2017 – The Year of Water Law

October 6th, 2017

2017 can, and indeed should, be called “the Year of Water Law.” A number of water lawyers have been honored by organizations and associations across the globe for their significant contribution to the legal field of knowledge in water resources management.

SalmanDr. Salman Salman received the Crystal Drop Award from the International Water Resources Association (IWRA) at the IWRA 16th Congress in Cancun, Mexico in June 2017. The Award, which Dr. Salman shared with Dr. Cecilia Tortajada, is the highest award of the IWRA, and is presented once every three years. The IWRA congratulated Dr. Salman for “achieving this unique distinction and attaining this notable award from the Association. Your extensive knowledge and broad experience in the water resources sector are, certainly, of an unparalleled match.”

LilianDr. Lilian del Castillo Laborde, was also honored in the same Congress in Cancun by the IWRA, and was awarded the notable and noble status of “Distinguished Honorary Member.” Lilian is a long-time member of the IWRA, and has served IWRA in various positions, including Vice President. She is also a member of the Executive Council of the International Association for Water Law.

eckstein_gabriel1Professor Gabriel Eckstein’s leading role as the Chair of the International Scientific Committee of the IWRA was widely acknowledge with deep appreciation by the IWRA in Cancun. The Committee was shouldered with the responsibility of organizing the IWRA Cancun Congress which turned into a major success, attended by more than 1,400 experts who presented and discussed more than 400 papers. Acknowledgement of Gabriel’s leading role was made during both, the opening and closing sessions of the Congress.

stephen_mccaffreyProfessor Stephen McCaffrey was awarded in August 2017 the Stockholm Water Prize for his unparalleled contribution to the evolution and progressive realization of international water law. In its citation, the Stockholm Water Prize Nominating Committee recognized Professor McCaffrey’s “path-breaking leadership and legal scholarship in international water law. He has made a unique contribution in three specific areas: his seminal work on Treaty negotiation; his major scholarly works, including his book The Law of International Watercourses and; his leadership providing expert legal advice, wise counsel, training and facilitation of complex negotiations with a wide range of stakeholders.”

MaraDr. Mara Tignino, Senior Lecturer at at the Faculty of Law of the University of Geneva, and Coordinator of the Platform for International Water Law at the Geneva Water Hub, received the award “Women Peacebuilders for Water” at the international conference “Rules of Water, Rules for Life”, organized by the Milan Center for Food Law and Policy, in Italy in September 2017. This award marks the seventeenth anniversary of Resolution 1325 adopted by the United Nations Security Council on the contribution of women to peacebuilding in post-conflict situations. The award was given to Mara Tignino by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Ms Hilal Elver, and was motivated by her research in international water law and her dedication to the creation of new generations of international lawyers.

Truly, 2017 has turned out to be the Year of Water Law.

Inter-State Water Law in the United States of America: What Lessons for International Water Law?

September 25th, 2017

The following essay by Professor Rhett Larson is a summary of his recently published monograph (under the same title), which appears in Vol. 2.3, 2017, pp. 1-82, of Brill Research Perspectives in International Water Law. Professor Larson is a Professor of Law at the Arizona State University School of Law. He can be reached at Rhett.Larson [at] asu.edu.


John Wesley Powell was an 19th Century explorer of the western United States. In a report to the U.S. Congress, Powell recommended that the borders of future western states be based on watersheds and warned of the risks associated with political subdivisions sharing transboundary waters. Congress ignored Powell’s advice, and established western state boundaries with many inter-state waters traversing and, in some cases forming, sub-national borders. As a result, and as I discuss in my recent monograph published in Brill Research Perspectives on International Water Law, the United States has a long and colorful history of transboundary water management that provides both encouraging lessons and cautionary tales for international water law.

For example, the common law doctrine of “equitable apportionment” developed by the U.S. Supreme Court in cases involving its original jurisdiction over inter-state water disputes is similar in many respects to the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization embodied in Articles 5 and 6 of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses ( “Watercourse Convention”).

