Archive for the ‘Transboundary Rivers’ Category

Disputes over International Watercourses: Can River Basin Organizations make a Difference?

Friday, July 21st, 2017

The following essay by Sabine Blumstein and Susanne Schmeier is a summary of a recently published book chapter titled “Disputes Over International Watercourses: Can River Basin Organizations make a Difference?”. Ms. Blumstein works as a Project Manager at adelphi. Ms. Schmeier is Coordinator for Transboundary Water Management at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). They can be contacted at: blumstein[at]


Book coverDisagreements or even full-fledged disputes over the use of water resources in shared basins have increasingly made headlines in the past years. Developments in the Mekong, Nile, Syr Darya, Indus and other basins have led more and more scholars, as well as policy-makers and journalists, to warn of the risk of water conflicts or even wars. This revives – albeit in a more informed manner – the water wars debate of the early 1990s. While much progress has been made since then – especially through the creation and institutionalization of cooperative arrangements in many shared basins – disputes nonetheless continue to occur. And they do occur even in basins with River Basin Organizations (RBOs) in place, which have often been set up to solve, mitigate or prevent such disputes.

However, research on transboundary river basin management as well as empirical evidence from basins around the world suggest that RBOs do make a difference. They provide a variety of direct and indirect mechanisms for dispute resolution, as discussed in a recently published chapter which appeared in “Management of Transboundary Water Resources under Scarcity. A Multidisciplinary Approach”. In this chapter, the authors shed light on how RBOs engage in the solution of disputes that arise over water resources in transboundary basins. And they show that it is not dispute-resolution mechanisms in the narrow sense – often identified as the key if not the only instruments RBOs provide – that make a difference in whether a conflict is solved peacefully in a cooperative manner. Instead, it is the broader cooperative framework of RBOs that matters.

The authors review existing dispute resolution mechanisms of international RBOs around the world in a comprehensive manner. Their research indicates that more than 50% of the 121 analyzed RBOs have a dispute resolution mechanism in place – seemingly a good starting point. Among those, they identify three broader categories of RBO dispute resolution mechanisms: bilateral negotiations between those RBO members involved in a disagreement; RBO-internal mechanisms; and external actors’ involvement. Often, states have opted to establish more than one step in the respective dispute-resolution mechanism, structuring the processes in two instances with different mechanisms to be applied. For instance, bilateral negotiation between disputing parties (facilitated by the RBO) are often followed by a possible engagement of external actors – both 3rd party mediators and judicial ones.

The authors also provide explanations for why dispute resolution mechanisms vary around the world (in terms of existence in the first place, but also in design). Often, it is the history of cooperation (also beyond the water sector) that determines both the existence as well as the exact design of dispute resolution mechanisms. The high share of dispute resolution mechanisms in African RBOs, for example, can be explained by the past conflicts found in many African basins as well as the high presence of international donors, which often consider well-defined dispute-resolution mechanisms as a prerequisite for successful cooperation. In Europe, on the other hand, the existence of cooperation mechanisms (including specific instruments for solving disputes) in many issue-areas has limited the need for well-defined dispute resolution mechanisms within specific basins and RBOs.

Regional distribution of dispute-resolution mechanisms in RBOs

    Regional distribution of dispute-resolution mechanisms in RBOs

In the second part of the chapter, the authors analyze two conflicts in greater detail in order to shed more light on how exactly RBOs make a difference in solving or mitigating disputes in shared basins. For the Mekong River Basin, they find that while the Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) dispute resolution mechanisms themselves (see Art. 34 and 35 of the 1995 Mekong Agreement) might seem insufficient for addressing issues as complex as recent hydropower developments and related inter-state conflicts, the MRC provides ample other tools for ensuring that such disputes get addressed in a cooperative manner and on the basis of comprehensive technical data and information. Although having been criticized by many scholars, the MRC’s Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) and the processes established around them (e.g. the identification of environmental and socioeconomic baselines, the establishment of guidelines for impact mitigation, etc.) have ensured that disagreements have been handled in a rather cooperative manner. This is particularly obvious if compared to similar situations of unilateral hydropower development in other basins around the world.

For the Nile River Basin, the authors find that the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) did not directly contribute to diplomatic negotiations or any other form of direct resolution of the conflict around the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which can partly be explained by the absence of any NBI dispute resolution mechanism. In addition, the lack of any notification mechanism or requirement to exchange data/information on planned infrastructure measures which could potentially impact downstream countries, prevented the NBI to play any significant role in averting the dispute in the first place. Despite this limited role in conflict prevention and direct diplomatic engagement, NBI played an important role in defusing the conflict through broader activities around data and information sharing and increasingly distributing this knowledge to the broader public. The RBO’s activities regarding knowledge distribution and more neutral reporting through national media is an important contribution to de-securitize national discourses around the construction of GERD and hence a precondition for any final resolution of the dispute.

