Archive for February, 2012

Outcome of the Nairobi Nile Council of Ministers Meeting – An Inevitable Consequence of a level-playing field?

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

The following post is by Dr. Salman M.A. Salman, an academic researcher and consultant on water law and policy and former water law advisor to The World Bank. He can be reached at Salmanmasalman [at]

The Ministers of Water Resources of the Nile Basin countries (Nile Council of Ministers, or Nile COM) were supposed to hold an extra-ordinary meeting on January 27, 2012, in Nairobi, Kenya. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the legal and institutional ramifications of the entry into force of the Nile Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA). That meeting was requested by Egypt and Sudan, following signing of the CFA by six of the upper riparians, namely Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda Tanzania and Uganda. Coincidentally, the CFA needs six ratifications to enter into force.

The Nile Basin Countries

In fact Egypt and Sudan had asked for that meeting back in July 2010, during the eighteenth annual meeting of the Nile COM in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They had wanted to reopen discussion on the CFA, but the upper riparians objected. Egypt and Sudan renewed their demand for the meeting during the nineteenth annual Nile COM meeting in Nairobi in July 2011. As a compromise, it was agreed that an extra-ordinary meeting would be held in Kigali, Rwanda, on October 27, 2011, in connection with the 3rd Nile Basin Development Forum.

About a week before the meeting was to take place, Egypt and Sudan asked for a postponement. The parties then agreed to hold the meeting in Nairobi on December 27, 2011. Yet again Egypt and Sudan asked for a postponement, to which the others reluctantly agreed. That meeting was to take place on January 27, 2012 in Nairobi.

On Thursday January 26, 2012, all of the Nile ministers of water resources arrived in Nairobi except those from Egypt and Sudan. And the two nations did not ask for another postponement. Angered and frustrated, the ministers of Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, in addition to the representative of the Democratic Republic of Congo (which has not yet signed the CFA), decided to hold their own meeting, but under a different umbrella. They decided to meet as the Nile Equatorial Lakes Council of Ministers (NEL COM), one of the institutions established under the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) with its head office in Kigali. Although Egypt and Sudan are also members of the NEL COM, it seems that the upper riparian ministers decided they have the authority to hold the NEL COM meeting, and not the extra-ordinary Nile COM meeting requested by Egypt and Sudan who were absent.

The second decision taken by the NEL COM was to upgrade the observer status of Ethiopia in the NEL COM to full member. No doubt, this upgrade solidified the NEL COM and strengthened it as a coalition force against the alliance established by Egypt and Sudan under the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement. That alliance was epitomized by the establishment of the Permanent Joint Technical Committee by the two countries under the 1959 Agreement, headquartered in Khartoum.

The NEL COM discussed and approved a series of measures regarding the NEL investment program, including the strategic plan 2012 – 2016; financing from the World Bank Cooperation for International Waters in Africa (CIWA); and the investment conference to be held with the development partners in June 2012 for hydropower and water storage facilities in the NEL countries.

NEL COM Ministers

The NEL COM then turned to the CFA and took three bold decisions which can be expected to have major ramifications on the relationship between the Nile River’s upper and lower riparians.

First, the NEL COM decided to go ahead with ratification of the CFA with the view of having it enter into force and effect, and thereafter to establish the Nile Basin Commission as prescribed in the CFA. This means that the ministers have reversed their earlier decision to delay the ratification of the CFA, in light of the Egyptian revolution of January 2011, so as to give Egypt and Sudan time to reconsider their position. The ministers also agreed that they would keep each other updated on the ratification process in their respective countries.

Second, the NEL COM instructed the Chair of the Nile COM (Ms. Charity Ngilu, Kenya Minister of Water Resources) to continue discussions with the three countries that have not signed the CFA (Egypt, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo) with the view of bringing them to ratify the Agreement; such discussions are to be concluded within sixty days.

Third, the ministers indicated their frustrations with the indecisiveness of Egypt and Sudan regarding the extraordinary meeting that the two nations requested but failed to attend, and which the ministers believed would have been an opportunity for dialogue and cooperation. The ministers instructed Mr. Stanislas Kamanzi, the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources of Rwanda and the current chair of NEL COM, to communicate these decisions to the members of the NBI (see story from The New Times here). The outcome of the meeting was included in the Nairobi Statement.

