the Management and Utilization of the Ground Waters in the Al-Sag /Al-Disi Layer (Arabic original / unofficial English translation).

Saq-Ram Aquifer Map

Saq-Ram Aquifer

 

The Aquifer

The Aquifer, known as Al Sag in Saudi Arabia and Al-Disi in Jordan, is a fossil transboundary aquifer containing water that accumulated 10,000-30,000 years ago. It is part of the western section of the Saq-Ram Aquifer System, a Paleozoic carbonate aquifer that spans nearly 308,000 km2 and is estimated to hold as much as 10 km3 of water in Jordan and 65 km3 in Saudi Arabia (see here).

Use of the Aquifer’s Water

Both countries began exploiting the Al-Sag /Al-Disi Aquifer in the late 1970s and 1980s soon after its discovery. In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia dramatically increased its extractions to support its wheat production. As a result, groundwater, which typically flowed toward Jordan, reversed to flow toward the Saudi well field. While Saudi Arabia greatly reduced its extractions in the 1990s, Saudi withdrawals in 2008 were estimated at over 1,000 MCM (see here).

In Jordan, the Al-Sag /Al-Disi Aquifer was initially only used as a local water supply. In the late 1980s, Jordan began developing agricultural activities along its southern border and now withdraws some 60 MCM. To overcome water scarcity in other regions of the country, in the 1990s Jordan conceived the Disi Water Conveyance Project (DWCP) to extract an additional 100-150 MCM of water that would flow through a 325 km pipeline from Disi to Amman. While the project failed to obtain World Bank support, Jordan pursued the DWCP on a build-operate-transfer basis with a Turkish contractor and water began flowing to Amman in 2013 (see here and here). The project became especially controversial in 2009 when an independent study revealed that water in the aquifer contained naturally-occurring radiation (20 times international levels regarded safe for drinking) and posed a potential health hazard (see here). Subsequent Jordanian tests claimed the water met all safety standards when diluted with clean water (see here).

Disi Water Pipeline (from Ferraginaa & Greco (2008). The Disi project: an internal/external analysis, Water International, Vol. 33(4)

Disi Water Pipeline (from Ferraginaa & Greco (2008). The Disi project: an internal/external analysis, Water International, Vol. 33(4)).

The Agreement

The Agreement over the Al-Sag /Al-Disi Aquifer is concise with four main articles. Article One contains terms and definitions; Article Two describes the main norms for managing the aquifer; Article Three discusses the creation and responsibilities of a Joint Saudi/Jordanian Technical Committee; and Article Four contains administrative provisions related to the implementation of the Agreement.

Notwithstanding its minimalist approach, the Agreement is noteworthy in a number of important ways. As a general matter, its very nature as an agreement over a transboundary aquifer is unique since today there is only one transboundary aquifer globally with a comprehensive management regime and two with more rudimentary consultative and data sharing arrangements (see here). This is in sharp contrast to the over 3,600 treaties relating to the use of transboundary surface waters that have been catalogued since 800 CE (see here).

More specifically, the Agreement imposes no numerical limitations on extractions. Rather, Article 2(1) creates a “Protected Area” of approximately 400 km2 within each country along the border where “all activities … which depend on the extraction of groundwater therefrom” must be discontinued within five years. In addition, Article 2(2) requires the Parties to maintain the Protected Area free from all activities that require groundwater. In effect, it creates a forbidden zone between the well fields of the two nations. When looking at the map accompanying the Agreement and the straight lines demarcating the Protected Area, it is unclear whether this zone is the result of unique hydrogeological conditions, or simply based on a desire to maintain a geographical buffer zone between the two parties.

In addition, the Agreement creates a broader “Management Area” that encompasses the Protected Area and spans approximately 1,000 km2 in each country.  Although water extractions are permitted from within the Management Area, but outside of the Protected Area, they are limited solely for municipal purposes. While the aquifer extends beyond the Management Area on both sides of the border, these regions are not subject to the Agreement. Whether this is intentional is unclear, however, some studies indicate that some sections of the aquifer are less productive while others are at depths where extraction is not economical (see here).

Read together, these provisions effectively protect ongoing water projects supplying villages and cities in both nations, including the DWCP. They also ensure both nations’ extractions for agricultural and other purposes in areas outside of each country’s Management Area. This is especially important for Saudi Arabia, since a large portion of the aquifer lies in that country. The absence of more detailed pumping restrictions, however, could be worrisome in the long run as projections indicate that current pumping rates will deplete the aquifer in Jordan by mid-century and in Saudi Arabia shortly thereafter (see here).