While the findings reveal that the existence of specific dispute resolution mechanisms in a narrow sense does not necessarily influence the success of dispute resolution and depends on a number of other intervening factors, RBOs as a whole do matter in 2addressing water-related conflicts. This is because RBOs provide a range of instruments beyond pure dispute resolution mechanisms: amongst others, they provide platforms for negotiation and exchange, data and information exchange or notification procedures. These instruments are of key importance to solve, contain or even prevent conflicts. Water practitioners and policy actors should therefore not exclusively focus on the specific dispute resolution mechanisms provided by RBOs but be aware of and actively use the broader repertoire of governance instruments provided by RBOs to avoid and solve evolving disputes in transboundary river basins.


The Fairness ‘Dilemma’ in Sharing the Nile Waters: What Lessons from the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam for International Law?

Friday, June 30th, 2017

The following essay by Dr. Zeray Yihdego is a summary of his recently published monograph (under the same title), which appears in Vol. 2.2, 2017, pp. 1-80, of Brill Research Perspectives in International Water Law. Dr. Yihdego is a Reader in public international law at the School of Law, University of Aberdeen. He can be reached at zeray.yihdego [at]

The Nile, the longest River in the world, is shared by eleven riparian states, including Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia.  Ethiopia contributes about 86% of the Nile waters, while Egypt (and to a certain extent Sudan) rightly or arbitrarily use most of the waters. Rightly because the climate and dependency of the two downstream countries on the Nile may be used to justify their historic or existing (lion) share. Arbitrary because other riparian states with millions of people who live within the basin are denied their equitable share of Nile water resources and socio-economic development needs. The construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile is justified by Ethiopia based on equitable utilisation and crucial development needs, while questioned (until March 2015) by Egypt as a threat to its ‘historic’ water use rights.

This monograph articulates the key arguments and messages of enquiring into the fairness dilemma in connection with the construction, reservoir filling, and to some extent, future operation of the GERD, in light of relevant colonial-era Nile treaties, post-1990 Nile framework instruments, and international water law.

Nile-GERDAfter providing factual, political and historical context to the GERD case in the Introduction, the monograph sets out the theoretical and normative framework around Thomas Franck’s fairness principle, and international water law (IWL), as primarily featured in the 1997 United Nations Watercourses Convention (UNWC). Franck’s theory of fairness uses procedural legitimacy (or right process) and distributive justice as two fundamental features of fairness.  These are supported by the rejection of making absolute claims and the possibility of accommodating inequality among states, as caveats to the fairness principle. It is argued that IWL, in general, and the UNWC provide rules and principles that specifically fit into the principle of fairness in all its aspects, although there is no evidence to suggest that inequality is tolerated or promoted in international (water) law.

Given that none of the Nile basin states is a party to the UNWC, and notwithstanding the relevance and application of customary international water law to the GERD, the monograph resorts to dealing with the Nile Basin Initiative and the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA), and argues that the CFA, either as a treaty regime or a codification of customary watercourses law, represents an emerging Nile basin legal framework with a potential to addressing questions of fairness in the basin. As the CFA has not entered into force and Egypt and Sudan do not constitute part of the process, however, the fairness of the GERD cannot be judged form the CFA perspective.

Following a thorough investigation of the fairness of the 1902 Nile Treaty, the 1993 Ethio–Egyptian Framework instrument, and the tripartite Declaration of Principles (DoPs) on the GERD signed by Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt in March 2015, the monograph submits that the 1902 and 1993 instruments do not provide a fair content and system for the concerned parties, albeit for different reasons. While the 1902 Nile Treaty is inherently arbitrary, and thus not compatible with the notion of fairness, the 1993 instrument incorporated modern principles of IWL, but not sufficiently, and lacks specificity of rights and duties of the two countries.  In contrast, the DoPs is founded on the globally accepted principles and rules of IWL and has

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

embraced both relevant content and legitimate process. The content of the DoPs includes the adoption of equitable utilisation and no significant harm principles. Similarly, the process agreed to in the DoPs includes the duty to exchange data and information, establishment of a National Technical Committee, the use of foreign consultancy firms and the use and endorsement of the work of an International Panel of Experts (IPoE).  All these, although not without challenges, have been negotiated in good faith, with equal participation of all concerned.

Based on this analysis, the monograph submits that:  the GERD is a symbol of a fair share of the Nile waters, the realization of which depends on, inter alia, an appropriate economic return and prevention of significant impacts; although application of the fairness principle can be complex, the notions of procedural fairness and distributive justice can be applied to define and delineate the principle with reference to a specific treaty regime; despite historical or existing injustice, a fair share of natural resources can bring sustainable and durable peace in inter-state relations.

The entire article is available here.


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

Monday, 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]

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.


Midriver States: An Overlooked Perspective in the Nile River Basin

Monday, 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

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.


The Helmand River and the Afghan-Iranian Treaty of 1973

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

The following post is by Dr. Glen Hearns, principle with Eco-Logical Resolutions, a consultancy based in Vancouver, Canada, specializing in resource management and decision making, facilitation, conflict resolution and strategic planning. Between 2012-2014, Dr. Hearns served as transboundary water advisor to the government of Afghanistan. He can be reached at ghearns [at]


The Helmand River and its major tributary, the Arghandab, drain 43% of Afghanistan including most of the southern part of the country. It has an average discharge of approximately 140m3/s, but is highly variable both annually and seasonally as the waters are primarily snow melt from the ridge of mountains running through the center of the country.  These include the Sia Koh Mountains and the Parwan Mountains northwest of Kabul.