These are no doubt major decisions that will have far reaching consequences. Thus far, Sudan and Egypt have refrained from making any comments or issuing any statements. Perhaps the two lower riparian countries realize that the idea of the extra-ordinary meeting was not a good one, because the discussion would address the ramifications of the entry into force of the CFA, and not the areas of differences between the upper and lower riparians. Those differences concern the demand of Egypt and Sudan that the CFA include explicit reference to their existing uses and rights; clear provisions on prior notification; and that the CFA should be amendable either by a consensus or majority that includes both Egypt and Sudan. The upper riparians had rejected those demands. Now, they have decided to go ahead with ratification of the CFA.

It should be added that ratification of the CFA and its entry into force will create some legal problems related to the status of the NBI Secretariat after it is replaced by the Nile Basin Commission. This is because the programs, assets, and liabilities of the NBI will be inherited by a Commission that would not include Egypt and Sudan, both of whom are active members of the NBI.

The Nile Basin is clearly going through critical and uncertain times. The emergence of the upper riparians as a power to reckon with is, in my view, an inevitable consequence of a level playing field resulting from the NBI itself.

Will the Nile countries manage to resolve their differences in the next sixty days, or is the Nile heading towards more polarization and conflicts? This is what the next few weeks will tell.

You can find prior IWLP Blog posts on the CFA and NBI here, here, and here.

Nicaragua and Costa Rica Return to the ICJ for 3rd Case over the San Juan River

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

On December 22, 2011, Nicaragua instituted proceedings in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Costa Rica for “violations of Nicaraguan sovereignty and major environmental damages to its territory” (see Nicaragua’s Application and  ICJ Press Release). This is the latest dispute in a string of conflicts between the two nations that has spanned more than a century, and the third presented to the ICJ in the past few years (see prior post briefly discussing this history).

The first case heard by the ICJ—Dispute Regarding Navigational and Related Rights—instituted by Costa Rica in 2005 concerned Costa Rica’s right to freely (without obstacles or taxation) navigate the San Juan River. The Court held that, while the River is Nicaraguan territory and Nicaragua can regulate the River traffic for national security, Costa Rica has the right of navigation for the “purposes of commerce” (see pleadings and related material here). In the second ICJ dispute—Certain Activities carried out by Nicaragua in the Border Area—which was instituted in 2010 and is still pending before the ICJ, Costa Rica contested Nicaraguan military presence at Isla Calero, territory that Costa Rica claims as its own, in connection with the construction of a canal (see prior post discussing this case; see pleadings and related material here).

This latest ICJ dispute between the countries concerns a road constructed by Costa Rica parallel to the San Juan River between Los Chiles and the Delta region. According to some accounts, the road was constructed as a defensive measure against the possibility of an incursion by Nicaraguan troops (see story here). While the road runs solely on Costa Rican territory, Nicaragua contends that its construction resulted in harmful environmental effects on Nicaraguan territory—specifically silting of the San Juan River, erosion of the River banks, and harm to the surrounding ecosystem of wetlands and the Indio Maiz Biosphere Reserve.

In its complaint, Nicaragua asserts that the construction of the road, which began in July 2011, has already “resulted in dumping in the River of substantial volumes of sediments—soil, uprooted vegetation and felled trees.” It also argues that “the felling of trees and the removal of topsoil and vegetation close to the River bank facilitate erosion, and the leeching of even greater amounts of sediments into the river.” Ultimately, Nicaragua alleges that Costa Rica breached its international obligations by infringing on Nicaragua’s territorial integrity, damaging Nicaraguan territory, and violating general obligations in international law and relevant environmental conventions. In its request for relief, Nicaragua seeks restoration to the status quo ante, damages, and preparation and transmission of an appropriate transboundary environmental impact assessment (EIA).

In addressing this case, the Court is likely to refer to its 2005 decision in which it found that, while Costa Rica has rights to navigate the San Juan River, the river remains Nicaraguan territory (see 2005 decision here). Accordingly, the case could turn on whether Costa Rica’s construction of the river road caused transboundary environmental harm to Nicaragua, including the San Juan River. Based on prior decisions between the two nations, as well as international law, Costa Rica certainly is bound to respect and not harm the territory and environment of its neighbor (see e.g., 1858 Treaty on the Boundaries between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, the Cleveland Award of 1888 [English and Spanish], and the five Awards of the Umpire EP Alexander of September 30, 1897, December 20, 1897, March 22, 1898, July 26, 1899, and March 10, 1900).