Also noteworthy is the near absolute prohibition in the Agreement on groundwater pollution. Article 2(4) prohibits horizontal or slant wells explicitly to avoid aquifer pollution, while Article 2(5) creates an affirmative obligation to both protect groundwater against “any pollution” as well as prevent the injection of “any pollutant” into the aquifer. The only caveat is the fact that these obligations are limited to the Management Area; there are no pollution-related or other provisions pertaining to areas outside of the Management Area.

A further unique development found in the Agreement is the creation of a Joint Technical Committee (JTC). It is unique because relatively few agreements over transboundary surface water, and only one for a shared aquifer, have created such mechanisms. In the case of the Al-Sag/Al-Disi Aquifer, while the JTC is entrusted with “the supervision of the implementation of the terms of this Agreement,” it does not have any decision-making authority. Rather, under Article 3(4), it is primarily responsible for monitoring both the quantity and quality of extractions, collecting and exchanging information, analyzing collected data, and submitting their findings to the competent authorities in both nations. Accordingly, it may be argued that derivative to the creation of the JTC is the Agreement’s recognition of the international water law principles of exchange of information and ongoing monitoring, as well as the more progressive notion that such endeavors should be pursued jointly (see Art. 2(3)).

While the Agreement is notable for what it includes, it is also significant for what is conspicuously absent from the text. Under contemporary international water law, including trends identified in the emerging international law of transboundary aquifers (see here), two cornerstone principles require: equitable and reasonable utilization, and no significant harm. Neither norm appears explicitly in the Agreement. Possibly, the prohibitions on extraction and types of uses within, as well as the de facto permissible uses outside of, the Management Area could be interpreted as a form of equitable and reasonable utilization. Similarly, the prohibitions on the pollution of the aquifer could be deemed a variation on the rule of no significant harm, at least for purposes of ensuring water quality. Such analyses could be investigated further through access to the negotiators and any documentation that underpinned the Agreement.

One additional well-accepted norm of international water law that is missing from the Agreement: prior notice of planned measures that may have a transboundary effect. However, since all activities requiring groundwater are prohibited in the Protected Area, and limited to municipal purposes in the remaining section of the Management Area, such notice obligations may be superfluous. Of course, it is unclear whether activities in other sections of the aquifer that traverse the Jordanian-Saudi border could have transboundary consequences.

Conclusion

Of the more than 600 transboundary aquifers and ground water systems that have been identified globally (see here), only a miniscule number have any cooperative arrangement among these critical subsurface water resources. Accordingly, the Agreement over the Al-Sag /Al-Disi Aquifer is a significant milestone. It suggests that states may be beginning to recognize the importance of their transboundary aquifers and the need to cooperate with their neighbors. Hopefully others will soon follow suit.

The Kishenganga Awards and their Contributions to International Water Law

August 5th, 2015

The following post is by Dr. Mara Tignino, Senior Lecturer and Coordinator of the Platform for International Water Law, Faculty of Law, University of Geneva. She can be reached at Mara.Tignino [at] unige.ch.

 

In May 2010, Pakistan initiated an arbitration proceeding against India concerning the construction of a hydroelectric infrastructure project (“KHEP”) undertaken by India on the Kishenganga River—part of the Indus River basin. The KHEP is situated in India-administered Jammu and Kashmir in north-west India, about 12 kilometres upstream of the Line of Control with Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir, and is aimed at producing hydropower via a diversion of the River’s flow. Once completed, the diverted waters would flow through a tunnel around 23.5 kilometres long toward a power facility situated 666 meters below the Kishenganga dam. The water will then be redirected into Wular Lake and the River Jhelum, which flows into the territory of Pakistan. The falling water would drive turbines producing about 330 megawatts of electricity. According to Pakistan, the KHEP will have an impact on water flow downstream in Pakistan and affect its own production of hydropower.

Kishenganga Hydroelectric Project (Source: Partial Award, p.51)

Kishenganga Hydroelectric Project (Source: Partial Award, p.51)

The uses of the Indus River and its tributaries are regulated by the Indus Waters Treaty, adopted by India, Pakistan and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) in 1960. Article IX of the treaty provides for the establishment of mechanisms for the settlement of differences and disputes between the two States. As a result of Pakistan’s request, an arbitral tribunal composed of seven arbiters was established under article IX, which subsequently issued four decisions: an Order on Interim Measures in September 2011, based on an application made by Pakistan in June 2011, a Partial Award in February 2013, a Decision on India’s Request for Clarification or Interpretation in May 2013, and a Final Award, issued in December 2013. All four decisions were adopted unanimously.