The Helmand River flows some 1150 km before reaching the Sistan wetlands, a series of shallow marsh lakes (Hamuns) in southwest Afghanistan and eastern Iran (Figure 1). During high flows they form a series of interconnected lakes that flow in an anti-clockwise manner from Afghanistan to Iran. The wetlands are fed predominantly by Afghan rivers, the largest of which is the Helmand, and form a particularly diverse ecosystem important for migratory birds. Just prior to reaching the border, the Helmand River bifurcates at a point known as Helmand Fork. The Shele Charak River (called the Common Parian in Iran) flows northward, forming the border between Iran and Afghanistan and subsequently branches out to form the Hamun-e-Puzak. The other part of the fork flows westward into Iran, forming the Sistan River and eventually draining into the marshy lake, Hamun-e-Helmand (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Sistan Wetlands and Helmand Basin (Source: Wikipedia Maps)

Figure 1. Sistan Wetlands and Helmand Basin (Source: Wikipedia Maps)

The 1973 Helmand River Treaty is the only agreement that Afghanistan has that specifically addresses water allocations. The Helmand River and Sistan area have been the source of contention since the late 1800s. Various attempts to resolve the disputes were undertaken, including with U.S. assistance to form a fact-finding Helmand River Delta Commission, which developed recommendation in 1951.  The 1973 agreement follows those recommendations to supply Iran with an average 22 m3/s, and includes an additional 4 m3/s for “goodwill and brotherly relations”. The Treaty also establishes a new Helmand Commission to administer the provisions of the agreement (Art. VIII).  Monthly flow deliveries are specified in Article II of the treaty for “normal water years”, which is defined in Article 1(c) as a year with total flows upstream of Kajaki Dam at Dehrawud that are at least 5661 mcm between 1 October and the following 30 September. The Helmand Treaty is flexible in that in low flow years, provisions are made to reduce the flow allocated to Iran in proportion to their measured deviation from a normal year for any given month or months (Art. IV).

The Treaty specifies where Afghanistan is to deliver water flows to Iran: i) the boundary line at the Sistan River, and ii) between markers 51 and 52 on the Helmand River (Art. III(a)).  In addition to the quantities specified, Afghanistan must supply water of a quality that can be treated, if necessary, for use in irrigation and domestic use (Art. VI). This requirement effectively places the burden on Iran to treat the water for its purposes.

Of importance is that Afghanistan retains all the rights to the balance of the water and may “make such use or disposition of the water as it chooses” (Art. V). This privilege, however, must be balanced with Article XI, which acknowledges the importance of continued flow to the Helmand Delta, and admonishes that if flow is stopped, the Commissioners must develop plans to minimize the problem.

What is very clear is that Iran can make “no claim to the water of the Helmand River in excess of the amounts specified in this Treaty, even if additional amounts of water may be available in the Helmand Lower Delta and may be put to a beneficial use” (Art. 5). Consequently, if it is shown that Iran is taking more than 811 mcm/yr (per Article 3), it would be in clear breach of the Treaty.

Both Iran and Afghanistan have the ability to monitor each other to ensure that they remain in compliance with the Treaty. The Treaty specifies that during low flow years, the Iranian Commissioner has access to flow measurements at Dehrawud, and is even allowed to observe the flow and take his own measurements (Protocol 1, Art. 5). Additionally, both the Afghan and Iranian Commissioners are to jointly measure the delivery of water to Iran (Protocol 1, Art. 6). In practice, information from Dehrawud is made available on an ongoing basis, albeit not consistently, as the Commission does not always meet every year. Also, delivery of water to Iran is not adequately monitored according to Afghan officials.

Differences between the parties must be resolved through diplomatic means, or thereafter with the good offices of a third party. Failing resolution, Protocol 2 outlines a detailed arbitration process that includes fact-finding and creation of an Arbitration Tribunal. Should the parties not agree upon a suitable Chair of the Arbitration Tribunal, the United Nations shall be requested to appoint one.

While the Iranians have suggested reviewing the Treaty, the instrument has no sunset clause and exists in perpetuity. Also, the Treaty does not cover groundwater, which is also being extracted by Iran.

Regardless of the challenges, the status of the Treaty is secure. The Helmand Commission meets, hydraulic information is exchanged (but not from Dehrawud station as it has been out of commission for many years), and in 2001 the Iranians went to the United Nations to complain that Afghanistan was not releasing water from Kajaki and were in breach of Article 5 of the Treaty. The language used in the complaint demonstrates the Iranians feel the treaty is valid and in force.

The major issue today in the Helmand Basin is Afghanistan’s pursuit of water resource development projects. It is renovating Kajaki Dam, and is constructing Kamal Khan on the Lower Helmand River. It is also considering constructing Bakshabad Dam on the Farah River. These developments are unlikely to go over well with neighbouring Iran, which may well be taking more than its “guaranteed” share of water under the Helmand Treaty.  A 2006 study conducted, in part, by Iran’s Water Research Institute of the Ministry of Energy, indicated that Iran had developed storage and irrigation infrastructure from the Helmand and Shele Charak rivers with a delivery capacity in excess of what is permitted under the Treaty. The report goes on to indicate that the 1973 Treaty has very limited value for Iran and mainly guarantees drinking water supply.