Establishing a legal cause of action for transboundary harm, however, is typically dependent on showing a minimum level of harm. For example, both the UN Watercourses Convention and the UN International Law Commission’s Draft Articles on Transboundary Aquifers require harm to be substantial before it can be actionable. In the context of a transboundary watercourse, the UN International Law Commission asserted that significant harm occurs where the “harm exceed[ed] the parameters of what was usual in the relationship between the States that relied on the use of the waters for their benefit.” It also suggested that significant harm means “something more than ‘measurable’, but less than ‘serious’ or ‘substantial,’” and that an adverse effect or harm that is “not negligible but which yet did not necessarily rise to the level of ‘substantial’ or ‘important’” is considered “significant” (see footnote 123 and related text in my Article discussing the significant harm threshold). Whether Costa Rica’s actions rise to the level of significant harm remains to be seen.

As to the preparation and transmission of an EIA, the need for an EIA will depend on how the Court rules on the issue of significant harm. In the Case Concerning the Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay, the ICJ recognized that the practice of environmental impact assessment “has gained so much acceptance among States that it may now be considered a requirement under general international law to undertake an environmental impact assessment where there is a risk that the proposed industrial activity may have a significant adverse impact in a transboundary context, in particular, on a shared resource” (see Parag. 204 of the decision in the case). Hence, there first must be a determination that Costa Rica’s road building had the potential to result in a significant transboundary adverse impact before it can be argued that an EIA was required. It is noteworthy that the standard for mandating an EIA is lower than for finding an actionable injury: “may have a significant adverse impact” for the former, and “significant harm” for the latter.

On January 23, 2012, the Court issued time-limits for the two nations to file the initial pleadings in the dispute: December 19, 2012, and December 19, 2013, for Nicaragua and Costa Rica, respectively (see ICJ Press Release). In the interim, a group of environmentalists have challenged the Costa Rican government’s actions before the country’s Supreme Court and are seeking to enjoin the continued construction of the road (see story here).

As is often the case, the ICJ is in a unique position to provide guidance on an important legal matter, as well as a critical “real world” dispute.

Special thanks to law student Elana Katz-Mink, at American University’s Washington College of Law, for her invaluable assistance in developing this post.

What Does Turkey’s Contemplated European Union “Freeze” Have to do with Water?

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

The following post is by Rhett Larson, Visiting Assistant Professor of Law at Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Professor Larson specializes on environmental and natural resource law and, in particular, on domestic and international water law and policy. Professor Larson offers the following post as part of his ongoing research.

Turkey plays an increasingly important global role as a cultural and economic bridge between Western nations and Muslim-majority nations. Its role has the potential to grow as it has been in talks to accede to the European Union (“EU”) since 2005. However, Reuters recently reported that Turkish officials have stated that Turkey would “freeze” relations with the EU if the EU were to grant its presidency to Cyprus (see Reuter’s article here). Cyprus is scheduled to take on the six-month rotating EU presidency in July 2012.

Turkey’s opposition to Cyprus’ EU presidency stems from several factors, including the potential conflict over Cyprus’s off-shore oil and gas drilling by Cyprus that is opposed by Turkey. But most fundamentally, Turkey is the only nation that currently recognizes the independent status of Northern Cyprus, with its majority ethnic Turk population, as compared to the rest of the majority ethnic Greek government of Cyprus. Turkey’s 1974 intervention (or invasion, depending on your perspective) in Northern Cyprus, Turkey’s recognition of Northern Cyprus as an independent states, and the EU’s blockade of Northern Cyprus have been the more stubborn obstacles to Turkey’s accession to the EU.

What does all of this have to do with water? The island of Cyprus has been suffering from a prolonged drought, impacting both agricultural and copper production, and further straining relations between North and South (see BBC article here).

Turkey has discussed construction of additional dams and reservoir capacity on the already contentious Euphrates River (which Turkey shares with co-riparians Syria and Iraq, as well as ethnic Kurds in all three countries, with each group suffering from drought as well). The proposed additional storage capacity on the Euphrates would not go to provide water to Turkey or its Euphrates co-riparians, but instead would supply Northern Cyprus via an undersea pipeline (see Global Post article here, and Green Prophet article here).