Signed after ten years of negotiations, the Indus Waters Treaty represented an ambitious landmark in the development of international water law. The treaty is emblematic of the potential for international law to facilitate cooperation in the governance of international watercourses. As emphasized by the tribunal itself, the treaty has been continuously applied for over 50 years, despite recurring hostilities in the Kashmir region, including three episodes of direct armed conflict between India and Pakistan. In fact, while Pakistan had made use of the dispute settlement procedures of the treaty once before—in 2006, it requested the intervention of a Neutral Expert under article IX in the case of the Baglihar hydropower project—this was the first time that an arbitral tribunal had been established to settle a dispute concerning the application and the interpretation of the treaty.

Much as the treaty itself contributed to the development of substantive law on international watercourses, both the process and outcome of the arbitration offered noteworthy innovations in the settlement of disputes on transboundary water resources:

  1. In procedural terms, the inclusion of an engineer among the members of the tribunal offered an interesting approach to balancing the needs for various forms of expertise in the determination of the issues (the Neutral Expert charged with resolution of the 2007 Baglihar dispute was also an engineer). The presence of technical experts as equal participants in dispute settlement mechanisms facilitates the understanding of complex factual issues related to the construction and exploitation of hydropower infrastructures.
  2. From the perspective of substantial international environmental law, the recognition in the award of an obligation to ensure a minimum environmental flow in an international watercourse offers a possible indicator of future developments. The tribunal held that India could divert waters from the Kishenganga River, but that it had to ensure a continuing minimum flow rate of 9 cubic meters of water per second in the River itself (Final Award, p.326). Parties must provide the Permanent Indus Commission with daily data on River flows and the information on the inputs and withdrawals of water from the reservoir. According to the arbiters, the Commission is the most appropriate mechanism to ensure the exchange of data and monitoring of the uses of the tributaries of the Indus River (Final Award, par.121).
  3. Strikingly, the judges rejected the application of the precautionary principle to the case. Pakistan had argued that the flows of the Indus tributaries at the Line of Control are difficult to measure, and the Parties gave different estimations of future minimum flow levels. The tribunal recognized future flows levels would be uncertain, depending both on future uses and on factors outside the control of either India or Pakistan, such as climate change (Final Award, par.117). Rather than basing their judgment on the precautionary principle, they chose to account for this uncertainty by requiring India to finalise the KHEP in a manner that would allow for responsiveness to future variations in flow levels.
  4. Finally, the tribunal offered a lynchpin for the sustainability of this approach by creating a window for reconsideration: if, within seven years after the diversion of the Kishenganga River is finalized, one of the Parties considers it necessary to review the quantity of the minimum environmental flow as decided by the arbitral tribunal, the flow will be submitted to the Permanent Indus Commission or other mechanisms established by the Treaty (Final Award, par.119).
Members of the Court of Arbitration, 20 August 2012 Standing : H.E. Judge Peter Tomka, Judge Bruno Simma, Professor Lucius Caflisch, Professor Jan Paulsson. Seated : Sir Franklin Berman KCMG QC, Judge Stephen M. Schwebel (Chairman), Professor Howard S. Wheater FREng

Members of the Court of Arbitration, 20 August 2012
Standing: H.E. Judge Peter Tomka, Judge Bruno Simma, Professor Lucius Caflisch, Professor Jan Paulsson. Seated: Sir Franklin Berman KCMG QC, Judge Stephen M. Schwebel (Chairman), Professor Howard S. Wheater FREng

The decisions of the arbitral tribunal specify the general obligations related to the construction of hydroelectric projects upstream and downstream of an international watercourse. Thus, the Tribunal affirms that “There is no doubt that States are required under contemporary customary law to take environmental protection into consideration when planning and developing projects that may cause injury to a bordering State” (Partial Award, par.449), and takes note of the principle of sustainable development, the obligation to carry out a transboundary environmental impact assessment and the broader duty to avoid transboundary harm (Partial Award, pars. 448-451). In considering these obligations both in terms of conventional law, according to the Indus Waters Treaty, and in terms of customary law, the arbiters have contributed to the development and clarification of general principles of international water law relating to the environmental protection of transboundary water resources.