While Afghanistan badly needs development, how it will balance that objective with the needs of Iranian water users, as well as the environmental needs of the Sistan wetlands, will be a delicate act.

Online Presentations on International Water Law and Policy

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

By Gabriel Eckstein

In recent years, technology has allowed us to become more informed and engaged at greater distances. This includes viewing lectures and presentations via the Internet. I wanted to draw your attention to a number of presentations on international water law and policy that were recently posted online and that may be of interest. If any of you know of other relevant lectures online, please do let me know via the comment box below or at iwlpwebsite [at]

On 22 May 2015, the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, organized two lectures as part of its SCELG Seminar Series.

Entry into Force of the United Nations Watercourses Convention: Why Should it Matter

Dr. Salman M.A. Salman, fellow with the International Water Resources Association, delivered a lecture in which he outlined the progressive development leading to the adoption of the United Nations Watercourses Convention, and comprehensively explained the importance and relevance of the Convention now it has entered into force. The seminar was supported by the Scottish Government.    View the presentation here.

Transboundary Aquifers: An Interdisciplinary Conversation

Prof. Gabriel Eckstein, Professor of Law at Texas A&M University, gave a guest lecture on the challenges for transboundary aquifer law and governance. The lecture was followed by a roundtable discussion that also included an esteemed panel from the fields of hydrogeology (Prof. Robert Kalin, University of Strathclyde), human geography (Dr. Naho Mirumachi, King’s College London), and international water law (Dr. Salman M.A. Salman, International Water Resources Association).    View the presentation and roundtable here.

Over the past few years, United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law has organized a lectures series on various international issues, including International Watercourses.

Dr. Stephen C. McCaffrey, Distinguished Professor and Scholar at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law, delivered a lecture on The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. This lecture provides an overview of the background and content of the Convention, and then examines the Convention’s influence. The lecture is available in Arabic, English, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish and can be viewed here.

Dr. Salman M.A. Salman presented a lecture on The Evolution, Codification and Current Status of International Water Law. The lecture describes the developments in international water law since 1911. It reviews and analyzes the work of the Institute of International Law, the International Law Association, and the International Law Commission, paying particular attention to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. The lecture is available in Arabic, English, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish and can be viewed here.

Not long before he passed away in 2013,  Ambassador Chusei Yamada, who served on the ILC during the drafting of the UN Watercourses Convention and later as Special Rapporteur for the ILC’s Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers, delivered a lecture on Codification of the Law on Transboundary Aquifers (Groundwaters) by the United Nations. The lecture describes how the UN International Law Commission, a subsidiary organ of the UN General Assembly with the mandate of codification of customary international law, formulated Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers (groundwaters) for the proper management of the transboundary aquifers in order to attain the reasonable and equitable utilization through international cooperation. The lecture is available in Arabic, English, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish and can be viewed here.

The Global Environmental Facility Groundwater Community of Practice, coordinated by UNESCO-IHP, has featured a of seminars on groundwater law and policy.

Webinar #1, which took place 17 October 2013, was entitled Multiple Dimensions of Groundwater Governance: What We Are Doing and What More Can We Do? The video and webinar material can be accessed here.

Webinar #2, which took place 11 December 2013, was entitled Groundwater and International Law: Current Status and Recent Developments. The video and webinar material can be accessed here.

Webinar #3, which took place 29 April 2014, was entitled The Coastal Zone: Where Groundwater Merges With the Sea. The video and webinar material can be accessed here.

On 15 January 2015, IGRAC and UNESCO-IHP organized the IW:LEARN Groundwater Webinar entitled: Moving with the Momentum: Reviewing Lessons for Groundwater from 2014 and a Looking Ahead to 2015. Part I of this program can be accessed here  /  Part II can be accessed here.


Dr. Maria Querol: The UN Watercourses Convention and South America

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

The following post by Dr. Maria Querol is the ninth in the series of essays related to the entering into force of the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention (see links to all of the essays here). Dr. Querol is an international law consultant with a vast background in international water law. She can be reached at maria.querol [at]



Although the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC) has finally entered into force, not one South American country is among its State Parties. Whilst Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Venezuela voted in favour of its adoption at the UN General Assembly (UNGA), Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru all abstained. Paraguay and Venezuela were the only states from the region to sign the Convention, in 1997 and 1998 respectively. Nevertheless, neither has made any attempt to ratify it.

Many arguments have been presented to justify this flagrant absence, mainly focusing on the concern of South American states regarding challenges to their sovereignty over water resources flowing through their territories. However, this is not the only factor to be considered when analysing the region’s position on this topic.

Multilateral transboundary water treaties of South America

South American states have a history of concluding international treaties to regulate the management of their shared watercourses. This long-standing tradition favors the implementation of specific mechanisms and international water law norms over more general regimes. While most of these agreements are bilateral, there are four exceptions: the 1969 Treaty of the River Plate Basin, the 2010 Guarani Aquifer Agreement, the 1978 Amazon Cooperation Treaty, and the 1995 Agreement constituting the Tri-National Commission of the Pilcomayo River Basin.

