New Book on “International Law and Transboundary Aquifers” by Francesco Sindico

The following essay is by Dr. Francesco Sindico, Co-Director of the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance (SCELG). Dr. Sindico can be reached at francesco.sindico [at]

How many times does an academic write a book and then only other academics read it? How useful are such books? This is something that has troubled me throughout my entire career in academia and has haunted me in the preparation of my first book as sole author. How do I write something that will be of interest to people within my area of expertise – international law – but also to those working in different fields relevant for the topic of my book – hydrogeologists, engineers, etc…? Even more importantly, how do I write a book that goes beyond the walls of academia and entice a non-academic readership – policymakers and water professionals?

Dr. Francesco Sindico

The book “International Law and Transboundary Aquifers” takes on this multiple challenge by framing the narrative around a practical scenario. One where two countries acknowledge the existence of a transboundary aquifer that straddles both their borders, and where both nations decide that they wish to manage it together and explore whether there are any rules that they can rely upon to base their cooperation on. It is a book that builds on a twofold premise that is not always present in real life. First, there is a common scientific understanding that the two countries indeed share an aquifer. Second, there is political will on both sides of the border to develop a joint normative framework to govern the aquifer. Chapter 1 provides the reader with an introduction to the book and details the contours of the practical scenario that will be present throughout. You can access the introduction free of charge via the publisher’s website.

Once the scenario is laid out, the book takes the reader through a journey that seeks to answer two key questions. The first one is what are the rules, if any, that two countries willing to manage a transboundary aquifer can consider? The answer to this first question is spelled out throughout chapters 3 and 4, which highlight the emergence of an international law of transboundary aquifers and discuss its normative content. The reader will discover how such rules do exist and can be found in a plethora of existing international legal instruments. These include both substantive and procedural obligations and, while most can be found in the United Nations International Law Commission Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers, the legal mosaic is much more complex and includes the United Nations Watercourses Convention, the UN Economic Commission for Europe Water Convention and its Model Provisions on Transboundary Groundwaters. The second question present in the book is one that the two countries in the practical scenario are deemed to ask themselves once they figure out what rules are present. Are such rules just guidance, or do they “have” to follow them? In other words, is the content of the international law of transboundary aquifers, as spelled out in chapters 3 and 4, legally binding? Is it mere guidance that countries can follow if they so wish and can adapt to their own context and interests? Or does it amount to legally binding obligations that countries are obliged to comply leading to legal consequences in case of breach? Chapter 5 and 6 present an answer to this question by engaging in a discussion about the future of the international law of transboundary aquifers (chapter 5) and introducing the reader to the still relatively small number of transboundary aquifer specific agreements and arrangements (chapter 6). Chapter 5 is where the book embarks in its most difficult challenge: to explain and clarify to a wide range of readers (not just those versed in international law) in practical terms the relevance of defining an international legal obligation as customary international law. Since the latter requires a detailed analysis of state practice, chapter 6 takes the reader through a journey around the world to “see” the various transboundary aquifer agreements and arrangements to consider how they contribute to the crystallisation (or not) of customary international law in the field of international law of transboundary aquifers.

The book does not provide all the answers to policymakers interested in pursuing transboundary aquifer cooperation with their neighbours. However, it does provide a basis upon which discussions can begin and cooperation can be developed. It is my hope that this book can serve such a purpose. For this to happen it is important that the two premises underpinning the practical scenario presented in the book are met: knowledge about the aquifer in the first place, and political will to cooperate. Other books and other means will be useful to overcome these two complex hurdles. However, once they are overcome, then I hope policymakers and transboundary water managers will be interested in picking up my book as a means to clarify, to them and to their counterparts, the normative landscape that lies ahead. If even just one country that shares one of the 592 transboundary aquifers (and groundwater bodies) present in the world achieves some more clarity about the complex landscape ahead, I will feel that my book will have been a worthwhile effort beyond the sometimes too high walls of academia.

A virtual book launch with the author and other eminent speakers is scheduled on Wednesday 24 Match from 2 to 3 PM GMT.

The book can be accessed here.

2 Responses to “New Book on “International Law and Transboundary Aquifers” by Francesco Sindico”

  1. The author may be interested to access the following document:

  2. Renée Martin-Nagle says:

    Thank you for this important contribution to the field of transboundary aquifers, whose critical importance is becoming more pronounced as sovereigns seek additional supplies of freshwater to cope with disruptions in the hydrological cycle caused by climate change.

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