According to the Famagusta Gazette, Turkey began construction of the new reservoir and the undersea pipeline in March of 2011. The Turkish government contemplates 4 stages of construction for the project, with a projected completion date in March of 2014 (see article here).

Interestingly, this is not Turkey’s first foray into bulk water transports via pipeline into politically-contested territories. Turkey has previously proposed a “peace pipeline” to provide water to states in the Middle East, including Israel (see prior IWLP post on this topic here).This type of bulk water transport has very few precedents in international water policy. Singapore has, since the 1920s, purchased water in bulk from Malaysia (see here). Bulk water transport has been contemplated between the Canada and arid regions of the United States. However, environmental concerns over interbasin transfers and controversy over international trade and investment law, including NAFTA Chapter 11 protection for investors in bulk water transport projects, ended the contemplated transfer.

Turkey’s storage and pipeline project for the benefit of Turkish Cypriots has several implications for international water law and the hydropolitics of the region. First, other than the issue of Northern Cyprus, one of the other main obstacles to Turkey’s accession to the EU has been its relations with Syria and Iraq with respect to the Euphrates, and its treatment of ethnic Kurds within the Euphrates basin (see BBC article here).

Turkey’s relations with its co-riparians would arguably not comply with the EU Water Framework Directive (“WFD”). The WFD requires that EU member states work with co-riparian states in projects on transboundary rivers, and that requirement is not limited to coordination only with organized states, but also arguably with non-state actors, such as the Kurds. Additional storage on the Euphrates and an international bulk exportation of water from the basin will only further exacerbate relations between Turkey, Iraq, and Kurdistan, and aggravate an already imposing obstacle to Turkey’s accession to the EU.

Turkey’s failure to coordinate with its Euphrates co-riparians with regards to this project raises questions of international law and the widely accepted customary international law principle of “good neighborliness” requiring cooperation and information sharing for projects impacting shared fresh water resources. While there is no current treaty framework governing the Euphrates, the Turkish/Syrian Mixed Economic Commission and the Trilateral Water Institute/Joint Technical Committee can provide a foundation upon which to build a collaborative institution facilitating information sharing and cooperation between Euphrates riparians. Participation of Iraqi, Syrian, and Kurdish riparians in any bulk water export would at least avoid the legal and diplomatic problems arising from the contemplated storage and pipeline project for Northern Cyprus.

Furthermore, Turkey’s contemplated pipeline project raises questions of international trade in bulk water, not dissimilar to the issues that confronted the contemplated bulk water transport from Canada to the Southwestern United States. For example, the Greek Cypriot government could throw up legal trade barriers to prevent Turkey from selling water to Northern Cyprus. Such trade barriers could run afoul of the World Trade Organization laws, such as the 1994 General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, respecting the “equal footing” status of trade partners as compared to domestic vendors. However, the status of bulk water transported via pipeline as a “commodity” subject to WTO regulations is not settled law, and the unique relations of the Greek Cypriot government toward Turkey, as well as the dire drought conditions in Cyprus, make this case more complicated than simply discriminatory tariffs.

Turkey could avoid these issues and facilitate its accession to the EU in several ways. First, Turkey could build upon those existing river basin institutions on the Euphrates by including Iraq and Kurdish representatives in an effort to comply with the WFD in the implementation of the reservoir and pipeline project. Second, Turkey could investigate the potential cost savings and water production capacity of desalination in Northern Cyprus as compared to the reservoir and pipeline project; if cost-feasible, desalination could provide a less controversial alternative to addressing the drought in Northern Cyprus. Third, while Turkey is unlikely to withdraw support in the near future for a Turkish Cypriot state, Turkey could recognize that it would have a great ability to address the interests of Turkish Cypriots as a member of the EU than under the status quo. Turkey’s efforts to alleviate the drought in Cyprus on a nondiscriminatory basis for the benefit of all Cyprus, whether through desalination or the reservoir/pipeline project, could be viewed as an olive branch to Greek Cypriot government. Such a diplomatic gesture could facilitate Turkey joining the EU despite support for an independent Northern Cyprus.

Turkey’s contemplated “freeze” of its relations with the EU fray what had been a strengthening tie between East and West. How Turkey resolves the interrelated water issues toward its Euphrates co-riparians as well as toward Cyprus could go a long way in either restoring or further weakening its role as an important cultural and economic bridge.