International Basins of South AmericaThe Plate Basin Treaty entered into force for Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay on 14 August 1970.  It operates as an umbrella for other more specific agreements, both bilateral and multilateral, that have been concluded with regard to particular transboundary watercourses within the basin. Article VI of this agreement foresees the possibility that its Contracting Parties may conclude specific, partial, bilateral, or multilateral agreements designed to develop the basin. Accordingly, the Guarani Aquifer Agreement was concluded within the framework of the Plate Basin Treaty. Thus, the basin is regulated with an intergrated approach, both from a general and a more specific standpoint.

Transboundary watercourses are regarded in the region as shared natural resources. This view was particulary emphasized by both Argentina and Uruguay in the 1975 River Uruguay Statute and reaffirmed in 2010 in the Pulp Mills case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In this regard, Argentina argued in its memorial to the Court that “[t]he shared nature of the River Uruguay is also apparent from the fact that obligations are imposed on Argentina and Uruguay at an international level. The 1975 River Uruguay Statute is actually a repository for th[ose] international obligations”. Those obligations comprise the rules of no significant harm, equitable and reasonable use, and prior notification. It is important to bear in mind that these general norms are only applicable to the use and protection of shared natural resources as long as the states sharing the resource have not implemented a more specific conventional regime. Accordingly, Argentina also declared that while the River Uruguay Statute had been concluded 22 years before the UNWC was adopted by the UNGA, “the Statute provides for the establishment of a system of co-operation which is far more rigorous than that laid down by the Convention.”

The Amazon Cooperation Treaty was adopted by Bolivia, Brasil, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú, Suriname and Venenzuela to promote equitable and mutually beneficial results in the Amazon territories under their respective jurisdictions. It entered into force on 12 August 1980. The no harm rule and the reasonable and equitable principle are enshrined in Article I of the agreement. The no harm rule is also implicit in Article XVI as it stipulates that the decisions and commitments adopted by the State Parties to the treaty shall not be to the detriment of projects and undertakings executed within their natural territories, in accordance with international law. In addition, Article V prescribes the rational utilization of the water resources of the Amazon System. Periodic exchange of information among all the State Parties is also provided for in Articles I, VII and XI.

By virtue of an amendment to Article XXII of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty, the Organization of the Treaty of Amazon Cooperation was created with the view of further strengthening and ensuring the more effective implementation of the goals of the Treaty. The existence of an international legal entity directly regulated by public international law no doubt facilitates the realization of projects and can provide guidance for the rational utilization and sustainable management of shared water resources in the Amazon region.

Although the Amazon Cooperation Treaty does not prescribe a dispute resolution mechanism, State Parties can agree to submit their disputes to an arbitral tribunal or a permanent judicial organ such as the ICJ. They can also resort to a political dispute resolution method such as mediation or good offices. In any case, states are always bound by the customary obligation to negotiate a solution to their disputes in good faith.

Transboundary water management in South America

Unlike the practice in other regions of the world, discussions over shared water resources in South America, more often than not, take place under a cordial atmosphere. Although information exchange among states does take place in the region, the necessary data may be scattered around in different institutions, in which case its collection can prove quite burdensome. With reference to dispute resolution, South American states have been resolving their issues through direct negotiations and in some cases, as between Argentina and Uruguay, through the ICJ. Whilst progress has been made in terms of cooperation and knowledge over the management of shared surface water resources, this is not the case with regards to all shared groundwater. A first step forward has indeed been taken with regards to the Guarani Aquifer. But, further in-depth knowledge is necessary to provide a more complete scenario of all the possible consequences of human action related to transboundary groundwater resources.

Currently, South American states do not appear to have an immediate interest in a universal framework treaty to regulate the management of their transboundary water resources. Rather, they would prefer to continue resorting to their existing bilateral and multilateral agreements and to applicable customary norms in the absence of such treaties. They even count on international organizations to help implement their preferred management regime in the case of the Amazon Basin, and through a framework agreement for the Plate Basin.

This does not mean that the UNWC will have no value to South America. To the extent that the Convention codifies general international rules, its norms are binding on all states of the international community, including those of South America. In addition, the entry into force of the UNWC might foster the development of new customary norms in areas not yet covered by the existing regional treaties and could prove very influential in the interpretation of those particular treaties.


Dr. Salman M.A. Salman: Entry into Force of the UN Watercourses Convention – Where are the Nile Basin Countries?

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

The following post, by Dr. Salman M. A. Salman, is the second in the series of essays related to the entering into force of the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention (see links to all of the essays here). Dr. Salman is an academic researcher and consultant on water law and policy. Until 2009, Dr. Salman served as Lead Council and Water Law Adviser for the World Bank. He can be reached at SalmanMASalman [at] This post is being published simultaneously in this blog as well as in Dr. Salman personal web site (

The year 1997 was a defining point in history for both the Nile Basin countries and the UN Watercourses Convention. At the beginning of that year, informal contacts facilitated by The World Bank and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) resulted in a preliminary agreement to establish, for the first time, a forum inclusive of all the Nile riparian countries. In May of the same year, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the UN Watercourses Convention by a large majority, paving the way for its entry into force and effect. Unfortunately, that point in history also turned out to be a departure point as none of the Nile riparian countries became a party to the UN Convention. This essay addresses the reasons behind this sad fact.