RhettLarson-Inter-State_Water_Law_in_the_USBeyond the obvious use of the word “equitable” in the articulation of both the inter-state doctrine and the international doctrine, the factors set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in determining equitable apportionment are similar to the factors laid out in Article 6 of the Watercourse Convention in determining equitable utilization. The U.S. Supreme Court considers “physical and climatic conditions,” and international law considers “[g]eographic, hydrographic, hydrological, climatic, ecological and other factors of a natural character.” The U.S. Supreme Court considers consumptive uses, while the Watercourse Convention includes considerations of the “effects of the use or uses of watercourses.” The U.S. Supreme Court considers wasteful uses, and the Watercourse Convention includes considerations of conservation options.

Despite these similarities, the U.S. doctrine of equitable apportionment and the factors included in determining reasonable and equitable utilization under the Watercourse Convention have differences that are important to note for what each doctrine may learn from the other. The Watercourse Convention expressly includes consideration of population, which seems an obvious factor missing from inter-state water law. The Watercourse Convention also considers both existing and potential uses of the watercourse, while the U.S. doctrine of equitable apportionment considers only “consumptive uses,” not necessarily potential future uses. It might also be helpful for the U.S. doctrine of equitable apportionment to expressly factor in ecological considerations in a way similar to the Watercourse Convention, because those considerations may not always be adequately captured by the concept of waste embodied in the U.S. law.

On the other hand, the U.S. equitable apportionment doctrine includes a cost-benefit analysis consideration that could be a helpful factor to evaluate equitable utilization in international water law. Additionally, the consideration of the character and rate of return flows under U.S. inter-state water law may also be a helpful factor to include in determining equitable utilization in international water law.

In Bean v. Morris, an early equitable apportionment case before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court identified an important factor when evaluating inter-state water allocations that could be incorporated into international equitable and reasonable utilization analysis. States in the U.S. typically rely on one of two legal regimes for allocation rights to water. The approach to water rights in eastern states is generally common law riparian rights based on English and Roman laws, under which rights are apportioned to owners of property abutting water bodies based on the requirement that uses be reasonable. The approach to water rights in western states is generally prior appropriation, with water rights based on a first-in-time, first-in-right scheme, subject to beneficial use requirements and the prohibition against waste.

Neighboring U.S. states sharing transboundary waters can therefore have dramatically different approaches to allocating water rights and different policy aims in water management. These differences have aggravated inter-state water disputes over transboundary waters. The U.S. Supreme Court, in an early equitable apportionment case, sought to mitigate the impact of, if not reconcile, these different approaches to water rights. In Bean v. Morris, the Supreme Court held that it would apply principles of prior appropriation when allocating water between states that recognize prior appropriation as their own internal water rights system.

International water law could similarly look to using domestic water law principles held in common between two nations sharing a watercourse as a factor in the evaluation of reasonable and equitable utilization. Such an approach would be a more targeted application of Article 38(1)(c) of the International Court of Justice’s statute authorizing reliance on “general principles of law recognized by civilized nations” in resolving international disputes. Nations are perhaps more likely to view such a factor as reasonable and equitable if based on domestic laws already accepted and legitimized under their respective domestic laws.

Other potentially helpful lessons from U.S. inter-state water law for international water law may include the use of special masters to facilitate dispute resolution and the recognition and quantification of water rights held by indigenous peoples. Cautionary tales for international water law from U.S. inter-state water law include the inter-state problems created by the bifurcation of groundwater and surface water rights, and the over- or under-empowerment of basin-level, inter-jurisdictional commissions. Many countries with federal structures, like the United States, have been dealing with inter-jurisdictional water disputes for generations, and therefore could be fertile ground for cultivating ideas for reform in international water law.

The entire article is available here.

