In an unprecedented political push for cross-border water cooperation, Ministers from Africa, Latin America and the Middle East have declared at the UN Water Conference their country’s resolve to join a key United Nations accord known as the Water Convention.
In what could constitute a major long-term outcome of the summit, governments are seizing the UN Water Convention to support practical cooperation measures – urgently needed as 153 states worldwide share water resources – as a precondition to tackle the global water crisis.
Governments to join UN Water Convention
Nigeria on 22 March officially became the 48th Party to the Water Convention and 7th African nation to join since 2018 (following Chad, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Togo and Cameroon), marked by a ceremony. With over 213 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous state in Africa, and shares with its neighbours most of its water resources, which include Lake Chad and the River Niger. Joining neighbouring Parties will bolster conflict prevention, climate change adaptation and development.
Iraq declared its forthcoming accession, which would make it the first country in the Middle East to join the Convention, opening the door to expanded membership in a region facing acute water challenges.
Panama stated it will soon become a Party, which would make it the first in Latin America, paving the way for reinforced cooperation in a region with a very limited number of agreements on the management of shared waters (and a value of the associated Sustainable Development Goals indicator at less than 10%).
Namibia reaffirmed its commitment to join the Water Convention, following approval of its national assembly last week. Namibia shares all its perennial rivers with neighbouring countries, and is both a mid- and downstream country. Its accession would make it the first country in the Southern African Development Community to join the Convention, opening the door to further expansion and reinforcement of cooperation in a region where the majority of freshwater crosses state borders.
For the Gambia, whose parliament approved its accession to the Water Convention last week, membership will make a significant contribution to the more dependable management of its water resources, jointly with its neighbouring states. The Gambia is a downstream country along the Senegal River, which shares all its land borders with Convention Party Senegal. It also shares the Senegalo-Mauritanian Aquifer, for which the Convention is already supporting cooperation.
Niger confirmed its intention to join, bringing all major Lake Chad bordering nations under the Convention’s legal framework. This is a decisive step in the increasingly drought-prone Sahel region, since it gives Lake Chad – whose volume has shrunk by more than 90% since 1963 – full legal protection under the Convention.
Uganda affirmed its intention to accelerate accession to the Water Convention. Expansion of the Convention’s membership to East Africa would open significant new possibilities for stronger cooperation in the region.
Benin, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan also declared their commitment to accede to the Convention.
Through this momentum, the international community has further consolidated the UN Water Convention as the intergovernmental legal framework and platform for transboundary water cooperation, building on its 30-year track record of results to advance peace and sustainable development in shared basins.
Further scaling up membership of the Water Convention – which already covers the pan-European region and a growing number of African states – would bring long-term benefits for over 3 billion people worldwide living in shared basins. Further commitments to join from governments are expected to follow over the duration of the UN Water Conference.
This month, El Salvador confirmed its intention to join the Convention, as did the Dominican Republic in 2022. In East Africa, Tanzania has also confirmed its desire to join.
77 Parties within 7 years: UN pledges to support half of all 153 water sharing countries by 2030
In an official commitment submitted as part of the Conference’s Water Action Agenda, the United Nations Water Convention, whose Secretariat is provided by UNECE, has set a series of ambitious targets for 2030, including to:
Cover 77 Parties (i.e. half of 153 countries sharing transboundary waters worldwide), up from 48 today.
Support the processes of accession to the Water Convention in 30 countries.
Aid development of at least 7 new or updated agreements on transboundary water cooperation.
Support at least 5 regional processes on transboundary water cooperation, e.g. those aimed at enhancing dialogue on transboundary waters in a specific region or developing a regional instrument on cooperation.
“The Water Convention is a powerful global instrument to advance transboundary water cooperation. Since its adoption in 1992, more than 100 agreements on shared waters have been signed. These agreements have brought many benefits to populations, strengthening regional cooperation and conflict prevention, climate action, health and sanitation efforts, food and energy production, and biodiversity conservation. I invite all countries to accede to and implement the Water Convention”, stated UN Undersecretary-General, Olga Algayerova, UNECE Executive Secretary.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged all Member States to join the Convention and ensure its full implementation, and has stressed that “the 1992 Water Convention is a powerful tool to advance cooperation, prevent conflicts and build resilience”.
The 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention), known as the UN Water Convention, whose secretariat is serviced by UNECE, is a unique global legal and intergovernmental framework. It requires Parties to prevent, control and reduce negative impacts on water quality and quantity across borders, to use shared waters in a reasonable and equitable way, and to ensure their sustainable management through cooperation. Parties bordering the same transboundary waters are obliged to cooperate by concluding specific agreements and establishing joint bodies.