Pursuant to the 1997 contacts and the subsequent facilitation by the World Bank and UNDP, the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) was formally established by the Nile Basin states at the meeting of their Ministers of Water Resources in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, February 22, 1999. The Agreed Minutes of the meeting, signed by the Ministers in attendance, included the overall framework for the NBI and its institutional structure and functions. 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” (see here). The main objective of the NBI was to negotiate and conclude a cooperative framework agreement that would incorporate the principles, structures and institutions of the NBI, and that would be inclusive of all Nile riparians.


The Nile River Basin. Source: Nile Basin Initiative

The Nile River Basin. Source: Nile Basin Initiative

Work on the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) commenced immediately after the NBI was formally established in 1999, and continued for more than ten years. However, the process ran into major difficulties as a result of the resurfacing and hardening of the respective positions of the riparians. Egypt and Sudan, the two lower riparians, insisted on the validity and binding obligations on the upper riaprians of the treaties concluded in 1902 and 1929, which the upstream riparians have persistently and completely rejected. Those two treaties purportedly give Egypt and Sudan veto power over any project in any of the upper riparian states. Moreover Egypt and Sudan insisted on their claims to their acquired rights and uses of the Nile waters under the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement, which the upper riaprians also squarely rejected since it left no Nile waters for them. Those differences persisted and could not be resolved at the negotiations level. They were eventually taken to three ministerial meetings in Kinshasa, Alexandria, and Sharm El-Sheikh in 2009 and 2010. However, these meetings failed to resolve these issues and no agreement on the final draft CFA was reached.

On May 14, 2010, four of the Nile riparians (Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda) signed the CFA. They were joined five days later by Kenya, and by then Burundi on February 28, 2011. Although the Democratic Republic of Congo and the newly independent nation of South Sudan both indicated their support for the CFA, neither has signed or become a party to the instrument. Ethiopia eventually ratified the CFA in June 2013, but no other signatory state followed. The CFA needs six ratifications to enter into force and effect.

Egypt and Sudan vehemently oppose the signed version of the CFA because it does not incorporate their concerns under the 1902, 1929 and 1959 treaties. As a result, the division of the Nile basin countries into lower and upper riparians have sharpened and escalated.

Similar to the UN Watercourses Convention, the CFA lays down basic principles for the protection, use, conservation and development of the Nile Basin. These include cooperation among the states of the Nile River Basin on the basis of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, mutual benefit and good faith, sustainable development, equitable and reasonable utilization, and prevention of significant harm, as well as procedures for settlement of disputes. Cooperation is clearly and unequivocally the defining and common theme of the two instruments.

Yet, despite the similarities between the two instruments, the position of the Nile-riparian countries toward the UN Convention varies significantly. When the Convention came before the UNGA, Kenya and Sudan voted in favor, while Burundi joined Turkey and China in their negative vote. Egypt, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda abstained, each for different reasons, while Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Eritrea did not participate in the vote. As of today, none of the Nile riparian countries has signed or ratified the UN Watercourses Convention; not even Kenya or Sudan, which voted for the Convention. In contrast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda signed the CFA, and Ethiopia ratified it.

This may seem baffling. Why would the six countries that signed the CFA refuse to join the UN Watercourses Convention, given that the CFA is derived from and largely based on the Convention? The answer rests with the controversies surrounding the Nile treaties referred to above. The six upper riparians that signed the CFA do not want to be parties to a Convention that includes clear and detailed obligations for the notification of other riparians of planned measures and projects in their territories that may affect the Nile. They are concerned that such notification obligations would be construed by Egypt and Sudan as recognition of the 1902 and 1929 treaties that give Egypt and Sudan veto power over upstream activities. Indeed, this is the main reason that the CFA does not include provisions on notification, only on exchange of data and information.

On the other hand, Egypt and Sudan cling strongly to their historical rights and uses and both believe that the UN Watercourses Convention tilts towards equitable and reasonable utilization at the expense of the obligation not to cause significant harm. As lower riparians with claimed historical rights over the Nile waters, their cardinal principle is the obligation not to cause significant harm. They read the decision of the International Court of Justice in the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Project case (Hungary/Slovakia) (ICJ 1997) as heightening and underscoring their concern that the Convention may have subordinated this obligation to the principle of equitable utilization. For this reason, they would not accede to the Convention.

Thus, for the eleven Nile riparian countries, accession to the UN Watercourses Convention is deeply intertwined with the controversies regarding the so-called “colonial Nile treaties.” In particular, Egypt and Sudan’s position reflects a major failure by both countries to view cooperation, equitable and reasonable utilization, and the obligation not to cause significant harm, as all closely related and interwoven, and not as separable elements of international water law.  Thus, any attempt to resolve the pending issues under the CFA, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), or accession to the UN Watercourses Convention will prove futile until Egypt and Sudan recognize that these treaties are outdated and non-functional because they have simply been totally ignored by the other riparians, both in theory and in practice.