New Book Explores the International Law of Transboundary Groundwater Resources

September 17th, 2017

The following essay by Gabriel Eckstein provides an overview of his forthcoming book on The International Law of Transboundary Groundwater Resources. The book should be released on 20 September 2017.

Approximately 600 aquifers worldwide traverse international frontiers. Yet, only four of these have been the direct focus of a treaty regime. In sharp contrast, more than 3,600 treaties have been crafted for the 276 shared rivers and lakes of the world. As a result, the international law applicable to transboundary groundwater resources is far less developed and understood than its surface water counterpart. To a significant extent, international groundwater law has yet to emerge on the international stage.


TBA Map - colour


Nevertheless, increased regional scarcities and growing demand for freshwater resources have forced many governments to focus on all of their freshwater resources, including those found below the surface along their borders. In places like the Middle East, North and sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Central Asia, and the Mexico-United States border, nations have come to realize that transboundary aquifers serve as the primary or sole source of freshwater for their communities and natural environment.

As a result, various countries and international organizations are now beginning to explore legal options for the management of these subsurface water bodies.  Both the UN International Law Commission and the UN Economic Commission for Europe have issued proposed norms aimed at guiding transboundary aquifer riparians on how to develop such regimes (see UN Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers, and UNECE Model Provisions on Transboundary Groundwaters). And agencies like the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization are developing case studies and evaluating management approaches with the goal of developing equitable cooperative regimes.

While the international law applicable to transboundary groundwater resources is still in its infancy, progress is evident and preliminary trends can be discerned.  This books documents these developments and offers a fairly comprehensive look at the evolutionary process that has led to the emergence of what may yet be termed international groundwater law.

IGWLBookCoverThe book opens with a general overview of the importance of groundwater resources to communities and humanity on a global scale. It then placed groundwater in a transboundary context and recognizes the governance challenges that arise among aquifer riparians. Taking a decisively interdisciplinary approach, Chapter 2 discusses groundwater resources in accessible scientific terms and lays the foundations for applying scientifically sound laws and policies to transboundary groundwater resources. It considers groundwater within the broader hydrologic cycle and describes and defines the various hydrogeological concepts and processes that must be considered by groundwater managers and regulators.  The book then discusses in Chapter 3 groundwater in a cross-border context and presents six conceptual aquifer models to illustrate various scenarios in which groundwater resources can have transboundary implications.  The models are all scientifically valid generic models, and are based on and represent the vast majority of circumstances found in nature under which an aquifer may have transboundary implications.

In Chapter 4, the book turns to the law and explores how groundwater has been treated in various domestic legal regimes and traditions, as well as in formal and informal arrangements between aquifer riparian states. This discussion lays the foundation for the growing attention paid to transboundary aquifers among governmental, inter-governmental, and non-governmental entities, and their interest in identifying globally acceptable legal norms and rules for managing groundwater resources that traverse international boundaries.  Chapter 5 follows with an analysis of groundwater resources and aquifers under the U.N. Watercourses Convention, while Chapter 6 focuses on groundwater and aquifers under the UN Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers.

Taking into account the preceding chapters, Chapter 7 discusses the emerging trends in the evolution of international law for transboundary aquifers. It begins by reviewing the few formal and informal arrangements in existence in which nations have addressed directly the management or use of a transboundary aquifer. It then extracts those principles and norms that are common to all or most of these instruments and evaluates them as a basis for the possible emergence of international law. The book concludes with Chapter 8 where it identifies gaps in the law in light of the unique characteristics (especially as compared to surface water bodies) of groundwater resources and their potential cross-border implications. This final chapter is intended as a basis for further discussion and consideration of the continued development of this nascent but critical area of international law.

For more information about this book, please see here.  To request a review copy, see here; Instructors can request an e-book exam copy here.


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

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]adelphi.de.


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?

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] abdn.ac.uk.

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_Map_UpdatedAfter 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!

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.


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.