Indeed, it is time for both Egypt and Sudan to remove these “colonial treaties” out of the flow of Nile negotiations and to join both the CFA and the Convention. Such a bold, albeit realistic, step would generate a new and genuine spirit for cooperation among the Nile states, and reignite the world community’s goodwill for the region. It will also pave the way for an equitable sharing of the benefits of the common Nile waters by the eleven riparians, without real harm to either Egypt or Sudan.

In turn, these events will no doubt end the current sad state of affairs of conflict and disputes over the Nile, and help lift the 300 million inhabitants of the Nile from their ever-increasing misery, poverty and underdevelopment. After all, the vision of the NBI itself, which Egypt and Sudan subscribed to in 1999, is to achieve sustainable socio-economic development through equitable utilization of, and benefit from, the common Nile Basin water resources. Indeed, this is what both the CFA and the Convention are about.

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

Israeli-Palestinian Agreement on Water within Sight

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

The following post is by David B. Brooks, an Associate with the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Mr. Brooks can be contacted at david.b.brooks34 [at]

Many people have said that the last thing on which Israelis and Palestinians will be able to agree is fresh water.  They are very likely wrong.  Over the past year, the two governments have been discussing a draft water agreement that was designed by Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian environmental NGO that focuses on border issues.

Failings of the Oslo Process

Since the start of the Oslo process in 1993, all attempts at the peace process have been predicated on the belief that that a peace agreement must provide a simultaneous solution to all issues (i.e., “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”). This approach has failed.

Based on the development of a draft water agreement for FoEME by two Canadians, David B. Brooks and Julie Trottier, as well as informal discussions with the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies and the Palestinian Water Authority, the best chance for reviving the floundering peace process is to start by tackling “easier” issues, particularly fresh water.

Shared Water Resources of Israel, Palestine and Jordan

Given the Palestinian need for more water, Israel’s new water supply from large-scale desalination, and a mutual need to deal with untreated sewage, bringing water from last to first in the peace process makes economic, ecological, and, most importantly, political sense. For Palestinians, it would provide fresh water in every home; for Israelis, it would remove pollutants from rivers that flow through its main cities. The goal in sight is a Final Accord on Water, not just another interim step.

Breaking Away from the Oslo Model for Water

In addition to the broad tradeoff – more water for Palestinians; better water for Israelis -– the FoEME Proposal is put forward on the basis of two political questions: First, why wait for conclusion of a final status agreement? If, instead of fixed allocations, as with the Oslo agreements, one thinks of ongoing joint management, agreement can be reached right now.  Second, why not shift from a static to a dynamic form of agreement?  The Oslo agreement is dependent on a particular set of borders; the FoEME Proposal is adaptable to any set of borders.  The Oslo-designed Joint Water Committee can only deal with what is deemed Palestinian water; the FoEME Proposal includes joint management of all shared water, which is to say any water that flows along, across, or under the border.  The Oslo approach looks at water as primarily a supply issue; the FoEME Proposal gives as much attention to reducing demand as to increasing supply.  Finally, but perhaps most important, the Oslo agreements propose fixed quantitative allocations of water to Israelis and to Palestinians; the FoEME Proposal incorporates an ongoing review process that adjusts water allocations over time, and ensures that total withdrawals stay within sustainable limits.

One cannot share water as if it were a pie.  Transboundary agreements can divide land this way, but not water.  Water may start as rainfall, but it is then typically used over and over again, sometimes by a group of Palestinian farmers cooperating in a decentralized way, sometimes by the highly centralized Israeli water network, before it finally evaporates or flows into the sea.   With each stage of use, water quality is altered, generally for the worse.  The Oslo approach treats water as if it were both immobile and constant in quality.  The FoEME Proposal recognizes that water is mobile in space and variable in quality.

The Structure of the FoEME Proposal

Cover Page - An Agreement to Share WaterThe FoEME Proposal suggests creation of two key bodies:

  • Bilateral Water Commission replaces today’s Joint Water Committee with responsibility for all shared water (non-shared water sources would remain managed nationally).  The BWC makes key decisions on rates of extraction and of delivery of shared water, and the removal and treatment of waste water.  Its decisions are based on advice from an Office of Science Advisors (OSA) made up of professional staff appointed or seconded by the two governments.  Because it is potentially so powerful, the BWC is not allowed to make decisions independently; rather, it can only accept or reject recommendations from the OSA, but not alter them.  This format avoids giving either side the ability to leverage water issues in endless horse-trading on other, wider issues.
  • Water Mediation Board comes into play whenever the BWC finds itself unable to accept a decision of the science advisors, or if a group or community opposes its decision.  The WMB would have a wide range of tools available to guide a process of seeking resolution ranging from scientific investigations to public forums.  All of these tools must be used in as transparent a way as possible, so as to give credence to its recommendations.


Both the BWC and WMB should be composed of an equal number of Israeli and Palestinian representatives plus possibly one person from outside the region. If voting is necessary, the rules are designed to prevent either side from dominating the other.  For example, if the BWC has seven members, any majority decision would have to have to have the support of least one Israeli and one Palestinian.

An Israeli-Palestinian water agreement is possible – Right now!  Though not designed for any purpose other than managing shared water, it could become the first step in creating the final status agreement that has eluded negotiators for so many years.


The full 180,000 word version of An Agreement to Share Water between Israelis and Palestinians: The FoEME Proposal (with Arabic and Hebrew translations of key chapters) by David B. Brooks and Julie Trottier is available here.  An abridged version, entitled Changing the Nature of Transboundary Water Agreements: The Israeli-Palestinian Case by Brooks, Trottier and Laura Doliner, is available here.

Sharing Central Asia’s Waters: The Case of Afghanistan

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

The following post is by Margaret J. Vick.  Ms. Vick served as the embedded advisor to the Ministry of Energy and Water, Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan from 2009-2010 in a program funded by USAID. She can be reached at mjvick [at]

Afghanistan has four major river basins.  All are international watercourses as that term is defined in the 1997 UN Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses.  When looking at the waters in Afghanistan the regional history cannot be ignored and the circumstances that often provide an impetus to negotiate water-sharing agreements should be examined.

The major basins in Afghanistan are the Panj and Amu Darya, the Kabul, the Helmand, and the Hari-Rud.  The Panj, a tributary of the Amu Darya, is shared with Tajikistan and the downstream Amu Darya is shared with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.  The Kabul River is tributary to the Indus River and is hydrologically shared with India and Pakistan, but because of the division of the basin by the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, is not legally shared with India.  The Hari-Rud is shared with Iran and Turkmenistan, while the Helmand River is shared with Iran.  The Panj/Amu Darya, Hari-Rud, and Helmand river basins are all endorheic or terminal basins.
Of the four basins, only the Helmand River has a water sharing agreement.  The Helmand River Treaty between Afghanistan and Iran was negotiated in the early 1970’s and entered into force in 1977 (see, e.g., here).  The history of the treaty is unclear.  Little has been written about the negotiation process and some recent commentaries have questioned its entry into force (see, e.g., here).  What is known is clouded by the cold-war era in which it was negotiated. Nevertheless, the treaty is an agreement based on modern principles for benefit sharing in a region with few positive examples.

The Kabul River flows to the Indus River.  Because some of its tributaries (namely the Bara, Kunar and Swat, rivers) originate in Pakistan, the Kabul basin forms a hydrologic phenomenon in which Afghanistan and Pakistan are both upstream and downstream from each other.  Both countries need better flood control measures on the river and Afghanistan is interested in the river for domestic water supplies and power generation for its capital city, Kabul.  Talks between the two riparians over water management, however, historically have been secondary to the cross-border tensions.

The Panj River, which forms a considerable portion of the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border before being joined the Vakhsh River to form the Amu Darya, is dominated by remnants of the Soviet barter system of water for oil.  The economy of the region is hampered by a lack of energy, frequent flooding, and political conflict over water.  All four of the Panj/Amu Darya basin riparians (Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) could benefit from developing the basin.  Afghanistan, however, has not participated in any of the numerous agreements regarding the Aral Sea and was never part of the Soviet water regime in the region.  Because of its outsider status it may be able to play an important role in regional water sharing discussions in the future.

In fact, Afghanistan and most of its neighboring states are in need of water for domestic purposes, reliable irrigation supplies, flood control and hydropower. The circumstances seem ripe for an agreement. Nevertheless, in this region of conflict, cross-border incursions and lack of trust, circumstances and needs may not enough to reach a water-sharing agreement.  The identified requirements and the political will of the countries, to date, has not been enough.  There needs to be a foreseeable and reliable means to accomplish the sharing of water.

As a result of decades of conflict, the human capacity in Afghanistan is limited due to the millions of people killed, the millions who fled the country, and the millions more denied an education.  Those few Afghans who are available to negotiate water-sharing agreements are highly skilled and dedicated; yet, the need for their services within Afghanistan is immediate and immense.

Water sharing agreements take time and commitment.  The Afghan government must decide how to best use their limited capacity.  If they cannot have certainty as to whether agreed-upon dams, power plants and infrastructure will be built, how should they allocate and dedicate their limited resources?  The Afghan Government is faced with the dilemma of which comes first: the agreement or the commitment to build the infrastructure.  Until one or more donors step forward to fund both the process for negotiations and the infrastructure, neither may occur.  Individuals within the Afghan government have little time and few resources to engage in protracted negotiations without a promise of results on the ground.

A donor’s commitment to build watercourse infrastructure made contingent upon a water-sharing agreement has been a common impetus for agreements on international watercourses and for states within a federal system.  The 1960 Indus Waters Treaty took decades to negotiate and required continuing commitments from the World Bank to fund its implementation.  It is presently unclear whether such a commitment is available for any of the basins shared by Afghanistan and the neighboring states.

The economic viability of Afghanistan depends on protection from floods and drought, adequate domestic supply, reliable irrigation, and power.  All can be advanced through water-sharing agreements with neighboring states.  Development of the Kabul River basin is key for stability in the southeastern region as is development of the Panj basin in the north.

Notwithstanding, until an external commitment is secured for technical support and training for the process of negotiation, as well as to implement the results of negotiations, the benefits of Afghanistan’s and the region’s transboundary rivers will remain unrealized.